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Posts tagged ‘women’

What makes an architect or building good? Even great?

What is great architecture? What makes a building “good?”

As a woman, my buildings are immediately a political statement, a statement on my gender. I am often described as a “female architect” rather than just “architect.” But rather than let the politics of the system control my work: politics and aesthetics inspire and innovate me.

I don’t think great architecture comes from architects who dedicate themselves to one kind of project. After awhile, those two dozen office headquarters you’ve designed start to look alike. But good architecture isn’t just about vision either, it’s about a personal mission and a philosophy. Deciding what architecture meant to me and what creating a building meant—what it represented—was a seminal decision in my career and in my style.

In all of my projects, I try to imbue what I describe as humane modernism: buildings that are well built, that foster connections, and inspire their inhabitants, are an ethical responsibility. And this is a challenge.

Often times, the projects I take on have a moral and environmental dilemma to face; tight sites, tight budgets, modern but environmentally conscious design that can echo the voice of the clients. How can a Planned Parenthood clinic be both warm, opening but secure? How can a residence on a cliff (with a 200 foot drop) look romantic, modern but still fit on its rural site? And all while working with clients with their very own opinions.

I have designed health centers and multi-family residences. I have designed headquarters and homes, some from scratch and others were given to me with bones. In each project, I consider and apply my philosophy.

But your vision or mission doesn’t need to be morally or politically oriented like mine. Gehry’s façades play with perspective and his interiors with space. He challenges what a building can be. Hadid looked towards angularity that is still fluid. She compromised nothing

Discovering what philosophy motivates your creation—that is good architecture.



You can’t find us in binders, Mitt, but don’t worry – we’ll find you.

 If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard. – First Lady Hilary Clinton at the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing (1995)

Last week, I participated in a panel at the AIA San Francisco conference called The Missing 32%.The panel sought, through discussion, to better understand and improve the fate of women architects. The 32% refers to the women who disappear from the profession after graduating from an architecture program.

I want to mention that, initially, I was not one of the invited speakers. And when I first found out about the event, I mentally noted that they had no speakers that were women, sole owners of their architectural firms. But I led it slide off my back–I was not going to broach the subject with the AIA.

I don’t know why I let it go at first. I have always been extremely outspoken, some might even say vociferous, about the need for equality and diversity in architecture and have never hesitated to try and shake things up. I grew up a feminist. I have never doubted for a minute that I was as good as the guys and as deserving.

I started my own firm more than 25 years back. I have a successful design business and I am old enough to feel that I have nothing more to prove. I know that I have spent the last few decades proving that a woman can run her own practice.

But fate intervened. I received an email from the AIA California Committee asking for suggestions on where to find new members of a committee I was on.  The list of prospective broke down to 8 men and 3 women (28% women).  It was so normal for women to be the minority.

 The fact that this AIA official does not even think that diversity on a prominent AIA committee is a priority, if not an obligation, is typical. After all, we only make up 18% of licensed architects but that number becomes even smaller, even less significant, in smaller firms, on committees, within bureaucracy.

I knew then that the women’s panel was too important to pass-up.

But I had to make the calls (well, the emails) and contact the powers that be. This is the reality of being a woman in architecture, day by day, event by event, I trek through this life looking for ways to show that women are as good as men and deserve the same opportunities, the same design awards, the same committee positions.

If you want to have more power in your firm, if you want more opportunities in the work place, than you must ask for it. Sometimes you can ask quietly, sometimes a little more forcefully, and sometimes you will have to shout. Sometimes, you might even have to grab the opportunities yourself, like I did with the panel.

If you want to see more women rise in the rank of leadership in architecture and in the AIA, you need willpower and perseverance. And you can never forget that is a daily battle and a daily decision to make the world a better place for women tomorrow.

And if you’re feeling hesitant, step 1 is easy: voting for anyone but Mitt Romney.

Women in Architecture (“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.” – Clare Boothe Luce)

About a month ago, I sat down with Rebecca of the Architects’ Take to discuss what it is like being a woman in a male-dominated profession. I’ve pasted one of my favorite parts below and you can find the full interview is here.

For example, in the Architect’s Journal study about women in architecture, there was a woman who commented that Zaha Hadid’s success has resulted in her having no family life. My first reaction was “Who cares? And how is that relevant to her body of work as an architect?” Why is a family life something a successful woman has to give up? It might have never been on Zaha’s radar. How presumptuous it is for anyone to assume that Zaha is not perfectly happy with the choices she has made, both professionally and personally. Besides, just because you aren’t married doesn’t mean you are relegated to a life of spinsterhood. I remember the late 80s when that study came out saying that women over 35 were more likely to be abducted by terrorists than to get married.

Zaha could have had 7 lovers, one for every day of the week for all we know!

We – and women particularly – should all be proud of Zaha. She is a resounding success and an extraordinary architect. And frankly, I don’t hear the same criticism being applied to Rem Koolhaas. A few years ago, I remember a piece on him in the New York Times. And they were just flippantly describing his two families – one with his wife and the other with his mistress. I mean, he clearly had enough time on his hands. He had it all, and then some.

Women have a harder time than men in architecture, plain and simple. And it gets discouraging. You can get beaten down. It can be easier to find something else to do instead. I was a single mom at the same time that I had a firm, and it wasn’t easy. I didn’t have a life partner to support me; I had to work. I had some more flexibility, because it was my own firm, so I could incorporate my daughter into my work schedule. She would come to the office after school and it was fine. Or I didn’t have to ask permission to go to parent-teacher conferences. But I was the boss, and even when I could leave for an hour on a Wednesday to see her play basketball, I still had to land new jobs, make payroll, attend meetings, serve on architectural juries, and pay the rent.


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