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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?

#EQxDM3 Behind the Scenes: Transcending the Glass Ceiling

With less than a week to AIASF's 4th Symposium — Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning & Matrices, EQxD Blog will be featuring "behind the scenes" interviews with the facilitators of the Symposium Break Out Sessions for Career Dynamics and Pinch Points. Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq. shares her insights on working with the Thought Leaders to shape this Pinch Points session.

Transcending the Glass Ceiling - Redefining What It Takes to Succeed


The glass ceiling has long been cited as the ultimate problem we face in leadership advancement. However, this idea of a single invisible barrier at the cusp of upper leadership is no longer accurate or useful. There are a spectrum of obstacles throughout a professional’s career and we must work continually to overcome them. This session will look at this spectrum and explore strategies for moving our careers forward. Session leaders will share their experiences and the tactics they have employed to achieve career advancement. Participants will share their own approaches and ideas and together the group will produce a playbook of strategies that everyone can apply to their careers.

Thought Leaders and Facilitator:

Why were you interested in being a facilitator?

To move the profession more swiftly towards a culture that is diverse and inclusive.  

Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq.

Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq.

How have the Equity pinch points and/or dynamics informed your session?

Our pinch point is the “glass ceiling,” but we felt that was a concept that is no longer useful.  People encounter glass ceilings at every level of their career.  Each time you get through one, then there is a different landscape and another glass ceiling.  So we felt that “glass ceiling” was a concept that we need to move beyond.  The situation is more like a progression of landscapes with different rules.  The important thing is to keep moving through them, and the more quickly you understand the landscape or obstacle, the quicker you can move through to the next landscape.

Are there any a-ha’s that emerged from the process of working with your team?

A-HA, we came up with the idea of creating a Playbook of how to get past certain barriers and obstacles on one’s career path.  The journey is important, but strategy can make a big difference.  The sooner you can understand your landscape, the sooner you can identify pathways through.  We can use others’ experiences to learn strategies for getting past particular barriers, to go to the next level.  Community service, additional credentials, specialization, awards, and service-leadership positions are all strategies that we have utilized to rise above a crowd.  We hope that we can send participants home with a Playbook that they can share with others, and that we can develop and enhance.  

Check out all the #EQxDM3 Break-Out Sessions Here

AIASF Equity by Design Symposium Sponsors

Special thanks to our amazing sponsors for their dedication and support. We look forward to seeing you there!

"What Zaha Hadid meant to me.... and what she didn't"

by Sharon Portnoy, AIA  (originally written on April 5, 2016)

After Dame Zaha Hadid’s sudden death was announced last week, the design blogosphere began asking what she and her work meant to female architects. For many, apparently, the answer is that Zaha was a role model who cracked the glass ceiling and showed us just what is possible for female architects to achieve in this new millennium. For me, however, as much as I admired her prodigious talent and formal ingenuity, she was more a curiosity than a role model. Referred to as “Zaha,” she had more in common with other one-named celebrities, like Cher or Madonna, than she did with the other 99% of female architects. Her ascendency was fun to watch in a reality TV sort of way. In her signature black cape, she burst onto the scene to wage heroic battles on an international stage. She was an outsized talent with a persona to match. She was a glamorous avatar, leading the charge against complacency in the profession and battling for the supremacy of innovation in form. Her work was visionary. It seemed unbuildable, and yet, she built it. She had moxie; she had chutzpah; and her work was thrilling.

But Zaha’s reality was a far cry from the realities of the rest of us, and I worry that by holding her up as an emblem of what female architects have achieved, we run the risk of overlooking the far less dramatic, but no less daunting, challenges that women in architecture continue to face. Zaha’s Pritzker Prize no more represents gender equity in the architectural profession at large than Barack Obama’s presidency indicates that we live in a post-racial America. Zaha was an outlier. Most female architects in the United States are not only not “Starchitects,” they are woefully underrepresented in the profession, particularly at senior levels. 

According to a 2014 report by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, nearly half of all architecture school graduates are women, yet only 17% of architecture firm partners and principals are women. Women are paid less than their male counterparts upon graduation, are more likely to leave the profession before achieving milestones like licensure, and drop out of the field at much higher rates than men, often for good. 

In 2014, AIA SF’s "Equity in Architecture Survey" and Equity by Design symposium explored some of the forces contributing to these discouraging numbers, among them implicit bias, wage inequality, and a culture that romanticizes the figure of the architect as the lone genius a la Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark. Zaha herself perpetuated that myth. “If you want an easy life, don’t be an architect,” she was quoted as saying. “Ask anybody in my office. You have to work all the time. If you want a nine-to-five job and to go home and relax, just don’t do it.” She was right, of course; architecture is a demanding profession. But for many architects, especially women, it’s not a question of going home at five to relax. It’s about rushing home in time to start the “second-shift,” and tending to all the other things that make us valuable to our families, our communities, and our clients. Going home at the end of the workday, while frowned upon by many in our profession, is not only desirable, but necessary for us to do our best work. We need to renew our creative stores, and to nurture the aspects of being human that allow us to engage the world around us and create thoughtful, healthy, and inspirational environments. Architects are often viewed as being elitist and out of touch with the way “normal people” live, imposing our impossible aesthetic standards and trying to educate them on what they should like or how they should live. Getting out of the office is just one way for us to better understand the society we serve.

Zaha was many things, but a representative of everywoman in architecture was not one of them. Fortunately for us, there are many female groundbreakers in the field. They may not be household names, but they have beaten the odds and are now working at the highest levels of the profession. They are winning clients, directing practices, and leading some of the best architecture schools in the nation. These are the women who show up every day at construction sites, client meetings, community review boards, and design juries. They work on tight deadlines and even tighter budgets. They advance the cause of sustainable building practices, navigate arcane building codes, and mentor younger architects. They may or may not wear black capes, but to me, they are the real superheroes and there are not nearly enough of them.

(Editor's note: Sharon Portnoy's insights were recently included in the NYTimes Article: Female Architects Speak Out on Sexism, Pay Inequity and More)



INSPIRE%: Grit is what it takes… Lots of it

By Damaris Hollingsworth AIA, LEED AP

Grit (noun)
Google Dictionary:
courage and resolve; strength of character

Cambridge Dictionary:
courage and determination despite difficulty
courage, bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fiber, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, resolve, resolution, determination, tenacity, perseverance, endurance; spunk

    To go from a black girl growing up in the inner cities of Sao Paulo, Brazil to an accomplished Architect in the United States takes a good amount of grit.
Damaris Hollingsworth (left) working with team members at  RSP Architects in Minneapolis. 

Damaris Hollingsworth (left) working with team members at  RSP Architects in Minneapolis. 

    When I was seven years old, my dad hired an architect to design and handle the city approvals for our house. That alone was something out of the ordinary. In the inner cities of Brazil, the land is often “taken,” the houses are built without city approvals, and there is no such a thing as the reinforcement of master plans, city zoning or code regulations. My dad, though an unsophisticated labor worker, has great character and refused to take anything that was not legally his or do anything that was not approved by the city. He and my mom notified us that for a few years there would be no birthdays or Christmas gifts. We would all collaborate to save money, so we could purchase the land and build a house. Once the land was purchased, it was time to hire an architect. Rosana, the woman my dad hired, came to our house for the first meeting on a Saturday afternoon. Up to that point, I honestly did not know that women could work outside of the house. My mom worked, she worked a lot, but she worked at home - sewing clothes for her clients, so she could keep a close eye on me and my two older siblings. In my seven year old mind it was the norm that moms stay home with the kids and dads go to work outside of the house. That was what all our neighbors and church friends did.

Hollingsworth's family home in Sao Paulo, Brazil (left). When she met the architect of her family home, Rosana, she knew she wanted to be an architect. Her family saved for years to buy the land, hire an architect and build a home. She lived there from 10 to 28 before moving to the United States. 

Hollingsworth's family home in Sao Paulo, Brazil (left). When she met the architect of her family home, Rosana, she knew she wanted to be an architect. Her family saved for years to buy the land, hire an architect and build a home. She lived there from 10 to 28 before moving to the United States. 

    When I saw Rosana around our dinner table meeting with my parents, I thought she looked powerful, intelligent and beautiful. I decided right there and then that I wanted to be whatever she was when I grew up. I asked my parents who she was. They told me she was our architect. I told them that I was going to be an architect too. My dad said that to be an architect I would need to attend college and colleges were not for people like “us.” I did not give him too much attention. I was going to be an architect.

