By Acre Architects
Introduction by Ruth Jones
The 2017 Architectural Review and The Architects’ Journal sixth annual Women in Architecture survey revealed an uninspiring look at the profession worldwide and the gender inequities that continue to persist in the design profession, in everything from salary gaps to employee treatment and career satisfaction. The Registrar’s Office is a design iteration of the survey and seeks to create an awareness outreach campaign and pursue fresh new ways to convey its findings with a Canadian perspective.
Each marker that hangs suspended in the floor to ceiling installation pictured in Acre Architects’ proposal for the 2018 Venice architecture biennale is different: bands of red, orange, yellow, and green, blue and pink and purple and black coding for schools and prizes and positions. Together, they’re a mock-up of what the results of an overview of Canada’s women architects might look like. A response to a swell of data on the one hand—The Architect’s Journal and The Architectural Review’s annual “Women in Architecture” survey—and the seeming void that exists on the other—there is no official tally of the number of women who are registered architects in Canada, let alone any census that would yield more detailed statistics—the proposal, titled The Registrar’s Office, imagines a way to find the missing data and turn it into a kind of heraldry, a way of making visible the professional lives of women architects across the country: for each one of them a coloured marker and for each colour a meaning.
The project, which stresses the importance of individual stories and experiences, began as a Prix de Rome submission focused on unearthing missing mentors in architecture generally and for women in the profession especially. For Monica Adair, who, along with Stephen Kopp, is one of the two founding partners of Saint John, New Brunswick-based Acre Architects, mentorship and the models it provides are a central theme. Without a guide, whose advice do you follow? Whose lead do you take? Where do you looking for connections, support, and a boost in the right direction? It’s a focus that lands The Registrar’s Office squarely in an entrepreneurial framing of architecture: when asked about her responsibilities to her profession, Adair talks about coaching strategies and “mentors that are open for business” as well as about women’s voices, refusing regional exclusion, and creating a network of young, female architects in Atlantic Canada, something that springboards from Toronto’s BEAT—Building Equity in Architecture Toronto.
Sample pages for the project’s log book, “The Registrar’s Log,” included here offer the career narratives of Adair and Newfoundland-based architect Taryn Sheppard, the kind of information available to anyone with one point of connection to a woman working in architecture. The starting questions are simple: Where did she go to school, does she teach, how old is she, does she hold a position of power in her firm (owner, founder, or partner), would she recommend architecture to women, does she have children, has been awarded a gold medal from the RAIC, what associations is she a member of? Even within this limited scope, the individuation of the data begins to break down the statistics we’re used to seeing, especially if we envision the markers changing over time, adding positions and prizes and children (or not) over the course of a long career. On the level of geography, the information visualizes the dispersal of networks of education and professional experience that, one would hope, would encourage mentorship in both directions: from a connection with a local architect to one with her alma mater, and from a school to both large corporate firms in urban centres and to regional practices working with different aims and different clients. The markers give ownership to achievement and imagine professional networks as essential components to the success and survival of women in a field where, according to an informal survey conducted in 2016, they are outnumbered 3 to 1 by their male colleagues: 6,845 men versus 2,781 women registered as architects in Canada. (1)
To imagine gender disparity in architecture in terms of networks and achievement is an optimistic position, one that looks for opportunities for the individual even as it seems to shun the foregrounding of struggle common to a more activist discourse. But the two approaches share, if not exactly the same point of departures a similar goal: to find, first, examples, role models, evidence of the possible even as the statistics, the larger numbers, trend towards “no,” and to work, through the provision of examples, towards a proliferation of stories that might begin to change their collected meaning. By accumulating data on every one of the 2,781 registered architects identified as women in 2016 and any and all who follow them, the differences and similarities in the narratives behind the data begin to stand in relation to each other. As changes take place on the level of the group, each marker remains a site of self-representation as well as part of the larger set. As architectural practice in Canada diversifies along gender, racial, cultural, and regional lines, new ways of collecting and visualizing data about the profession have a crucial role to play in navigating Canadian architecture’s representation of itself and the need for representatives who speak and work in the interests of those who have been either invisible within that professional world or invisible to it.
(1) The survey, conducted as part of Acre Architects’ research for their Venice proposal with the help of Karen Chantler, the Executive Director of the Architects’ Association of New Brunswick, relied on data she collected for Canadian Architectural Licensing Authorities (CALA).
A lover of all things adventurous, Monica Adair is passionate about inspiring people to believe we can live better. In Saint John, New Brunswick, she co-founded the award-winning firm Acre Architects, a practice of Storied Architecture, where they inspire people to live great stories. At its philosophical core, Acre believes we are what we create.