When they are not being full time mums, working out of hours to finish their architectural degrees or flying between London and their homes of origin in Greece and Zimbabwe, these women are for the most part, creative and ambitious architects that are working incredibly hard to rise above gender biases to design amazing buildings. International Women’s Day allows us to celebrate such women for their strength, talents and ability to juggle motherhood and property-world domination. This time around we sat down with Anne- Héloïse, Emma Holt, Nikoleta Gkoka and Tatiana Muringani to discuss the many opportunities and disadvantages female architects face throughout their careers.
What chain of events led you into your industry, and what opportunities, obstacles or challenges have you faced as a woman?
AH: My parents who are passionate about Art and Design brought me to a furniture design shop in Amsterdam when I was about 13. I remember being amazed by the sharpness of the space and furniture there. My mum then suggested I study Architecture! In university, there were loads of women studying architecture, actually more than men. Men in France tend to go towards engineering instead. But sadly, once they graduate, it seems like a big number of women drop out. The Architecture Registration Board reveals that the number of registered women has always been inferior to the number of qualified women. However, they have noticed a progression recently, which is encouraging!
TM: My Father influenced my architectural aspirations, seeing him work in the construction industry and getting to watch him create and utilize his technical talent stirred eagerness in me. I have always wanted to pursue architecture from an early age. At first l didn’t think l could be welcomed to engage in a subject such as architecture because in my country construction continues to be a male dominated profession. However, I didn’t view this as a setback, l saw this as an invitation to be at the forefront of ensuring that females are always encouraged to explore their creativity within the industry.
How do you believe men and women differ in the work place – if at all – and what positive changes do you think could be implemented in the search for equality?
NG: I do believe that every person either if it’s a man or a woman has something different to offer and express a unique point of view in the workplace. The way we grew up, things we’ve seen, how we studied and how we keep developing our skills day after day are attributes that create certain characteristics in someone’s professional behaviour. The key point though is having the opportunity to let these things flourish.
EH: If you work hard and believe in your abilities then respect and trust should be received regardless of gender. It goes without saying that men and women should be given the same opportunities and paid the same for doing the same job. Statistics now reveal that diversity in business at senior level is good for profitability and productivity.
What is your experience of being a female in a mostly male industry?
AH: Being a young woman in the construction industry is definitely not easy especially on a construction site. When you run a job on site, you will more than likely be surrounded by men and it can be a bit disorienting at the beginning. I felt like I had to prove myself much more than my male colleagues had to. But once you gain the respect and trust you deserve, you win!
EH: I’ve been fortunate to be part of a gender-balanced environment at BAA. Outside of the office is where it's still very noticeable that the male percentages are much higher within the construction industry. This ranges from subcontractors on site to high-level meetings with directors to awards ceremonies. ‘Move the Needle’ an initiative by the RIBA and #seetheelephant by the London Festival of Architecture are all positive ways forward to hopefully make significant changes in addressing the balance.
What advice would you give your younger career-driven self?
EH: Concentrate on what’s important to you in what you want to achieve. Avoid becoming distracted or discouraged by what people might think or how they appear to judge you. Having said that, don’t bottle it up if you think someone is being unreasonable for any reason, don’t ignore it or worry about being trivial.
TM: Continue to stay true to your values.
What are your thoughts on the current female empowerment movements happening in the media and industry wide?
AH: I don't really consider myself as a feminist but more an "equalist" if that makes sense. I however think it's important that the media reminds people that there is still some way to go before women and men are completely equal.
EH: The levels of attention around female empowerment lately have been incredible. High awareness of this subject will hopefully make it easier to speak out with the confidence of being listened to and taken seriously.
What have you learnt along your career that has been invaluable to you?
EH: Architecture requires serious focus and a high investment of time so remember to factor in time for other aspects of life, spending time with family and friends, plans for the future like setting up a home and family, exercise, anything that is important to you.
NG: During the beginning of my career in the UK I have been lucky enough to work very closely with female directors making me realise that with consistent hard work and passion you can achieve your goals.
Who are your role models in the design & architecture industry?
TM: I have always been drawn to Italian architect Carlo Scarpa’s Work, I find it intriguing as to how he remodelled historical buildings in Venice for new uses. Venice encounters tension with floods and water rises, Scarpa’s buildings seem to have understood these tensions and they are elegantly detailed composition of different materials. His work echoes the Venetian urban fabric and its people.
NG: I guess most people would expect certain iron ladies of architecture to be our role models. But it is people I meet every day that make an actual difference to me. I am really glad that our workplace is driven by so many strong inspiring female architects that set beautiful examples of ethics, exceptional collaborating behaviour, creativity and powerful voices.