Women in Architecture


‘Women can do everything men can do, and we can do it in high heels!’

That’s how I closed when I wrote about the subject over a year ago. I have a stronger belief in the statement today as I continue to meet women of the profession who have made a significant impact in their careers. Yet the number of these women is staggeringly low.

I was at the 2011 AIA Communications Summit last month where the AIA leadership and marketing field experts got together to revisit the image of architects in the society, the impact of the profession, and the branding of AIA and architecture. One point in discussion was that based on a public survey, the image of an architect in society continues to be that of an arrogant, unapproachable, rich white male. We would all agree that this is far from reality. But we do need to address the gender gap.

It is a general fact that managers sub-consciously tend to hire or promote the people in whom they see their own image. If the leadership of a firm is composed of men in the majority, women automatically will face a bigger challenge getting across. How will the place of a female architect improve within and outside the profession?

There are many male architects portrayed on the big screen in creative, romantic, and sometimes sadistic roles. In a rare occurrence, the 1996 movie One Fine Day shows a female architect played by Michelle Pfeiffer who predictably finds it very challenging to create work-life balance, juggles between her responsibilities, faces a difficult boss who doesn’t understand, and almost jeopardizes her career when she cannot stay for drinks with the clients in the evening. Fifteen years later, how far have we come?

One Fine Day

I was thrilled to see the recent AT&T TV commercial about Helping Small Businesses Work Better. Among others, the ad shows a female architectural designer who says that she would like to design more buildings. Is it progress to see another female architect on screen after 15 years? Of course she cannot compete with the recognition of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, but it is certainly a start. Also, we finally have an architect Barbie™ after all these years! There may be a looming debate over her clothing and shoe selection, but many of us do wear dresses and heels to work and don’t necessarily visit jobsites every day. A woman can look like one and still have a career.

Running lists of impactful female architects can be found all over the web. They include the women that worked behind the scenes with male starchitects of the past centuries, and continue on to the women of today who have made a mark on their own and are not hiding behind the scenes. Female architects have come far. They are equipped and ready than ever to face the challenges of this profession. Whether they are dressed in the usual black suits or wear a dress with high heels, they will conquer.

Architects on Screen

This is my recently compiled list of Architects on Screen. There are a few with landscape architects, interior designers, engineers, and city planners; I have NOT included those in this list. I hope to intrigue thought and participation through this endeavor. My objective for the research is to compare how the various roles depict architects in general, or sometimes rather unusual roles. You’d be surprised to see how little role the occupation of a character can play in the plot unless it is a doctor, lawyer or teacher. Viewers believe that by showing a character’s profession as an architect, they tend to think of the character as passionate, romantic, and sexy! But they are also considered stubborn and egotistical. Clichés of the society… I haven’t seen all of these yet, but my honorable mention goes to Art Vandelay! I believe that having architects on the screen brings attention to our profession and encourages interest and respect. We need more! Can you add to this list? Send me your contributions!


Architects on Big Screen:

1.       12 Angry Men: Henry Fonda

2.       500 Days of Summer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

3.       Bedazzled: Brendan Fraser

4.       The Brady Bunch: Robert Reed as Mike Brady

5.       Butterfly Effect: Elden Henson

6.       Click: Adam Sandler and David Hasselhoff

7.       Death of Night: Mervyn Johns

8.       Death Wish: Charles Bronson

9.       Don’t Look Now: Donald Sutherland

10.   Falling in Love Again: Elliot Gould

11.   Fear: William Petersen

12.   Fearless: Jeff Bridges as Max Klein

13.   Firewall: Virginia Madsen

14.   Heatwave: Richard Moir as Stephen West

15.   Heaven: Martin Donovan

16.   House As a Life: Kevin Kline

17.   HouseSitter: Steve Martin

18.   Hush: Gwyneth Paltrow

19.   In the Bedroom: Nick Stahl (student)

20.   Indecent Proposal: Woody Harrelson

21.   Intersection: Richard Gere as Vincent Eastman

22.   It’s Complicated: Steve Martin

23.   Jungle Fever: Wesley Snipes

24.   La Moustache: Marc Lindon

25.   Love Actually: Liam Neeson

26.   Mamma Mia: Pierce Brosnan

27.   Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House: Reginald Denny as Henry Simms

28.   Mrs. Miniver: Walter Pidgeon

29.   My Architect: (Louis Kahn)

30.   My Life as a House: Kevin Kline as George Monroe

31.   My Super Ex-Girlfriend: Luke Wilson

32.   One fine Day: Michelle Pfeiffer

33.   Peter Ibbetson: Gary Cooper

34.   Playing by Heart: John Stewart

35.   Prison Break: Scofield

36.   Return to Me: David Duchovny

37.   Sleepless in Seattle: Tom Hanks

38.   Strangers When We Meet: Kirk Douglas as Larry Coe

39.   The Architect: Anthony LaPaglia

40.   The Belly of an Architect: Brian Dennehy

41.   The Black Cat: Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig

42.   The Cable Guy: Matthew Broderick

43.   The Fountainhead: Gary Cooper as Howard Roark

44.   The Frighteners: Michael J. Fox

45.   The Holcroft Covenant: Michael Caine

46.   The Lake House: Keanu Reeves

47.   The Last Kiss: Zach Braff

48.   The Matrix Reloaded: Helmut Bakaitis (unconventional)

49.   The Namesake: Kal Penn

50.   The Pallbearer: David Schwimmer

51.   The Quiet: Martin Donovan

52.   The Serpent’s Kiss: Ewan McGregor

53.   The Simpsons: Frank Gehry (Voice)

54.   The Towering Inferno: Paul Newman

55.   The World of Suzie Wong: William Holden

56.   There’s Something About Mary: Matt Dillon (posed as one)

57.   Three Men and a Baby: Tom Selleck

58.   Three to Tango: Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt

59.   Thursday: Thomas Jane as Casey Wells

60.   Two For The Road: Albert Finney as Mark Wallace

61.   White Noise: Michael Keaton

62.   You, Me and Drupree: Matt Dillon and Michael Douglas


Architects on Small Screen:

1.       According to Jim: Larry Joe Campbell as Andy

2.       Clarissa Explains It All: Joe O’Connor as Marshall Darling

3.       Family Ties: Elyse Keaton

4.       How I met Your Mother: Josh Radnor as Ted Mosby

5.       Mr. Ed.: Wilbur Post

6.       Once and Again: Billy Campbell (Richard Sammler), Todd Field (David Cassilli)

7.       Oz: Bob Rebadow

8.       Seinfeld: Art Vandelay – Guggenheim Addition

9.       The Architect Sketch: Monty Python

10.   The Invaders: Roy Thinnes as David Vincent

11.   The O.C.: Benjamin McKenzie as Ryan Atwood