Architect Barbie, and Other Important Advancements in Architectural Practice

2-0011I recently stumbled across an article titled, “ Building on the Past; A History of Women in Architecture,” by SUNY Buffalo Architectural History Professor and PhD, Despina Stratigakos. In her account of women’s advancements in the field of architecture, she begins the article by recounting Architect Barbie’s debut at the 2011 AIA Convention in New Orleans.  Flanked by booths of materials, technology, and a polarizing ratio of 78% male conference attendees, the pink-and-white Mattel booth was both an anomaly and bright spot on the convention floor.  Serving as an educational area to introduce concepts of architectural design to young women (and by young, I mean as early as 5 or 6 years old,) this booth provided clever programming as a means of possibly diversifying the profession’s current gender disparity.

Three years later to the day (the 2014 AIA National Convention is happening right now in Chicago–a city that is an architectural masterpiece in its own right), Architect Barbie seems to be a mere foreshadowing of an undeniably exciting time for women architects.

One only needs to look at Jeanne Gang’s “Aqua Tower,” the leadership of the AIA’s 90th President, Helene Combs Dreiling, or take note of the 2014 AIA Gold Medal Award given to Julia Morgan (only sixty years after her death!) to see that women are gaining recognition, dynamic commissions, and interesting leadership positions, all the while transcending any makeshift glass ceilings that may have previously existed.

Furthermore, current data reinforces women’s growth both in numbers and leadership within the profession of architecture. This past May, the Architect’s Journal reported an increase in the proportion of women to men in top practices in from 22.7 to 27.5%.

As a young woman in architecture, I find this information to be exciting for a few reasons:

(1) This may mean that many architecture firms are and will continue to become more balanced in terms of women and men leaders/mentors for the next generation of architects,

(2) Architecture’s former reputation as an “old boys’ club” may be lifting to build a more balanced workplace,

(3) Women who have been practicing will hopefully continue to receive the recognition they deserve. An example would be a designer such as Charlotte Perriand, whose genius was cloaked by male counterparts like Corbusier until only recently.

(4) The sky might just be the limit for what type of work and opportunities my female co-workers, friends, and former classmates might want to pursue in the future within and outside the boundaries of our profession.

While there is no race to be won or any concrete, gender-balanced targets for architecture offices to meet (I still believe an office must be comprised of the best talent, and how this shakes out gender-wise is subjective,) I hope to convey this information only to share the message that for women who in early stages of practicing architecture, there will likely be more women with shared experiences to guide them in partnership with male counterparts.

While 27.5% is not a staggering number, interesting statistics such as Stratigakos’ mention that in 1900 there were 39 licensed women architects, and today, 30,000 makes me feel thankful for being born in the 1980’s as opposed to the 1880’s..

What a difference a century makes!

_______________________________________________________

For more information, I highly recommend a read through Stratigakos’ article.

And please note: This article does not aim to touch upon the challenges of motherhood, the Lean In phenomenon, etc.  Another discussion for another time!  Just looking at the rise of women in the profession from a global perspective!

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