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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession loosing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

Inspirations from Matrices: 2GA in Lisbon, Portugal 3/18-3/20

by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA


Last week, I attended Matrices: The 2nd International Congress on Architecture and Gender at the Universidade Lusofona in Lisbon, Portugal to present The Missing 32% Project: Equity in Architecture Survey findings to an International audience of academics, practitioners and students. The theme Matrices has several definitions and they are all inclusive by nature. Matrices are environments where things develop, the models or patterns that shape formations, and they can also reinvent an environment. These images are suited to address the current patterns of change regarding architecture and gender. We found the conference theme to be concurrent with the mission and activism associated with Equity by Design.

The 3 day Conference featured presentations that provided a broad forum for discourse on the history and current state of practice for women in architecture around the world by architects, philosophers, historians from Portugal, Spain, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Sweden, Costa Rica and the United States. 

The content of each presentation was energizing, provocative and ranging in a broad spectrum of topics; Works and achievements of architects Lina Bo Bardi, Ray Eames, Eileen Gray; Niche feminist activism by a Chicago group called CARYATIDS; Cinematic influences on the image of Architects, The unique tension surrounding Iranian Women's Parks, recruiting and teaching architecture to Saudi Arabian women and a call to action for forming a Matrices network of research, best practices, and dialogue.

The opening keynote speaker was Spanish Architect Ariadna Cantis, whose business model expands beyond traditional practice and parallels current discussion of "Architecture And" conversations; expanding the design reach of our profession into communications, graphics, user experience, metrics, and social media. 

Martha Thorne, Executive Director of The Pritzer Prize was also present as a participant on a featured roundtable discussion on Matrices, the theme of the conference. She spoke of the need to focus on 3 key areas for continuing the movement for women in architecture. Creation of Alliances, leveraging Technology, and raising a call to Action would be critical to making an impact for the representation and recognition of women in architecture going forward.

Jane Rendell

Jane Rendell

Jane Rendell was the closing Keynote presenter who spoke of her newest work in publication "Site Writings" which continues to explore new interdisciplinary concepts and processes such as ‘critical spatial practice’. Ms. Rendell, a professor at Bartlett School of Architecture at University College of London, is also a writer, art critic and architectural historian/theorist/designer, whose work explores interdisciplinary intersections between architecture, art, feminism and psychoanalysis. 

Each day's summary is available below via Storify.

Matrices 2GA: Day 1 Summary, 3/18

Matrices 2GA: Day 2 Summary, 3/19

Matrices 2GA: Day 3 Summary, 3/20

Conference sessions were complimented by 2 nearby museum exhibits featuring the Varina, an iconic Portuguese Fisherwoman, representing strength and resolve of spirited women in Lisbon's rich history. The spirit of the Varina is evident in her proud posture which reminded me of Denise Scott Brown's widely known pose in Las Vegas. Similarly, Varina is alive in the leadership of our gracious hosts of the conference, Patricia Santos Pedrosa, Maria Joao Matos, and Eliana Sousa Santos and their colleagues at LABART Lusofona who ambitiously sought to continue a much needed conversation on architecture and gender in an international forum.




(WE310) Equity by Design Hackathon @AIA National Convention Atlanta!

Equity in Architecture is a call to action for both women and men to realize the goal of equitable practice in order to attract and retain talent, advance and sustain the profession, and communicate the value of architectural design to society. This event is open to everyone and has relevant learning objectives for all Architects.

Join us on 5/13 1pm-5pm for the most energizing half-day workshop inspired by the sold-out 2014 symposium, Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action! We will begin the day by reviewing a full report of key findings from the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey topics: Hiring and Retention, Growth and Development, Meaning and Influence, followed by interactive conversations about the pinch points that affect talent retention in Architecture. 


Hackathon! The second part of the afternoon will feature the first AIA Convention "mini-Hackathon". What is a Hackathon? Very similar in format to a design charrette, using this rapid prototyping format will leverage your Design Thinking skills to propose actionable initiatives and best practices for talent recruitment, career advancement, and building the business case for equity. This video by Daylight via Vimeo demonstrates the process.

Finally, you and your group will present a 5 minute "pitch" of your proposed equity initiative to a panel of judges. Pitches will be rated with final equity initiatives being featured in blog posts and social media. Sign up for WE310 Equity by Design as pre-convention during Convention Registration. Ask your firm or local AIA Chapter to sponsor your attendance and bring back this valuable knowledge to affect change! 

Meet the Speakers:


Following the workshop, participants will be invited to a complimentary Happy Hour 5:30pm-7:30pm at Studio No. 7 for Jury deliberations and Awards. If you can't make the WE310 Workshop, we will have registration to attend Happy Hour event so that you can catch up on the highlights of the Hackathon! Proceeds beyond costs of the event go to funding the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey.

