UT Panel Addresses Gender Equity in Architecture
Panel looks to open doors for women, people of color, & nonbinary folk
By James Scott,
3:45PM, Tue. Feb. 4, 2020
Something is happening in architecture: As students move into professional spaces, tons of promising young creators aren’t making the leap into offices and firms, and as reports have rolled in on this phenomenon, a none-too-flattering pattern has emerged.
Unlike the relatively even statistics reported in academic programs, gender inequity in current professional architecture spaces – tipped against women and nonbinary people in particular – is putting many of those entering the field at a disadvantage.
This particular equity issue – as well as others which stem from it – is the basis of UT-Austin’s School of Architecture’s upcoming panel, Moving Towards Gender Equity in Architecture. Taking place on Friday, Feb. 7, this panel will have students and invited guests sharing a dialogue on not only lived experiences, but what lies ahead for architecture and how to build the future into a better structure for gender equity. “There is something happening in this bridge between academia and the professional studio,” Leora Visotzky, managing director of UTSOA’s Center for American Architecture and Design, stated. “Either the bridge itself is broken, or we're losing people kind of along the way … the idea of this event is to really explore that.” Visotzky also spoke to the “wide array of experience” brought by the invited panelists: Grace La, Shelby Doyle, Mabel O. Wilson, and Damon Leverett.
“They each have a foot in both worlds of academia and practice,” she shared. “And because [of] that they can each speak to their own personal experience of what it took to bridge the academic and the professional in their own lives, and illustrate how unique each person's experience is and how valuable it is.”
Assembling the panel has been the work of several students and faculty, including UT’s Race and Gender in the Built Environment Fellow Adam Miller and student council president Hailey Algoe. In considering the dearth of gender equity within the architectural field, Algoe pointed to a number of factors, beyond just gender, that affect who is successful – including the cost prohibitive nature of architectural academia and professional discrimination. Miller added that unequal demographics also affected the type of gender expression prized within the field, with masculinity being “a privileged type of expression within our profession.”
Both expressed concern on the lack of reporting on the gender-nonconforming and nonbinary presence in professional studios, making it more difficult to track whether gender equity across the spectrum is being found. Algoe explained that while the ideas expressed in the Women in Architecture panel held last spring “[built] on some of the more conventional yet very important dialogue,” the solitary focus on concerns facing women left out both nonbinary folks as well as, she admitted, men in the field. “The patriarchal structures we live under impact all of us in the field, not just on the basis of binary gender,” she stated, “but also intersecting with issues of race, class, and identity more broadly. We started to engage with some of these concepts at the WiA event, but here we want to dive even deeper.”
Miller, bringing up a recent American Institute of Architects San Francisco survey involving architecture school graduates, remarked that although this survey reported that less than 1% of respondents identified as nonbinary, “all of the following data that they have shared does not actually distinguish that particular subset of respondents from the binary findings that they continue to go into great detail about, actually.” With almost no solid data on the experiences of nonbinary individuals in professional architectural studios, he reasoned that panels like Moving Towards Gender Equity are an important chance to share “qualitative experiences” not otherwise brought up. Discussions on the gender equity issues within the architectural field need to happen on “a more consistent basis,” Miller said. “It directly affects whether people who are questioning if [architecture] is for them will want to pursue that as a career path.”
With architecture being integral to society and how people move through the world, dialogue on the inequities in the field is crucial. “None of these things exist in a vacuum,” Algoe concluded. “The forces of patriarchy are intrinsically tied to the malign influence of capitalism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, xenophobia, and more. Architecture is all around us at all times; it is the spaces that [shapes] our lives, our psyches, our relationships. It is absolutely vital that we make sure we address the ways that our spaces can oppress us.”
The Moving Towards Gender Equity in Architecture panel takes place on Friday, Feb. 7, 1-5pm, in the Main Jury Room at the University of Texas of Austin School of Architecture (GOL 2.110).
Editor's Note: This article has been updated since publication.