Women In Architecture – A Variety Of Perspectives
The role of women in architecture evolved from the professional context of Marion Mahony Griffin, the world’s first officially licensed female architect (1895), to our days where women are a key component of this translation to form, shape, surface of our human need of a “shelter” to live, work, dream and persevere.
As an architect I often think that the role of those who have the collective responsibility of shaping behaviours and defining society’s cultural and social fabric, is to translate into space the emotional and intellectual knowledge of time, human interaction, cultural legacy and hope for the generations to come.
Women are by nature the caretakers of society, allowing us to apprehend contexts and necessities, like an overall picture, a 360 degree view of possibilities, to create, to be the narrator of architectural language, in all aspects of the architectural world.
In the design process, project management, technical and mentoring roles, we have a voice, a place, a definition of quality.
From the first day I started my professional path, twenty years ago, in a South European predominant professional male environment, where women had to work twice as hard as the male equivalent, until today’s equality, I am an active witness of the growth and empowerment of our role through diligence and hard work.
From a generation of women in architecture that I am proudly a part of.
“I really believe in the idea of the future.”
When we read the topic “women in architecture” our minds immediately jump to gender inequality and difficult issues, as well as to stereotypical generalisations. Only about 17-20% of all architects globally are women, a little better at 29% in Canada. And why is that? But I’d rather talk about the unique contributions of women in our industry. I would want to talk about the specific women in architecture I know – the real live human ones that aren’t just statistics or generalisations – and what inspires me about them or how they make our business better.
I have had the great fortune of being inspired by many female architects in daily life, starting with my first mentor who was a young mother of three and an exceptional architect. Her gentle guidance formed the solid base of my current knowledge and her relentless attention to detail taught me to strive for perfection. Currently, our studio is 40% female (with one on maternity leave) and they are all hardworking, knowledgeable professionals with whom it is a pleasure to work. It is vital to bring the unique perception of the needs of women into the design of our lived environment to ensure that it is inclusive and caters to everyone’s needs. In addition (not to sound like a suck-up) but having a female studio lead who is not only the president of the AAA but also an amazing lead and architect is beyond inspiring. Apart from being talented and hardworking, she encourages a healthy work-life balance and has created an exceptional studio environment.
As a Canadian Female Registered Architect, I am proud to carry on the legacy of those who came before me, and so when I started to research some of Canada’s first female architects, it was with delight that I discovered the first woman in Canada to become a registered architect was through the Alberta Association of Architects. In 1920, Esther Marjorie Hill became the first woman in Canada to enter into and graduate from this profession. In 1925 she was accepted into the AAA becoming the first woman to be a registered architect in Canada. She was followed by other pioneers such as Catherine Mary Wisnicki who became the first woman to graduate from the School of Architecture at McGill University in 1943 and who then joined the OAA in 1946. Blanche Lemco van Ginkel graduated from the School of Architecture at McGill University in 1945. She later founded her own firm with her husband in 1957 in Toronto and was the first woman to hold a leading position at a Canadian School of Architecture when she served as Dean of Architecture at the University of Toronto between 1980-82.
And there are many more women in architecture since that time who have persevered and followed their passion to contribute to one of the greatest professions there is! There has been tremendous success stories with many women leading their own firms across the country or in partnership with their male colleagues. We bring a different perspective that is just as valuable and respected as our male counterparts do.
Architecture as a whole is a demanding profession, not for the faint of heart, but creativity isn’t gender specific. My Dad (who was a distinguished architect) always told me that you have to have the soul of an artist and the skin of a rhinoceros. I learned that this adage was very true early in my career and also understood that in every creative discipline women have a role to play. In architecture, creativity isn’t held back, in fact we need to collaborate with our teams in order to evaluate and explore all sorts of perspectives which in turn create truly great work. Architecture allows us to pursue artistic freedom and personal expression with tangible results. Women typically excel in communication and this skill can be handy on construction sites – especially as they can be confrontational, difficult, and stressful – as being able to handle challenging situations with diplomacy and a firm voice is a real asset.
Female architects are coming together to tackle issues of importance to them, such as equity, diversity and inclusiveness in their profession. We need to support, celebrate and connect our fellow practitioners in the design industry through intersectional and cross-disciplinary approaches that support leadership, mentorship and networking opportunities in architecture. I recently came across this quote on the internet: “Since women design differently than men, it is crucial to have female leaders on the team to create a well-rounded design. Women architects are more likely to listen to the needs of the client and make design decisions accordingly, as well as offer more opportunities for collaboration to seek new ideas.”
I think that as we continue to strive towards equality and gender balance we all, ultimately, share in the same ideologies. Being an architect isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle and one that we understand will impact how we look at the world, how we can design and build to support a better environment and how we can impact future women in the profession. It is a lifelong passion which is constantly evolving, allowing us to be nimble and current. I’m teaching my daughters that they can be anything they want to be, they are strong, confident young women who will make a difference in whatever profession they chose to pursue. I lead by example. My colleagues, my family, and my daughters understand that you can achieve great things; you can be a leader, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother, an educator, a mentor (and the President of the AAA) and set the example of what you can contribute through communication, collaboration and the will to succeed.
Plus we get to wear ridiculous eye wear and funky clothes.
Keesa Hutchinson, AAA, MRAIC