Studio No. 7393 Marietta Street N.W. Atlanta, GA 30313




#EQxDNYC: Recap of Friday 2/27 Presentation at Center for Architecture NY

By Rosa Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

It was 19 degrees and 7:30am (4:30am West Coast Time!) when I arrived at the Center for Architecture in New York City on Friday before the presentation. By 8:15, we had a packed room of approximately 80+ Architects and Designers interested in the Equity in Architecture Survey Findings and Equity by Design Movement with Initiatives for establishing equitable practice in 2015.

Following the presentation, there was a great discussion and what we hope will be the beginning of a collaborative effort to create an Alliance of like minded organizations for Equity; Women in Architecture Groups, Diversity Groups, Equitable and Fair Practice Groups. We have composed a Storify of live Tweets from the day for a recap of topics covered.

THANKS! A special heartfelt thanks to our hosts at Center for Architecture New York, AIA Diversity NYC, WIA NYC and all our live tweeters including above mentioned hosts, attendees, Architexx and especially Heather McKinstry! We are grateful for all who came out so early in the morning (including men!)

SO WHAT'S NEXT? HOW CAN YOU HELP? Many wanted to jump in and asked what they could do to forward the EQxD Movement.  Like the Shel Silverstein "Melinda Mae" Whale Story, we can eat the Equity Whale faster if we have many forks and hungry contributors. You can read our blog post of 15 ways to Jumpstart Equity in Practice. Please send us a message in the "Contact" portion of our website with your suggestions and ideas for ACTION! Forward relevant articles to us. Get a Twitter Account. Write a guest blog post about an Equity topic. Bite for Bite, we will eat this Whale! See our list of events for 2015 and encourage people to attend! 

 MAKE IT HAPPEN! The best program yet to come is our 1/2 day workshop WE310 Equity By Design on Wednesday 5/13 1-5pm followed by and Happy Hour for networking and Alliance building in Atlanta. As your firm or AIA chapter to sponsor your registration to bring back the learning!

EQxD "U" Wrkshp 1: "Satisfaction" 3/12 @AIASF (Meet the Panelists!)

Satisfaction: Workplace Innovations to Attract, Develop and Keep Talent.

March 12th, 2015 @AIASF 130 Sutter Street, San Francisco 6pm-8:30pm

Please join us to get "Satisfaction" in the 1st of 4 highly engaging EQxD workshops that explore workplace topics we experience but rarely discuss.  

We invited 4 Bay Area Principals of successful design firms that each have a unique story to tell about what it takes to attract and keep top talent and run an award winning design practice; From a practice that honors staff with biannual urban architectural retreats to a firm founded and largely owned by women with diverse and flexible work cultures. From a firm forging a design first ethos with meaningful work that respects employee needs to a successful small studio that has joined forces with a larger firm. 

What is the secret sauce for job satisfaction? How does this factor into talent retention in successful firms? Is it having a worker-centered culture or diversity in talent? Working on meaningful design projects ? Having a transparent promotion policy? Role models in leadership positions? High salary? Meaningful work?



MEET THE SATISFACTION PANELISTS! (and the amazing firms they lead)


Peter Larsen, AIA

Principal, Aidlin Darling Design

Peter Larsen has been a designer with Aidlin Darling Design since 1999, and became a Principal of the firm in 2012.  His design work ranges from large-scale multi-building projects on remote land parcels to handcrafted furniture and fixture design at the intimate scale of the human body. He has focused on developing sustainable building strategies, including LEED-platinum and Net Zero Energy projects, as well as taken on leadership roles in the management of the Aidlin Darling Design studio and team.

Aidlin Darling Design rigorously explores design across a wide range of scales, programs and disciplines with the goal of enabling poetic, sustainable and appropriate site- and client-specific solutions. The firm has been awarded over 100 regional, national and international design awards including an AIA/COTE Top Ten + Award, a National Design Award by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, an international Civic Trust Award, a National AIA Honor Award, a National ASLA Honor Award for landscape architecture, two National IIDA Interior Design Awards, multiple American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum, and a James Beard Award.



Melinda Rosenberg, Assoc. AIA, SHRM

Partner, Director of Human Resources, Office Manager,  WRNS Studio

Melinda has always been curious about understanding and shaping culture. She arrived at WRNS in 2005 and helped open their doors, ushering in the vibrant, creative, diverse and hard-working ethos that has helped WRNS become the nationally recognized design firm it is today. WRNS is truly its people, and Melinda has recruited and helped them retain the best. Since day one, they've attracted an incredibly talented group of designers and professionals who are committed to good design, social and environmental stewardship and critical discourse. With no shortage of parties and social outings, Melinda knows how to balance their culture of hard work with play.

