The tragic loss of “starchitect” Zaha Hadid at the age of 65 has spurred publications around the globe to cover her work and her legacy. From coverage on every major news outlet on the event of her death to countless editorials about women in architecture, the coverage of this tragedy has been relentless (relentless, relentless, relentless).
Without fail, all of these articles express similar sentiments: Zaha was revolutionary, Zaha was bold, and of course, Zaha was female. In fact, the reader is bombarded by Zaha’s femaleness: Zaha was the first woman to win the Pritzker (second sentence, LA Times), first woman to win the Gold Medal (fifth sentence, The Independent), and Zaha “became the most prominent female architect in the world” (third sentence, Slate).
This is not to say anything diminutive of Zaha’s contributions to the field of architecture. Without a doubt, Zaha was one of the most influential architects of our time. Her signature design style, her bold presence and her visionary structures have redefined the field.
The Only Visionary For Women in Architecture?
However, it could not not be noticed that the media began to treat Zaha Hadid’s contributions to the built environment as finally giving women in the field a role model to aspire to. To us, this was slightly jarring, especially given the also-noteworthy current event of Denise Scott Brown being awarded the 2016 AIA Gold Medal. A search of Google News for Denise Scott Brown brings up 821 results, compared to Zaha Hadid’s 333,000.
We were not alone in this opinion. San Francisco-based Equity By Design published a statement by Sharon Portnoy, AIA where she states,
Zaha’s reality was a far cry from the realities of the rest of us… Zaha was many things, but a representative of everywoman in architecture was not one of them. Fortunately for us, there are many female groundbreakers in the field. They may not be household names… and there are not nearly enough of them.
Maybe this disconnect was a symptom of the problems for women in architecture: while 50% of architecture school graduates are women, only 17% of architecture principals and partners are women. Across the board, women make less than their male counterparts, and drop out of the field at alarming rates.
When looking at the building industry in general, the numbers only worsen: 13.7% of civil engineers are women, 8.8% of electrical engineers, and 4.5% are mechanical engineers. The media portrayed Zaha Hadid as the shatterer of the glass ceiling, but the ceiling was clearly still there.
#WhoBuildTheWorld: Shout-Outs To Women In Design And Construction Online
For this reason, we are prompting the media to celebrate all of the female role models contributing to the built environment by tweeting the name of one woman #WhoBuiltTheWorld. You can participate by clicking any of these sample tweets to auto-share it:
- The 2016 AIA Gold Medal recipient, Denise Scott Brown, an American architect, planner, writer, educator, and principal. #WhoBuildTheWorld
- When her husband fell ill, Emily Warren Roebling taught herself engineering and led construction on the Brooklyn Bridge #WhoBuildTheWorld
We wanted to shine a spotlight on the value – and the number – of women in architecture, engineering, construction and design. Because, as our mission states, when we celebrate women’s existing contributions to the built environment, we enable future contributors.
The ultimate goal is to build momentum on the conversation that has started. While the circumstances are tragic, we are being presented with the opportunity to have an open discussion about gender and equity in architecture at last. The worst that we can do is allow the death of the world’s most prominent female architect to turn into yet another instance where women in design and construction are ignored.
We are striving for an industry in which women are not anomalies, and to achieve this, we must address the perception that they are.