True Green Cities / Celebrating Five Years – We’re Still Talking About Gender Bias in Architecture

It’s been five years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog TWO of my fifth anniversary week.

Why Are We Still Talking About Gender Bias in Architecture?

My most widely read blog was one I wrote in 2013 called Just Don’t Call Me A Woman Architect.  I thought I could write about it once and move on.  But here we are three years later and we are still talking about gender bias in architecture because we are still talking about gender bias in our general culture.  Several recent occurrences have brought it back to the forefront of discussion. The sudden surge of discriminatory laws such as North Carolina’s HB2 which legalizes discrimination of bias against LGBTQ citizens or actually just anyone whose looks someone wants to discriminate against has sent our country back decades.  And the sudden and unexpected loss of  Zaha Hadid has revived the discussion about gender in architecture.

Zaha Hadid, copyright Steve Double from ArchDaily.

Zaha Hadid, copyright Steve Double from ArchDaily.

Dame Zaha Hadid died of a heart attack in Miami on March 31st. She was only 65 and had just received the RIBA Gold Medal, the first woman architect to receive it.  Her life was one of firsts for “woman” architects – first woman and still only woman to receive the Pritzker Award on her own, architecture’s “Nobel” prize in 2004.  But like many women, including me, she did not call herself, nor did she like to be referred to, as a “woman” architect.

I ended my 2013 blog with the following paragraph which explains for all of us why calling us “woman” architects is demeaning. ” … Not wanting to call yourself a “woman” architect is an entirely understandable position. “But as Gloria Steinem put it, ‘Whoever has power takes over the noun – and the norm – while the less powerful gets the adjective.’ There are architects – who are overwhelmingly white men – and there are women architects, at least in the minds of many.” To that I say, there are some adjectives I will accept. You can call me a preservation architect. You can call me a sustainability architect. You can even call me a government or nonprofit architect. Just don’t ever call me a “woman” architect.

Where Are the Women Architects?

"Where Are the Woman Architects" by Despina Stratigakos, the Interim Chair of the Architecture Department at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning, is launched today in NYC.

“Where Are the Woman Architects” by Despina Stratigakos, the Interim Chair of the Architecture Department at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning, is launched today in NYC.

Today my friend Despina Stratigakos launches her new book of essays “Where Are The Women Architects?” at the NYC Architecture Center. Despina is one half of the Buffalo team behind Architect Barbie.  She and Kelly Hayes-McAlonie worked with Mattel in 2010 to make “Architect Barbie” a reality. We’ve all heard the statistics. Up to 50% of architecture schools are comprised of women but by ten years after graduation the number of women in the field has dropped significantly so that today licensed architects include only about 17% women while 25% of office staff are women.  But the field is not any better with minorities either.  Architecture remains a white man’s field.

Does What We Call Ourselves Matter?

It also happens that today a dear friend and colleague, Terri Anderson, a museum professional is presenting a very evocative paper at a museum conference at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  She and her colleagues at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture have been asking some difficult questions about the labels museum professionals put on art and more importantly the artists. In their panel today, Building an Inclusive Database: Cataloging Places, Gender, Sexuality and Other Identities they will be asking their museum colleagues to think more carefully about the labels, both literal and physical that they prepare for works of art in their museums.  Would the artist have called themselves woman, African-American, lesbian, transgender, queer? Was their art “woman,” “African-American,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” “queer”?   Would they call their art something different than what they’d call themselves?

How Do We Move Forward?

I keep my AIA Fellow's Medal (left) and Dean's Medal from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning on my manikin which wears my antique evening gown.

I keep my AIA Fellow’s Medal (left) and Dean’s Medal from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning on my manikin which wears my antique evening gown. So, yes, I am a proud woman architect.

