Friday, June 11, 2010

Sexism and all male design panels

Some of you may have spotted an item in this week’s BD about Will Alsop and Paul Finch dressing up as John Nash and The Grand Old Duke of York next Saturday to launch the London Festival of Architecture.
After lots of photo ops in key places, they’ll be on a panel ‘criting’ ideas for Waterloo Place by six design teams. I have been asked to join the panel along with Sarah Gaventa, the ebullient director of Cabe Space, and a friend of mine. Neither of us are in the publicity blub for this event because we were an afterthought when presumably somebody realized the all male line up (Roger Zogolovitch and Lee Mallet are chairing) did not give off quite the right image.
Sexism is not something I get very worked about generally. I don’t believe in all-women short lists for example, and I find the endless soul searching about gender balance in architecture rather irritating As Eldred Evans once said, the barrier for women entering architecture is the ridiculously low salaries not topless calendars in site huts.
But the similarity between the architecture profession and men's clubs is clearer outside the office than in it particularly on judging panels and design reviews. There are lots of reasons for this I suspect. My feeling is that because no one really knows what good design is, architects not only need but crave strong guidance and they are more likely to listen to a man than a woman. This is also the way architects have been trained where it is normal to have your work trashed, but unusual if the trashing is done by a woman  since the majority of tutors are men.
Also, there’s the cult of personality which of course architecture thrives on. For this to exist you need a critic who is often the guru or father figure to a particular group of architects .This person will speak up for them at design reviews and on competition juries and generally help their careers along. Women  who are not nearly as clubbable as men find this kind of thing strange.
I haven’t decided if to take part in the crit, but that's not because of the sexism. I like all the men who are taking part and can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday morning, but I am not convinced that Waterloo Place needs to be helped – of which more another time.

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