Is Design Media Gender Neutral?

There is a clear disparity in the number of men against women when it comes to practising designers – especially architects. While in schools of architecture, there is a pattern of more women studying architecture and interior design, there are more men who register and practice.

Design media on the other hand visibly has more women driving it. What happens then when work is discussed in media? What happens in jury rooms for prestigious awards and prizes? How does media see a practice driven by a man-woman team? How are practices driven by women looked at?

The classic Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi question is more relevant now then ever.

Will we see more women-led practices in the future?
Will media credit women as much as men in a partnership?
Will awards and prizes be truly objective?
Will we get back the unstable 33% in the education-practice equation?…and the bottomline of it all:

Can we see the merit of work in what it represents? or is objective judgement impossible?

7 thoughts on “Is Design Media Gender Neutral?”

  1. In a recent email exchange, Lalita Tharani and Mujib Ahmed of Collaborative Architecture were outraged by an editorial by a respected magazine which, in Mujib’s words, ‘It is high time that the media should take a note of these collaborations and stop being male centric, which is unfortunate, and totally unjustifiable and unfair to the other partner / partners”.

    This discussion thread is intended to view this issue from multiple perspectives. From partnership firms that have equal contribution from both partners to women-led practices and how does Media view them.

    Being an architect and an editorial person, I can see that there is a definite bend. But I am unclear as to where it goes. . .

  2. There is no question about it – the architectural world is very male centric. Historically, this field has been sparsely populated by women and they have always been judged unkindly. When someone views a partnership where there is an equal contribution from both sides, the covert understanding is that the woman is riding on the man’s abilities. At most, she is the person who chose the curtains for the building! As an architect in a similar position, I have been frequently at the receiving end of this sort of prejudice.
    Firstly, there has to be a recognition of the changing numbers as far as women graduating from architecture schools is concerned. This will make an impact on architecture in the years to come. Secondly, there has to be greater acceptance that women can, and are, going out into the field, that they are not handling only the ‘soft’ aspects. Traditional world views will have to change. Thirdly, we need women contractors, plumbers, electricians…!

  3. “Women architects have been participating in the field in increasing numbers as designers (and as teachers/researchers) in contemporary times. However, even today, there are very few large practices where women are the sole principals. In the past 25 years, many women architects have opted to establish successful partnerships with their architect husbands or male/female partners.iii Some women work in governmental and municipal organisations. Many of them devise alternative models to mainstream practice or diversify into non-traditional roles. However, they are much less visible in terms of leadership, academic success and excellence in practice. “The absence of women from the profession of architecture remains, despite various theories, very difficult to explain and very slow to change. It demarcates a failure the profession has become adept at turning a blind eye to… If we consider architecture a cultural construct, both vessel and residue, we can but wonder what this symptomatic absence suggests about our culture and the orders that govern the production of its architecture.”

    This was written by Madhavi Desai in one of her recent papers. We will try and get the original to share from her here.

  4. Hi Suchitra. It is good to know that you feel strongly about it like many other Women in architecture. – Especially the ones who share a practice with their male colleagues in a partnership. There is also other side to it. Many a times, juries of well-known prizes swing the judgement in a sympathetic tone towards practices led by Women.

    The issue here is – can work be judged objectively ? Can work be judged in the framework of its effort ? Or does it have to be judged based on the source of work . . . We think juries should be completely objective.

  5. I am looking at this more broadly.. than delineating the working relationship and dynamics we both share at Collaborative. Let us face the fact that most people working in the architectural media have little sense of the profession – with all due regards to our friends who have been there and have been very supportive. They do not possess the theoretical acumen to be exceptional architectural journalists, and to decipher the complexities of architectural production. So in the end, it becomes a banal portrayal of colours, forms and textures …a rather, very simplistic delineation of a complex intellectual process.

    Media has an innate urge to oversimplify complex things…so it goes automatically into the portrayal of Alpha Male characterization of the profession. It is easy…because the male speaks more…is more forthcoming and aggressive, and would have a wider theoretical reading (One thing I notice worldwide, and in Indian scenario this is acute!) Moreover he is the sales guy! And everyone is suspicious of an aggressive female!!

    It also stems from the fact that we have very few female clients per se and the decision making process in the whole system is heavily loaded towards male participation.

    Can we imagine a female architect calling a client (usually male) at 11 pm for a drink?…which is quite natural for a male counterpart, and relationships are cemented.

    There is an interesting study on MBA grads passed out from Ivy Colleges in USA. Girls have more percentile, have better salaries after graduation as compared to male counterparts ..but the graph changes dramatically years into the job. Males tend to outstrip female counterparts in promotions, salaries and the overall career path. The reason? Females take a backstage to rear family and too many interruptions in between, for rearing the child / children.

    Architecture is curious profession…it brings in people from different cultures and backgrounds and results in instantaneous interpersonal relationships…many of them would last for long…but many of them equally cease to exist the moment the project handovers are done. Males by nature are more tuned to this formal emotional detachment…and might even circumvent it with different set of interpersonal skills of male bonding to continue those relationships actively.

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