Architecture is no different from other professions; it seems to be a tough profession for women to crack. Even though the state of women in the architectural community is much better than it was yesterday, it still has a long way to go. While at the academic level, design and architecture programs attract female students, the profession cannot seem to retain it. In a study done by ‘The NYT’, women only make up 18 percent of licensed architects, and only three of the top 100 firms in the world are headed by women. Various factors play into this like work/life balance, inability to garner authority, and incapability to break into the archaic boys’ club of networking.
However, women architects have been building the glass ceiling and shattering it too in the last decade in the multiple fields of architecture.
With architects like Suma Reddy, Elizabeth Diller proving that it’s no longer taboo to see a woman in a position of power and leadership, we have to ask ourselves what are the unique things women architects bring to the field of the architectural community and acknowledge it.
1. A Distinct Design Process
Every architect’s process and design ideology are heavily influenced by their personal and professional identity. Variations in personal identity include factors such as nationality, geography, and culture along with gender. These characteristics have a significant play in one’s design methodology. Gender too has a nuanced influence on the end product. The influences need not be, stereotypically feminine but might have subtle traces like user experience and functionality.
2. Women Inclusive Design
With already existing gender roles, women are more involved in unpaid, domestic chores like dropping their kids off, picking up groceries. Thus, their travel patterns are vastly different from that of men. A more holistic mixed-use planning ensures efficiency for women. This also brings women into the workplace by providing safe streets and more inclusive urban planning. Women architects can empathize with these concerns (being working women themselves) and often design a more inclusive urbanscape.
3. Educators And Child Inclusive Design
97% of child educators are women. This staggeringly high number also indicates that educators are designers in their sense. Designing their course, they have total hegemony over the child’s multi-sensory experience. In history we’ve seen that the man invented building blocks – Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, however, it can be argued that women have had more influence because hundreds of women brought the building blocks into children’s hands. According to AIA, 49% of women architects are mothers. Undeniably, women also design keeping children in mind creating an all-encompassing space. Homes, too, are more functional as women architects require less of a learning curve due to being able to visually experience the process of running a home.
However, saying that women architects have yet to get out of the kitchen. Statistics show that women are chained, tied, and condemned to the house. According to a poll conducted by AIA, 78% of people said they would trust women architects with only the design of their houses. The condemnation of female architects to interior spaces is one of the subtle ways in which the field has failed to progress. Women are slowly paving the way towards the design of skyscrapers and commercial buildings for the architectural community. For example, Architects like Lu Wenyu and Denise Scott-Brown have destroyed that myth by designing skyscrapers that have redefined the characteristics of commercial complexes.
From the Vitruvian man to Archimedes rules, architecture has been famously designed for men. Data is usually absent for women and women architects help bring visibility to women’s bodies and help in accommodating diversity. Equality doesn’t mean treating women like men, but acknowledging the differences and catering towards the same. Sex-disaggregated data is incredibly simple to achieve. One must do it more.
Women in architecture will trailblaze the way for young women considering the field. These women will continue to mentor the next generations of women architects and the endless cycle will persist until there is equal representation in the field. Many women recount the shock of moving from a mixed classroom to a mostly men-dominated site. Closing the gap will also ensure equal opportunities for women.
Women architects will be the harbingers in helping women in other industries, construction, political feminists, and workers, in general, to rise, by collaborating with them. Every woman who has faced hardship in establishing herself will work towards lifting women whether it is female civil engineers or female masons.
8. Transparency In The Workplace
Salaries aren’t gender-biased; it is objective and tangible. One has to be compensated based on their skills and accomplishments. So, with more women in the workplace and increased open discussion, the pay wage gap can be resolved. Just by recognizing women and their work, we promote the fact that it is possible, but also that it is important to stand up for your opinion and ideas about architecture. No matter if you are a man or a woman, you have to fight to be taken seriously.
Architecture vernacular is laden with words such as accessibility, inclusiveness, participation. We want architecture to reflect that and not stand gender-related discrimination. Architecture is all about passion, talent, and vision. Whether that would be a man or a woman is not important. We need to push the architectural community further away from the notion and stereotype that it’s practiced by an egotistical white man. Let’s stop the culture of worship of the starchitect and move towards a complete re-definition of collective and intersectional architecture.