WRNS Studio is a 75-person architecture firm with offices in San Francisco and Honolulu. Founded in 2005 with a design-first ethos, projects range in scale and typology from Adobe's new campus in Utah to small community centers here in San Francisco for the Trust for Public Land. Place, identity, context, technical innovation and resource conservation compel their every move. Recent clients include Airbnb, Dolby, UCSF, Stanford, the San Francisco Unified School District, and numerous private developers.

Janet Tam, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Principal, Noll & Tam

Janet Tam, AIA, is a founding partner of Noll & Tam Architects in Berkeley, CA. She holds a Master’s degree in Architecture from UC Berkeley and is a member of The American Institute of Architects, Society of College and University Planners, and California Parks and Recreation Society. A LEED Accredited Professional (BD+C), Janet is noted for her ability to analyze complex programs and synthesize all components into aesthetically pleasing architectural design. She has special expertise in facilitating consensus among diverse interest groups, particularly as part of an organized community process.

Noll & Tam Architects’ work reflects a dedication to the particular people and places that make our projects unique. Christopher Noll and Janet Tam founded the firm in 1992 to establish a talented studio of architects that pursued the ideal of active community involvement and environmentally responsive design. Today, we have 30 creative and energetic staff members, including 16 LEED Accredited Professionals with 67% women in firm leadership.

Anne Torney, AIA, LEED AP

Principal, Mithun

Anne Torney is an architect who has made transit-oriented affordable housing, urban place-making and social equity the focus of her work for more than 20 years. She is a Board member at Mithun, and manager of the Mithun's San Francisco office. Prior to joining Mithun, Anne was Principal and Director of Housing at the multi-disciplinary San-Francisco-based architectural design firm Daniel Solomon Design Partners, where she has led award-winning projects in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Seattle, WA. She brings a deep commitment to community outreach and sustainable design to all her projects, which range from supportive communities for the formerly homeless, to the revitalization of isolated public housing sites into walkable, mixed-use and mixed-income communities. Her sensitivity to client and user objectives animates her leadership of complex projects with multi-layered client and consultant teams.

Mithun’s architects, interior designers, landscape architects, urban designers and planners are working to inspire a sustainable world through leadership, innovation and integrated design. A national leader in sustainable design and urbanism since 1949, we look for and find connections — the universal in the specific, and ways to balance the human and natural worlds. Our work is an innovative blend of design, technology and nature to create places that excel in beauty, spirit and performance. Our integrated teams understand global issues and help to drive the best return on investments — economically, socially, environmentally and artistically. Making these connections, we deliver enduring value that raises the quality of life for individuals and entire communities.


EQxD Event Sponsorship

We are seeking sponsors for our ambitious 2015 Equity by Design Initiatives. If you are interested in supporting our goals for achieving equitable practice in architecture, please contact us to learn more about the multiple benefits for your support. Among other benefits, Sponsors get designated tickets for each of the 4 workshops in 2015 based on your level of support. So make the most of your sponsorship by contacting us early! 

We would like to thank Mithun and HDR Architecture for being our 1st sponsors of 2015! Logo recognition coming shortly!




Women.Wikipedia.Design - Make it Write on 3/8

Women. Wikipedia.Design – Help Architexx rewrite history on International Women’s Day March 8, 2015 – join Women Wikipedia Design.

ArchiteXX invites us all to help write into Wikipedia women designers, architects and all those involved in the creation of our built environment. They are seeking to create a global effort in order to have the most diverse and wide ranging of women written in on this day. With so many women to write about, they hope that this will be the beginning of an annual event.


Women Wikipedia Design is a global call for people to contribute Wikipedia entries about women in architecture, urbanism, design and construction. It aims to address the bias and underrepresentation of women in these disciplines and in the collective canon of notable figures online.

Join us on March 8 to write in those whose work has impacted you.


Despina Stratigakos starts her excellent essay Unforgetting Women Architects by reminding us that ‘History is not a simple meritocracy: it is a narrative of the past written and revised — or not written at all — by people with agendas.” She ends with a call for positive action.

Contributing to Wikipedia … represents a real opportunity to provide … a more accurate perception of women’s participation in architecture.

There is also something very satisfying about writing a forgotten figure — a professional ancestor, maybe even a pioneer — into history. And as the long and rich history of women in architecture becomes more broadly known, it will become that much harder to ignore them, whether in the classroom, the museum, or on prize juries.

As Sue Gardner of Wikimedia put it, “Wikipedia will only contain ‘the sum of all human knowledge’ if its editors are as diverse as the population itself: you can help make that happen. And I can’t think of anything more important to do, than that.”


Architexx has created a help sheet including wiki entry protocol and citing criteria to help participants navigate the complexities of Wikipedia writing and editing. Download the Wikibomb_Instructions here.

