women in architecture

Women in Architecture: International Women’s Day & The Importance of Recognizing Female Designers


Sunday is International Women’s Day, and, to mark it, we’d like to take a little time to note the achievements of women in architecture and design that are too often overlooked.  

There’s no way (or need) to achieve perfect gender parity in every conversation, interaction, publication or project.  But the invisibility of women in the field is too often … invisible.  It is vital to bring the contributions of women to the forefront and to recognize how much the profession needs to progress before women share an equal part in Architecture.

Women In Architecture

Women are 40% of design school grads, but we make up only 17% of registered architects in the AIA.  We still struggle to rise to leadership positions in the profession and our achievements are sadly underrepresented in education and in the popular eye.

For Women In Architecture, as in the world, under-representation is two fold.  There is actual professional inequality and then there is the lack of recognition for what we have accomplished.

Check out this really appalling article in Places, Unforgetting Women Architects: From the Pritzker to Wikipedia.  To summarize, history is made by those write it down and all too often the accomplishments of women architects go unknown.  Wikipedia lists only 112 Women Architects (from 25 states) on its roster (a problem not unrelated to the fact that only 9% of wikipedia contributors are women) and facts not found on Wikipedia are pretty easy to lose sight of entirely these days.

To combat this, ArchiteXX is organizing a hack-a-thon, Sunday, asking people to contribute entries to Wikipedia recognizing notable women in architecture, design, planning and construction.  But the problem is not limited to the internet.

Hits and Misses in Recognizing Female Achievement

Pacing the library shelves turns up bios and and monographs of a lot more men than women.  And paging through the general history texts does the same.

To demonstrate, I offer an anecdotal example: the index of architectural commentator and Yale School of Architecture Dean, Robert A. M. Stern’s Pride of Place: Building the American Dream.  The four page index contains 12 reference to women by name: three women famous for nothing to do with architecture, two female patrons of buildings and the wife of an architecture patron (cited under her husband’s name), Jane Jacobs and May Lin (neither architects), Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (mentioned only in context of her partner Duany), and Denise Scott Brown who is quoted twice (in the introductions to the chapters on home design and the american suburb).  Sophia Hayden is described as a “woman architect” as and Stern feels it necessary to mention that she had a mental breakdown after her second building – an odd personal detail to toss in.

women in architecture

The kicker is a long feature on the design of one building by Julia Morgan (first woman grad of Berkeley’s School of Engineering and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and first female architect licensed in California), William Randolph Hearst’s palatial retreat, San Simeon.  In Stern’s description of the project Hearst is mentioned by name 46 times over several pages while Morgan, referred to as “his architect,” is named only 11 times, barely beating out Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davis (8 mentions).

Stern’s lack of focus on the contributions of women in “Building the American Dream” is not an intentional slight.  It is symptomatic of the general lack of awareness, however.   And the  tally

That example is out of date (although unfortunately relevant to the way architectural history is still being taught in a field where 79 percent of full professors are men and 85 percent are white).  Here’s a modern one: 

One of our favorite architecture sites, Build Blog, written by Seattle firm Build LLC ran a 5 part series a few years back to recognize female architects and designers.  It’s great (nearly unprecedented) to see a list of 50 female designers collected in one place and gratifying that so many of Build’s readers jumped into the comments to contribute names to the list.

Find them all here: Women Making an Impact Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

On the other hand, the impetus of the first post was a sheepish acknowledgment of the fact that they’d created a fantasy lecture series for the UW Department of Architecture listing nine men.  The tags created for the post – “FEMALE ARCHITECTS” and “WOMEN” – have no other associated posts.  And their description of Danish architect, Dorte Mandrup, reads as follows:


I doubt that the post’s author would summarize the work of a fellow male designer by complementing his looks and assuring him that his design chops don’t prevent the author from asking for a date (again).  So … partial credit, Build Blog.

One of the best things any person, male or female, can do to support feminism is to make themselves aware of (and talk about) the contributions of women to their own field.  

We will be making an effort here at moss to talk more about Women in Architecture and to share the stories of some of our own favorite female designers.  Please feel free to do the same!