Heroines of Architecture

 Just one in five architects said they would not encourage a woman to start a career in architecture in February, 2016, according to the Architectural Review.1 And 56% and 52% of workplaces permitted flexible working in the U.K. and the USA and Canada for women during the same year.1 So things are looking up for women architects.

Here are some heroines of architectures that we think are more than worth promoting.

Jeanne Gang

Jeanne Gang is an American architect and MacArthur Fellow who runs Studio Gang Architects, an architecture and design firm based out of Chicago and New York. In 2016, Jeanne was named Architect of the Year in The Architectural Review’s 2016 Women in Architecture Awards.

Gang’s projects include Aqua, an 82-story mixed-use residential skyscraper in downtown Chicago (which is also the third tallest building in the world to have a woman as lead architect and was the largest project ever awarded to an American firm headed by a woman), the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, Michigan, and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, also in Chicago.

During the Architectural Review awards, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership was highlighted. Its “wood masonry” external walls provide a more sustainable alternative to other forms of masonry, and the whole building “embodies the idea of social justice in every way from its outside to its inside”, said Jeanne.

Jeanne has authored two books and is now a member of the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition jury.

Tatiana Bilbao

Tatiana Bilbao Spamer is a Mexican architect who runs a multicultural and multidisciplinary office which aims to understand the environment before regenerating spaces and humanizing them. Her approach is a reaction to global capitalism, she says.

Tatiana was born into a family of architects, and earned her Architecture and Urbanism degree in 1998 honorable mention. She was awarded the best architecture thesis of the year, and later went on to found Tatiana Bilbao Estudio and work on projects in China, Europe and Mexico.

Tatiana Bilbao’s low-income, $8,000 and climate appropriate housing in Mexico offers a design-led solution to the country’s housing crises, where there is a housing shortage of 9 million homes. Her full-scale, Sustainable Housing prototype has a flexible design that can respond to the different needs of the family that occupies it.

Tatiana’s diverse work include the Botanical Garden in Culiacán and a Biotechnological Center for a Tech Institution. She was the recipient of the Kunstpries Berlin in 2012, the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture Prize in 2014, and was named Emerging Voice by the Architecture League of New York in 2009.

Kazuyo Sejima

This Japanese architect is known for her clean modernist designs, including large windows; squares and cubes and slick, clean and shiny surfaces.

Kazuyo was the first woman to be selected for the position of director of architecture for the Venice Biennale, which she curated for the 12th Annual International Architecture Exhibition. In 2010, she was awarded the Pritzker Prize, alongside Ryue Nishizawa.

Kayuyo teaches as Visiting Professor at both Tama Art University and Japan Women’s University in Tokyo, and held the Jean Labutut Professorship at the School of Architecture at Princeton University between 2005 and 2008, where she also served on the advisory council for several years. She attained her master’s degree in Architecture in 1981 from Japan Women’s University.

She has worked on several projects in German, Switzerland, France, the U.K., the Netherlands, the U.S.A. and Spain.



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Tatiana Bilbao: “The House and the City”. Tatiana Bilbao, through the work of her multicultural and multidisciplinary office based in Mexico City, attempts to understand the place that surrounds her and to translate its rigid codes into architecture.

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The Humanitarian Side of Architecture

In 2011, 42 million people had to abandon their homes due to natural disasters – that’s more than the number of people affected by wars and armed conflicts. But sadly, the number of architects prepared to participate in the rebuilding of the areas destroyed by floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons is comparatively almost non-existent.

According to Architecture For Humanity, there are many reasons why you’d want to make your work as an architect more humanitarian.

Firstly, getting involved with NGOs or other organizations abroad will provide you with a lot of new opportunities to innovate. The circumstances that lead to humanitarian aid often give rise to some interesting challenges. That innovative spark that you’ve been taming for so many years can finally run free, and improve others’ lives.

Getting bored of the office or studio? Get stuck into a design project that engages local people creatively in your chosen region. Humanitarian work usually also means you’ll get involved with the communities that will use the buildings you designed for them to use regularly and you’ll study their specific, complex needs and participate with them during the process.

It may seem obvious, but humanitarian work will often allow you to gain some valuable international experience. This is great for more mature, experienced architects as well as young architects, offering up a rich array of different cultural, social and political contexts for your resume and making you into a flexible, dynamic, versatile designer.

Feeling like you want to be stretched and gain some new skills? Work with an NGO on humanitarian projects and you could find yourself learning a lot about development, nonprofit finance, program management, teaching and team building, as well as communication, other cultures, languages and ways of life.

The Humanitarian Architecture Research Bureau commented on their website in 2016 that the demand for architects and build environment professionals to work on the design and planning challenges of rebuilding post-disaster sites has never been so urgent. Their current research projects include “Architecture on the Edge Building Sustainable Housing for Vulnerable communities”, “The Evaluation of Shelter Projects in the Asia Pacific Region after Disaster” and the “Building Resilience of Urban Slum Settlements in Dhaka project”. They also publish some excellent books on humanitarian architecture. boasts a range of books to inspire architects just like you. “Humanitarian Architecture: 15 stories of architects working after disaster”, by Esther Charlesworth, is sure to whet your appetite. It documents and analyzes the role of architects in designing projects using spatial sensibility and integrated problem-solving to humanitarian ends in Australia, Switzerland, Japan, Thailand, Haiti, India, Taiwan and many others.

Whether you fancy assisting governments, working with the UN, International Red Cross or Red Crescent Movement, for NGOs or regional intergovernmental organizations, the options are many and the world is wide open.

Oxford Brookes University offers a part-time, 1-year postgraduate certificate in Humanitarian Action and Conflict beginning in September and January, allowing you to study while you earn and prepare yourself well for an adventure helping some of least privileged people on the planet live a safer, more stable life inside and outside dwellings of your design.

If you’d like professional help writing your personal statement of purpose, please do get in touch.

Architecture Biennale - Kazuyo Sejima & Associates Office of Ryue Nishizawa Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010.

Looking to study and prepare yourself for working in this area? The RMIT University in Melbourne is launching a new postgraduate degree. It has a curious name: the Master of Disaster, Design and Development. This course has been honed by key global aid organizations, including the International Federation of the Red Cross and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). Anyone with a background in design, the built environment, as well as other subjects is welcome to apply. The course allows students to amass experience working with organizations like World Vision International and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Dr. Robert Edinger with Son Davy Dylan