Start by developing a list of women you would like to write in, collecting information and references you will be citing as well as any images to include.

Sign up to the Architexx list so they know how many women will be written about, and who.

You might also want to read the advice from the Anita Borg Institute How to Edit Wikipedia: Lessons from a Female Contributor.


8 March, International Women’s Day


You can contribute from anywhere, but you might also consider hosting a wiki writing party in your area. Let Architexx know if you are interested.

Getting started

Please sign up via this link to participate

ARCHITEXX signup sheet, to help crowdsource possible subjects, references and resources, and to help avoid duplication. 


Please take a few minutes to add your suggestions and to indicate if you are able to write yourself. Please also encourage your colleagues to participate.

If you are keen to write some entries, we recommend that you start researching and collecting material ahead of time, so that you are all set to go with it before March 8.

We also advise you to each take on a small number of entries – writing Wikipedia entries involves time and effort, so it is better to do a couple well. And if lots of people do one or two we can make a real difference.

If you would like to self-organise a Wikipedia writing ‘party’ in your area please do! 

AIA YAF EQxD #yafchat Recap

If you missed the AIA YAF (short for AIA Young Architects Forum) monthly Twitter #yafchat today, you can catch up with Evelyn Lee's Storify Recap. We are thrilled that AIA YAF has chosen the worthy topic of Equity in Architecture for discussion! Much thanks to all who have come to the table, hungry to take a bite out of the Whale with us. If you are interested in learning more, please visit research early findings (full report coming shortly!) and blog posts and reading lists that prepare you for the discussion to affect change at every level! Equity by Design will also be featured in the April Issue of YAF Connections! Stay tuned!

When the Dog Bites and Bee Stings; Favorite Things

By Rosa Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens...

When Bob Borson "Life of an Architect" sent out the topic "Favorite Things" for the 5th edition of the #ArchiTalks blog series, I couldn't help by default to humming the epic and catchy tune from the Sound of Music. And thus, I am speaking of "favorite things" from this point of reference; In a difficult situation, "I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad." (in my best Julie Andrews voice) which is fitting with Equity by Design's mission and movement. 

At the EQxD Symposium this past October, keynote speaker Stew Friedman shared his book "Leading the Life You Want" and the secret sauce of successful leaders. "I have found that those who can harness the passion and powers of various parts of their lives and bring them together to achieve what I call four-way wins..." Stew said.  He further asked us to think about work and life not in the context of separate domains that required “balance”, but rather focus on the integration of the four areas of our life (Work/School (W), Home/Family (H), Community/Society (C), Self/Spirituality (S)) under the following goals: 1. Be Real. 2. Be Whole 3. Be Innovative. Each of these principles that Stew recommends seeks to cultivate a life in which our values, professional and social contributions are working in harmony rather than pulling us in opposite directions; perhaps not every minute of every day, but consistently over the course of our lives.

So while life can be incredibly busy, complicated and challenging; these are a “few” of my favorite things that support the theme of “leading the life you want”, finding respite and comfort in "things" that INSPIRE% me and sharing a bit of my "authentic-self" with you.

“The Finer Things Club” – Inspired by an episode of TV's “The Office” and similar in premise to a bucket list challenge, this idea of seeking out new and extraordinary experiences in life while consciously allowing guilt-free “leisure time” to be part of the norm. Approximately every other month, there is the chance to explore something new with my spouse; symphony night, a special dinner at a new restaurant, Flamenco dancing, touring Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Julia Morgan’s Hearst Castle, a Tony award winning Broadway musical, or taking a trip to a new destination, etc. These are the experiences that renew the spirit and energize with new passion and creativity. So work hard, but "play" harder.


Culinary Mash-Up Things - We are what we eat, right? I personally find energy and inspiration in exploring all that is "epicurious" and it's one of the main reasons I always felt that California is where I was meant to live. Food has always been an important part of my family growing up and as I have been educated and enlightened by the likes of Michael Pollen and cohorts to respect the way that it is grown, sourced, gathered, prepared, and eaten. So I started a food blog last year to document recipes in exploring healthier food alternatives. I have also posted them to my pinterest board if you would like to explore and trade recipes. I have fell off the wagon so to speak in the documentation of recipes, but have continued to explore food creation including kimchi and pickling, homemade dumplings and "bao", and even a yorkshire pudding.

Sketching Things– I have always had a love of sketching and watercoloring that started in college. My first job after graduating from Architecture school was as a manual renderer for retail developments armed with Prismacolor pencils, my T-square and entourage tracing templates. When we first moved the office to California, prior to getting computers, I was hand drawing presentation sketches for our client meetings. Today with all the compounded responsibilities of managing multiple projects, a quiet time to sketch has become a treasured event for documenting vacation travel.

