Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still blog here once in a while.

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    Live Blog - Cathleen McGuigan, "Women and the Changing World of Architecture"

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    May 10, '13 7:41 PM EST

    Hi Archinect!

    Studio reviews are over at the GSD. I'm finishing up a few papers--my last school assignments ever--and helping some friends with thesis. I'm also excited for tonight's lecture, from the editor-in-chief at Architectural Record, Cathleen McGuigan.

    From the GSD website: "Cathleen McGuigan...who is the second woman to serve as editor in chief, was named to the post in 2011. ...She also serves as editorial director of GreenSource, an award-winning sustainable design magazine launched in 2006, and SNAP, a products publication that debuted in 2009. ...McGuigan, a former Newsweek architecture critic and arts editor, has more than three decades of cultural journalism experience. A Michigan native, she holds a BA degree in English, with a minor in art history, from Brown University.  In 1992-93, she was a Loeb Fellow at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard.

    Besides her career at Newsweek, where she was on staff from 1977 to 2008, McGuigan has worked as a consultant for various clients, including the Syracuse University School of Architecture. She served as an executive editor of HQ: Good Design Is Good Business, a McGraw-Hill pilot project. Her freelance articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian, and Harper’s Bazaar,among other periodicals. McGuigan has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and has been a Poynter Fellow at Yale. Currently conducting research for a biography of the critic Aline Saarinen, she also serves on various design juries and sits on the board of  trustees of the Skyscraper Museum in New York."

    6:10: I'm one of approximately five GSD students in the room--I think there are a lot of former Loeb Fellows here. People are mingling, it's like a garden party. We are late even by GSD standards.

    6:14: William S. Saunders makes the introductions, and mentions that the incoming group of Loeb fellows was inducted today.

    Cathleen...sees architecture not as a series of artifacts but as an integral part [of our culture]. She recently wrote: "We, at AR, will continue to search for projects that are innovative and compelling, and to projects that...improve human welfare, all over the world."

    6:19: CM takes the podium, and comments that she never thought she'd find herself on this side of the podium at the GSD. "It's great to be here."

    "I thought I should be up here saying hello, I am Cathleen McGuigan, and I am a recovering Loeb Fellow." It was hard to leave--"but there's a support group, the Loeb Fellow Alumni group."

    "I'm here to talk about women in the profession of architecture, which could not be more timely. But I'm also someone who can't believe we still have to be talking about this. ...When I went to work at Newsweek in the late 1970s, when it was still an important magazine for politics and culture, I was the beneficiary of a a brilliant group of women...they filed the lawsuit on the day this issue hit the stands--an issue edited entirely by men."

    At the beginning, at Newsweek, women could deliver mail or do research, but could not write under their own name or rise up the editorial ladder.

    "Still, I keep thinking, isn't that ancient history? But it's not. When I was named editor at Architectural Record two years ago, I was only the second woman editor in over 110 years. ...It's especially timely tonight because of the amazing response to the petition launched by Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James" to support the recognition of Denise Scott Brown for her work in Robert Venturi's 1991 prize."

    CM had been noticing a lot of media on women in architecture, and when she approached various female architects to discuss the issue, they were willing to talk off the record but didn't want their names associated with the conversation, because they wanted to be known as architects, not as women architects.

    Now we're on to Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. "I think if we lean in any more, some of us are going to fall over."

    At the end of CM's first dinner as a Loeb Fellow in 1992, one Fellow asked why there were no tenured women on the faculty at the GSD. ...Things have gotten better; there are now seven women tenured on the faculty, out of 32. A few years ago, Toshiko Mori, the first female professor with tenure at the GSD, said that the tenure process was hard on everyone, and that she didn't think it had anything to do with gender.

    CM notes that the gender gap in students is pretty much closed at the GSD, and how important it is for us to have both male and female mentors.

    "There's certainly been a growing recognition of the contribution of women in the profession, and that is good news." Some years ago, the only famous woman in architecture was Zaha Hadid. CM recalled a lecture with Hadid 20 years ago--"with three carousels of slides, for those of you old enough to remember both slides and carousels." The images were gripping but incomprehensible.

    CM quotes Paul Goldberger's 2010 article, in which he wrote:  "In this sense, Gang could not be more different from Zaha Hadid, who is the most famous female architect around. Hadid is a brilliant shaper of form, but her buildings are nothing if not arbitrary, and the combination of her fame and her flamboyant designs has insidiously led people to assume that female architects tend to favor shape-making over problem-solving. In fact, there are plenty of women who have built successful architectural practices by selling themselves not as divas but as purveyors of reason who also happen to be able to make beautiful things."

    "Really?" CM asks.

    6:35: "There is something we need to remember about the women that I've named is that they either run their own firms, or are in partnership with men," typically their husband. But in large firms, that manage the bulk of the work, women are rare in leadership positions.

