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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

A Journey to Principled Design

By Jaya Kader, AIA 

Last December, during the week of Art Basel, Design Miami and numerous other Art fairs and events in the Sunshine City, I helped Caroline James put together a panel of women who practice architecture, titled “Principled Design”.  Sponsored by the AIA Miami, Miami Center for Architecture & Design, Women in Architecture Miami, and Harvard GSD Women in Design, the event was successful in weaving into an already established Harvard Alumni Program Weekend. 

The panel delved into a lively discussion on the various life experiences that architects bring into their practices and addressed such concepts as “principles, aesthetic aspirations, social concerns, joint creativity, range and structures of practice, and forms of collaboration.”   I was touched by the deep conversations that ensued as Caroline probed the panelists’ minds with questions such as:

  • What values do you bring into the design process, such as beauty or social concern?
  • Are there moral principles in design practice? 
  • Are there ways that those values translate into how you practice, such as the acknowledgment of joint creativity and collaboration?

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   Principled Design participants: (Front Row, L to R): Louise Braverman, Lourdes Solera, Marilys Nepomechie, and Caroline James. (Middle Row): Nati Soto, Elizabeth Camargo, and Jaya Kader. (Back Row): Carie Penabad and Arielle Assouline-Lichten 

Principled Design participants: (Front Row, L to R): Louise Braverman, Lourdes Solera, Marilys Nepomechie, and Caroline James. (Middle Row): Nati Soto, Elizabeth Camargo, and Jaya Kader. (Back Row): Carie Penabad and Arielle Assouline-Lichten 

Personally, the panel was a culmination of a two-year journey that helped me transition from being a sole practitioner in a home office, to opening a studio that is now an architectural practice of seven and growing.  There were many stations visited during this journey, and in hindsight, it is not surprising that most of them had to do with gender issues.  It is interesting that this personal/professional transformation coincided with significant events that have revealed and addressed the glaring gender issues in our profession and society at large.  For the first time since I graduated architecture school in 1988, I am finally able to weave the two most integral and essential components of my life; being a mother of four and an architect (indeed an “Archimom”) into one conversation.  For years I juggled these two roles, always downplaying one while I was engaged in the other, without clarity or synthesis.

 

Although I did not meet Caroline James until September 2014, I had reached out to her since I learned about the petition to the Pritzker Prize on behalf of Denise Scott Brown.  Caroline, along with Arielle Assouline-Lichten had spearheaded the petition in March of 2013, while they were students at the GSD and members of Women in Design. Understanding the implications of the petition and its subsequent refusal from the Pritzker Jury was my first call to action as a woman architect.   Up until that time, I, as well as other women architects of my generation with whom I have had these conversations, have operated with what I now call “blinders”; happy and grateful to do the work whenever it was possible, overlooking any distractions that would put our jobs in jeopardy.  But the events that followed made it impossible to continue to wear the “blinders.”

Credit: Julia Morgan Papers, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University

Credit: Julia Morgan Papers, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University

Last year, Julia Morgan became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal posthumously, honoring her prolific practice that spanned several decades during the first half of the 20th Century.  I had never heard of Julia Morgan, despite years of education at top institutions of higher learning.  I was privileged to attend the AIA Convention in Chicago and witness Beverly Willis' passionate speech following the Gold medal award.  For those not familiar with Beverly Willis, she established the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) in 2002 with the mission of, “changing the culture of the building industry so that women’s work, whether in contemporary practices or historical narratives, is acknowledged, respected and valued”.  An audience of thousands gave her a standing ovation at the convention, as she stated some hard truths regarding gender in architecture.

Beverly Willis delivering her speech in honor of Julia Morgan.

Beverly Willis delivering her speech in honor of Julia Morgan.

Outside our profession there have been parallel conversations that affect women in all fields.  Recent publications such as Sheryl Sandberg's “Lean In”, Debora L. Spar's “Wonder Women” and Anne Mary Slaughter's famed article “Why Women Can't Have it All” in the Atlantic, have changed the landscape of gender issues across professional and leadership fields.  And still there were those with whom I tried to engage in needed conversations around equity and inclusion, who dismissed my concerns as “problems of women from my generation.”  “The new generation of women (the so called ‘millennials’) just don't have your issues”, I was told by some.  So I wondered...  But shortly thereafter, there was Emma Watson's HeForShe 2014 campaign speech at the UN, one that clarified for everyone not only that the gender issues are ever present in 21st century western society--for women of all generations--but also highlighted a certain urgency to address them.

