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We Are at the Table!


~ Are We at the Table?

My thoughts for this blog crystallized upon reading an article in the 2013 January issue of the ARCHITECT magazine.  “I think it’s crucial to acknowledge those women who are slipping past whatever barriers remain and, in their drive to innovate and excel, are transforming the profession.”  This statement resonated with me because it focused on the architects’ persistence, passion, and professionalism in practicing architecture.

I immediately wondered what their childhood was like and how their experiences led them to choose an architectural career.  What were the similarities or differences to my own experiences and others in our profession?  How does popular culture influence and mold our young people?

My childhood never made light or distinguished between girl and boy toys, careers, etc.  Gender stereotypes were never highlighted.  In contrast I was encouraged to explore my interests and learn how to do everything.  My world was a rich learning environment in which I was able to touch, taste, see, hear, and smell all that I could.  I’m sure many of you saw the GoldieBlox commercial during last year’s Super Bowl.  There are alternates to the “pink” only toy aisle and a new focus to shoot for the stars.  Learning new languages, experiencing other cultures enable us to make as many connections or synapses which enrich our thoughts and our understanding of the world.  It is important to encourage children to formulate and express their thoughts and views.  Everyone at the table is valuable.

Students must challenge themselves to pursue courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in order to position themselves in future leadership career positions.  I challenged myself to excel in subjects and activities that I was interested in and passionate about.  It did not matter that I was the only female student in the high school drafting class and was the first female in the history of the school to complete the program.  I enjoyed both the sciences and the arts and saw the value of learning of having a broad education necessary in making socially responsible choices and decisions.  I often use the phrase “jack of all trades” but it really describes the role of an architect.  We are excellent collaborators, necessary for the integration of all of the disciplines and systems of very complex buildings.  It is crucial to our global economy that we remain competitive and encourage young students to study the math and science and pursue careers in the science and engineering fields.  Knowledge is king at the table.

architect barbie

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan – Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

architect barbie doll

Photo courtesy of Mattel, Inc.

Barbie will be 53 years old on March 9th and after fifty years she’s finally become an architect as part of the “I Can Be” series that focused on professions in which women were underrepresented.  She debuted in 1959 at the International Toy Fair and has had approximately 125 careers, and completed 3.5 master’s programs.  Architect Barbie is a UofM Grad, my alma mater. The doll was an inspiration by a female architect, Despina Stratigakos, teaching at the University of Michigan in 2007.  Ms. Stratigakos enlisted students to create prototypes for a college wide exhibition in 2007.  After four years of campaigning, Mattel debuted Architect Barbie in 2011 on the 125th anniversary of the registration of the first women architect, Louise Blanchard Bethune (b. 1856 – d. 1913).  Ms. Bethune was also the first female associate of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  It surprised me to read that it took four years until Mattel finally selected the architect doll since it was believed that an architect’s work is beyond the comprehension of little girls.  In 2001 a librarian and a police officer beat out the architect doll and then in 2010 a surgeon and computer engineer Barbie beat out the architect doll.  It was a long time for Barbie to become an architect as Jackie Craven writes, “Those licensing exam are tough”.  You will find a few Barbie architects watching over us at MKSD architects.

The AIA launched Architect Barbie Dream House Competition for a new Barbie Dream House in commemoration of Architect Barbie at the 2011 AIA Convention.  Workshops were led by women architects for 400 girls recruited from local school and clubs to introduce what architects do, discussion of work by past and present women architects, and a session to redesign Barbie’s Dream House.  The winning design was submitted by Ting Li, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP and Maja Paklar, Assoc. AIA.

architect barbie dreamhouse competition

Photo courtesy of the AIA

Business Lessons Learned from Barbie published in 2010 gives insight into Barbie’s business career.  Perhaps a book titled “Architectural Lessons Learned from Barbie” is forthcoming.

business lessons learned from barbie

Many articles have been written as to the discrepancies between architecture schools’ female enrollment of 40% nationwide and the AIA organization’s membership is at 83% male.  Professionals in other demanding fields such as medicine and law maintain the number of professional women.  The 2003 Royal Institute of British Architects article begins to address the complex issues of retaining female architects.  Women reluctantly make the choice to leave the practice of architecture as they love architecture.

The Fortune magazine highlighted the 50 Most Powerful Women in its October issue.  We must recognize all the women that have forged the road before us and recognize

The ARCHITECT magazine 2014 October issue included an article about “The Missing 32% – Gender Inequity in Architecture”.  The article outlines the Life of an architect, why women leave the profession, and why so few have leadership roles.  These topics were also discussed at the design symposium.  Architecture female architects equate to 42%, but the percentage of leaders in the profession is only between 15 and 18%.  MKSD architects is definitely not the norm as 44% of our registered architects are women and 3 out of 5 partners are also women.  MKSD architects is a good representation of our society and emphasizes excellence in architecture!

We are at the table ~

During a recent conversation with a colleague we were discussing that architects now have a seat at the table, it may be the only one, and that we must make contributions to these round table discussions.  Architects have vision, passion, focus, skills to change the status quo and also our built environment.