    The years passed and it was time to talk about going to college and becoming an architect. My dad reminded me that our family could not afford to send me to college. Architectural schools were full time which meant I would not be able to continue to work full time and take classes only in the evenings as I had done through high school. My dad said the only option would be for me to go the University of Sao Paulo because it was free, even though it was the best school in the country and even in the Latin America. But that also was not for people like “us.” Now I was confused. I could understand why expensive was not for people like us, but I could not understand why free was also not for people like us. I asked questions and my dad explained that the selective process for that university benefitted kids who had been going to the best private schools all their lives. My inner city public school background would not cut it.

He was partially right. It took me three failures before I succeeded. The academic content that I had learned did not cover one third of the exams that I had to pass. I had to quit my job and take full time complementary classes, for which I got scholarships, for two full years before I was fairly competing with, what my dad used to call, the rich kids. The selective system did not benefit people like me, but I decided that I would find a way to get into that school. I was four years older than most kids when I started college. For two years, I baked cakes and sold them every day to make money for lunch and school supplies. In my third year I got an internship at the university planning department as an Urban Designer Intern. I did not have to bake cakes every day any more.

Hollingsworth (left) at the University of Sao Paulo where she studied Architecture and Urban Design.

Hollingsworth (left) at the University of Sao Paulo where she studied Architecture and Urban Design.

    Getting into the university and graduating after six years was hard. I had all types of hurdles to jump. From textbooks only in languages other than Portuguese (and back then I could only speak and read Portuguese) to the constant reminder that my background education did not prepare me enough for the university, or even to simply carry on a culturally rich conversation with my peers and professors. That feeling of not belonging in a group nagged me almost every day. But little did I know that while those had truly required a lot of determination and hard work, the hardest was yet to come. When the hardship in front of you depends on your efforts and resilience only, as demanding, unfair and difficult as it may be, it will only take you. It may take me three failures before I succeed, but I will get it done. By the time I earned my Architect and Urban Designer degree in Brazil, I had broader plans. I wanted to be an architect in the US. (Very) long story short, I moved to the US right after earning my degrees and started working as an intern at an architectural firm. The IDP hours were not a problem. My supervisor was pretty awesome and gave all the opportunities I needed to meet the hours and type of work requirements. A few years later I decided to stop avoiding the AREs. Once my mind was set on that, it took me nine months to pass all seven exams. This short summary may make it sound like this phase of my journey was easy. It was not. It was physically and emotionally draining. I thought about giving up and going back to Brazil where I was already a registered architect. But I held my ground and kept on pushing. Again, I was convinced that the hardest part was done.

That was when I first sensed the infamous glass ceiling and invisible walls. They frustrated me more than any of the barriers I had previously faced because overcoming them was not something my grit alone could do. I needed my peers, my leadership and the community to acknowledge their existence, and then work with me to remove them.

What I soon realized is that there was a lot of ground to conquer if I wanted to climb the ladder, reach for leadership and be an accomplished architect. That was when I first sensed the infamous glass ceiling and invisible walls. They frustrated me more than any of the barriers I had previously faced because overcoming them was not something my grit alone could do. I needed my peers, my leadership and the community to acknowledge their existence, and then work with me to remove them. The first big frustration was the fact that most people around me would not even believe that there was such a thing as a resistance to women, and more specifically to women of color in leadership roles. To be quite honest, at first, I did not recognize it myself. I would sense the resistance, the lack of acknowledgment to my leadership and the lack of respect for my position, and I always assumed that it was probably because I did not know how to answer that specific question, or because I had an accent, or because I looked young. I blamed myself for years. Only when I started to have dialogues with other women, especially women in leadership roles, I understood that the problems that I had been facing were far from being “my” problem.  

