Women in Contemporary Architecture
If the number of women architects continues to grow at the present rate, their representation in the profession might just achieve parity by the year 3000. In the United States, only 10 percent of licensed architects in firms are women.
Some individuals, of course, have taken action. Annette Fischer, who has been a president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Council in London as well as running her own practices, has championed the cause of both women and minority architects.
She has made a significant contribution toward smashing the "glass ceiling" frequently hanging over these groups. Fischer believes that the more people like herself become involved in mainstream architecture, the less likely people will be to accept the stereotype of the successful architect as a white male superstar.
The more we see the female architect as a powerful influence, the more young women will be encouraged to join the profession and will be able to stay there despite the pressures. At the same time, the fact that more and more developer clients are nonwhite females will foster broad-based input from community groups of all types.
Here are just a few who represent the wide range of architectural styles and intellectual and social concerns to be found among today's practicing women architects.
Itsuko Hasegawa, one of Japan's most widely respected architects, likens making architecture to the act of creating a poem or a musical composition.
Over the past ten years, consideration of the waterfront transition zone between port and city has been an important part of Hasegawa's work. Studying these complex edges, with their plurality of life, unique rhythms, and involved interrelationships, has given rise to an understanding of how these properties might relate to architecture itself.
From this research came the "island hopping" concept, in which the process of making architecture is likened to the formation of an archipelago, an eccentric island pattern. It is a poetic act, similar in spirit to the composition and performance of music.
Eve Laron began her career in Australia at a time when bias against women in certain professions, including architecture, was widespread. In the early 1970s, she was made partner in a firm she had been practicing with for almost a decade, prompting two male associates to resign rather than work for a female boss.
Today, she heads her own firm, Eve Laron Architects, based in Kilara, New South Wales, and is an activist on two fronts, fighting for environmentally sound design and for the increased presence of women in architecture and related fields.
About her work she writes: "All design is challenging, and your next project is always the best." Laron finds that "the more challenging a project — that is, the more difficulties it entails — the more interesting the solution."
"In the very act of resolving a given problem, one usually introduces some quite fascinating details that one would not have come up with were it not for the pressure to overcome that problem. Necessity is, indeed, not only the mother of invention, but also the mother of inspiration."
Frances Halsband, whose distinguished career in architecture spans four decades, practices in New York City, with by R.M. Kliment & Frances Halsband Architects. Like most of the architects in this book, Halsband's contributions to the world of architecture go far beyond her built work.
She is an active teacher and lecturer, sits on various advisory boards, and publishes an important quarterly journal on sustainable design, the Design History Foundation's Places.
About her design work, she writes: "We intend our buildings to be clearly conceived and carefully made places that engage the past and imply connections to the future. We search for a consistency and clarity of formal expression that is a language of forms, and for materials and details that are expressive of the function and of the spirit of the program and of the site."
Halsband continues: "The result is a language that is matched to building a craft, a match of means to an end. Each project varies in relation to its cultural and physical context, and we strive to make each coherent within itself and consistent with the essential intent of our work."
And Those Who Came Before
It is important to recognize that women architects do not speak with one united voice about how they perceive themselves within the profession.
Although many do say that the contributions of women are not sufficiently recognized within the "superstar" structure that reflects success in the architectural world, others feel that the problems faced by women in the profession are not as great as those faced by other minorities, and that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
It is also important to understand that there is more parity today between female and male architects than in past decades, a progression made possible, in large part, by the work of women who made major contributions to the field: