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Julia Gamolina is on a mission.
The founder and editor of Madame Architect is determined to increase the visibility of women in architecture, and is getting pretty fed up with major media outlets missing the point when it comes to this issue. As Gamolina rightly pointed out in a recent article, there is a tendency in the media to speak about the absence of women at the top of the architectural field, rather than speaking to the many who are already there.
Gamolina — who is also business developer at FXCollaborative — expressed frustration at the New York Times’ recent article “Where Are All the Female Architects?”, which reflected at length on the symptoms of workplace inequality but not much on those breaking the status quo. Architects like Amale Andraos and Jeanne Gang get brief mentions, but for Gamolina, it’s still not enough. “I no longer want to hear people asking, ‘Where are all the women architects?’” she argues. “Instead of asking ‘Where are these women?’, start writing about them and telling their unique stories.”
Gamolina is looking for constructive narratives and real advocacy for women in the profession. It is well known that discrimination exists in architecture and the wider construction industry — this is a longstanding problem that needs to be addressed. But media publications should stop treating workplace inequality as if it is some kind of unending mystery, and begin throwing a spotlight on the women who have succeeded in spite of the fact. This will do more to advocate for women in architecture than any speculative op-ed.
This is why Architizer’s A+Awards — the world’s largest awards program for architecture and building-products — aims to celebrate the work of talented architects, no matter the size or location of firm, nor the age, gender or race of their designers. By using a truly democratic selection process — the public is encouraged to vote online, for free — those that bring the best buildings to reality are guaranteed the spotlight.
Among the architects that have scooped A+Awards over the past 5 years, there are dozens of women, each of whom has brought unique qualities to the built environment. The following women have proven that, while often faced with marginalization, it is possible to rise to the top and get extraordinary things built. As you decide which project to submit for this year’s A+Awards, take an ample dose of inspiration from some of architecture’s most talented women:
Gabriela Carillo is the co-principal of TALLER Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, a Mexico based firm committed to the expressive use of simple materials. In 2017, she was named Architect of the Year in the Women in Architecture Awards, a joint venture between The Architectural Review and The Architects’ Journal. Readers of Architizer have recently celebrated Carillo’s work as well, selecting her 2016 project Iturbide Studio as a Popular Winner in the 2018 A+Awards.
Iturbide Studio is the kind of project architects dream about. Built on a site that is just 7×14 meters in Mexico City, the clay tower showcases Carillo’s dynamic handling of shadow, which the judges for the Women in Architecture Award mentioned as a key reason for her 2017 award. The best part of the project might be the small back garden, enclosed with a wall of latticed brick, that both retains privacy and lets in the Mexican sunlight. The building is used as a workplace by a renowned photographer, and though small in size it retains many spaces that are ideal for contemplation.
Ingrid van der Heijden
In 2018, Ingrid van der Heijden’s firm CIVIC Architects was shortlisted for an A+Award in the Transportation-Infrastructure category. The project, Willem II Passage, is a great example of how architects can use ingenuity to revitalize aspects of the urban environment that too often appear dull and uninspiring. The sequence of spaces, which include several covered passageways, connects the old and new sections of Tilburg, Netherlands for pedestrians and cyclists.The colored, glazed bricks tie into surrounding architecture while remaining contemporary.
Ana Gatóo is a partner in Light Earth Designs LLP, a British firm that gained international attention last year with the construction of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda, a 2018 A+Awards Popular Winner in the Stadium category. The charming, minimal stadium was constructed by local builders using local materials. The core of the project is just three simple parabolic vaults that protect onlookers from the sunlight, yet the form of these vaults is sculptural and expressive, reflecting the path of the bouncing ball. The cement tiles were built from locally excavated soil — perhaps the most sustainable material imaginable.
We love a good portmanteau. David Leven and Stella Betts, the partners of the Manhattan based firm LEVENBETTS, seem to feel the same way judging by their playfully constructed name. This willingness to put things together in an unorthodox way is reflected in the firm’s 2017 project Square House, a 2018 Jury Winner in the A+Awards in the Private House Category.