When I had only two out of seven exams left to pass, I asked my then leaders for a conversation. I had been consistently requesting feedback and talking about my goals since the very beginning of my journey with the firm. At that time I had new managers, and I wanted to make sure they were aware of my professional development progress, my goals and of my dedication. The meeting started with them going over a summary of all my previous reviews and the recommendations from my past managers. They seemed quite impressed with the comments, the compliments and with my professional development, personal growth and how, year after year, I had met and surpassed the goals that myself and my managers had set for me. Then they asked me what I was looking for, what was my long term goal. I told them that my goal was to be a principal at the firm some day and that after so many years being as dedicated and truly committed to the firm, I believed that my next step was a promotion to an associate position. The stares I received were filled with a mix of disbelief, shock, sarcasm and pity. It was like I had said something completely out of the ordinary. I reminded them that all my (white male and some white female) peers that had shown the type of work quality, work ethic and commitment that I had were already associates. After a couple of hours of conversation, I was told that maybe, in my case, it would be best if I left the firm, went somewhere where people did not know me since when I was an intern, so that they would be able to see past the inexperienced girl I once was. It broke my heart. I loved that firm. They took me in when I was fresh out of Brazil, they sponsored me through the immigration process, they taught me a great deal of skills. I had dreams and goals for myself in that firm and that conversation shattered my dreams. An awesome large firm hired me as a Higher Education Client Leader to oversee project staff, work with clients to ensure their goals are met, guide program development and facilitate vital documents during the design and construction phases; In other words, everything I had told my former managers I could do and was already doing.

    The reason I told the short version of my life story in the beginning is to say that, though going from inner city black girl to a registered architect in the US seems like a lot of hard work and determination (and it was), going from a registered architect to a senior leader architect as a woman and a person of color will take me much more than that. And in many workplaces, hard work and determination will not matter at all. It may get you pats on your back, “great job”s, high fives, mediocre bonuses and safe promotions. But the real progression toward the C suite will depend on the decision makers valuing the professional for their values, their talent (current and potential) and their loyalty and collaboration to the firm, nothing else.

    At this point you may be asking what I am doing to promote change and make our profession truly an equal opportunity profession. I am an active member of the AIA MN Diversity Task Force, and I have collaborated with writing the Diversity Task Force Report that was issued in October 2015. As a group, we talk about the initiatives that we need to take, both as individual professionals and as an organization, to significantly improve the representation of underrepresented groups in the architectural profession. When watching a lecture by Dr. Heather Hackman last November, I learned that diversity is the end goal, not the solution. When we add diversity into a broken system that benefits the dominant group, diversity will not last. Women and people of color will eventually be pushed out of the profession, which according to the data shared during the AIA Women in Leadership Summit in Seattle last year, has been the case for decades. I have just recently committed to private coaching with Dr. Hackman to truly educate myself on the subjects of unconscious bias and social justice. I believe that education is the mandatory first step for change to happen. As the new elect 2016/2017 co-chair for the AIA MN Women in Architecture Committee, I have had the opportunity to engage in conversations with the decision makers of the industry in the Twin Cities, along with the other co-chairs Amanda Aspenson and Maureen Colburn, to identify the problem, educate ourselves and the professional community on the roots of the problem and then create strategies for the solution and ways to implement it.

I know my story alone can inspire many to keep on pushing toward their goals and dreams, but the truth is, this journey should not have to be so difficult. I want the results of my work as a professional, as a member of the DTF and as a co-chair for the AIA MN WIA to be a not so bumpy road for the younger professionals and generations to come. If we accomplish the structural changes that we as a committee and as a task force are aiming for, the path toward senior leadership for women and people of color will  not be so painful, stressful, unfair and for some, too hard to stay on.

Do you have an INSPIRE% story you would like to share with the Equity by Design community? Email if you want more information on submitting a blogpost



Promotion and Advancement: How to champion the Pull.

by Mike Davis, FAIA

Japanese gardeners use a small hand saw called a nokogiri. Cool thing about this tool? Instead of pushing on the blade, it cuts when you pull it.

Thanks to the Missing 32% Project: 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey findings, we know that very few women become principals or owners in US architectural firms. With this deficit front-of-mind, putting pressure on all architects to recognize and act on gender inequity is right. Creating pathways to leadership for women in architecture is critical. But that pressure – the equity push – may not in itself solve the problem in time to keep more women from giving up on the profession.

To make change happen urgently, we also need a complementary force. Call it … the pull.  

Defining the challenges with promotion and advancement in Architecture. 

Defining the challenges with promotion and advancement in Architecture. 

When your breakout topic for the Equity by Design “Hackathon” at the 2015 AIA National Convention is “Promotion and Advancement”, it becomes a question of how. How do we create the pull for promotion and advancement? What would convince the people – mostly men – running US architecture firms that having more women in senior leadership positions is vitally important?