The last event that confirmed my call to action was my attendance at the third sold out symposium hosted by The Missing 32% Project titled "Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action!" in San Francisco last October.

Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action on October 18, 2014. 

Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action on October 18, 2014. 

The conference was a transformative experience. As I heard speakers and witnessed the data from the early findings of the Equity in Architecture Survey first hand, I finally understood how difficult the system is set up for women to succeed in our profession.  I was most captivated by the keynote speaker, Stewart Friedman, a Wharton Professor, whose research and scholarship have contributed a new framework for the work/life balance conundrum. His work is helping us imagine a world beyond any preconceived notions of gender roles. Speaking about principles, the subject of our Miami “Principled Design” Panel, Friedman contends that AUTHENTICITY, INTEGRITY AND INNOVATION are the essential tenets to lead a life of purpose--the kind of life we all want.  Authenticity, he explains, demands that we stay true to our values which help clarify our vision.  Integrity allows us to respect the whole person, our environments and those around us. And innovation allows us to continuously search for new and creative ways to approach the work that we do. With these tools at hand, we should then map a future vision where our personal goals are in-sync with making significant contributions to our community, society and world. “Whatever your passions are”, he said, “CONVERT THEM TO SOCIAL VALUE”.  Which brings me back to the Women in Architecture Panel, the subject of this blog, “Principled Design.”

And it was no coincidence that “Principled Design” took place during a week of art and design “explosion” in Miami.  For it is clear that design matters, and architecture is a powerful tool to transform and enhance the human experience.  What we build has the potential to grace and contribute to our lives as well as our precious environments.  Long after we are gone, our contributions as architects will bear witness to our values.  There are all kinds of ways to practice architecture and both men and women that engage in practices across the spectrum.  I do sense however a shift in the profession from the emphasis on the hero designer and “starchitect” to a collaborative and service minded approach. 

So to all of us women who are part of this wondrous profession in 2015, I would like to encourage you to “lean in” and not give up on this profession. Do not become part of the Missing 32%.  Our society is in need of our contributions, and we happen to be a privileged generation.  We no longer have to remain silent, or with “blinders”, or in the background.  We are humbled with gratitude, and admiration for all the women pioneers that paved our path in a most hostile landscape, such as Julia Morgan, Denise Scott Brown and Beverly Willis. We can learn from them to be empowered through our knowledge and contributions but we need not be intimidated by obsolete norms of status quo.  We can be authentic.  We can sit at the table and have these conversations whose object is to figure out how we can work together towards an inclusive and diverse profession that recognizes and values all of its constituents.

 

To learn about Jaya Kader's amazing INSPIRE% journey click HERE

 

To the Editor: Inclusion, Recognition, and the 2015 AIA Gold Medal Decision

Architectural Record's December 11, 2014 news story, "AIA Chooses Moshe Safdie Over Venturi Scott Brown for Gold Medal," broke the story to this year's Gold Medal judging. Caroline James wrote a Letter to the Editor in response to this historic AIA Gold Medal decision on January 6, 2015. The following is the original letter with photos and image captions.

To the Editor:

Inclusion, Recognition, and the 2015 AIA Gold Medal Decision

The AIA National Jury announced their decision last month to award the Gold Medal to Moshe Safdie, an esteemed architect and educator whose work and influence spans many continents. The outcome, however, was surprising and disappointing to supporters of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi. Many feel that their recognition by the AIA’s highest professional honor is long overdue. “Why didn’t they win?” they asked. As one of the spearheads with Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Women in Design of the Petition to Recognize Denise Scott Brown for her role in the Pritzker Prize, I would like to set this decision in the context of the last few years and the years to come.

The 2015 Gold Medal round was the first in history when the application for Venturi and Scott Brown was opened, considered, and embraced. Over three decades, many had urged Bob to apply on his own, but he refused to go for the Gold alone. Each of their joint applications was returned owing to old eligibility requirements that have since been amended. The placing of Bob and Denise among the finalists constitutes a momentous recognition of joint creativity in design. 

Assembling the Gold Medal nomination is a thorough process, brought forth by teams of supporters for each applicant who network with architects and others and secure letters of recommendation. For Bob and Denise, this support came from the profession, legacy firms, University Presidents, and architectural historians. Seven former Gold Medalists, perhaps a record-setting number, wrote letters on their behalf. The National AIA Committee on Design served as the official nominating entity. 

