Newsletter | Jul/Aug 2020

2010 OWA Christmas Party

Editor's Note

by Mui Ho

Many of us have been talking over the past couple years on OWA's future - where we are going, what we can do best to serve our members and how can we continue being relevant. We have learned and have made big strides for the past 47 years. We have evolved with the times and changes in our society. The first ten to twenty years, we eliminated major problems and issues and by 30 years, and have met most of our goals. At the same time, society has evolved and progressed making earlier concerns no longer issues for our members; unfair practices and working conditions have greatly improved. Basically many of concerns of gender discrimination been addressed and met. What we have faced in the last ten years are broader issues and subtler discriminations like the glass ceiling.

Similar to other non profit organizations this country, we are also becoming somewhat stagnant (see graph above). The life and viability of small non-profit organizations is often quite short. After meeting their immediate goals members either move on or become less involved and active. They have to spend more time with their work development and personal life. OWA falls into this predicament, but today we are still very viable to our members and going because we believe strongly in our original goals. The organization is interested in the development of the professional and personal life of our members. We made great friendships with other women that we might not have met that have lasted.

We are proud of our members' achievement and we are very happy about our collective OWA's accomplishments. We can continue to evolve to serve our small community of women architects and design professionals.

Our First Twenty-five Years

The early years were always the most exciting and tumultuous. To function as a group, we had to learn to iron out many differences and to learn to work together to meet our common goals. We needed to address the urging issues no matter how mundane, such as how to say no when asked to take care of the coffee/kitchen area, to answer the office phone when the secretary is off, to do the office printing on the clumsy diazo machine on top of getting less pay than their male colleagues with same qualifications.

We started our newsletter at the inception of the organization to reach as many as possible women architects in what was then the most efficient communication. It was discreet and reached women who might not want their offices to know about their involvement with a women's organization. It also served well for mothers who had two full time jobs and had no time to come to meetings but very interested in our activities.

We were fortunate to have introduced a nonhierarchical model of governance - the Steering Committee. This horizontal structure met the spirit of the group while, unlike the traditional male dominated organizations, gave everyone in the steering committee equal weight. The Steering Committee also served as a place to exercise leadership, not easily achieved by women at that time.

We started the mock exam to help members to pass the 12-hour long design exam. Many men and women had passed the other written exams for architecture licensing easily but not the grueling design exam due to probably its subjective grading. UC Berkeley agreed to let us use Wurster Hall for our mock exam and we used our own licensed women architects as critics. We spent easily over an hour on each examinee to make sure they did not miss the tricky points. It was very successful and was also opened to young men architects as well. Into its tenth year, most of our members were licensed and our mock exams were more men than women. We decided it was time to let this task migrate to become a program run by the AIA.

Architectural offices traditionally did not offer health insurance to their workers. We introduced the Health Plan to ensure our members were covered avoiding economic catastrophe when hit by major illnesses. This program served our members with or without prior health condition to get quality health insurance, and we also extended this insurance to young male architects who had problems getting insurance. The side benefit was that the Health Plan members added to our membership coffers as well.

To help younger architects to learn more about our industry, OWA has always arranged site visits to local new buildings and building construction sites by our members and others. These visits gave us a chance to talk to the design architects about their intention in designing and to meet contractors to learn about new construction methods and other related issues. These professional visits allowed us to see areas that were usually not open to public but vital to the working of the buildings.

Community Work

Harrison House 1988

Members of the OWA have always been interested in extending our architectural skills to the larger community. Our weekend work parties allowed us to use our construction skills to help local communities design and construct simple projects, like putting in an outdoor garden and patio space for a homeless shelter, Harrison House in Berkeley. Members in the OWA were encouraged to sit on non-profit boards to make women architects visible in our community.

The Weekend Retreat introduced in 1984 has been one of the most loved and well run activity for our members. It allows two whole days for members to relax, to learn more about the organization and to get to know each other. Many vital organizational decisions have been made during this weekend retreat. Furthermore it is highly valued by our membership because it allows members living farther way from San Francisco and the East Bay who could not attend the monthly meetings to keep in touch with the organization.

The once-a-year Christmas Gift Giving Party, usually held in one of our member's home, allowed members to see many good examples of architects' homes. Since we tended to go to so many parties and overwhelmed with food during this holiday season, we introduced the component of gift giving to support needy families in our community, an important mission of OWA.

Because of the importance of travel to experience significant architecture, OWA members have organized several architectural tours for members in the past forty years. The visits, organized and hosted by members from those places, like our visit to Ecuador, made the trips most memorable. On top of visiting beautiful places and buildings, we were able to meet and have exchanges with local architects, we presented our work to the local community and we attended local festivals.

We have been celebrating our 10th, 20th, 30th and 40th Anniversaries at a one-day symposium with women speakers and a closing dinner. They were held in Wurster Hall to entice more women students. Our 50th is coming up in three years, and our members are already thinking about how to celebrate such long achievement. Janet Crane has just informed us that she would like to create a photo book about the retreats or maybe the past 50 years of OWA ready for the 50th Anniversary. We're looking forward to more innovative ideas for this event.

Update on Current Activities

To keep you more updated on current standing of OWA activities:

Zoom Administrator - Allison Kinst
Program - Jian Du
Publicity - Gennifer Munoz
Membership - Leslie Golden
Information - Betty Wu
Mentor Program - Cammy White
Program - Clare Hansen
Program - Dena Kennett
Retreat - Rachel Sloniki
Treasurer - Judy Rowe
Board - Janet Crane
Newsletter - Mui Ho

Members are encouraged to start any new projects or join force with other member's activities.

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