Women in architecture may seem like a bit of an anomaly.
Glance quickly at the pictures and names of the executives and project architects on many company websites, and it’s easy to conclude that most firms are managed and staffed by men.
While they tend to be underrepresented, women have long contributed to architecture in both in the United States and around the world, and they continue to bring innovation and exciting developments to the field.
The American Institute of Architects reports that while nearly half of students enrolled in architectural programs are women, there is a still a dearth of women founders and women in upper management. The AIA estimates that about 17% of registered architects are women.
According to other data, women architects made up about 18% of major design awardees in the 2010s, which was increase from a mere 3% in the 1980s. While the increase in architectural degrees pursued by women is encouraging, the data suggests that women still struggle to break into the upper echelons of ownership, partnership, and management in architecture and design.
There are several reasons why traditionally, women have been so scarce in architecture. Until Title IX was enacted in 1972, forbidding gender discrimination in federally funded education programs, many universities actually refused women applicants. And according to stats from 2013, female architects earn 80.3% of what male architects earned that year, or nearly $15,00 less.
And even more recently, the Women in Architecture survey reported in 2016 that 75% of female respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment on the job. Combine the possibility of inappropriate workplace behavior and lower pay with the fact that architecture has traditionally been a male-dominated space, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there aren’t more women working in the field.
While female designers may at times seem invisible in the profession, there are many notable women who’ve made large impacts in our communities.
For example, Marion Mahony Griffin, for example, got her degree in architecture from MIT in 1894.
She later moved back to the Midwest and was Frank Lloyd Wright’s first employee. For many years, her important work with Wright and with her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, was overlooked.
But more recently, historians have estimated that she was responsible for at least half of Wright’s drawings. Notably, she worked on the David Amberg Residence and the Adolph Mueller House.
Norma Merrick Sklarek, the first Black woman to be licensed as an architect in New York and California, graduated with an architecture degree from Columbia University in 1950.
She later became the director of Gruen Associates, and in 1985, co-founded Sklarek Siegel Diamond, which was the largest female-only architecture firm at the time.
Her impressive projects include San Bernardino City Hall and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Anne Tyng, who collaborated closely with renowned architect John Kahn, graduated from the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is responsible for projects such as the Yale Art Gallery and Trenton Bath House.
And Philadelphia-based Denise Scott Brown made her mark not only as an architect, but as a theorist and author.
She contributed immensely to one of the most important books about 20th century architectural theory, Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form, but was not immediately credited for her work.
She co-founded and managed Venturi Scott Brown and Associates until 2012, and even in retirement, continues to write and publish.
Women-led firms continue to add valuable contributions to architecture and design, and we’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of some of the studios making big moves in the industry.
Here is a short list of notable women-led architecture firms
Co-founded by Stella Betts in 1997, with work featured internationally in New York, Berlin, Seoul, China, and Washington DC.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Co-founded by Elizabeth Diller and based in New York City.
More than 50% of the firm is owned by women.
Voith and Mactavish Architects
Co-founded by Daniela Holt Voith, with may specializations, including campus housing, theaters and the arts, and hospitality.
Founded by Mary Holland, this firm now consists of 60% women.
Studio Gang Architects
Founded by Jeanne Gang and winner of the 2016 Architizer A+ Firm of the Year Award
Founded by Barbara Bestor, responsible for projects such as the headquarters for Beats by Dre and Snap and the Silverlake Conservatory of Music.
Women continue to play a vital role in the building of our cities and the planning of our communities. Click here for a free trial to ConstructionWire for access to hundreds of architects all across the United States.