I am the 5%

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I am the 5%: minority-woman-architect. If I was of different descent I may even represent less than 5% of the profession. If you have been out of the loop, you may have missed the growing coverage regarding the lack of diversity in Architecture. Denise Scott Brown fueled the fires in March of this year at an awards ceremony for Women in Architecture when she stated that it was time she share the 1991 Pritzker Prize given to her husband and firm partner, Robert Venturi.

Following her comment, the Women in Design organization at the Harvard GSD formed a petition at Change.org to have Denise Scott Brown recognized. The outcry was so large that it spurred articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker. Sam Lubel followed-up with a great editorial at the Architect’s Newspaper, and Cathleen McGuigan, editor of Architectural Record, talked about Women and the Changing World of Architecture in a lecture given Loeb Fellow colleagues at the Harvard GSD. At the time of this article, the petition has earned more than 12,633 supporters, including past Pritzker Prize winners Zaha Hadid and husband Robert Venturi himself.

The bigger question is this: what are we doing about it? The last Diversity Survey done by the AIA was in 2002, but the numbers reflected in the latest snapshot (May 31, 2011) are no different than the results from nearly 10 years ago. The renamed National AIA Diversity Committee, now known as the Diversity Council, has created a Diversity Action Plan. The targeted results for 2013 were to look into 2 distinct educational themes: 1.) The development of high school-based programs offering design curriculum and, 2.) The increase of architectural degree programs accepting credits from community colleges. However, I believe the metrics should focus on firm culture within the architecture profession.

It is no secret that the enrollment of students in architecture schools has been split 50/50 between men and women. My graduating class in 2002 is reflective of this statistic. So what is happening to the all of those female students that never find their way to licensure? It is a question that AIA San Francisco is exploring for the second year at their annual event, the Missing 32% Symposium.

This message parallels the repositioning effort being lead by AIA National. Depending on who you talk to, the effort is more external than internal to the profession. I personally see it as a call for the profession to change—from our firms to our membership organizations, to the way we are perceived by the public. It is only with open mind and a willingness to change will we find a place for diversity within the profession and success within a changing economy.

What do you think?


Evelyn Lee

Evelyn Lee, AIA is a senior strategist at MKThink in San Francisco. In addition to her M. Arch from SCI-arc she also holds dual Master degrees in Public and Business Administration from the Presidio Graduate School.

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  1. avatar
    Rita Saikali

    Evelyn, this is definitely a topic worth discussing. I agree with you that there is no shortage of females enrolled in architecture schools & programs — thus we must focus on firm culture within the architecture profession & on the number of women getting licensed / practicing architecture. While this is no new topic, ladies like Sheryl Sandberg & Denise Scott Brown have caused us all to do a double take on this subject & really discuss it at lengths.

    I’m happy to say & see folks taking this seriously, “Lean In” discussions & circles are forming with females & males alike, to get the conversation going – specifically in leadership, which is important if we want to see real change.


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