Square House is best described as subtly deconstructive. From the outside, the elegant New York Home seems clean and modernist, with glazed walls that seem to nod to iconic 20th century buildings like the Farnsworth House. Yet the layout of Square House is completely new, designed purposefully without a front door, a detail that completely re-configures the hierarchy of the spaces. “The house is conceived as a series of rooms that can be accessed directly from outside creating a fluid relationship between interior and exterior,” the firm explains.
Jeanne Gang’s firm, Studio Gang, has produced some of the most striking architecture in America over the past decade, included Chicago’s Aqua Tower — a wonderful addition to a skyline that already includes many important skyscrapers. When it comes to innovative textural façades that add movement — even rhythm —to the urban environment, Gang truly is a leader in the field.
In 2017, Gang picked up both a Popular and Jury A+Award for her Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois. This elegant complex includes rehearsal spaces and public zones in addition to a central performance area, celebrating the sense in which theatre is a community.
Kate Stickley and Gretchen Whittier
Kate Stickley is a founder of Arterra Landscape Architects, a landscape architecture firm that places sustainability at the very core of their practice. Stickley and partner Gretchen Whittier aim to create landscapes that work with built spaces in visual harmony, echoing the pair’s ethical commitment to a lifestyle that causes minimal disruption to the environment. In Farm to Table, a 2018 A+Awards Jury Winner in Landscape Design, Arterra conceived a private estate as a series of “outdoor rooms” that integrate living and lounging areas with agriculture. “Edible plantings” can be encountered throughout the complex.
Pritzker Prize Winner Kazuyo Sejima, founding partner of the Tokyo based firm SANAA, is an architect with a clear vision, favoring smooth and modern surfaces. This can be seen in projects such as New York’s New Museum, a series of stacked metallic boxes that presides over the Bowery as if from a future century. SANAA’s greatest project in recent years, however, might just be Grace Farms, a 2015 A+Award Jury Winner for Architecture +Engineering. The stunning cultural complex follows a snaking path that corresponds to the rolling hills on the grounds, which had previously been used as farmland.
Few living architects have had as large of an impact on the field as Liz Diller, a founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the firm that — in collaboration with others — created New York City’s High Line among many other iconic projects. In 2018, Diller was the only architect named on Time Magazine’s Most Influential List.
The A+Awards has also recognized the achievements of DS+R, giving a Jury Prize to the High Line in 2014 and shortlisting Zaryadye Park in Moscow in 2018. The latter project is just as dramatic addition to Moscow as the High Line was to New York: at 35 acres, it is the first large scale park to be built in the Russian capital in 50 years. Like the High Line, the park includes an elevated pedestrian walkway that helps give city dwellers reprieve from the crowded streets.
Dabao Primary School and Community Center is a project designed by architect Elisabeth Lee in collaboration with Project Minde, an initiative of the University of Hong Kong. It made a massive impact at the 2018 A+Awards, becoming a popular winner in the competitive Architecture+Humanitarianism category. The school was built in a remote and impoverished mountainous region in the Guangxi Province of China and was created through an active dialogue with the Dabao villagers. More than anything, the project illustrates the versatility of bamboo tubes, which were used to create an outer wall that protects the school while allowing for the circulation of light and air.
Alison Brooks’ The Smile — a 2017 A+Award Jury Winner in the Pavilions category — is one of those projects that seems to be everywhere, its image proliferating in both print and social media years after its construction. Conceived as a “habitable arc poised on the horizon,” the engineered wood structure was created as a pavilion for the 2016 London Design Festival. The building quickly garnered international attention, and has been viewed online — by one estimate — over 290 million times, a testament to the fact that great design still has the power to make an impact.
Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao was a special honoree at the 2017 A+Awards, winning the Impact Award for her work designing affordable and sustainable housing. Indeed, in the field of social housing, Bilbao is creating new paradigms. Her Sustainable Housing Model would allow people to construct a highly modifiable house for as little as $8,000. And these buildings are not only efficient and affordable, they are quite beautiful, retaining the clean lines and dramatic angles that characterize her work for wealthy clients.
