LEANING OUT II: Identity - Women in Architecture and Construction - AIANY Global Dialogues


Jill N. Lerner, FAIA [Principal at KPF, Former 2013 President of the AIANY]



Hayes Slade, AIA [Principal at Slade Architecture, Professor at Parsons]

Susan T. Rodriguez, FAIA [Founding Principal at ENNEAD Architects]

Lisa Gould, FAIA [Director, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, LLP]

Galia Solomonoff, AIA [Principal Solomonoff Architecture Studio, Associate Professor at GSAPP]

Winka Dubbeldam [Principal Archi-Tectonics, Professor and Chair of the Grad. School of Arch. at Penn Design]


On Tuesday December 2nd, a distinguished panel of architecture and construction leaders assembled in the Vitra Store of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.  The group consisted of architects and designers with experience in a range of firm types: solo practitioner, a partnership, small or large firms.  Each individual brought colorful and pointed perspectives to the discussion, which revolved around the role of women in architecture.   


In today’s architectural profession, where architecture firms are filled with people from many countries, who speak many languages, and are roughly split 50/50 women and men, one might ask “Why are we still talking about women in architecture, as a separate and special focus?”


Hana Kassem


Hana began with a brief memory of the late Paul Katz. They were in Abu Dhabi on their way to meet with a client.  She put on a fresh coat lipstick before the meeting.  Paul turned to her and admitted, “Oh I wish I could do that.”  He went on to explain that, with a single coat of lipstick, a woman becomes a warrior.    


Jill Lerner


18%.  That is the number of women who are licensed to practice architecture in the US.  24% of women hold licenses in New York City.  14% of Deans of Architecture are women. 30% of professors are female.  These numbers reflect the absence of women in high-powered architectural positions.  The statistics demand that we discuss women’s involvement in architecture and construction.  We must strengthen our presence.

Forty years ago, roughly 10-12% of graduating classes were made up of women.  There were almost no women in professional practice.  Today we have made substantial progress.  Roughly 43% of women are graduating from architecture schools.  So why and how can the situation be improved for them? 

How can talented women play an equally important role later in life – as professional leaders?

The answer can be found through a variety of means.  We can get the word out, illustrate the work and ideas of women. We can show up, stand up, and be visible--in large firms, in professional leadership, on juries, as clients.  All the women in the Leaning Out II panel are role models.

A quick glance through recent architectural publications shows there has been a lot of focus on women in architecture.  For example, Cathleen McGuigon from Architectural Record spotlights women’s leadership issues.  She highlights their accomplishments by founding a women’s’ design awards program.

Similarly, two women at Harvard petitioned to challenge the Pritzker Prize committee to recognize Denise Scott Brown, as well as Robert Venturi.  The AIA National Gold metal was changed last year in 2013.  Recently in New York, the Art & Design Film Festival featured “Making Space,” a film interviewing five architect women architects.

Jill shared quotations from women business leaders around the globe:

·        “Leadership is about being passionate, taking risk, setting a vision, and being inspiring enough to motivate others to achieve their full potential” - Stacy Bash-Polley, Goldman Sachs

·         “Being is leader is articulating the vision with great clarity and generating the energy in others, whether it is a team, or an entire organization, to pursue the aspirations.”  - Dr. Zeri Akhatar Aziz, Governor of the Central Bank of Malaysia

·       “Being a leader means providing a vision and inspiring others to work together to fulfill it.” - Susan Ganz, Estate & Financial Services

Jill pointed out the powerful common themes that were pervasive in all of  the leaders’ statements, including vision, inspiration, energy, teamwork.

With those themes in mind, we heard from the panel about their work and their stories. Then we asked a few questions…



Hayes Slade:


My practice designs at all scales (total design), from buildings to a restaurant’s dishware.


When I started in the practice of architecture, I had a vague notion of someday working with my husband.  September 11th put all of our plans in perspective.   Within 12 months we were working together.  In 2006, we started working on civic projects.


The complexity of our clients grew.  For instance, Barbie-owning company Mattel hired us to design a statement store in Shanghai.  As a mother, I did not see the possibility of leaving my children at home.   The client responded unexpectedly by offering the accommodations to include my children.  Shortly thereafter, I attended the Shanghai meetings with children in tow!


