How Women are Changing the Face of Architecture Across the Globe
For International Women’s Day, nine female architects reflect on how their profession has changed
Their answers reflect on their own paths to success, and on the brilliant colleagues, mentors and inspiring women who led the way. Although, over the years, many of our respondents have witnessed a lot of positive changes in the field, they also highlight how many challenges still remain.
Studio Rogan Nash Architects
Location Auckland, New Zealand
I was always aware there were some things that seemed to be different, or perhaps more difficult, as a woman. When I was at university, there was a culture in place that supported women, but it was obvious this was not accidental and women before me had all worked hard for this to be the case.
On the first site I went to, they called me the ‘Lady Architect’ and I remember thinking that was odd. I don’t think I ever missed out on an opportunity by being a woman, and it certainly didn’t stop me from going out on my own and starting a company.
There are still perceptions of a female architect versus a male architect. Perhaps a woman might know more about interiors and care less about skyscrapers. Really, there are just some architects who do one type of architecture, and some who do another – being male or female has nothing to do with it. We are just doing our best to be great architects. To me, I was always an architect, not a female architect.
Studio EMR Architecture
Location London, UK
I studied in Madrid, but after I graduated, I decided to move to London, because it’s a lively city where things change very quickly, especially in architecture.
At university, I was lucky that many of my professors were women who had their own successful and internationally recognised practices. However, I realise that’s not the case in every architecture school. Although nowadays more than half of the architecture students in Europe are women, we’re not equally represented in the working environment, and there’s a lack of leaders and managers in particular.
I feel lucky to have been surrounded by inspiring women, though, as I say, I wish we had more examples of female leaders. I also think the situation is changing and our field is not as much of a male-dominated profession as it was a few years ago.
However, I still find that people often turn to the men in the room for technical things and that they trust women a bit more in terms of design and interior design.
Studio Mathilde Mahler Architecte
Location Paris, France
I’ve been in this profession for 20 years, 10 of them on my own. Before starting my company, I worked for various studios, and it was all fine until I had children, because leaving early to pick them up from nursery was viewed negatively. But I don’t think this is a problem that concerns only female architects – many women in France [experience this].
Since I started my company, I’ve noticed clients are more likely to hire me for interior design and decorative projects, even though I do both architecture and interior design, and are more inclined to entrust to me the finishing touches of their projects – the decor and fitting out the interior. For me, this comes down to my ability to develop a close relationship with them.
Studio Devi Dutta Architecture
Location Berkeley, California, USA
I found the architecture schools at both Tulane and UCLA, even 25 years ago, to be pretty egalitarian places. We had women as deans, professors and critics, so being a woman was not an issue I perceived then. If you worked hard and did interesting things with design, you were generally respected and taken seriously.
It wasn’t until I entered the workforce that I noticed the gaping disparity of women in the field, not just in architecture, but in construction, engineering, city agencies – basically every aspect of the design and construction process was dominated by men.
I gravitated towards design firms run by women, maybe to offset that disparity, or maybe I felt more welcomed by those firms. Whatever the reason, I was fortunate to have women as mentors early in my career. As they say, representation matters. In a field with so many competing voices, each of them (Darlene Jang, Toby Levy and Anne Fougeron), were able to make themselves heard in unique ways, and I’ve carried those voices with me as I shaped my own career.
I started working on my own about 12 years ago. I was about to have my third child, I was embarking on my own home renovation and the recession hit. This resulted in a perfect opportunity to focus on contracting my own project.
I dived into construction management with a baby on my hip, and Devi Dutta Architecture was born. Then I started helping friends and family on their own small projects, which eventually grew into the full-service firm I have today. I’ve always tried to keep the contacts I’ve made throughout my career, and this helped me to grow the firm through collaboration and referrals.
Eileen Gray was one of those women. She had to carve a path in a field that didn’t even exist for women at the time. We can only find black and white pictures of most of her creative efforts, but she worked with shape, colour and materials in really interesting ways. She was innovative, and her designs were as groundbreaking as any man’s working then, if not more so.
Studio Jane Cameron Architects
Location Melbourne, Australia
Since I graduated from architecture until now, I’ve found attitudes towards me as a female architect while working in practices to be overall consistently positive.
I acknowledge my personal experience is extremely rare in relation to gender equality compared to most female architects, and I feel this is mainly due to a unique set of circumstances, the practices and the sectors I’ve worked in, including their sizes and ratios of females to males, along with transitioning to my own small practice.
Personally, where I’ve experienced substantial changes is within the wider community, including the amazing work of Parlour, the research-based advocacy organisation.
I’ve also seen the professional body, the Australian Institute of Architects, moving on from being considered a ‘boys’ club’ when I graduated to now being supportive and inclusive of female architects. This has given me the opportunity to be an active member through speaking engagements, awards jury, mentoring, and so on.
My admiration for Eva extends from the profession to the personal. Professionally, I appreciate her attention to detail, along with her technical abilities, especially when working with materials. On a personal level, she’s extremely warm and approachable and she created a practice that felt like family, with a third of the staff members being between 20 and 32 years old.
Studio Estudio Carme Pinós
Location Barcelona, Spain
The attitude towards female architects has changed and will change even more in the future. In architecture, as in all professions, we have to trust in ourselves and the work we do. Of course, it may be tougher for us to get credit than it is for men, but we have to remember that it will cost the next generations less effort.
The world needs our perception. We’re more flexible, we have more empathy, we know how to listen. Mostly, I believe in an honest and responsible way of working. I don’t like to complain or focus on bad anecdotes or situations. My strategy is to ignore them and always move forwards. I just want to be respected for my work and I think I’m achieving it.
Location Monza, Italy
I graduated in architecture in 1988 and worked in a variety of architecture studios before founding my own. Although I like to think that my colleagues respected my work, some builders were biased against me. They thought I couldn’t handle the technical details of the building process well enough.
I’ve always worked in small studios, so the only step forwards in my career was to start my own firm and be independent. Until I founded my studio, I couldn’t manage and meet the clients the way I wanted to. As for the challenges I’ve encountered, they’re probably the same as for most working women: managing a family and trying to develop a career at the same time.
Studio Noanoa Spatial & Architecture Design Atelier
Location Tokyo, Japan
I started my architectural firm 18 years ago. Since then, I’ve been working in the fields of architecture, art and education.
It used to be taken for granted that the woman of the house would be the one to do the housework, and I’ve designed homes that way myself, but things have changed. I’m now designing homes that allow my clients to enjoy doing the housework together.
My attitude in home design is to always respect the clients’ lifestyles. Being attentive and kind is important to me, and I think this is why my clients hire me to design their homes.
Her work is always a glimpse at the future of society thanks to her original view of the world. She’s a wonderful architect who combines the strength of architecture with flexibility and transparency.
Studio Pur Architekten
Location Munich, Germany
As a student, I was convinced of professional equality. Later, in the office routine, you quickly notice that younger men tend to be protected and promoted by male bosses. My partner, Eva Petri, and I got rid of that without further ado. We are now our own bosses and do things our own way, which many customers and other professionals we work with do appreciate.
Have you noticed any of the insights these architects have spoken about? Share your thoughts in the Comments.