Sep 28, 2015
BY: and
THEME: Point of View

Dear Architecture, We Need to Talk

A recent ideas competition organized by Blank Space asked people to submit challenges to the architecture profession in the form of an open letter. Participants from over 60 countries responded. An esteemed jury chose the winners, among whom were two designers in our North Carolina practice. Below, we share their second-place winning entry, an invective asking the profession to make itself a level field for female designers.

The authors added, “Having recently discussed the role of women in architecture, this competition gave us the opportunity to tell an au courant story drawn from a collage of varied circumstances. We wanted to highlight significant issues by presenting lived experiences in relation to statistical data. Our hope is that this letter will incite and amplify meaningful dialogues between men and women in architecture firms across the country, and aid in encouraging an eventual demographic transformation within the profession.”

Dear Architecture,

Today over beer and gourmet cupcakes, my co-workers and I celebrated Ashley’s last day at the office. The salted caramel flavor I’d chosen felt oddly appropriate as I contemplated the loss of a mentor and talented peer.  You see, it’s not just her last day here; she’s decided to join “The Missing 32%” of women in the United States who were unable to see a long-term future with you despite years of dedication.  Our countless conversations over morning and afternoon coffees could not shake her lingering discontent with the tumultuous relationship between the two of you.  So she’s moving on and, honestly Architecture, I don’t blame her.

If you took one moment to be introspective, you would discover appalling imbalances.  You would see that not even a quarter of architects in the U.S. are women, although women are going to design school at nearly equal rates to men!  This number continues to decrease at higher leadership levels in the field.  Imagine how difficult it was for Ashley to encourage young female professionals in our office when she consistently saw them unable to achieve their career goals because of office leadership that devalued their contributions, ignored their strengths, and amplified their weaknesses.  Even she felt buried under the weight of these recurring issues. Seriously Architecture, are we building on rock or sand here?!  Face it – the exclusive “boy’s club” culture you’ve established has forced Ashley to take her Jimmy Choos elsewhere.

Shoes_Body

Architecture, I’m revealing all of these things to you because I love you. I love design and the incessantly changing, challenging nature of the daily work in architecture.  I love how essential you are to the human experience, allowing your user to impress upon you as you do them, becoming a living archive of societal evolution. I love how you scale, humbling me so that I feel my smallness while simultaneously empowering me to create my environment.  I love your infinite physical expressions, especially when imbued with theory and experimental ideas that attempt to rescue humanity from its ailments. I love how we are always intertwined and in continual dialogue with one another.  But our relationship needs work.

Consistently, I ask for opportunities and you respond with preconceptions, limitations, and pigeonholing. I beg for critical life balance and flexibility and you respond with unpaid overtime.  I plead for a clear path to advancement and you present me with an ultimatum: choose status quo or exit sign.  So before I reach my breaking point confronting the same issues which drove Ashley to leave, how are you going to change?  The practice of architecture has to evolve. We need diverse professional leaders.  We need office leadership that is aware of the issues and willing to take quantifiable action to support qualified female professionals.

We need women architects, and women architects need change.
I haven’t given up on you yet, Architecture, but we have a lot of work to do.

Sincerely,
Lauren
P.S. I know a great relationship counselor.

This letter, as well as all winners, honorable mentions, and notable submissions will be published in Blank Spaces’s third book, Dear Architecture, shipping in December 2015. Order your copy now.

  1. Gayle D. Gwinup, PE
    5:14 pm on January 15, 2016 | Reply

    I read with interest and support of equalizing opportunities within the Architecture profession. It is probably an even greater slope to climb in the Engineering profession. After 40 plus years in the A/E profession, I have seen the playing field become much more level than it was in the ’70’s.
    My observations through those years has been that the most successful female architects were those that took on understanding and gaining competence in all portions of architectural design from constructability means and methods, MEP infrastructure, structural, civil, budgeting, in addition to design and planning. They had to be competent in all areas to meet the challenges thrown at them. And on top of that they had to have the ability to be leaders of the design team and demonstrate to the Owner their mastering of all tasks. And when they were competent in all areas, there were limited challenges and few that could not be turned back. Is it fair this high level of overall knowledge and ability was demanded? No. But when I have had female architects with those capabilities, I have had some of the most enjoyable, best coordinated and profitable projects.
    As consultants we are only as good as our leaders no matter whether they are male or female, any nationality, or any race. A leader that is qualified, professional, and of good character is easy to support and follow.

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