Christine Lam is a global design principal at Aedas, a firm known for its global reach. Lam was leading designer for Center 66 in Wuxi, China, a mixed use development that ties together a contemporary shopping plaza with a historic, Ming Dynasty era building. She is also one of the directors for the under-construction Heartland 66, a Chinese knot tie-inspired mixed-use development with a super high-rise tower in Wuhan, China.
While Lam was not on the design team for Aedas’s A+Award-winning building Lè Architecture, the project deserves a mention for a unique form that is symptomatic of Aedas’ willingness to break with convention. The new office building in Taipei completely upends the rectangular orientation of the surrounding skyline, with coiling bands running vertically across the curved structure. The architects note the building was inspired by the “shape of river pebbles.”
For years, SHoP Architects has been a major force in the world of architecture, and especially in their home city in New York, due to their willingness to approach projects from an unconventional perspective. One only needs to look at 325 Kent, the new square apartment tower on the Williamsburg waterfront, or the unbuilt Uber Headquarters to see how willing SHoP is to break with expectations. This latter project was the 2016 A+Awards Jury winner for an unbuilt commercial space. Corie Sharples founded the firm along with her husband, Bill, and three others in 1996.
One could spend hours thumbing through the renderings of United Design Architects, or UDA, the Tehran and Portland based architecture firm co-founded by Iranian architect Raha Ashrafi. The firm’s designs for the Hamedan Chamber of Commerce, slated to be built in 2027, took home both a Popular and a Jury A+Award in the category for unbuilt structures. It’s not hard to see why: with a design built on mathematical principles inspired by the legacy of Persian geometric theory, this complex exudes rationality and order.
Rossana Hu is one half of Neri & Hu, the firm behind a number of amazing recently constructed commercial spaces that seems to continually win A+ awards. The Sulwhasoo Flagship Store, the 2017 A+Awards Jury Winner for Showrooms, is a truly inspired design, featuring a brass, three-dimensional grid that spans both the interior and entranceway and defines the visitors experience of the space. Despite its contemporary appearance, this sculptural feature is deeply tied to Asian history and the notion of a space that is constructed as a journey, with each section meaningfully connected to the next.
Francine Houben is the creative director and founding partner of Mecanoo, a Dutch firm founded in 1984 that takes a playful approach both to their own projects and to architectural history. The firm’s unusual name is actually a combination of three different words: the British model construction kit Meccano, Modernist theorist Theo van Doesburg’s former magazine Mécano, and the motto “Ozoo,” which Houben and some associates adopted before entering a design competition in the early 80s.
The firm’s ouevre is quite vast and their buildings have had a transformative impact on a number of cities. In 2018, the firm won an A+Award for their Palace of Justice in Córdoba Spain, which contains gorgeous patterning on the facade that nods to the city’s rich medieval architecture.
Binke Lenhardt is a partner at Crossboundaries, an innovative firm based in Frankfurt and Beijing that believes in process oriented design, aiming ultimately for buildings that operate in a functional manner. This doesn’t, however, mean their buildings aren’t fun or inspired! Chaoyang Future School won the A+Award jury vote in 2018 in the Architecture +Color category — the building’s bold combination of reds, yellows and whites is stimulating to the eye. Inside, the layout is quite innovative too, reflecting the school’s liberal pedagogy which eschews “teacher-centric” features like podiums and blackboards.
Sharon Davis’s Women’s Opportunity Center in Rwanda won both the Popular and Jury A+Award for Architecture +Community in 2015 and it isn’t hard to see why: the complex is one of the most inspiring community-oriented projects in recent memory. This was Davis’s first major project and it was a challenging undertaking.
As Architizer reporter Emily Nonko explained, this women’s center “had to address more than the lack of a safe gathering place for Rwandan women — it also had to create economic opportunity and a solid social infrastructure.” To ensure the building met the needs of the community, David worked closely alongside local women, in the end developing a center that includes numerous gathering spaces along with tiered gardens, guest residences and more.
Now it’s your turn: Be the next A+Award winner, get published internationally and gain global recognition for your work! Submit your project before February 15th to take advantage of our early entry discount.
Introduction by Paul Keskeys; main article by Pat Finn.