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Members at the 40th Gala Dinner at The Berkeley City Club

Newsletter | Mar/Apr 2013

Volume 41:2 | Search

If you would like to see corrections to this newsletter or to submit articles or suggestions for future newsletters please contact the Newsletter Editor at newsletter@owa-usa.org.

In this issue:

A Successful Symposium

by Eliza Hart, Ed.    | Print | Email

A view from the audience at Wurster Hall Auditorium

A huge thank you goes to all of the OWA members and donors who volunteered and helped put together the 40th Anniversary Symposium! It was a huge success.

More photos from the symposium are here.

OWA Symposium April 13th

by Cameron White    | Print | Email

On April 13, there will be a Symposium at UC Berkeley about issues concerning women in architecture. We would like to get sponsors, corporate or otherwise, for the Symposium. Can your firm be a sponsor? Please consider your list of contacts and see if there are people or firms who would be interested in sponsoring the event. There will be an acknowledgement of the sponsors in the program. Amounts from $100 to $2000 are suggested. Please coordinate with Janet Crane about sponsorships.

Also, please register for the Symposium by making a paypal payment!

Information about the Anniversary Cruise in the Mediterranean

by Eliza Hart, Ed.    | Print | Email

Please read information here about the anniversary cruise.

Report on the OWA 40th Anniversary Gala

by Joanne Winship    | Print | Email

The OWA 40th Anniversary Gala was celebrated on March 16, 2013 at Julia Morgan’s Berkeley City Club. More than 100 member and friends dined and danced the night away to Latin rhythms and many other music favorites. The evening commenced with a jazz group arranged by Cameron White followed by a fine dinner. The dinner tables were graced with towers of beautiful flowers designed and arranged by Betty Woo and her crew. A printed program history was compiled and edited by Jean Nilsson. The table cards featuring renowned women architects and nametags were crafted by Phoebe Bressack and Viole McMahon. Invitations and reservations were handled by Rachel Slonicki. Janet Crane and Karlene Gullone co-hosted the program that highlighted the history and future opportunities for OWA accompanied by a video brought together by Leslie Golden. Salsa lesson followed and set the stage for a night of dancing. Special thanks go to Gilda Puente-Peter, chair of the 40th Anniversary Committee and committee members Betty Woo, Leslie Golden, and Mui Ho. There were many more members and spouses who contributed to the Gala, and their efforts are much appreciated.

Gala images were captured by photographer Sabrina Bot and a website has been created to view them. Members can log into the OWA website and go to the Forum where the website link is provided.

Betty Woo and the flower crew at Gilda Puente-Peters' house

OWA Book Circle Report 7: Various Articles on Gender and Architectural Discourse

by Wendy Bertrand    | Print | Email

Keeping things interesting the book circle members decided to read a cluster of articles recently published on line about women and architecture instead of a book. In rereading them I find the topic of gender comes up in different ways. When I say gender I mean what some scholars define as the deep imprinting of cultural beliefs, values and expectations on one’s person because of their biological sex, forming a fundamental component in a person’s sense of identity (Lori Brown).

The Incredible True Adventures of Architectress in America by Gabrielle Esperdy


Why Architects need Feminism by Despina Stratigakos


What I learned from Architect Barbie by Despina Stratigakos


Architecture is too important to be left to men alone by Jermey Till


Judgement Pending by Shelly Penn


Who wants to be a Woman Architect? by Karen Burns


Needed – a more profound commitment to behavioural change by Shane Thompson


Double Whammy Would there be more women in architecture if there were more women in development? by Amanda Kolson Hurley

Of these eight articles, six by women and two by men, we discussed in depth four of them and it became apparent that it is not so easy for women (and probably men) to discuss gender in the work world, but like race and religion, it is helpful to be able to understand the cultural forces around us and to be able to discuss gender matters with some understanding of why it is important for us as working women.

