What were we thinking? #architalks
Every month a group of national and international architects and designers converge together on the world wide web to discuss a singular topic from their own unique point of view. This is:
I've been struggling with this topic for a while now. I started out by writing about the difficulties in practice as both a licensed architect and a licensed general contractor that offers Design/Build services. And believe me, it would have been a sweet post. But this month's topic, at least to me, presented an interesting opportunity coming so close after a prominent architect, Richard Meier, was dashed into the limelight for sexual harassment of 4 former female employees and another woman. You can read the New York Times article here. I was further prompted to switch gears when a friend of mine, Ms. Lora Teagarden, posted an article on Facebook about women and sexual harassment in the workplace. And so I decided that I need to talk about the culture between men and women in architecture and why it is long passed time for it to change.
It's not remotely surprising to me that Richard Meier would be accused, in today's social and political climate, of sexual harassment. What is surprising is that it took so long. In fact, once I stopped to think about it and my own experiences, I am surprised that it isn't happening at a much faster pace and to more architects. It is a well known fact that women are an extreme minority in the profession, especially among licensed architects. There are many reasons for that, which is beyond the subject matter here, but what is material here is that men, maintaining a nearly complete control of the leadership in the profession since time immemorial have fostered a culture that does not allow women to succeed in architecture but for a rare few exceptions. Sexual harassment is all too common in our profession because of this, and not just on the construction site either. It exists in the office, in the materials library, in the conference room, at the conventions, at the lunch-and-learns, and at client meetings. We've all been in a situation with colleagues and someone makes a comment about the new intern or the new sales rep or the new whatever. We've all laughed. We've all joked. And we've all been wrong. We have been complicit in enabling this culture, feeding it, and allowing women who have just as much right to pursue their passion for architecture as we do to be hurt by it and even pushed out of the profession entirely.
The social media campaigns and the news stories and the movements that have been forced onto center stage by these mens' actions coming to light are more than justified. They are necessary. And we, the men of the profession of architecture, especially those of us in leadership positions, need to stand alongside these women to lift them up and to change the culture once and for all. This is not a call to arms, or even a call to action. It is a call to accountability in our profession. A cultural shift is one of the most difficult things to accomplish. But it starts with one man recognizing the truth and making daily deliberate strides to make himself better. Men are not the betters of women. And neither are women ours. We are equal citizens in this life and each of us is deserving of the right to pursue our professional passions with dignity and in peace.
Here are some famous female architects, living and passed, that you should take some time to learn about, as I am doing.
Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856-1915) - credited as being the first American Architect
Sophia Hayden (1868-1953) - First female graduate of MIT
Julia Morgan (1872-1957) - best known for her work on Hearst Castle in California
Kazuyo Sejima (1956-) - Japanese modernist architect and Pritzker Prize recipient
Denise Scott Brown (1931-) - Partner of Robert Venturi
Jeanne Gang (1964-) - MacArthur Fellow and founder of Studio Gang
Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) - First woman to receive the Pritzker Prize and the Stirling Prize
These women were and are all architects. And unfortunately famous not because they are women, but in spite of being women. They rose to the top of their profession despite a culture that would have preferred they remain in obscurity. This can not and will not go on.
For more words of wisdom on this month's topic, take a look at these other posts by soon-to-be famous architects, gender irrelevant.