We can make the business case for equity. 1) Studies prove the correlation between inclusivity on a corporate board and organizational profitability. 2) We have market research showing how much global spending is now being controlled by women. 3) And how about that Harvard Business Review report that says teams with more women on them are just smarter? We can argue the intrinsic value of diversity. We can opine that social intelligence – the sine qua non of 21st century enterprise – is stronger in women. Plenty of compelling evidence.

But in order for gender equity to happen any time soon, the men in charge of our firms need to change their behavior. Men-in-charge are the leverage point in the system as it currently exists. So to “hack” the system, men must be made part of the solution.

Speaking as a male Principal in an architectural firm, I’ve been in the conference room when candidates for promotion and advancement are being considered. Qualifications, talent, dedication, leadership, professionalism? Sure. All those factors are considered. But the thing that ultimately makes a bunch of architects decide to promote someone else to Principal? Trust.

Trust ultimately creates the pull for promotion. Not rational argument, not compelling evidence, not market studies. It’s not an intellectual decision. It’s an emotional one.

We know that there are men out there who want to see women succeed in architecture. And we know trust is contagious. So the Equity by Design Promotion and Advancement “hack” is: the formation of strategic intra-firm partnerships.

A strategic partnership would begin like this: Women, find advocates among your firm’s current Principals or senior leadership. Asking someone for advice is powerfully motivating. Engage them in candid conversation about mutual goal-setting, professional objectives, career paths. Be sure you frame your aspirations in terms of how the firm can also benefit. This is the basis for interpersonal trust in a corporate setting.

And if you can’t find those advocates at your current firm, get your resume in circulation.

Team members including Jessie Turnbull, Mike Davis, Meg Brown and Frances Choun pitch The Pull for Promotion and Advancement. 

Team members including Jessie Turnbull, Mike Davis, Meg Brown and Frances Choun pitch The Pull for Promotion and Advancement. 

The next step: understanding that a firm’s corporate values and behaviors derive from the values and behaviors exhibited by its Principals, the advocating Principals need to demonstrate their trust in the candidates to the rest of the firm. This could take the form of delegating authority for certain corporate activities or functions and then visibly supporting the candidates’ decisions.

In systems-thinking terms, the advocating Principals would be creating a reinforcing feedback loop. As more firm leaders witnessed this support, more would be inclined to extend their trust as well. The pull would be present. Promotion and advancement would follow.

Rather than relying on the interpersonal ju-jitsu of office politics, something more like mentoring is what creates lasting and mutually-beneficial trust. Eventually, this kind of exchange would also create a support network and a culture of open dialogue about professional development in the organization. And then, not only would gender equity and ownership transition be served, but a firm’s capacity to respond and adapt to unforeseen future challenges would also be strengthened.   

Japanese gardeners use a small hand saw called a nokogiri. Cool thing about this tool? Instead of pushing on the blade, it cuts when you pull it.

Japanese gardeners use a small hand saw called a nokogiri. Cool thing about this tool? Instead of pushing on the blade, it cuts when you pull it.

Strategic partnerships can build trust. And trust can create the pull for promotion and advancement. Like the nokogiri, pull works. 






Team Members:

  • Mike Davis, FAIA Bermeyer
  • Frances Choun, VP of McCarthy Building Companies
  • Meg Brown Principal, Perkins + Will
  • Jessie Turnbull, RA Associate, Robert AM Stern
  • Randy Seitz, Principal, AIA Blue Ridge Architects

What's next for EQxD?

Join us in San Francisco at AIASF on June 11th for our next EQxD "U" Workshop "What's Flex got to do with Success?" (Win Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility) Meet the panelists, and participate in small group break-outs to "hack" what works for flexibility in the modern workplace. This event is relevant to all AEC professionals! 6pm-8:30pm. 






EQxD Get Real: Control Less, Celebrate More, Shall We?

By Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA |  Arlington, VA   

Several encounters come to mind when considering uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced as a female architect, particularly since becoming a mother last August. My first week back after my 8 week maternity leave, I had to tell my boss that I couldn't drive with him to a site meeting because I needed to pump in the car. There was also the conversation I had with my project team, in which I said we can no longer have impromptu ‘stand-at-my-desk-chatting’ meetings at 4:55pm, because if I don’t pick up my baby by 6pm, I have to pay my provider extra. I’ve also learned a lot these first 6 months about the ‘work-life-balance’ of being a mom architect. These lessons included discovering that my baby hates when I check work email while I nurse him in the evening (read: I no longer check work email after 8pm), and that studying for the ARE while attempting to sleep-train an infant is no small feat (read: impossible.) However, the biggest hurdle I've experienced is something that has been occurring long before I ever became a mom, and it has to do with my female colleagues.