I have mentioned the idea of "Sketchmob" to some. What if we granted ourselves some leisure time to sketch during the middle of the day, (maybe at lunchtime), forming a critical mass via social media with other like-minded architects thirsting for time to sketch? We get to sketch, some sunlight and fresh air away from our screens and desks. They (the public) would get the opportunity to observe our sketching and inquire about our activity and purpose. We tried this concept at the EQxD Symposium and it seamed to have some resonance.

Making Things - The manifestation of Architecture is a long process where the fruits of your design/detailing/specification/documentation labor take awhile (usually a multi-year process). So to satiate my desire for the immediate satisfaction of making things, I have many "hobbies" that include felting, knitting, raku pottery, graphic and web design. Thru the active process of making smaller things, I get to beta test design and construction on a micro level that often times forms lessons learned for macro level design in the Architectural built form.


Innovating Things - I strive to innovate in all parts of my life. At times it has gotten me into trouble to ask too often "Why not?". But for most of my professional and personal life, I have been rewarded for remaining committed to curiosity. So I seek to find activities that will inspire and support creativity, innovative thinking and action. To that end, I attended my first Hackathon last year at the SCUP Pacific Regional Conference in Los Angeles that was conceived by Lilian Asperin-Clyman, my co-chair for The Missing 32% Project and EQxD. The premise of the Hackathon was to solve a series of challenges in a very unconventional way. We had 8 hours, we formed 4 teams. We were given a problem statement and given the authority to think outside the proverbial box. I have to say that the Hackathon format greatly stimulated parts of my brain that felt like cobwebs had taken over. Many of the ideas that have developed for EQxD have been inspired by the intense creative thinking in a compressed amount of time because of that event. We are excited to offer a mini-hackathon at AIA convention this year in Atlanta on Wednesday 5/13 from 1-5pm.

Reading Things - I have always loved reading. When we started our family, I was committed to passing that love to my children. We try to have reading time as an evening ritual before the kids head off to bed. Its a precious time for bonding, literacy enhancement, and discovery unfold; often there are more questions than I can explain about life.  This curated bibliography includes my childhood favorites that I have enjoyed re-discovering with my kids. I am surprised at how much the lessons from those children's stories are still true to our adult lives and they have greatly informed the work of EQxD as well.

  1. Melinda Mae - If the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
  2. The Little Blue Engine that Could by Watty Piper
  3. Star Belly Sneetches by Dr. Suess
  4. Iggy Peck the Architect and Rosie Reveer the Engiener by Andrea Beaty
  5. Anne of Green Gables Series by Budge Wilson
  6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  7. Uno's Garden by Graeme Base
  8. What do people do all day? by Richard Scarry


If you would like to hear more favorite things from other #Architalks Architects, you can find them here: 

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect
My Favorite Things … again

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture
9 Things i Like

Marica McKeel – Studio MM
A Few of My Favorite Things

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet
How I Get Through My Day: My Favorite Things

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect
favorite things (at least a few)

Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL
My Favorite Things

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC
My Favorite Things: the pieces of my story

Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen
Favorite Things

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect
favorite things… a few of my favorite things…

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC
These are a few of my favorite things..

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom
My 10 Favorite Things

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect
Six Simple Acts that Make my Day

Nicholas Renard - Cote Renard Architecture
Favorite Things - Just a Few


Jeremiah Russell, AIA ROGUE Architecture




INSPIRE% Best Practice: Architecture Firms Champion Equity

Despite historically high numbers of women entering the profession, it is no secret that the top positions are still dominated by men and a culture of long hours and low pay threaten talent retention. The American Institute of Architects reports that only 19 percent of its roughly 81,000 members were women as of June, up from 11 percent in 1994. And only 12 percent of women architects serve as supervisors or licensed employers in architecture firms.

Equity in Architecture Survey Infographic by Atelier Cho Thompson

While there is a whale-list of challenges we currently face in achieving equity, we will rigorously seek out best practices and explore actionable solutions to overcome the disparities; implicit bias and in-group favoritism in hiring and promotion, women's salaries on average consistently less than men, and the negative impact of taking a leave of absence or working reduced hours (often resulting in reduced opportunities for leadership roles and meaningful work). 

The NY Times article “To Rescue Economy, Japan Turns to Supermom” by Jonathan Soble explores Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s national pledge to equity. His policies optimistically attempt to ease the way for women with more state-funded child care and other measures to foster “a society where all women shine” in spite of the country’s entrenched patriarchal societal and corporate norms. Soble also highlights that some private companies are initiating changes to work culture in hopes of jumpstarting economic recovery. In Obama's state of the union address this week, he canonized the need to adopt similar policies in the US. It is essential that each and every one of us advocate for these changes in the coming year. The most glaring example is that currently the US is the only developed nation that does NOT have government subsidized family leave.

