Top 10 Buildings: Women in Architecture

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Top 10 Buildings: Women in Architecture

| architects, architecture | April 08, 2011

The SOFT HOUSE by KVA Matx in Germany.

Making my selection of buildings this week led me to a surprising discovery about the representation of women in architecture. I started with a simple enough premise to select ten buildings by female architects off the top of my head. I was immediately picking out Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima and Gae Aulenti; I thought this selection would essentially pick itself. Instead, what I discovered was that finding female-designed architecture, when excluding husband/wife teams, is extremely difficult and often the only work I came across was more akin to interior design.

I’m absolutely aware that I’m writing an article about women’s role in architecture as a man. I have three older sisters and should know better, but I’m ignoring the big flashing warning sirens, so I’ll go to the hard facts. Equality in the construction industry is notoriously poor — in the UK for example, just 10% of people employed by the construction industry are women; amazingly the figures for registered, working architects are similarly disproportional at just 12%. This was shocking to me; at architecture school there was equality in numbers — so why is this ratio so low?

The average number of female graduate architects in the UK is 38%, so there is an enormous drop off rate as they enter the professional sphere. When Robert Stern, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, was asked in 2007 why there are so few women architects in the world, he responded with some interesting insights:

Oh my god I’m gonna… This is a complicated… Architecture schools… like Yale have basically 50/50. Maybe fewer women than men, but not many. And that’s been true of architecture school since I began to teach pretty much. It was definitely not true when I went to architecture school, which was a boy’s club for sure. But women come to the critical points in their career when they embark upon motherhood. And architecture is a totally time consuming — disproportionate to any amount of any amount of money any architect is paid — business. Plus the global reach of architecture today demanding unbelievable amounts of travel — national and international travel — has added to the complication. And so women find it harder. They get torn between their desire to have a family and be with their family and pursue their profession. And I think that’s really the reason that, in the long run, women are not seen where they should be at the top of the profession. Because certainly in terms of their talents and their professional skills, there’s no difference between men and women.

Is there an obvious femininity to the architecture presented here? Should there be? Do you think that the poor representation in the industry might be influencing the work of the few women who do succeed? I think these are questions that must be asked at a very basic level. For me it is a scary idea that our built environment will continue to be dominated by the design of men as it has been throughout history. It is a missed opportunity and a discussion that must be raised. In a world of so-called equality should we expect women to fit into a profession of architecture that was totally evolved by men? Or instead should the profession of architecture adapt to women in an effort for real equality?

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Via Tom Mallory, COO and co-founder, OpenBuildings.com

About the author

Drawing upon original ideas and extensive personal and professional experience in the field, David McFadden crafted this article to explore the untapped potential of making historic architectural masterpieces more sustainable. After working at various design practices—both full-time and freelance—and launching his design firm, David identified a significant gap in the industry. In 1984, he founded Consulting For Architects Inc. Careers, an expansive hub designed to align architects with hiring firms for mutual benefit. This platform enables architects to find impactful design work and frees hiring firms from the time-consuming cycles of recruitment and layoffs. David’s innovative approach to employer-employee relations has brought much-needed flexibility and adaptation to the industry. As the Founder and CEO, David has successfully guided his clients and staff through the challenges of four recessions—the early ’80s, early ’90s, early 2000s, the Great Recession, the pandemic, and the current slowdown due to inflation and high-interest rates.

One Response to "Top 10 Buildings: Women in Architecture"
  • Ratna Dalal May 18, 2011

    As a woman architect, I thought of adding my viewpoint to this article. To your question, ‘should the profession of architecture adapt to women in an effort for real equality’, I would say YES strongly.
    A certain percentage of employee count ( say 10 to 30%) should be reserved for women architects who are also mothers. While the children are in the school years, such a woman can easily work part-time with flexible hours or even from home. Once the children are in college, she can resume her full-time employment. This way her evolution as an architect does not stop and she can enrich the practice with valuable experience gained by playing many roles.
    Motherhood is a part of natural evolution that brings more meaning and purpose to a woman’s life. It also imparts her with a sense of fulfillment that enriches her life in ways nothing else can. With her architectural skills a woman can grow in many ways inspite of becoming a mother.
    Since becoming a mother I have written a book and a blog with over 190 articles. Here is a link to a story from my book, that combines motherhood, architecture and gardening.


    It would be interesting to share it with other women architects here and let the men know how lucky we are!

    Ratna D.

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