I’ll use this seemingly insignificant story to illustrate: I recently discovered a new tool available in Revit 2015 which would greatly benefit the work-flow our team utilizes for Lighting Schedules. We have one Hospitality client (whom we have done multiple renovations for and have many more projects on the horizon) that requests for us to show a photo or cut sheet image for all decorative lighting fixtures specified on the sheet next to the RCP. In the past, to achieve this we've created an Excel document then placed it on the sheet as a raster image.  Being able to place an image into the cell of the Revit Schedule would eliminate this tediousness step (and let’s be honest, the process is a huge vulnerability for mis-coordination.) I saw this new schedule as a game changer for our team. Anything that first reduces confusion and opportunity for mistakes and, second, saves time will achieve two of my major work/life goals: better projects and more time to spend with my family.

With great elation, I sent the new process on to the team, copying the “Revit Captains.” I’m a Project Manager, and our team works very closely with our Interior Design team. The folks familiar with Revit, and familiar with the frustrating workflow we go through for schedules, were immediately on board. But a certain member of the team, a fellow woman colleague who heads Interior Design, proceeded to claim that this must be vetted and agreed upon “by all” as acceptable.

She sent a flurry of emails, voice-mails to my personal cell phone that evening, followed by conversations the next morning, all because I stated I would begin employing a new tool. It was a mind-boggling, knee-jerk reaction. I racked my brain. Why the opposition? I've come to realize it was based on nothing more than feeling a loss of control. The way I handled her tailspin was to agree that, yes, all should be on board. But I also affirmed that I am the PM and in the end reserve the right to execute the drawings as I see fit. I never want to fuel the fire, however I think it’s critical to reiterate that I am competent and capable to make these decisions for my team.

This story, which likely sounds like plain and simple “office drama” at its worst, is meant to illustrate that women design professionals have got to lift each other up a bit more. Can’t we celebrate new ideas without immediately seeing them as an attack on our own ability to manage? I can’t imagine the hurdles that this particular woman has had to overcome, being in the position that she holds.  Quite often she is the only woman in a room full of men. But, at times, the politics of asserting your opinion can actually be damaging to the morale of others. With this story, I worry that this particular woman has confused the advice of ‘find your voice’ to mean, ‘be louder,’ but I think we have a duty to each other to bolster and celebrate ideas and accomplishments when they arise.  Some may think this is an issue of clashing personalities, but as I said in the beginning, this is not the first office I've experienced a challenging situation with fellow female colleagues. I think the delicate balance of asserting yourself versus coming off as a roadblock to your colleagues is a balance worth finding, because the only way to advance ourselves is by supporting each other when steps forward are taken.

About Katie Ray @bigklittleatie

Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA currently lives in Arlington, VA and is a PM for a firm just outside of Washington DC. Her projects currently range from restaurants, bars, spas, and country clubs. She is a mother and yogi; on the weekend she loves spending time building lighting and furniture from salvaged materials.



EQxD Get Real - To read more about challenges and resilience from diverse viewpoints, go here.

In a similar spirit of spontaneity of the Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth blog series, we are excited to bring you EQxD Get Real: True stories of Challenges and Resilience from diverse perspectives of architects and designers. Each day we will feature the stories of each person's challenges in the profession and what they learned from those experiences to inspire action for equitable practice in architecture. 


In Equitable PracticearchitalksINSPIRE%Tags, EQxDGetReal

(WE310) Equity by Design Hackathon @AIA National Convention Atlanta!

Equity in Architecture is a call to action for both women and men to realize the goal of equitable practice in order to attract and retain talent, advance and sustain the profession, and communicate the value of architectural design to society. This event is open to everyone and has relevant learning objectives for all Architects.

Join us on 5/13 1pm-5pm for the most energizing half-day workshop inspired by the sold-out 2014 symposium, Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action! We will begin the day by reviewing a full report of key findings from the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey topics: Hiring and Retention, Growth and Development, Meaning and Influence, followed by interactive conversations about the pinch points that affect talent retention in Architecture. 


