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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?

"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)



Dear Zaha - Leaving without notice.

by Raya Ani, AIA   

Leaving without notice!

As I am working on what might become the most important project of my life.. with a very tight deadline and the ambition to do just the right thing.. everything has started to daunt me….doubts…. sleepless nights.. my energy is draining out....

I am exactly at a moment where the confusion is high...and when you want to say so much yet you know you are not able to say much..

The pressure is on.. I feel like I am failing my team who are looking up to me to guide and inspire them..

I feel vacuumed out.

Last night, after having a spirited conversation with Susan in New York, I hung up.. on FB... I saw the news.. Layla, your post came first.. I was in shock and disbelief..

Tears rushing down.. I was in another world.. trying to pretend I am together to finish what I had to....tears would just not stop…Here I am trying to resolve something on the project that is taking days to resolve…yet it is not happening.. and I just won’t give up...however my heart is mourning the loss of you..

Remember when you were at Harvard presenting and you were wondering whether the slide was put the wrong way.. you asked: 'Is it upside down?' You definitely turned the world of architecture upside down.. we all sure of it.. we definitely know you are one of a kind.. and for me you are beyond architecture..

However my connection with you is multilayered…. You being an Iraqi, you being an architect, you being a woman, you being a different type of a woman.. and everything that comes along with it… From being constantly criticized for being different, inconvenient, uncompromising, tough and the incredible pressure to conform… I know many would appreciate your mark in the world of Architecture, however only few truly understand the painful sacrifices you have made and how you had to be to withstand..

I know that part of yourself that at times becomes inaccessible to others, including yourself…This gave space for some to criticize you..

I know you had a colossal task to undertake on our behalf, some knew it and some didn’t!

I probably know a little of what it means to stand solid in the face of any doubt, when the world outside doesn’t validate your ideas and they didn’t for a very long time.. and what you needed to become to storm through safety nets to hang out there..

A mission you continued to do courageously... a vision that required you to numb other parts of the self.

As I strive to gather myself to continue.. I can’t help but think that you must have left at the right time.. otherwise why would you leave without notice!

This timing might mean something different for each one of us..

For me.. you are probably asking me to pull it off when I feel the weakest and not to give up… I think you might be asking me to continue the journey, to carry the spirit of what you stood for…I know our styles are different, but our purpose I know is the same….

I wish I had hugged you before you left.. a hug that is larger than life…the hug where you stretch your arms all the way back.. the hug I gave my family as a kid in Iraq whenever they ask me to show them how much I love them… to show the biggest embrace..

I guess when the time comes, we pass our spirit down.. and at times, it comes without notice..

This submission was a repost from Raya Ani's Facebook Page

Leaving without notice! As I am working on what might become the most important project of my life.. with a very tight...

Posted by Raya Ani on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dear Zaha, Your Architecture - Exhilarating. Your Departure - Heartbreaking

by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Dear Zaha,

I was in disbelief when I heard about your death on Thursday, during the morning commute. I didn't want to believe it. I thought surely this must have been a hoax. But the link was from the BBC which included an official statement from your firm.  In the days since,  many articles have been written, paying tribute to your legacy. You were not just one of the greatest architects of our time. The fact IS that you were the first woman architect to make a very large crack in the proverbial glass ceiling of our historically male dominated profession; Of many accolades, you were the first woman to be internationally recognized for your design work. You were the first woman architect to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 and most recently, the first woman to win the Royal Institute of British Architect's Gold Medal in 2016.

I appreciated that you spoke out about the challenges in our profession, when many were afraid to speak. Your work was before its time, you had an uphill climb, but you persevered regardless of the critics at every step of your journey; questioning whether you deserved the honors and recognition that you rightfully earned. In so many ways, you were (and are still) one of our greatest champions, a role model to many, and most influential to those that are women in the profession; who feel the greatest loss of all. Rest assured that we will uphold your fearlessness and leadership by example. We will not waiver from our path, in Architecture's Lean in Moment, to be recognized for our individual and collective work as architects (who just so happen to be women).  You have proved to the world that it can be done.

Beatrice Colomina once said, "Women are the ghosts of modern architecture, everywhere present, crucial, but strangely invisible. In your lifetime, you have made yourself visible and in essence broken the spell for the rest of us. Things are slowly beginning to change. Our discussions about inequity are no longer back room, but an international movement to get more recognized for their talent and accomplishments within the profession. We will continue to build metrics, meaning and matrices that promote equity in Architecture.

I believe in progress, I think if we do enough research, we can push the envelope and get better results… That’s what I like about architecture. It’s exhilarating, but also heart-breaking.
— Dame Zaha Hadid

There is no doubt that we will feel the loss of your talent, your beautifully futuristic buildings, and your audacious authenticity. But we will not give up hope. Your architecture is exhilarating and your departure is also heart-breaking. But, we will forge on with our research and continue to push the boundaries to lead our profession to a better place in your honor.

Farewell, Rest in Peace,


The following is a compilation of articles worth reading that reflect upon Dame Zaha Hadid's passing. If you would like to contribute to the EQxD series: "Dear Zaha", Please contact us. We will be posting throughout the month of April as we receive them.

The devastating loss of Zaha Hadid for women in Architecture via Quartz by Anne Quito

 Why we talk about Zaha Hadid's gender and ethnicity even though her architecture transcended both LA Times by Carolina Miranda

How Zaha Hadid became Zaha Hadid Written by Sara Ben Lashihar

Female Architects on the Significance of Zaha Hadid NYTimes by Randy Kennedy and Robin Pogrebin

 Female Architects speak out on Sexism, unequal pay and more. NYTimes by Robin Pogrebin

An Architect who first imagined, then proved, that space could work in radical new ways.

 I Will Not Live By Your Fascist Rules!” Remembering the untameable brilliance of Zaha Hadid Cincinnati Magazine by Charles Desmarais

A Tribute to Zaha Hadid by Taz Loomans via BloomingRock

Via Youtube, Zaha discusses the challenges of gender and race in Architecture.