Zaha: 'outrageous yet thoughtful'

August 11, 2010

So, it only took the Pritzker Prize Committee 25 years and 27 tries (there were two years with two winners — 1988 and 2001) to figure out that a woman might be worthy of architecture's highest honor. Zaha Hadid, the "outrageous yet thoughtful" (in the words of juror Karen Stein) Baghdad-born Londoner will take home a check for $100,000 when she receives the Nobel-equivalent prize at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg on May 31.

Hadid is to architecture what Phil Mickelson is to golf — the beloved (if, in Hadid's case, cantankerous) genius who couldn't get a building built despite her technical and creative innovativeness, just as Mickelson couldn't get the monkey off his back for never winning a major. Now Mickelson has a green jacket for his dramatic win at the Masters, and Hadid has the most prestigious piece of hardware in the design field for her mantel.

The happy, if belated, news about Hadid calls attention to the huge gender gap in the profession of architecture — one that applies equally (or more so) to construction, of course. Yet a recent report from the AIA, "The Business of Architecture," reveals some positive trends for women in the design profession.

The report shows that women comprised 27% of architecture staff at firms surveyed by the AIA in 2002, compared to 20% three years earlier. Among registered architects, women went up from 14% in 1999, to 20% in 2002. Considerable improvement in a short time frame, but still well below what should be expected.

The glass ceiling at firms has been even more successfully pierced by women professionals. In 1999, women constituted only 11% of principals and partners at architecture firms; by 2002, that figure had grown to 21% — quite a remarkable improvement. Similarly, the percentage of woman-owned business enterprises (a firm that is 51% owned and controlled by women) continued to rise during this three-year period, from 9% in 1999, to 11.1% in 2002. However, almost 15% of these WBEs are sole-practitioner firms. No firm with 100 or more employees is owned and controlled by women, according to the AIA survey.

The figures for racial and ethnic minorities mirror those for women, with one notable exception. Minorities in the profession climbed from 6% in 1999, to 11% three years later. Similarly, minority principals and partners went up from 5% in 1999, to 11% in 2002. But the percentage of minority-owned business enterprises actually declined between surveys, from 7% in 1999, to 5.6% in 2002.

Women (and minorities) are making small gains in the design profession. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 25 years to have the next Zaha Hadid earn the recognition she deserves.


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