History of Women In Architecture

Schemmer_History of Women In ArchitectureIn 2011, the fashion icon, Barbie, added architect to her resume as part of Mattel’s Barbie® I Can Be™ series. The doll came with a drawing tube, a model of the Dream House, and hardhat. She was accessorized with a pink bangle bracelet and black framed glasses. She wore the cliché, albeit accurate, black booties associated with female architects of late. An abstract outline of a skyline adorns her A-line dress. Consequently, Barbie had many predecessors who paved the way for women pursuing a career in architecture.

First Licensed Female Architects

Marion Mahony Griffin was among the first licensed female architects, and she was also the first employee of renowned Frank Lloyd Wright1. She was in the company of several other professionals who designed in the early 1900’s. Well-known architects like Mies, Corbusier, and Eames all employed, worked with, or married women who influenced the industry. Would we have the iconic furniture we have today if Charles Eames worked independent of Rey’s influence? Probably not. These women blazed the trail for professionals like the late Zaha Hadid, Elizabeth Diller, even Maya Lin, and many others.

It is difficult to find a succinct history of women in architecture, in part, due to the core issues that still surround equity in the profession. While records of female architects can be found, the extent of their contribution is often shrouded, glorifying their male counterparts instead. The percentage of architecture students that identify as female has risen significantly. In many schools, they make up about half of the class. The percentage of women practicing appears to go up and down while relatively remaining the same now as in the 1980’s2.

Celebrating Women In Architecture

Why celebrate, let alone distinguish, females who participate in this industry? Because, throughout history, women have overcome adversity and thrived working in a once male-dominated industry. In some cases, being told they could not do something compelled them even more to achieve success. Not to discount the obstacles that face anyone who decides to pursue a career in architecture; women overcome stigmas in addition to the rigor of academia. Even though much progress has been made through suffrage and other equity campaigns that enables women to join the workforce, reconciling family and work remains a challenge. Perhaps the drop in practicing women can be attributed to this.

Despite the hurdles, ladies have made great strides and have been instrumental in many innovative designs. In several cases, women offer a unique perspective that may not have been considered if they had not been on the team. It is evident that the way men and women think, and approach problems, is very different, not better or worse, just different. Arguably, this difference strengthens the case for including a variety of team members with different backgrounds to realize ingenious solutions. Afterall, women and men alike inhabit the places and spaces created. Why shouldn’t they both play a part in the design?

Schemmer's Women In Architecture

Whether because of a doll, an affinity for legos, or a proficiency in math, art, or science, girls of the 21st century can flex their strengths in the field of architecture. A debt of gratitude is owed to those who came before and demonstrated it could and should be done. Schemmer is proud to boast its diverse team and values the contributions of every member as we reflect on the history of the profession. Thank you to all of our talented and dedicated women in architecture for all the important work you do in our local communities and across the United States.

Schemmmer_Women In Architecture

Top Left: Pat Birch; Leigha Duckett; Kelsey Fleenor; Jennifer Fiedler | Bottom Left: Molly Macklin; Liz Meyer; Megan Michalski; Kira Strong-Gonzalez

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Sources: 1. The 10 Most Overlooked Women in Architecture History | ArchDaily; 2. Where Are the Women? Measuring Progress on Gender in Architecture - Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (acsa-arch.org)