Women Design & Build but Lack Recognition
In the field of architecture, women for decades had been treated as second class citizens. Their work is mostly overshadowed by their male counterparts.
In 1968, Las Vegas wasn’t the same as today. A dingy strip lined with trashy motels and casinos lit with fading neon signs, Las Vegas lacked all the aesthetics of modern architecture. That was until Denise Brown Scott and her husband Robert Venturi introducedthe city to contemporary architecture. The structures built through their joint practice celebrated what was once an ugly, dingy place.
In spite of all the equal effort put in by Brown and Venturi in reimagining Vegas the esteemed Pritzker Prize committee honored the work of only Robert Venturi by bestowing on him architectures richest international prize. Denise Scott for her part was only mentioned in the committee’s announcement as Roberts wife and support. In spite of Denise being a co-architect and equally contributing to the upliftment of Vegas, she was only acknowledged in passing as nothing more than a supportive wife.
Fast forward to the present and the situation isn’t vastly different.Globally, in the field of architecture, the number of women is not much as compared to many other sectors such as software engineer, finance, media and entertainment, education, health and so on. The reasons are many. However, the prominent one is the same reason Denise Brown Scott wasn’t given the same attribution as her husband.
A substantial number of architecture firms are creations of a husband and wife duo, and what is most painful is how the wives are treated in spite of having the same education and having put in, if not more than at least equal amount of work in the creation and sustenance of the firm.
SanthaMatoo, co-owner of Planer3studios says, “Almost everyone presumes that the husband must have set up the firm and the wife is just “SUPPORTING” him. What is annoying is that they would never use the same comparison if it was a firm headed by two men.”In spite of the tremendous effort put in by the woman partner, she does not get as much appreciation for her contribution to the firm. It is ingrained to think that the man is at the helm and the women is simply handling the easier lighter tasks such as design. Which is still considered a female profession.
Although the gender gap in architecture schools doesn’t point out a vast disparity, the presence of licensed female architects is a different story. Research shows that only a handful of women are at the forefront of top architecture firms.
The current educational scenario shows some signs of change. “My batch had 7 girls and 40 boys and that continued in the practice. Many women further opted out of the profession after marriage or motherhood and therefore there were fewer architecture firms founded by women. Having said that, today most architecture colleges have a healthy 50-50 ratio.”,said Abha Narain Lambah, Principal Architect , Abha Narain LambahAssociaes.
However, a grim snapshot of the current professional world portrays a conflicting picture. The fact remains that there are not many architectural firms with women founders. Those that do have women at the helm are more over partnership firms. Wherein the male partner is given more prominence and considered to be “The Boss”. The women co partners are still not given their due salience.
More over the construction industry that architects work closely with is also male dominated. The women working in this industry are expected to handle in-office work. The design, coordination etc. are considered jobs more apt for a woman in this industry. While the male members are expected to besweating it out at site, doing the engineering of architecture, dealing with laborers and contractors and all the other construction related work. “People assume that the dirt, grime, heat and physical exhaustion of construction site cannot be handled by women. Ironically they don’t register the large female work force employed in every construction site.” points out SanthaMatoo.
Of course, there’s a silver lining, with women actively taking up a hands-on approach and thus changing architectures narrative. Women like Gabriela Carrillo who won the architect of the year award in 2017 and RozanaMontiel, the emerging architect award, Sandra Barclay, winner of 2018 women architect of the year are a source of inspiration for all emerging architects. Women like these become mentors to the aspiring younger ones and in an industry like this the role of a mentor is crucial.
“There are quite a few women architects, a many few successful ones who took that ‘extra step’ – who defied the issues faced by women in this predominantly male working world – who did not care of how many working hours one needs to put-in in a day or how does one end up spending fatigued hours on a site visit or even how an ‘orthodox’ one doesn’t expect a women to be leading & being ‘the Boss’”, concurredArchitect Prem Nath, Founder of Prem Nath and Associates
There are a number of women who have proved that women can design insanely modern buildings and entire cities. Architecture made by women is not all fancy curves and baby stations, any more than architecture by men is all skyscrapers and virile symbols. Award winningarchitectural monuments are simply an architect’s creation irrespective of their gender.