Being a mother in architecture isn’t easy. Architecture history is full of fathers who have a balanced family and work sometimes even multiple families and work. But there are fewer examples of mothers who have been able to capitalize if and when given equal opportunity to do it all.

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Image 1 – Women architects balancing motherhood and planning ©architecturalreview.com

There has been a surge in the growth of female students in the Architecture field. However, the number of women practicing architecture drops off quite rapidly midway through their career. The reasons for this phenomenon are multiple such as; high stress, poor work/life balance or lack of flexibility, etc. The one main factor has been the decision to start a family. The biological responsibility of caring for children inevitably lies with women and the consensus is that to enjoy a career in architecture while raising a family is a rare sight. Although as a recognized and respected architect women often find it difficult to balance the demands of a professional career with the unending pull of family life. However to have it all is not impossible.Womanhood is blessed with the privilege to bear children, but to be posed with a choice to start a family over one’s career does put women at a disadvantage.An architect mum often finds herself lagging on rejoining the workplace post-maternity leave. The work from the home system doesn’t suit a newborn baby’s mother who is in the process of recouping her health and mental state. Eventually, on the rare occasions of women rejoining the workforce, existing projects have been delivered, new projects have come in or teams have been reassigned, requiring a period of readjustment.

Sadly though, many choose not to return to work or opt for a part-time position after giving birth. Owing to the rigid timings and demands of traditional architectural firms many architect mums choose to take a career break while their children are still young.On the contrary, while male architects can follow a straight and traditional career path, the architect mum has to be incredibly flexible dividing her time efficiently between the office and home if she chooses to rejoin the workforce. Support from within the workplace matters a lot when it comes to toggling between being an architect and being a mother. An increasing number of firms are beginning to understand the repercussions of losing good team members and are providing the option of a part-time solution or flexible timings for working mothers which help alleviate some of the pressure. 

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Female-led offices are particularly conscious of providing the kind of structure that allows a working mother to continue to develop her career and not depriving her of opportunities that she deserves. Today architect mothers actively juggle and blur the lines between their work and children, while taking pride in doing their absolute best in the dual role. It doesn’t get easier, but at the end of the day there is nothing more rewarding than watching your children grow, your projects thrive and being able to share with your family the contribution you have made to the profession that you toiled hard to carve a niche in. Women, especially mothers, are inherently good listeners. It is an advantageous trait for an architect. Motherhood makes women more nurturing, creative, and empathic. By putting themselves in the clients’ shoes women can better understand how to interpret their needs and aspirations. These well-practiced attributes are brought to the table by architects who are working mothers. The benefit to the architecture profession by having an architect mother on board is the increase of diversity of practicing architects. Diversity brings different points of view and varied experiences, which are of great benefit to architectural outcomes overall. People within the industry who support women getting back into work after having kids are making the difference and it is the right place to begin changing the culture of the profession.                                   

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Image 2 – Women architects balancing motherhood and planning ©architecturalreview.com
Women architects who are balancing motherhood and planning - Sheet3
Image 3 – Women architects balancing motherhood and planning ©architecturalreview.com

According to the sixth annual Women in Architecture survey 2017, 30% of women and almost the same proportion of men say they would not recommend a career in architecture. This attitude varies with age – those in their 20s and over 50s are most likely to ‘encourage a young person to pursue a career in architecture’. Three mothers in architecture who make it work daily, Amy Mielke and Caitlin Taylor are both raising their first child, collaborating on their Holcim Award-winning research, and designing a collaborative Water Pore Partnership. They are taking two different paths and making unique choices through their profession. Amy Mielke works at a midsize architecture firm in New York City where she lives with her husband and her one-year-old, while Taylor chooses to work on her projects while teaching part-time at Yale and Columbia. She also manages to work on the farm she co-owns with her husband in Connecticut. Marilyn Jordan Taylor, the former dean of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Design was the first female chairman of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and successfully raised two children throughout her career.

When asked to decode the challenges they face, and what they find most rewarding, and what they would tell other mothers and anyone considering having a child while being an architect, there is a consensual acknowledgment that women were caught in a bind when trying to get ahead in the office.  It’s not considered appropriate for women as compared to men to inquire about their future in the professional field. Marilyn Taylor works primarily with women and mothers and notes that balancing her personal and professional life has become much easier. Caitlin Taylor remarked that it wasn’t just being physically separated from your work that was stressful but also having to toggle between mother and professional modes. All three architects agreed that it was hard to find work-life balance, but collectively understand that is not a one-night phenomenon, it requires time and patience more than what was expended during the beginning of their careers. It’s a whole new start. 

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Online articles have popped up suggesting that the key for women to manage in this new work environment is to find a good mentor to rely on for advice. But in a profession with few women, and even fewer mothers in leadership positions, one is curious as to how these women find role models but turn to a notion of extended support networks that help out in informal ways away from traditional ways. 

Being a woman in a white-collar job often means navigating a work environment that makes it difficult to rise to senior positions. It also in many cases means making some sort of peace with pay gaps, insufficient parental-leave policies, and inflexible hours that are incompatible with society’s expectations about child-rearing. Marilyn Jordan Taylor, the most experienced of the three, however, suggests that motherhood and career are not two poles to be balanced, but that success in one spurred success in the other.

Author

Ananya Nayak, a student of architecture, a young writer, an avid reader and a gregarious conversationalist seeks to express her architectural understandings in writing. Architecture for her is a conversation; refreshing with a new guest, comforting with a loved one and unique with a co-passenger. And to write about architecture is to address a letter to multiple post boxes, the arrival of which will ring a different tune for each reader.

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