All The Places We Are Not. Women in architecture and planning.

All the places we are not. Women in architecture and planning.

I stole that title from the wonderful site Racialicious, which had a round-table to discuss Gender and Race, and it inspired me a reflection on exactly this: The places we are not. I guess the spatial reference makes it even more appealing to the architect that i am. It’s also appropriate to post it on 8th of March!

One could break down the architecture and planning discipline into 3 fields of representation where we are not (women): Education, Governance, Practice. In particular, the Swiss context is appalling.

Education, from architecture school to academic research, does not perform well in gender equality. If girls are about 50% to form the architectural undergraduate student body in the OCDE countries, they disappear along the hierarchy ladder. Around 20% are teaching assistants, and 7% go into Phd and research. The leaking pipeline in academia means women holding professorships in architecture and design schools are anywhere from 10% to as low as 3%. This is particularly alarming as lip service is extensive and ‘female professionals would be preferred’ is a too often alibi tagline on job offers, that never seem to deliver what it offers, as numbers show. Positive discrimination, if not enforced legally and with control, simply does not work. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m 100% for quotas. I believe nothing else works and i couldn’t care less when  people scream ‘quality first’, because so many incapable men sit in positions of power simply coz’ they are men. I believe women also have the right to  suck at their job. After all, that would be what true equality is about.

Off course, the 6 women currently holding a professorship, guest professorship and tenure among their 53 male colleagues at the architecture departement of the ETH Zurich  ( Annette Gigon, Uta Hassler, Karin Sander, Annette Spiro, Ursula Stücheli , and  Milica Topalovic) are outstandingly competent people.


It seems that, since men have started to desert political and administrative jobs in the public service sector, women finally get to sit at decisions making positions. In urban planning and architecture administration departments. I’m thinking Regula Lüscher, who was in charge of Zurich’s planning policies and it now the urban planner of Berlin: Senate Building Director. Wiebke Rösler is now in charge of the Construction Department of the city, while Cornelia Mächler holds the portfolio of real-estate for the city.

At the LCE Electric City conference, the women speakers were mostly politicians or holding advisory positions in public planning institutions (Nicky Gavron,  London Assembly Member and Chair, Planning Committee, etc…).

Does the feminisation of this hierarchy signs the decline of power of public institutions? Some do think so. I prefer to see it as a positive change, and celebrate the increase of women in  public positions of power… Of course, women have always exercised leadership, and still do among  families and throughout communities.


” According to a survey by The Architects Journal in 2011 women held about 21% percent of jobs in architecture offices. As Maya Lin (B.A.’81, M.Arch ’86) notes, “What no one could figure out is how you can have fifty-fifty going into school, but coming out the other end, the men seemed more likely to be the lead designers and the women often ended up in more managerial roles in firms. How can you have so many women being educated at such an advanced level but not have that balance in the professional realm.” from Constructs

In term, architecture offices’ big names are mostly men, while all their project leaders are female. Men get the spot light, women the organization tasks.

Is it less power? It’s less exposure for sure, which leads to less awareness and less money. Also a recent study found out women are leaving the profession of architecture, because of  the difficulty to conceal family and long office hours, bad and unequal paid and poor recognition, glass ceiling. In  short, i think architecture is a sexist profession.

-What are the actions taken? Who is willing to engage in changes? How to change it? Another post.

Here is a discussion on Gender Equality in Architecture.

Update: The Economist published the ranking of ‘Places to work as a woman’= guess what? Switzerland is in the last 3-