Guest Lecture Series

A Gendered Profession

Ruth Morrow and James Soane

Thursday 9th February 5pm

Budden Lecture Theatre

For a profession that claims to be so concerned with the needs, not only of architecture but also of society - namely ‘better buildings, communities and the environment’ - the continuing gender imbalance in architectural education and practice is a difficult subject. Difficult, because it’s been stagnant for some thirty years. In 2016, ninety two per cent of female architects reported that having children would put them at a disadvantage in architecture; five per cent more than in the previous year. That so many women feel that their profession is prejudiced against them is shocking enough; but the fact that we have no reliable statistics to report male architects’ opinions about fatherhood is equally telling.

Beyond the confines of our discipline, a new generation of inclusive feminist critique is emerging, much of which (like our own profession’s stated ambition) is characterised by a broader civic commitment. But whereas, after World War II, the architectural profession rallied around its obligation to fulfil a social need, the mainstream of our profession has capitulated its servitude to capitalism.

As we watch this ‘fourth wave' of feminism unfold, the stubborn misconception that feminism is only for and about women remains hard to dispel. The conversation has to be collectively critical: women cannot dictate a solution to men, just as men cannot dictate a solution to women. One could argue that it is a failure of our architecture profession to resolve its own internal inequalities. Sexism and gendered practices in architecture condemn all of us to a set of expectations around stereotypical behaviour. Male architects suffer from the same ingrained mechanisms of gender stereotyping that prejudice women, obliging us to place professional commitments above those to our family and children. And for those whose gender and sexuality do not fit comfortably within the binary conception of male or female, gay or straight, we find that the progress made in improving workplace conditions in the architect’s studio has yet to be matched in other aspects of the profession, namely the construction site.

It is therefore critical to dispute not only the traditional binary definition of gender, but also a mono-dimensional conception of gender along a spectrum, one that ultimately categorises everyone between the same binary. We need to think beyond women’s experiences of architectural education, practice and culture; gender is instead the key for a broader and more inclusive understanding of how our identity affects our experience of life and work. In order to recast the role of the architect in society it is imperative to take on the political and economic challenges entwined within the gender debate, in order to practice ethically and inclusively. It is critical to recognise that we operate within relative frameworks. As we age, climb the ladder of progression, grow as an architect – we change too, more than we might like to think.

 This is why we turned our ideas into a book: A Gendered Profession – which sought to address a fundamental issue of representation, one that is inconclusive and emerging. This issue of representation is being played out not only in books such as these, but, more tangibly, in the built environment around us. It also questions why it seems so difficult to teach architects about gendered spaces, arguing that if we are to change our starchitect culture, then we must change how we train students. This also requires us to scrutinise the ‘master-pupil’ relationship, and how competition and long working hours can reaffirm stereotypical ‘hegemonic masculinity’ arguing for new and different labour practices and hours of work that suit both genders; that resist traditionalism, discrimination and academic capitalism. Whether architecture can learn from other disciplines’ efforts in order to create more gender equitable environments is also brought into focus, concluding with a statement of hope for a profession in which tacit values and judgments made on stereotypical assumptions will become a thing of the past.

We need a diagnostic check on our profession. The condition is on-going, and the case is not closed. An inclusive discussion on the subject of architecture and gender is needed, one that can address some of the injustices facing our discipline. We are under no illusion that the gender question will ever go away but instead embrace instead the principle of fourth wave of feminism that an attitude of inclusion will nurture a more discursive and enriched forum.

In this event Ruth Morrow and James Soane will discuss their recent collaboration on the book they helped co-author: ‘A Gendered Profession’. By openly discussing their own connection to the book they hope to provoke debate and reflection in real time with the audience.... one step towards resolving our own internal inequalities. 

James and Ruth co-authored 'The Gendered Profession' with James Benedict Brown (De Montfort University) and Harriet Harriss (Royal College of Art). James Soane is Director of Critical Practice at the London School of Architecture and Co-Director of Project Orange. Ruth Morrow is Professor of Architecture at Queen's University Belfast and Director of Tactility Factory.