    Some sobering stats:

    Women leave architecture in droves. The below graph shows "Estimated Odds of Opting Out by Occupation for Women with a Preschool Child and Employed in the Last 5 Years, Compared with Women Without Children" Architecture is marked with the red arrow, and the second largest band, below, is women in construction.

    So architecture doesn't fit in with having a family for women. It's also a difficult profession to opt out of and then opt back in. The 30s are the sweet spot in terms of developing a career.

    CM quotes a respected architect--"no one would accuse him of being a sexist"--who spoke critically of two women in his firm who he invested in as employees, but who were leaving to have families.

    Architecture is also an "undervalued" profession. If you're a woman of a certain age, whose after-tax income barely covers child-care costs, who works long hours and whose boss requires you to travel frequently, you'll eventually do the math. Some could argue that a more humane office also makes for better architecture: CM quotes Julie Snow, who said that "I think we blew the cover that all night charrettes are necessary for producing thoughtful architecture. I don't think that's a woman's perspective, that's a business perspective."

    6:42: This is a perception of architecture--the lone genius--that seems outmoded and increasingly out of sync with how architects are practicing, particularly those who favor collaborative, research-based approaches.

    "At the moment there are no voting women on the jury at all" on the Pritzker committee. When the prize honored Herzog + de Meuron, Pritzker made a big deal about breaking their tradition of recognizing an individual, although H+deM had two other partners, one of which had a woman."

    When the Pritzker was awarded to SANAA, Pritzker wrote that "It is virtually impossible to tell which individual is responsible for which aspect of a particular project." Kazuyo Sejima is better known internationally, but would Pritzker have considered honoring her without her partner? When Wang Shu won the prize, they overlooked his partner, who is also his wife, Lu Wenyu. The explanation from the Pritzker committee was that Wang Shu was being honored not only for his architecture work, but also for his teaching and theory.

    Descriptions of the firm's practice at Wang Shu's website is written in the first person. Yet he has described how Lu Wenyu, unlike him, has experience in a large architecture firm; whereas he eschews the computer, she seems to be the one who knows how to get things built.

    When the Pritzker meets..."I hope that they abandon the pretense that they only give the award to an individual." The award should honor partners as well as whole firms. Do we really need heroes in architecture?

    6:51: Issues on our horizon: sustainability, in its widest sense; and cities.

    Do women design differently from men? This is something we don't want to discuss; but a more diverse group of designers, CM suggests, may better serve the public.

    The stats are even worse for "women of color": the number of architects who identify as black woman is "in the hundreds," and the stats for black men are "even worse."

    CM discusses Loeb Alumnus Anna Heringer. "She is almost too modest--she doesn't really claim authorship of the architecture she creates, so engaged is she with the communities with whom she builds." A few days after the bomber was found in a boat in Watertown, Heringer showed an unbuilt design of a safer, more humane low-rise factory for Bangladesh--days before the horrific collapse.

    6:56: The number of women working in public interest architecture is growing, according to John Cary.

    "Not that it is easy to launch a career in architecture these days for anyone--" but it's especially so for women. Though there will always be some women who like to be one of a few women in a male-dominated field, [most are not]. CM is encouraging women to help other women, and quotes Madeleine Albright: "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

    CM ends with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien's quote:

    "Step up and go for it."

    End. Applause.

    The first audience question is about women in CM's office. She says that, like many magazines, it's mostly women, although she regrets that there is only one "woman of color."

    CM: "How many of you have been to an AIA convention? Honestly, I have never seen so many white men under one roof."

    Second audience question: are there things that schools can do better to prepare women and men for a changing work environment? CM: Don't really know, because I haven't been in a school in 20 years...but as a journalist I guess that never stopped me from talking about things. The training in schools is pretty narrow--not enough business skills.

    Third question: what is the role of developers? CM: One or two of the women architects I've been speaking with said that one thing she's noticed in the past twenty years is more diversity at the table on the client's side, in developers and construction.

    Fourth question is about the recent study in Architect's Journal. CM: In addition to finding big disparities in pay, in British architecture firms, there were anecdotes: when a woman got married in her thirties, and not even pregnant, she was suddenly getting assigned "partitions and toilets" instead of the more glamorous projects. Even Zaha Hadid was quoted as saying that she had experienced sexism. What's good about the survey is that it's more detailed than anything we've found in the United States. "There's a woeful lack of information" in the United States.

    CM mentions that Mimi Hoang, at nArchitects, deliberately tries to keep the firm near 50/50 in its gender balance. And many smaller firms, even without trying, are close to that balance--"maybe it just makes for better architecture."

    Thanks for reading!


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    • Lightperson


      May 11, 13 6:48 pm  · 

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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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