Hackathon! The second part of the afternoon will feature the first AIA Convention "mini-Hackathon". What is a Hackathon? Very similar in format to a design charrette, using this rapid prototyping format will leverage your Design Thinking skills to propose actionable initiatives and best practices for talent recruitment, career advancement, and building the business case for equity. This video by Daylight via Vimeo demonstrates the process.

Finally, you and your group will present a 5 minute "pitch" of your proposed equity initiative to a panel of judges. Pitches will be rated with final equity initiatives being featured in blog posts and social media. Sign up for WE310 Equity by Design as pre-convention during Convention Registration. Ask your firm or local AIA Chapter to sponsor your attendance and bring back this valuable knowledge to affect change! 


Following the workshop, Hackathon workshop participants will be invited to a complimentary Happy Hour 5:30pm-7:30pm at Studio No. 7 for Jury deliberations and Awards. If you can't make the WE310 Workshop, we will have registration to attend Happy Hour event so that you can catch up on the highlights of the Hackathon! Proceeds beyond costs of the event go to funding the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey.

Studio No. 7 - 393 Marietta Street N.W. Atlanta, GA 30313

Happy Hour (only) registration includes networking, a recap of the EQxD Hackathon, Jury results and award announcements accompanied by an assortment of wines and appetizers inspired by Latin American and Asian cuisine that is seasonal and prepared with craft and care. If you register with AIA for the WE310 5/13 workshop, then Happy Hour is included.




A New Era of Women Rising in the Architecture Profession

By Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq.

For two years in a row, women have made it into the top levels of competition for the highest honor of the American Institute of Architects.  Last year a singular architect, Julia Morgan, FAIA, was the recipient of the AIA Gold Medal and this year as a part of a collaborative duo – Denise Scott Brown, FRIBA, with Robert Venturi, FAIA, was a Finalist for the Gold Medal.  WOW!  This is an outstanding and historic moment for all women in the profession, however they practice.  And it is happening in a year when the third woman president of the AIA, Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, is passing the baton to the fourth woman president, Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA. The profession is becoming inclusive and diverse at the top levels.

   AIA National Presidents:  Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA,  Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, and Susan Maxman, FAIA


AIA National Presidents:  Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, and Susan Maxman, FAIA

How did we get here?  There are at least three threads of activity that are contributing to this change in awareness and activity.  There are the individual efforts of architects to promote and propel themselves forward, there are collective efforts like the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, the Missing 32% Project, Women in Architecture, the Organization for Women in Architecture and then there is the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) igniting and instigating change at the upper levels.  All of these efforts are necessary when the individual routes are not bearing fruit, but it is the individual efforts that are most telling.  Let’s look at one.

Learning from Denise: In 1967, Denise Scott Brown was mid-career and a tenured faculty member at UCLA, Co-Chair of the Urban Planning program, when Robert Venturi asked her to be his partner in life and business.  She joined the firm of Venturi and Rauch and was made partner by 1969.  It was her bright, fresh, raw viewpoint coming from Johannesburg and London that embraced the American landscape as IS and led to Learning from Las Vegas. Melding her African, English and European training with urban planning and architectural academicism made her good and ready to ask students to look at the world differently. The studio at Yale came out of her vision and experience.  She embraced the American west, for ALL that that includes.  She shared her vision, included others in her studio, and put their names on the front of the book.  She was a collaborator.  The rest of the world, so blinded by the love of Starchitects, could only see the work as Venturi’s for many years.  

    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)

It has taken us this long to be ready to see that the interweaving of design thinking from more than one viewpoint leads to a richer architectural expression.  Venturi and Scott Brown understood that from their first meeting in 1960, and that is why they are best known for introducing ideas in architecture that were radical and for shifting the consciousness of the profession.  The urban planning training from social scientists and activists at Penn affected Bob and Denise’s design work profoundly. More than that and more than architects realize, they hold the key to avoiding the urban architectural mistakes that Jane Jacobs described.  Venturi and Scott Brown’s work shows how to bring a powerful sense of place to bear in resolving architectural programs.

