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.”

And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.