Today is also New York State’s primary, which sadly I cannot vote in because I’m an independent.  Some of the most awful vitriol targeted at Hillary Clinton is based in gender bias.  Women in power, no matter the field, are treated differently, and it’s not positive.  When Zaha Hadid won the Pritzker, hardly any article mentioned her award without making a disparaging comment about her fashion style, her hair, her food choices.  Even the NY Times architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, descended to this level with, “Beneath the layers of Miyake, he claimed, she was really just “a big, raucous peasant woman” and not particularly intellectual: “She is not someone you would talk to about books.”  Why are women subjected to such scrutiny?

Do those of us who have made it in our fields owe it to our colleagues to speak out? I used to say, “No,” just leave me alone to be an architect without an adjective.  But as I see that not only have things not changed, in many respects, they are getting worse, I acknowledge that we do owe it to ourselves and the students and young architects to say, “YES, I am a woman architect and I’m damn proud of it.”

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True Green Cities / Celebrating Five Years – Climate Change & COP21

Celebrating 5 Years – Climate Change & COP21

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Architecture Center.

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Architecture Center, the location of the recent Climate meetings.

It’s been five years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog ONE of my 5th anniversary week.

I was interviewed for an article in Architect Magazine about COP21 by Kim O’Connell, which got me thinking about how far the new Paris Climate agreement goes. That seems to be a good place to start my week of celebration blogs – as this could impact everything I do, and all architects do.

What is your general response, as an architect and a sustainability leader, to the Paris Climate Agreement? Did it go far enough?

The United Nations from Long Island City. Is the Secretariat still the Secretariat even though its curtain wall has been replaced?

The United Nations from Long Island City. The Secretariat’s curtain wall was replaced with a more efficient one.

In some respects the Paris Climate Agreement is the most exciting thing to happen to sustainability since the 1987 Brundtland Commission’s release of “Our Common Future.” In other respects, it could barely take us beyond the status quo.  But what I find really significant about the agreement is that there WAS an agreement between all 196 countries including the US and China.  There was discussion.  It’s carnival atmosphere captured the attention of the whole world.  The agreement which basically provides the framework to keep world-wide warming to two degrees and if possible to 1.5 degrees sends a signal to the world and to corporations.  It says that this is serious; we need to pay attention.  It should spur re-investment in renewables.  It provides recommendations to create guidelines in capacity building and transparency.  Politically, we have till 2018 and 2023 to make this all happen, but will enough countries actually ratify it? Will the US ratify it?  It will all depend on the fall presidential election.

Architects have already committed to the 2030 carbon neutrality challenge. Is this a sufficient goal in light of the Paris Agreement? Are enough architects doing their part?

Manhattan from the 54th floor of 54 Leonard, the new Herzog & DeMeuron residential tower in TriBeCa.

Manhattan from the 54th floor of 54 Leonard, the new Herzog & DeMeuron residential tower in TriBeCa.

While Architecture 2030 has lofty goals and well-detailed recommendations, it is primarily being adopted by large cities, large firms, large agencies.  As someone who works in both big cities and medium/small cities, the disparity between sustainability efforts is huge. Few architects and owners apply real, meaningful sustainability efforts to projects unless they are required by the client or the jurisdiction.  Building and zoning codes that require LEED for example (such as Chicago, Washington, DC, Washington State) are far more effective in ensuring at least a base level of sustainable approaches. While New York State and New York City do not currently have legislation that requires LEED, the new benchmarking laws for all buildings over 50,000 square feet are making a big impact.

Does the 2030 Commitment have enough “weight” and exposure in terms of galvanizing architects and the general public to greater awareness?

I do  not believe that a “commitment” that is basically primarily focused on architects can promote greater public awareness.  It needs to be retooled in a way that the average person, who may not even know an architect, but cares about recycling or saving energy costs, can readily understand it and feel like it impacts their life.  Tax credits for solar – that impacts public awareness.  Signing up to meet the 2030 Challenge – that does not impact public awareness.

How will COP21 affect what the profession is doing? What more can it do to promote energy efficiency and sustainability?

