Architectural Historian Despina Stratigakos on Women in Architecture
2:00 pm, June 14th | by Colette McIntyre
When I came across Abitare’s March interview with University of Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning professor, writer, architectural historian, and all-around cheerleader for female architects Despina Stratigakos, I knew I had to share it with you ladies. Believe me — you’re going to like what you read. (I felt a bit like that Men’s Warehouse spokesperson while typing that out…did anyone else get that impression? No? Just me? I’m the only one that watches a grotesque amount of television? Cool.)
In the interview Stratigakos discusses the status of women in architecture and how far we are from achieving parity in the industry. While, as Stratigakos points out, gender narratives are changing in academia and architecture firms, the community still suffers from a lack of diversity, perhaps more so than other famously male-dominated professions. Feminism and architecture is Stratigakos’ bread and butter. That’s where she eats. After curating an exhibition on gendered stereotypes within the architecture industry, Stratigakos helped Mattel develop and launch Architect Barbie. She is also the Deputy Director of the University of Buffalo’s Gender Institute and award-winning author of A Women’s Berlin: Building the Modern City. So, when Stratigakos talks about women in architecture, the world better listen.
When asked about what she believes are the biggest issues facing female architects today, Stratigakos speaks to the need for a supportive professional community, advice that’s applicable for any working woman:
Both the first and second waves of feminism understood the importance of community in fostering the progress of women collectively and individually. OWA, an organization of women architects based in San Francisco, just celebrated its fortieth anniversary. Groups such as this helped to anchor women in the profession at a tenuous time, providing information and advice, fostering professional connections, and giving the support to persevere with their careers. The 1980s, the era of Reagan and Thatcher, brought a shift in attitudes and an emphasis on individual achievement; it was seen as a weakness to need anything beyond your own talents or the support of a spouse and family members. It is surely not a coincidence that as we began to rely on lone individuals to take on gender equality in the profession, we also saw that progress begin to level out. Although women’s enrollment in architecture programs has climbed slowly in the past few decades, the number of female graduates becoming licensed practitioners has flatlined since the mid-1980s. We are now seeing a return to community-making among younger women architects and an appreciation for the support such networks bring, not just professionally, but also personally. Using technologies not available in the 1970s, some of these communities have formed online, such as Archiparlour. The 2012 feminist roundtables at the Van Alen Institute have also spurred explorations of both physical and virtual communities of support for aspiring women architects.
Later, she discusses her work with Architect Barbie and the importance of addressing “the politics of the sandbox”:
I cannot overstate the importance of women architects mentoring young girls. At the Architect Barbie launch in New Orleans in 2011, we ran architecture workshops for about 400 local girls. Some of them expressed shock that women could be architects—they had no clue and were delighted to realize it was an option. When our speakers, women architects, told their stories about how they had discovered architecture as girls and the buildings they had gone on to create, you could hear a pin drop. Many school programs offer opportunities to run workshops or interact with young people and I would encourage women architects to get involved. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” When a girl encounters a woman architect and hears about her love of building, it can radically change her ideas about what is possible. Sometimes those attitudes are easier to shift than you would think, but it does require exposure to an alternate reality.
To read the entire interview (which I believe you should), click here.