As early as 1973, Scott Brown saw that her work and her contribution to the firm, even though she was a partner, was being disregarded in the quest of others to reach the “Architect.”  That she was the “Architect” they could not believe, it was not in their realm of possibilities.  She started to speak on the experience at the Alliance for Women in Architecture in New York, and in 1975 wrote an article, “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System.”  At first she did not publish the article for concern about the reputation of her career and her firm.  Their work is all about complexity and contradiction, Venturi more historicist and she more PopArt, and their work was created through a collaborative process that brought these two views together in making architecture.   People wanted to see an ego architect, not a collaborative effort, so she lived with the contradiction.  She hoped societal change would move things along.  As time went on, the women’s movement took hold, but did not deliver the changes to her situation that she needed.   In 1989, fourteen years later, she published her article in the book Architecture, A Place for Women.  It created quite a stir.  It made people mad, they argued, they debated, they denied it was true, and they changed their viewpoint only slightly. 

In 1991, when the Pritzker organization decided to give her partner, Robert Venturi, their Prize in architecture, it became clear that the message was not being heard.  Venturi tried to tell them the award should go to both together but their ears could not hear.  They thought giving it to Venturi was enough.  Scott Brown did not attend the ceremony.  Her resolve to shift the viewpoint of the profession increased.  Robert Venturi agreed and took the position that he would not allow anyone to put his name forward for the Gold Medal without Denise Scott Brown. 

From then forward, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown began their campaign to shift the rules of the AIA to allow the Gold Medal to be awarded to two creative people working together.   On numerous occasions, Venturi and Scott Brown were nominated to receive the AIA Gold Medal, and a portfolio was submitted to the American Institute of Architects.  It was returned without review.  The rules stated that only one individual could be nominated for the Gold Medal.  In 2013, Frederic Schwartz, FAIA, working through his AIA Regional Directors in New York – Tony Schirrippa, FAIA, and Burt Roslyn, FAIA, were successful in shifting the rules to allow the portfolio to be accepted.   2014 is the first year that the portfolio was not returned.  They made it into the Finalist round.  Perfect! 

Bob & Denise are titans in the field of Architecture and their most recent accomplishment, getting us to this point was a 47 year effort.  Such courage and perseverance, creative geniuses leading the way for multiple generations!  Now THAT is some lasting influence on the profession of architecture.  In 2014, in their 80’s, these two have changed us and changed the course of architectural history, AGAIN. 

This is a HISTORIC moment for the individuals stepping into these top level spots in leadership and in recognition, and for all women working in the field of architecture.  Just to recap – in two short years we have had a woman that worked as a sole principal win the Gold Medal, a woman that worked as a partner and collaborator become a finalist for the Gold Medal with her partner, a woman that led a career of service to the profession serving as President of the Institute, and a woman who works as a CEO for her architectural firm, now in the top position of service to the profession refocusing us onto the business of architecture.  WOW, these are changing times!

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 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

Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.

Guest Blogpost by Jessica Rafferty

I recently traveled to Napa with two friends who are designers. Each sip of wine was followed by a critique of the tasting room, the detailing of the windows, or the questionable lighting used below the bar. Our conversation focused on the superfluous details while other visitors discussed the taste and quality of the wine. This is may seem like a familiar scene when designers get together. Work never really stays in the office when you’re passionate about it.  

At October's Equity by Design symposium in San Francisco, passion, well above financial compensation, was a common description as to why individuals took the path to architecture. However, according to this year’s Equity in Architecture Survey, a staggering amount of architects and designers are not satisfied by their jobs. After all-nighters in school, costly testing, and years of training with the expectation of making significantly less than other high-qualified professionals, what do you do when the passion starts to slip?

During the recession, I often heard my coworkers express that they felt lucky to just have a job. However, as growth returns to the industry, the Equity in Architecture Survey showed that women, as well as men, were struggling to find or maintain interest in their projects or job duties. In just the past year, my LinkedIn feed has been a critical tool for me to keep up with my peers’ movement in the industry, but do you have to leave your current job to find satisfaction? 

A major lesson from Equity by Design was to communicate your value. Communicating is not easy for everyone and that’s coming from someone who does marketing for a living. Laurie Dreyer of Stantec recommended in the Collaborative Negotiation session, “Don’t let karma dictate your future.” Speak up, ask for more. The worst someone can say is no, but at least you tried. This reminded me of one of my first project manager’s motto, “Don’t ask permission, ask for forgiveness”. The saying I’m sure was meant to inspire risk taking in design (but was often used to avoid explaining mysterious credit card charges). I like to consider the saying with a grain of salt, and often think about the phrase when I hesitate to speak up or think twice when negotiating.