I experienced with many of my residential clients that, as the clients’ families have grown, so have the size of my firm’s projects.  At the beginning of my career I was designing NYC bachelor pads; now I’m designing those same clients’ full-family homes.   












I have found that working together with your partner, there is a natural alignment of interests.  You can leverage your relationship.  When your partner is different from you, you can tailor the way you communicate with your clients.  There is flexibility, which leads to work life balance, but can also lead to tacit decision making.  There is fluidity; people cannot tell where one person starts and another one ends.  It is difficult for a person that is outside of the team to understand the workflow.



It is amazing sharing your personal and professional life with your partner, pushing each other to succeed.



Galia Solomonof


Solomonoff Architecture Studio, Dia Beacon

Architecture is the child of art and politics. 


In the beginning of my career, I worked for several well-known architects: Raphael Vinoly, Bernard Tsumi, and Rem Koolhaus.  Maybe I decided I don't like to work for men because I am now working by myself.


Architecture requires consensus, and transcend the practical issues of life.  For instance, my work on Dea Beacon landscape and architecture was unique.  With the goal of creating a daylight-only museum, the times at which the artwork can be viewed and exhibited are limited.  It took a lot of legal efforts to make the museum possible.  We had to develop a technique to make the artwork possible at such a large scale.


My work is very local.  My ambition is not local, but my work focuses on a few blocks surrounding lower Manhattan. 


I want to make money in architecture, which is a difficult position as you know.  I have to make choices to do what I love when I’m working for art collectors and artists.  I fly economy. 




Winka Dubeldam


I have a mixed life.  And most women on this panel have a mixed life.  I am a little between academic thinking and the form of architecture.  I took the job of Chair at University of Pennsylvania a year and a half ago.  I didn’t sleep much for a year, wondering how on earth I would learn something new at my age. 


It’s very much a project like any other project: you have to use innovation to figure out how to get new work and how to recreate ideas.  How do you get people to see the work?  How do you become a host of a school?  And how do you invite other people to do the same, and publish afterwards.


The most important thing you can do as an architect is to keep working.  Mainly because I decided I didn’t want to work for other people, I started my own office. The beginning of my career was definitely not without bumps.


My latest foray into architectural design has been residential building. 

In the 70s residential architecture was largely focused on repetition and modulation.  Now with technology, we can mass produce customization. However when I made each of the units in my residential project unique, fights broke ou between future tenants and people began requesting this unit or that one.  I thought they were all cute.




Lisa Gould



I have a history of working for big corporate architecture firms.  I have spent most of my time working for Perkins & Will and SOM.  Now I am the Director of Science and Academics at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  I design universities that look at clinical healthcare.  I Invent new building types by merging different buildings together.  When I first started at SOM, I worked on Ohio State University, UPenn, and University of Connecticut.  


One of my formative experiences was working in China in the mid 90’s.  It changed my life.  I love working in China, participating with their ongoing process of developing construction standards.


I left Skidmore in 2007 to 2014.  I was lucky to develop my own design consulting practice and work as a design consultant with the client.  I was able to have a window into how different firms work and how clients think.  I loved having my own consulting practice, being able to work on big projects and maintain individual identity.


Yet in 2014, I went back to SOM. I LOVE big (messy) projects, with their clients, big teams, and collaboration. I am currently working on a project in Egypt, the University of Cairo, in Giza.  I am very happy to be back in SOM’s environment; I love the coordination and collaboration. 



Susan T Rodriguez


I find New York City my home.  I have mostly worked in the U.S., designing projects in the public realm.


I spend my time thinking about how our work and how the intersection of a building and its place can make an everyday quality of life more memorable.


For instance, I was invited to design for the Sackler Center of Feminist Art.  As a woman, I was well-qualified.  A woman’s point of view for the arts make this an increasingly important museum that is a place to view feminist art.  We designed a triangular gallery to house the large piece of art.  It is a provocative work, allowing the audience for close glimpses in at each corner.


What fuels me is our clients and a point of view.  Take affordable housing, for instance.  You wonder sometimes when you walk around the city, why are there green patches in the city?  It is with the goal of trying to to give dignity to affordable housing in the city.