Raising the roof: women in architecture

September 20, 2023

Photo of Frida Escobedo by Columbia GSAPP (edited) under the Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license from Wikimedia and photo by Giogo (edited) of her Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2018 under the Commons Attribution 4.0 International license from Wikimedia

Andreea Pasol expresses her gratitude for the young women transforming the world of architecture

As a creative young woman exploring different pathways, architecture was a career that stuck out to me. Historically, the architectural industry has been male dominated but this is beginning to shift. I was excited to see figures published by UCAS showing more women than men were choosing to study architecture in recent years.

Dezeen magazine report that, over the last five years, the biggest architecture firms have seen a doubling of women in top jobs. However, this still means that men take up 80% of the key roles.

According to a survey from ‘The Architectural Review’, 32% of women claim to have experienced gender discrimination in their workplace within a year.

Harvard Business Review explores the intersection of sexism and racism in the Architectural industry. Nearly 50% of female architects of colour said women found themselves pitted against each other for the only ‘women’s slot’. Additionally, more than 30% said they were in conflict with other people of colour for the only ‘diversity slot’.

Gender discrimination is a source of stress and can directly affect our mental health. More than half of women will become a victim of sexual harassment at work and this is just one of many alarming statistics reported by inspired eLearning.

I feel diversity, equity and inclusion are increasingly relevant in the world of work and for me it is paramount we keep fighting to empower women.

Zaha Hadid paved the way for other hard-working and talented women, like Frida Escobedo, to carry on her legacy

I have found it liberating and inspiring to learn more about the women who have shaped the architectural industry and their secret to success. One amazing woman, Zaha Hadid, grabbed my attention.

Hadid was one of the most successful female architects of the late 20th and early 21st century. She was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, the industry’s highest honour.

After finishing architecture school in 1972, in London, Zaha Hadid won a competition to build a luxury resort in Hong Kong. She had no actual building experience, but her talent was recognised from her abstract paintings.

Unfortunately, this early project never came to fruition. However Hadid’s unique paintings were described, in a Forbes magazine article , as having “manipulated gravity and collided perspectives”. The paintings were praised by many and she went on to be a major figure in architecture.

Hadid certainly broke through the glass ceiling. She is famous for her variety of remarkable designs around the world. From her Riverside Museum of Transport in Glasgow, with its spectacular zig-zag abstract design, and its huge 36ft glass front, to her majestic ship-shaped Jockey Club Innovation Tower in Hong Kong with its seamlessly fluid structure.

Although Hadid sadly and unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack in 2016, she paved the way for other hard-working and talented women to carry on her legacy. An example of one of today’s astounding artists is Mexican architect Frida Escobedo.

Women are working their way up in architecture; making a difference and raising the roof

Escobedo is well known for her 2018 design of the Serpentine Pavilion for which she was the only woman, since Zaha Hadid in 2000, to ever be selected. Since then, in 2021 and 2023, I was pleased to see female architects Sumayya Vally and Lina Ghotmeh have also been chosen.

This rising star, unlike Hadid, prefers simple, yet sophisticated designs which go hand in hand with the neutral-toned modern aesthetics of today.  With a cantilevered roof covering about two thirds of the interior, Escobedo’s Serpentine Pavilion is emblematic of her unique style. The underside of the roof and the floor are encased in mirrors; perfect for selfies and reflecting the sky, treetops and passing birds.

Escobedo never planned to become an architect; she took up an architectural course hoping for a secure future and stumbled into the passion of a lifetime – both inspiring and a source of hope for young women with worries about the future.

It was recently announced that Escobedo won the Charlotte Perriand Award, for her profound impact on the field of architecture which honours the belief that good design can enhance the quality of life for its users and the community. She will be presented with this prestigious award at the Créateurs Design Award ceremony held in Paris, January 2024.

The abundance of women working their way up in architecture proves that we are making a difference and raising the roof! I’m grateful for the women transforming architecture from a male dominated field to simply a dominating field. Without gender bias. Without discrimination.

Would you consider training for a job in the field of the future – architecture? Click here for the best tips on how to become an architect in 2023!

Andreea studied Biology, Psychology and French. She has a passion for art and design as well as languages and sciences. She has been exploring what a woman working in a male dominated field like architecture encompasses, hoping to pursue the same career.

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