Billie Tsien, principal of New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, delivered the presentation at AIA National Headquarters. “I felt a big responsibility to make the presentation,” Tsien said, “It is the right thing to do. We know that architecture comes from many hands, but joint creativity is a mysterious and indescribable trait. The work that they’ve done is so intertwined.” Tsien’s presentation is historic, for it reveals the nature of their shared creative output.

Kem Hinton, FAIA, of Nashville’s Tuck-Hinton Architects, headed this year’s application with the help of many, including Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq. and Harry Bolick, VSBA Inc. Hinton added, “The late Fred Schwartz, FAIA, and his partner, editor and writer Tracey Hummer, led this effort with the support of so many across the nation. Having witnessed the remarkable collaboration of Denise and Bob, I am elated at the progress. Now onward to the next swing at the bat for this dynamic duo.” 

 

Image Caption: Artist Ann Hawkins etches Julia Morgan’s name into the black granite on the pantheon of the AIA National Headquarters. Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq. led the 2014 nomination process for Morgan, and also worked with the Venturi and Scott Brown nominating team. Donoho said, "This success for men and women working in partnership is a victory 47 years in the making. A new story is being told about how creative collaboration can succeed. The work of Bob and Denise is a weaving together of two great talents to create a body of work of lasting influence on the profession. It was a privilege to be part of telling that story." Image Credit: Jack Evans

On the evening that the Gold Medal decision was announced, I spoke with Denise, who underscored the positive impacts and progress in the profession over the last two years that cannot be taken away:

Positive #1: Julia Morgan in 2014 became the first woman architect to receive the AIA Gold Medal, over 60 years after her death. She was as prolific as Frank Lloyd Wright in terms of output, building over 700 projects, including Hearst Castle.

Positive #2: The AIA amended the rules to allow partners to receive the Gold Medal for the first time. Eligibility guidelines for the Gold Medal now state: “Any individual (not necessarily an American or an architect); or two individuals working together (but only if their collaborative efforts over time are recognized as having created a singular body of distinguished architectural work) ….” 

    Image Caption: Bob and Denise stand alone in the desert in this collage (1966 study for Learning from Las Vegas). The team refuses to accept lone stature in the recognition of their work. Harry Bolick commented, “Architecture, design and creativity can be a symbiotic product of more than one person's individual vision. Bob and Denise were both willing to forego the AIA Gold Medal in favor of standing firm throughout a lifetime of creative production. Their forbearance represents how and why this culture shift has, finally, after 108 years, come to be recognized by the AIA and other leading Institutions.” Photographers: Robert Venturi (above) Denise Scott Brown (below)

 

Image Caption: Bob and Denise stand alone in the desert in this collage (1966 study for Learning from Las Vegas). The team refuses to accept lone stature in the recognition of their work. Harry Bolick commented, “Architecture, design and creativity can be a symbiotic product of more than one person's individual vision. Bob and Denise were both willing to forego the AIA Gold Medal in favor of standing firm throughout a lifetime of creative production. Their forbearance represents how and why this culture shift has, finally, after 108 years, come to be recognized by the AIA and other leading Institutions.” Photographers: Robert Venturi (above) Denise Scott Brown (below)

Positive #3: Denise said the Pritzker Petition brought much “love” to architecture. This was her compliment to nearly 20,000 signers, many of whom made statements on change.org that communicate their support, and also wider thoughts and concerns about the profession. Denise interprets the Petition as a social document—a datum on where architecture stands in 2013-2014. In her 2013 lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she elaborated, calling petitioners’ comments, “Mayhew’s Architecture,” in reference to an historic report on conditions of workers in London during the Industrial Revolution.

 

Image Caption: Denise Scott Brown delivers “Mayhew’s Architecture” at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2013. In a note to Scott Brown, Italian architect Carolina Vaccaro wrote that the Petition is “the worldwide acknowledgment that your outsider ideas and research are still (and will be for a long time) the best source any architect can have!” Image Credit: Beth Roloff

The 2015 Gold Medal round and these positive outcomes are all part of a process towards understanding and resolving issues of inclusion within a contemporary context. It’s not without fits and starts, and it’s not just for partners, or women, or Denise Scott Brown. Women in Design, The Missing 32% Project, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation have joined organizations worldwide in leading the charge towards an inclusive and diverse profession that recognizes all its constituents. Many overlapping dialogues and controversies are shifting the course of the profession and recent events suggest the efforts are succeeding. Bob and Denise’s supporters will likely re-nominate them next year for the AIA Gold Medal. This year’s jury and supporters are enthusiastic in recommending they should. Everything considered here suggests the same.

Caroline James

Women in Design - Cambridge, MA

January 6, 2015