There is a new movement emerging: beyond quotas and affirmative action backed by extensive studies that affirm the business case for equity, diversity and collaborative teams. The NY Time Article, Why Some Teams are Smarter than Others, discusses the positive outcomes of having teams with more diversity, empathy and social intelligence. The book Gender Intelligence by Barbara Annis and Keith Merron, a new mindset and effective approach to equity, is globally altering the workplace culture of major corporations. In addition to exposing the forces behind current gender inequality, they introduce game-changing principles that are inspiring a refreshing shift in thinking. The book highlights organizations that have made the transformation from a fixation on a quota-like mentality of "gender equality" towards a focus on gender equity; a philosophy that leverages the natural strengths, differences and potential of each gender to ultimately produce greater economic value and talent retention for the companies that integrate equity and diversity in their business model.

Drawing by Paul Inka

Drawing by Paul Inka

At a time when the American Institute of Architects recognizes the need for repositioning, providing greater impact and communicating value to the public we serve, we have a unique opportunity to be innovators. What can we learn from these new principles, research and case studies? How can we apply examples of best practices to innovate our often antiquated profession? We are at a point where many face an unsustainable business model and workplace culture directly attributed to the "Beaux-Arts" practice of charrette; the expectation of working long hours and up to the very last minute before a deadline.  

Today, we are pleased to feature the first 4 Architecture firms that champion equity and share their insights to inspire best practices; Shepley Bulfinch, Architecture Plus, JG Johnson Architects and PIVOT Architecture.

Shepley Bulfinch's rich legacy of leadership in design innovation dates back to its 1874 founding by H.H. Richardson in Boston. Since its early years, an emphasis on teamwork characterized the firm's work style. Its cadre of loyal and experienced staff worked together to produce the quality buildings for which it had become known. In that spirit, work was usually attributed to teams, rather than to individuals, a tradition that became stronger with the firm's transition from family business to partnership, and its incorporation in 1972.

It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that the firm promoted a woman to Principal. Today the demographic is dramatically different; of the 150 employees, 75 are women and of the 10 Principals, 5 are women. Office locations are in Boston and Pheonix. In 2004, Carole Wedge, FAIA became the first woman president in the firm's history. Since her election, Carole has championed the firm's commitment to sustainable design and a collaborative working environment that values its talent. In 2009, AIArchitect interviewed Carole about her inspirations for pursuing a career in architecture and her tenure at Shepley, which started as a clerk in the mailroom. Carole talks about the firm’s approach and policies that support equitable practice, including work-life flexibility. "The most important thing for us has been to give people flexibility to tell us what they need, and I think architecture is a field where it's pretty easy to give flexibility".

Denver-based JG Johnson Architects is an award winning hospitality and urban housing design firm that's also walking the walk. Of the 31 employees, 58 percent are women, 77 percent are licensed architects and 62 percent are in leadership positions. Nicole Nathan is part owner of JG Johnson Architects and is a licensed architect in Colorado and Texas. As Design Principal, Nathan ensures high-quality project design for both architecture and integrated interior design. Ms. Nathan shares that the firm supports a life-work balance that, if absent, would stall women in their middle careers. “The understanding that you can have a family and maintain your identity and value as an architect is what sets our firm apart,” Nathan said.

The firm’s culture encourages all its employees to keep up with their peers who are earning their licenses. “It’s motivating to watch others in the office go through it, and you’ve seen them be promoted and receive elevated roles in their projects,” said Anne Warner, an associate with the firm. “Women are driven to keep up with each other.” Heather Vasquez, another associate with the firm, agrees with that sentiment and notes that younger women often are promoted to management positions. “The leadership and management across the board is younger than at other firms I’ve worked at,” Vasquez said. “It brings new ideas and creative thinking that other firms lack.”

Jim Johnson, the firm’s founding principal, says the firm encourages the advancement of all employees based on merit. “We have been very fortunate to recruit and promote such a large percentage of highly talented and qualified female architects,” Johnson said.

Architecture Plus in Troy, New York is also a leader of design excellence and equitable practice with an employee focused, flexible work culture. When he started the firm with his partner Joseph Lomonaco 30 years ago, Frank Pitts, FAIA shares that (and AIA National 2nd Vice President for 2015) 3 of the first 4 people to join them were women. Frank believes that this, an early model of a transparent workplace with relatively flat hierarchy, a unique way of managing workloads, and their personal commitment to have a family life resulted in the supportive, flexible work/life culture that is baked in to the DNA of what the firm is today. "We've always had summer hours, flexible start and end times, comp time and technologies that allow folks to work from home." says Frank.