The two articles by men express their understanding of the issues and propose evidence of what they are personally doing about increasing gender equality in architecture. Jermey Till has devised a personal boundary to not be a speaker at any conference without at least 30% women architects at the table, in order to make a point that women need to be at the table. He shares some of the reactions to his gender politics from men and women that he received for this outspoken action in Architecture is too important to be left to men alone by Jermey Till


Shane Thompson talks about his philosophy in Needed – a more profound commitment to behavioural change by Shane Thompson. In his firm of seven with four women, together they are trying structural and behavioral changes, with an emphasis on leadership building.

“I suggest there is a need for more fundamental change in our behaviors than we have yet accepted. Our professional behavior, which has developed historically from the dominance of men in architecture, is generally authoritarian, competitive, intolerant, posturing and controlling. Unless we become more self-aware, respectful, mindful, validating, empathetic, supportive and generous, we will not mature as a profession or engage meaningfully with the still-latent contribution that women can make.”

What I learned from Architect Barbie by Despina Stratigakos “As a feminist scholar, I am interested in analyzing the ideological fences that architecture has built around the profession —the barriers that determine outsiders and insiders.” We ended up talking about who played with Barbies and who didn’t and what it might mean to play with Architect Barbie. Many of us had not played with Barbies and didn’t like the idea. One of us did enjoy her Barbie. But how toys influence what you want to be in still a question although an engineer has designed the toy Goldie Blox, a game with building and engineering concepts built in, it is not just a doll. Will Architect Barbie help girls understand that women can become architects, as Christina mentioned she has encountered girls that still think that architecture is not for women. Gender image seems to be very powerful in culture. How to dress Architect Barbie was a big challenge, hey how we women architects dress is a challenge everyday and appearance for women is part of gender culture that is still a big part of being female.

The Incredible True Adventures of Architectress in America by Gabrielle Esperdy revisits some of the feminist womanpower for gender equality in American architecture during the last 40 years. This is a 13-page article is worth reading, for anyone not familiar with some of the national feminist history of women in architecture. “…gender difference is alive and thriving, as political tool and rhetorical device, and that in architecture, as in the larger culture, we ignore it at our own peril.”

Karen Burns bring to the surface again this issue of the complex interactions between culture and individual agency, that is being valued for one’s work and being framed by the fact of our gender in her article Who wants to be a Woman Architect?

Double Whammy Would there be more women in architecture if there were more women in development? by Amanda Kolson Hurley brings to light the problem of banks not wanting to lend to women in development and wondering if that means that there are less women in architecture because there are fewer women developers.

Despina Stratigakos suggests expanding the definition of feminism in architecture in her article Why Architects need Feminism. She states, “…that feminism weds theory to practice and encourages us to rethink the relationship between architecture schools and the larger professional world. By linking individuals to systems, feminism allows us to perceive structural limitations and to envision dissolving barriers. And feminism’s attention to practice – and not just to practitioners- fosters new ways of understanding and experimenting with process.”

Many of the articles link women’s position in architecture to the overall health of the profession, which shows signs of weakness on various fronts, like declining influence in the building industry, lack of ability to earn a good living, less appreciation by the public, with fewer new graduates going into architecture and continuing on traditional career paths.

What we as group recognized that gender issues are vaster than some thought and often controversial and therefore difficult to talk about even in a friendly all woman book circle. Culture of course is not like mathematics where results are clear and reliable, which makes for the need for personal reflection and learning to counter our unconscious and personal cultural imprint. At the OWA Symposium: Gender Matters (April 13, 2013) out-of-state scholars will share their work in how gender and architecture overlap in the way we practice, how we design, and what we envision.

Petition to recognize Denise Scott Brown

by Eliza Hart, Ed.    | Print | Email

Click the following link to find out how to support the movement to recognize Denise Scott Brown for her work here.

Sandhya Sood on Julia Morgan

by Eliza Hart, Ed.    | Print | Email

Sandhya Sood noted that Julia Morgan was honored last month by the National women's history project and UB Berkeley wall of fame. She wrote a short essay that was featured in the Berkeley news last Saturday and you can read the article here.

