Their jury citation mentions them to be pioneers in a field that has traditionally been and still is a male-dominated profession and that they are beacons to others as they forge their exemplary professional path. Is there an apparent disparity present here? Or Is it an organic outcome purely based on merit in the profession?  

Rethinking The Future Awards 2022

The year is 2020, the winner for the Pritzker Prize, the most coveted award in the field of architecture has been declared. This year the honor has been conferred upon two architects from Ireland, Yvonne Farrell (1951) and Shelley McNamara (1952). There is immediate jubilation within the architectural fraternity for the honourees. The area of focus more than their work, however, is laid on the fact that they are only the fourth and fifth women in the forty-three years of the legacy of Pritzker to have won the prestigious award. Their jury citation mentions them to be pioneers in a field that has traditionally been and still is a male-dominated profession and that they are beacons to others as they forge their exemplary professional path. Is there an apparent disparity present here? Or Is it an organic outcome purely based on merit in the profession?  

The growing importance of cultural and gender diversity in the profession of architecture - Sheet1
List of the Pritzker Prize winners over the years. Image Source – ©https://www.pritzkerprize.com/

Probe a little further and there is an emergent pattern that is visible in the profession of the lack of representation, research, and documentation of the works of women in practice. The statistics show that nearly 50% of the students studying architecture are females. However, this statistic is inconsistent with the number of female graduates working in the profession later in life. According to surveys, only 17% of women form the body of practicing architects in America while in India, the ratio is better at about 47% of women making up for the professional demographic. Furthermore, it seems that women are more likely to work as employees than start their practice. The reasons for this happening are manifold beginning from the existing prevalent socio-political atmosphere, cultural gender stereotyping, added scrutiny and discrimination at every level within the industry, disturbed work-life balance, and lack of lucrative career opportunities. 

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The growing importance of cultural and gender diversity in the profession of architecture - Sheet2
Leewardists recently did a very accurate comic strip on some of the instances that architects (women) have to face in the profession. Image Source – ©https://www.instagram.com/leewardists/?hl=en

Ask any woman working in the profession and they will have several anecdotes of the times when their gender has affected their perception or their workability in practice. From mistri’s, clients, government officials, and the architectural fraternity itself everyone at some point or the other has always expressed an obvious privileging of the male over the female purely based on gender. Architecture has always been perceived to be a man’s profession, much like several other professions. What this results in is missing out on talent and opportunity for half the people qualified in the vocation. There is also a unique perspective that the other gender brings to the table that is much needed to make equitable spaces. To ensure the creation of gender-equal spaces it is crucial to ensure a gender-equal panel is employed in the making of these spaces too. How else can the unique needs of the genders be understood and empathized?  

The lack of cultural diversity is also prevalent in the profession. The profession of architecture has been always described as being elitist; there is a serious gap present in the perception of the profession within the different socio-economic sections of society. Several articles and surveys highlight how the profession of architecture is still largely white and male. The concerns and unique perspectives that are brought about by people belonging to different cultural contexts get lost out if this sampling of professionals continues. Architects use their lived experiences as sources of inspiration for designing. The personal experiences often translate into giving a unique perspective to architects and results in developing their design sensibility. The voices of different communities get represented through the people of these communities and they must become a part of the system to effect positive changes. The social aspect aside, the need to break down this age-old belief that architecture is an exclusive domain of the elites, could not be more urgent. In a time when we are seeing massive protests and debates happening worldwide for making equal opportunities available for people at all levels, architecture should certainly embrace this change and recognize its potential to affect a positive change in society.

Author

Chaitali is an architect from Pune who’s passionate about history and theory of architecture, urban history and architectural heritage. Travelling and writing are her method of learning and engaging. She strongly believes that writing and research are crucial for academia as well as the practice.

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Rethinking The Future Awards 2022