Of the 30 employees today, the majority of the architectural staff are women. In terms of leadership, 2 out of 7 Principals are women and 1 out of 3 Associates. Within the next 3 to 4 years, there is a scenario where the practice could be majority women owned and directed.  Most enviable is the firms open support of taking a personal or medical leave and transitions (on and off ramping) back to full time employment without jeopardizing advancement opportunities or meaningful work of good design projects. Newly promoted Principal Mary Kate Young, AIA shares her own experience about the progressive culture. 

"A flex work/life arrangement can be negotiated for almost anyone if it is desirable for the firm and the individual.  We have had older principals make arrangements for shorter work weeks as they transition to retirement. So folks work offsite regularly or as needed if they have a sick child or a personal thing to take care of that requires working from home for a day.  Mothers of small children have worked part-time.  I worked part-time for 5 years and then worked full time but was not required to come to the office on Fridays while my children were younger." 

Frank further reveals that this employee focused flexibility has resulted in a high retention rate AND a profitable design focused architectural practice with exceptional buildings and spaces for academic, healthcare and community clients. Many of these projects have received local, state, and national design awards.

Eugene, Oregon based PIVOT Architecture, was established in 1956 and is an award winning interdisciplinary practice that recently achieved LEED Platinum certification for Commercial Interiors for the firm's new office space. Of the 32 employees, 18 are women, including 10 architects and designers and 3 Associates. Among the 7 Principals, 3 are women including the recent promotion of Kelley Howell, AIA and Kari Turner, AIA as the newest Principals.

Kelley Howell has been instrumental in PIVOT landing a number of large projects including some in the higher education field. “I couldn’t have imagined a better group of people to take this next step with. I’m very excited about our work, our clients and our office. Ownership of course comes with additional responsibilities, but it also comes with the opportunity to shape and guide our future,” Kelley said. “PIVOT has always been a place where creativity and inspiration is nourished.”

A key component of PIVOT's success has been its work with transit agencies. Kari Turner as become an expert on transit architecture speaking at national conferences including Rail-Volution. Kari began her career at PIVOT prior to graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Oregon. She started as a part-time administrative assistant in 1995 while she pursued her architecture degree and joined the firm as a full time designer after graduation. She was promoted to associate in 2007. “I feel like I have grown up with PIVOT,” Kari said. “I started working here in 1995 and have been mentored and guided by all the people who have worked in the firm from the beginning. I feel lucky to have found a place that has allowed me to grow professionally and as an individual for nearly 20 years. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if it didn’t involve PIVOT.”

Have an INSPIRE% Best Practice or Firm "Equity Champion" to share? Contact us!

Written by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C


A Journey to Principled Design

By Jaya Kader, AIA 

Last December, during the week of Art Basel, Design Miami and numerous other Art fairs and events in the Sunshine City, I helped Caroline James put together a panel of women who practice architecture, titled “Principled Design”.  Sponsored by the AIA Miami, Miami Center for Architecture & Design, Women in Architecture Miami, and Harvard GSD Women in Design, the event was successful in weaving into an already established Harvard Alumni Program Weekend. 

The panel delved into a lively discussion on the various life experiences that architects bring into their practices and addressed such concepts as “principles, aesthetic aspirations, social concerns, joint creativity, range and structures of practice, and forms of collaboration.”   I was touched by the deep conversations that ensued as Caroline probed the panelists’ minds with questions such as:

  • What values do you bring into the design process, such as beauty or social concern?
  • Are there moral principles in design practice? 
  • Are there ways that those values translate into how you practice, such as the acknowledgment of joint creativity and collaboration?

Principled Design participants: (Front Row, L to R): Louise Braverman, Lourdes Solera, Marilys Nepomechie, and Caroline James. (Middle Row): Nati Soto, Elizabeth Camargo, and Jaya Kader. (Back Row): Carie Penabad and Arielle Assouline-Lichten 

Principled Design participants: (Front Row, L to R): Louise Braverman, Lourdes Solera, Marilys Nepomechie, and Caroline James. (Middle Row): Nati Soto, Elizabeth Camargo, and Jaya Kader. (Back Row): Carie Penabad and Arielle Assouline-Lichten 

Personally, the panel was a culmination of a two-year journey that helped me transition from being a sole practitioner in a home office, to opening a studio that is now an architectural practice of seven and growing.  There were many stations visited during this journey, and in hindsight, it is not surprising that most of them had to do with gender issues.  It is interesting that this personal/professional transformation coincided with significant events that have revealed and addressed the glaring gender issues in our profession and society at large.  For the first time since I graduated architecture school in 1988, I am finally able to weave the two most integral and essential components of my life; being a mother of four and an architect (indeed an “Archimom”) into one conversation.  For years I juggled these two roles, always downplaying one while I was engaged in the other, without clarity or synthesis.