Gioconda R. Simmonds: Through the lens of a Hispanic female Architect

by Gioconda R. Simmonds    | Print | Email

A work-related field visit to one of the public high schools in Manhattan last month granted me the opportunity to revisit my old neighborhood in the Upper West Side. It brought back memories of the late 1970s when the sights of “earth shoes” by Thom McAn and bell bottom slacks were in vogue and were all too common. The former shoe store at the southeast corner of Broadway and 108th Street, which carried the infamous Buster Brown shoes, has since been replaced by a coffee shop.

Around the corner is the Ascension School, of which my attendance lasted eight years. Most of my peers were like myself, of Latino background, but were mostly from the Caribbean nations of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Ecuadorians (like my family) were the anomaly at the time and the noticeable influx of immigration from Mexico and South American countries would occur much later. My Ecuadorian parents actually met and were wed in the United States, but a total of two pregnancies resulted in the births of their daughters taking place in their native homeland --- a conscious effort by my nationalist mother. This decision along with periodic vacations spent in Ecuador, would later prove to reinforce my Latin American roots throughout both my childhood and adulthood.

Summers in NYC were filled with visits to Riverside Park with my older sister, my neighbor and best friend at the time, a girl of Panamanian and Puerto Rican background. Long bike rides along the trails from 125th Street down to the piers at 79th Street were rewarded with “piraguas”, which in Puerto Rican terms refers to frozen treats made up of shaved ice covered with fruit flavored syrup.

My secondary education took place at the Notre Dame School, a small, all-girl high school which was located at West 79th Street. Unlike elementary school, the majority of the student population at the time consisted of non-Hispanics, mostly girls of Italian, Irish, French and Portuguese descent. From an early age, art was my hobby and the guitar was my constant companion. Drawing competitions and musical recitals occupied most of my teenage years. While at Notre Dame, the career choice of Architecture had long been established prior to high school graduation.

College years resulted in a 4 year baccalaureate at the City College of New York and a Master’s of Architecture degree (cum laude, being granted by the State University of New York at Buffalo. The recession of the early 1990’s and the dearth of architectural jobs in the Northeast region took me to the prairielands of North Dakota, where I gained experience in the design of religious facilities, as well as exposure to the Midwestern culture.

After two years of long winters and short summer months, fortune stepped in and I was offered a position with the Historical Preservation Studio at the prestigious architectural engineering firm of VITETTA Group in the city of Philadelphia. My portfolio with the firm consisted of direct involvement with high profile projects such as the restoration of Independence National Historic Park, the Academy of Music, City Hall and the State Capitol building at Harrisburg, PA. I gained both familiarity and expertise in the field of Historic American Buildings Survey or HABS, as applied to the intricate detailing of Philadelphia’s most historic structures.

Like most professionals, obtaining the official legal license to practice in your field of choice became a sought-after honor, of which I was able to achieve after 10 + years of apprenticeship. The main focus of my career has been on the restoration of existing structures, with careful attention being paid to historic detailing and repairs. Extensive knowledge of building design investigations and failures was acquired throughout my eleven year tenure at the multi-disciplinary international engineering firm of Thornton Tomasetti, Inc., the former Lev Zetlin Associates.

Currently, I am the lead coordinator (Architect of Record) for a building conversion project in Queens, NY. My employer is the New York City School Construction Authority, which is dedicated to the building and designing of public schools for the children in the many neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs of the city. My current assignment involves the complete rehabilitation and modernization of a former parochial school into a public school facility for children in Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade levels. As part of the modernization, the goal is to execute the work in a cost-effective manner while attaining the highest standards of safety and quality for the children.

Throughout my career, I have encountered the gender imbalance, both at the office and at the construction site. Women are subjected to higher standards than men, but as a Latina, the barriers are even greater. Encounters with other Latinos in the workforce have been scarce, and in very rare instances have they involved working with other Hispanic female architects in leadership positions. Unfortunately, often times Latinos in the professional world tend to suppress their ethnicity, for fear of being stigmatized. My choice has been to capitalize on it.

Fluency in both the Spanish and Portuguese languages has had a positive impact on my career, particularly at the job site, where my role as “translator” has emerged from time to time. It has also served to strengthen my assertiveness as well as reinforce my leadership skills.




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