Note: my photos are not very good – the only decent one of Sheila is where she is listening to Cathleen speak! Sorry Sheila!! You were beautiful and brilliant.
First, a bit about the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation: Beverly Willis herself is an architect by training (FAIA) and a founding Trustee of the National Bulding Museum (one of the most beautiful spaces in a city full of beautiful buildings and spaces). Beverly founded the BWAF with the the mission of advancing the knowledge and recognition of women’s contributions to architecture. Pretty cool! The panel discussion was the seventh Women of Architecture program.
The panel featured the following women:
- Mara Liasson, moderator. Mara is a reporter from Fox News and NPR.
- Shelia Cahnman, group vice president, healthcare, HOK, Chicago
- MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president, director of commercial & residential development, Forest City Ratner Companies, New York
- Cathleen McGuigan, editor-in-chief, Architectural Record, New York
- Claire Weisz, WXY Architecture + Urban Design, New York
All four panelists were amazing, bright, inspirational women who shared their thoughts on being a woman in the field, what the recession has done to the field of architecture, and how the field has changed. I thought it was an incredible discussion and really wanted to participate! A few of my favorite parts of the night included questions via Twitter, the appearance of Architect Barbie, and the presence of MaryAnne Gilmartin’s adorable daughter (future architect/developer/world dominating woman).
A group of about a dozen of us from the HOK Washington, DC office attended together – I thought it would be fun to gather some thoughts from the team…so, here they are:
- We are all inspired by these amazing women! Their thoughts sparked something within all of us and spawned some interesting discussions.
- All the panelists noted that the current economy is tough, but also everyone noted bright spots and hope for the future.
- Having a developer on the panel was fascinating – her insight into the industry is very much related to what we do as architects, but from a very different perspective.
- One attendee noted that sher eally liked Sheila’s answer to the one of the questions about what do women bring to architecture/design that men can’t? Her answer was that in HOK, more than gender preference, the emphasis is to diversify in general: gender, race, age, etc. Due to the nature of architecture, buildings are the product of a team (no one person) and the more diverse the team, the wider range of minds, experiences, cultures, thoughts, ideas, and solutions, which enables the best design!
Lessons for Improvement
- While Mara Liasson is an incredible and accomplished woman, some of us felt that the moderator position should have gone to someone with more experience in the field. My thought was that perhaps Cathleen McGuigan from Architectural Record could have moderated, leaving room for an additional panelist from the field.
- Not enough diversity on the panel. While Sheila and Claire Weisz are both amazing women, both are very established in their careers and practice in large urban areas. It would have been nice to see more diversity in terms of age and geographic location.
- One woman noted that she would have liked to know if in small firms is there a transformation of the work atmosphere from workaholic to a more balanced life which helps women stay in the profession instead of having to leave to raise a family.
- Another attendee noted, “I think it would have been interesting to hear more about that first lady who has the foundation named after her. I’d take her out for martinis or tea or whatever she digs.” I’m always down for martinis – maybe we should call Beverly!
Overall, I thought it was a good discussion and am thrilled to have had the opportunity to attend. Many thanks to Sheila and the BWAF for making this possible!