Although I did not meet Caroline James until September 2014, I had reached out to her since I learned about the petition to the Pritzker Prize on behalf of Denise Scott Brown.  Caroline, along with Arielle Assouline-Lichten had spearheaded the petition in March of 2013, while they were students at the GSD and members of Women in Design. Understanding the implications of the petition and its subsequent refusal from the Pritzker Jury was my first call to action as a woman architect.   Up until that time, I, as well as other women architects of my generation with whom I have had these conversations, have operated with what I now call “blinders”; happy and grateful to do the work whenever it was possible, overlooking any distractions that would put our jobs in jeopardy.  But the events that followed made it impossible to continue to wear the “blinders.”

Credit: Julia Morgan Papers, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University

Credit: Julia Morgan Papers, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University

Last year, Julia Morgan became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal posthumously, honoring her prolific practice that spanned several decades during the first half of the 20th Century.  I had never heard of Julia Morgan, despite years of education at top institutions of higher learning.  I was privileged to attend the AIA Convention in Chicago and witness Beverly Willis' passionate speech following the Gold medal award.  For those not familiar with Beverly Willis, she established the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) in 2002 with the mission of, “changing the culture of the building industry so that women’s work, whether in contemporary practices or historical narratives, is acknowledged, respected and valued”.  An audience of thousands gave her a standing ovation at the convention, as she stated some hard truths regarding gender in architecture.

Beverly Willis delivering her speech in honor of Julia Morgan.

Beverly Willis delivering her speech in honor of Julia Morgan.

Outside our profession there have been parallel conversations that affect women in all fields.  Recent publications such as Sheryl Sandberg's “Lean In”, Debora L. Spar's “Wonder Women” and Anne Mary Slaughter's famed article “Why Women Can't Have it All” in the Atlantic, have changed the landscape of gender issues across professional and leadership fields.  And still there were those with whom I tried to engage in needed conversations around equity and inclusion, who dismissed my concerns as “problems of women from my generation.”  “The new generation of women (the so called ‘millennials’) just don't have your issues”, I was told by some.  So I wondered...  But shortly thereafter, there was Emma Watson's HeForShe 2014 campaign speech at the UN, one that clarified for everyone not only that the gender issues are ever present in 21st century western society--for women of all generations--but also highlighted a certain urgency to address them.

The last event that confirmed my call to action was my attendance at the third sold out symposium hosted by The Missing 32% Project titled "Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action!" in San Francisco last October.

Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action on October 18, 2014. 

Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action on October 18, 2014. 

The conference was a transformative experience. As I heard speakers and witnessed the data from the early findings of the Equity in Architecture Survey first hand, I finally understood how difficult the system is set up for women to succeed in our profession.  I was most captivated by the keynote speaker, Stewart Friedman, a Wharton Professor, whose research and scholarship have contributed a new framework for the work/life balance conundrum. His work is helping us imagine a world beyond any preconceived notions of gender roles. Speaking about principles, the subject of our Miami “Principled Design” Panel, Friedman contends that AUTHENTICITY, INTEGRITY AND INNOVATION are the essential tenets to lead a life of purpose--the kind of life we all want.  Authenticity, he explains, demands that we stay true to our values which help clarify our vision.  Integrity allows us to respect the whole person, our environments and those around us. And innovation allows us to continuously search for new and creative ways to approach the work that we do. With these tools at hand, we should then map a future vision where our personal goals are in-sync with making significant contributions to our community, society and world. “Whatever your passions are”, he said, “CONVERT THEM TO SOCIAL VALUE”.  Which brings me back to the Women in Architecture Panel, the subject of this blog, “Principled Design.”

And it was no coincidence that “Principled Design” took place during a week of art and design “explosion” in Miami.  For it is clear that design matters, and architecture is a powerful tool to transform and enhance the human experience.  What we build has the potential to grace and contribute to our lives as well as our precious environments.  Long after we are gone, our contributions as architects will bear witness to our values.  There are all kinds of ways to practice architecture and both men and women that engage in practices across the spectrum.  I do sense however a shift in the profession from the emphasis on the hero designer and “starchitect” to a collaborative and service minded approach. 

So to all of us women who are part of this wondrous profession in 2015, I would like to encourage you to “lean in” and not give up on this profession. Do not become part of the Missing 32%.  Our society is in need of our contributions, and we happen to be a privileged generation.  We no longer have to remain silent, or with “blinders”, or in the background.  We are humbled with gratitude, and admiration for all the women pioneers that paved our path in a most hostile landscape, such as Julia Morgan, Denise Scott Brown and Beverly Willis. We can learn from them to be empowered through our knowledge and contributions but we need not be intimidated by obsolete norms of status quo.  We can be authentic.  We can sit at the table and have these conversations whose object is to figure out how we can work together towards an inclusive and diverse profession that recognizes and values all of its constituents.


To learn about Jaya Kader's amazing INSPIRE% journey click HERE