The Importance of Women in Architecture – 6 Barrier-breaking Women Architects

Throughout history, the field of architecture has traditionally been a male-dominated industry leaving it up to pioneering women architects to fight for representation and open the way for new generations of women to rise up in the discipline. As a woman-owned business, Amity Kett knows the importance of equal representation in the design field, as diversity provides possibilities for unique collaborations and ideas. We are reviewing the importance of women in architecture and how women approach design projects differently than men, as well as highlighting six barrier-breaking women architects who defied traditional gender roles to secure notoriety in the profession and inspire new generations of female architects. 

E-1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin – Eileen Gray

Why Equal Representation in Architecture is Important 

An Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) study shows that while women account for nearly half of architecture graduates, they only make up about 15 percent of licensed architects in the workforce. Contributing factors to this discrepancy include wage gaps, lack of women mentorship, negative perceptions of female leaders in the field, absence of work-life balance, and a need for childcare. Issues like this need to be addressed to not only make the architecture workplace more accessible for women but also more enjoyable and productive for all. It is shown that gender-balanced companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors and offer a more positive economic, social, and environmental impact on the communities they serve.  

As women increasingly make way to becoming the largest section of the American workforce, it is more important than ever to achieve representation, respect, and value in professional fields like architecture. Equal representation for women is beneficial for everyone in and outside of the design field, as it opens up possibilities for new conversations, perspectives, and ideas that improve designs and offer enrichment to everyone who occupies these spaces. 2015 AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter writes that architects “must be a mirror of the rich human tapestry we serve.” Diversity is truly key when designing for the needs of the community at large as well as for families in residential spaces. 

Union Station in Los Angeles – Mary Colter

How Women Design Differently Than Men 

Women have a different perspective than men about what is important in design including accessibility, attention to detail, client needs, environmental consciousness, and collaboration for a stronger outcome. Since women design differently than men, it is crucial to have female leaders on the team to create a well-rounded design. Women architects are more likely to listen to the needs of the client and make design decisions accordingly, as well as offer more opportunities for collaboration to seek new ideas. In residential design, women architects who have children also have a better understanding of home life and key design elements needed in the home for cohesive flow and function. In Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design, Kira Gould and Lance Hosey show that women architects are more likely to design with sustainability in mind, creating plans with a smaller carbon footprint and reduced energy costs. Diversity opens possibilities to new views and visions that can drastically shape architectural planning for the better.  

The Herald Examiner Building, Los Angeles – Julia Morgan

6 Barrier Breaking Women Architects Through History and Today 

Here are six of our favorite women architects that paved the way through history to not only break into the male-dominated world of architecture but also leave their mark with breathtaking design and innovations. 

Eileen Gray

August 9, 1878 – October 31, 1976

Eileen Gray is a European architect, interior decorator, and furniture designer who became a lead figure of the Modern Movement in the design world. While Gray studied fine art and lacquering, she never received formal teaching in architecture but was rather self-taught. She opened her interior design shop, Jean Désert, and dated Romanian architect and artist Jean Badovici during the early 1920s. In 1926, she began designing a holiday home near Monaco that would become her most famous project. The house was named E-1027, a code for her and Jean. The E stood for Eileen, the 10 for J or Jean, the 2 for B or Badovici, and the 7 for G or Gray. She is also one of our top 10 favorite architects

Mary Colter

April 4, 1869 – January 8, 1958

Mary Colter is an American architect and one of the only women architects during the time she was alive. She was a pioneer in carving a space for women that was previously reserved only for men. Colter is known for her designs that defined the Grand Canyon National Park, like the landmark buildings for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad. Her work established the Southwest style we know today by combining elements of Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, and Native American motifs. She is another one of our top 10 favorite architects, as she truly forged space for women architects in America. 

Julia Morgan

January 20, 1872 – February 2, 1957

Julia Morgan is an American architect who designed more than 700 buildings in California during her impressive career. She founded her architecture firm in 1904 and established herself as a top residential architect in Berkley. She gained a reputation for prioritizing the needs of clients and involving the homeowners in open communication on projects. She is best known for her work on the Hearst Castle, an immortalized California landmark. She also made the list of our top 10 favorite architects

Zaha Hadid

October 31, 1950 – March 31, 2016

Zaha Hadid is a British-Iraqi architect who is known as the “Queen of the Curve” for liberating architectural geometry and defining a new expressive identity with form. Her notoriety is immense as she is the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize as well as the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. She was also made a Dame by Elizabeth II for her architecture services and is known for famous structures like the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics and the Guangzhou Opera House. Like her work, she pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in architecture. 

Jeanne Gang

March 19, 1964 – Present

Jeanne Gang is an American architect and the founder of Studio Gang, an architecture and urban design firm in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. She is best known for gorgeous master-planned urban communities that break expectations. Her Aqua Tower in Chicago is currently the tallest woman-designed building in the world but is soon to be passed up by the new Vista Tower, also designed by Gang. 

Kazuyo Sejima

October 29, 1956 – Present

Kazuyo Sejima is a Japanese architect who has designed projects across the globe. She is known for her sleek modernist style which embraces shiny surfaces, cubes, and minimalism. Her spaces typically feature open areas where the public can interact with each other as well as the architecture itself. She challenges the tradition of assuming project needs and instead chooses to confront design challenges directly with the client for personalized solutions. In 2010, Sejima was the second woman to receive the Pritzker Prize.  

Working with a Women-led Firm 

As a women-led firm, Amity Kett knows the importance of not only attention to detail, communication, and design collaboration but also the importance of building a culture of inclusivity and breaking barriers to be different and meet new challenges of the modern world. As we reflect on these inspirational women who have defied expectations, we know that there are even more stunning designs to come from the next generation of women architects. 

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