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Structural problems in UK architecture

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houseplansWomen architects – still – face ‘insidious’ discrimination.

A recent survey by the Architect’s Journal (AJ) found that ‘thirty per cent of female students have been bullied,’ ‘nearly two-thirds of respondents have suffered sexual discrimination in their career,’ and that ‘almost half of women were paid less than their male equivalents for the same job.’

And Dame Zaha Hadid, who was described as ‘one of the most gifted practitioners of the art of architecture today’ when she won the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize, said in an interview with the Guardian that ‘when I taught, all my best students were women. Then they drift off’.

The numbers of practicing professionals show that drift.

Only 6,911, or 21 per cent, of the 33,456 people registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) are women.

Yet there are relatively equal numbers of male and female architecture students.

Yasmin Shariff, director of Dennis Sharp Architects and an elected member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) council and the Architectural Association (AA) council, said, in an article for the Architect’s Journal, that ‘As a western nation with strong equal opportunities legislation, and the sixth richest economy in the world, 21 per cent in the 21st century is a disgrace.’

Concerns have been raised about the design of Britain’s towns and cities, citing the ‘limited “gene pool”’ within the industry.

And Hadid said in the Guardian interview, ‘I am sure that as a woman I can do a very good skyscraper. I don’t think it is only for men.’

But what is only for men is appropriate pay.

An article in The Evening Standard recently pointed out that ‘only 37 per cent of full-time women directors in architecture earn between £61,000 and £99,000, compared with 63 per cent of their male counterparts.’

And 47 per cent of the AJ’s female survey respondents said that they believed they would earn more if they were male.

Shariff pointed out that by the time she had paid the childminder and the rail fare, she ‘was in deficit’.

And despite evidence that ‘talented women can make it to the top’ with achievements that include two consecutive women presidents of RIBA, Ruth Reed and Angela Brady, and Hadid winning what is considered the Nobel prize of architecture, the Pritzker Prize in 2004, Shariff says ‘these exceptions mask a sinister and rotten kernel of inequality and discrimination.’

Unfortunately, that discrimination is housed by the very institutions that should be working to eradicate it.

In her article, Shariff points out that the ARB has not completed a review or survey of women in architecture for more than eight years and that its 2005 report, Women in Architecture, corroborated the findings of RIBA’s 2003 review, Why Do Women Leave Architecture.

In the AJ survey, ’82 per cent said that the RIBA should be doing more to tackle the gender imbalance and improve the retention of women within the industry’.

Last year’s Emerging Woman Architect of the Year, Hannah Lawson, said, ‘I recall many meetings where every question was directed to my male colleagues, despite my being the most senior member of the team.’

And she was invited to an awards ceremony because ‘it will look good to have some skirt at the table’.

With industries that work closely with architecture, such as development and building, also predominantly male, women architects have additional layers of sexism to deal with.

Sixty-one per cent of the AJ’s survey respondents believe that the building industry has not yet accepted the authority of female architects.

Hadid warns against blaming men, saying it is a broader, societal problem that encompasses working patterns, pay and childcare – the struggles many women have in many industries.

‘Society has not been set up in a way that allows women to go back to work after taking time off.

‘Many women now have to work as well as do everything at home and no one can do everything.

‘Society needs to find a way of relieving women.’

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