The former Niagara Machine and Tool Company factory complex at 683 Northland Avenue on the East Side of Buffalo is set to be adapted into a net zero mixed use property.

The former Niagara Machine and Tool Company factory complex at 683 Northland Avenue on the East Side of Buffalo is set to be adapted into a net zero mixed use property.

COP21 will have to affect the architectural profession.  Since almost 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to construction activities, in order to meet the goals of limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees, every building activity will matter.  We can only meet these goals (which still may not be rigorous enough) if the leaders in the architecture and construction fields are integral to developing these approaches.

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True Green Cities / Reflecting on the Highlights of 2015

The FIT Sustainable Interior Environments graduate program celebrated its 5th anniversary in November.

The FIT Sustainable Interior Environments graduate program celebrated its 5th anniversary in November.

Last year was a challenging year on many fronts. There have been successes and losses, for me and the country. I would say from a global perspective terrorism, our crazy presidential campaign, refugees and climate change (at the Paris Climate Change conference) had the most impact. While locally, I have been involved in some big wins (and one huge loss) – the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala, the fifth year anniversary of my graduate school program at FIT, the opening of the 500 Block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo, the active work on the opening of the new Buffalo Architecture Center and sadly the demolition of five of the Shoreline Apartments (by Paul Rudolph) on Buffalo’s waterfront.

While I think a lot about these world issues, the only one I really have any personal concern for is climate change.  I don’t worry about terrorism. I don’t quite see what the point is. Maybe because I lived through the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and 9/11 in New York City? Maybe because if someone really wants to kill me and it’s my time there isn’t much I can do? I don’t see myself as a fatalist, I see myself as a realist.

Paul Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo's City Hall.

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo’s City Hall.

Here is what I do worry about. I worry about climate change. I worry about the grand mal seizure my kitten Percy just had.  I worry that my luggage will get lost on my weekly flights between NYC and Buffalo (oh and I don’t worry about the plane crashing).  I worry about the check engine light on my 12 year old Subaru. I worry that I haven’t written a blog since August. I worry about racism and xenophobia. With that said, despite these overwhelming international concerns, I start 2016 with great hope and a positive approach. And a plan to return to my regular blogging!

A Park is A Work of Art

A view of the Silent Auction tent at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala in Riverside Park, with a piece of equipment in the forefront that funds raised would help to purchase.

A view of the Silent Auction tent at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala in Riverside Park, with a piece of equipment in the forefront that funds raised would help to purchase.

My sister Joanne serves on the Board of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. She and I chaired the annual Gala this year and were proud to support the Olmsted-designed parks in Buffalo with a theme of “A Park is a Work of Art.” For the Conservancy it was a year of rebuilding, rebranding and rebooting at the Conservancy, and we are happy we could help with this with the support of so many friends and colleagues who made this Gala one of the best and most original at Riverside Park. The funds both the Gala and the Gift Gathering Happy Hour raised will help maintain Olmsted and Vaux’s vision from 1868, which includes caring for 6 parks, 7 parkways and 8 landscaped circles that total 850 acres.

While 40% of their funding comes from the City of Buffalo, the remaining 60% comes from members, donors, corporate sponsors, a wide variety of foundations and organizations, and 1,000+ volunteers.

The Revival of the 500 Block of Main Street

My Forester has a new parking lot on the newly opened Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

My Forester has a new parking spot on the newly opened Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

Finally, after two years of construction, the construction equipment outside my window is gone, my block is open to traffic after 30 years, restaurants and shops are opening and I can park in front of my door to unload groceries! We have trees again and parking spots, bollards that light up at night. What was a desolate embarrassment to Buffalo for decades, is the hottest new block in the city. I wasn’t quite sure I would make it through the two years of construction and now I find myself in the midst of a downtown truly being reactivated when I just may need to make a decision about moving to New York City. But as a friend would say, those are first world problems and 2016 will make it all clearer. In the meantime the cats and I enjoy suddenly find ourselves being back in a true urban environment.

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© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013