For others, partnering with a man means sorting out identity issues. When Margaret McCurry, FAIA, IIDA, ASID, became the female half of Chicago-based Tigerman-McCurry Architects in 1982, she worked independently to establish her own credibility. Her husband, Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, was older and already well-known. “I didn't want to be Stanley's sous chef,” she says. To this day, they maintain separate clients on all but the occasional project. And although McCurry has experienced her share of dismissive treatment over the years, her design and leadership skills are widely recognized. She was the first woman to head the AIA Committee on Design and is currently president of the Harvard Club of Chicago—only the second woman to do so in 150 years. “I've found that if you're competent and can deal with large groups of people and energize them, people find you,” she says.

For Scott Brown, who formed a creative partnership with husband Robert Venturi, FAIA, in 1967, the experience has been bittersweet. On the bitter side, in 1991 the Pritzker Prize went to Venturi alone, though Scott Brown says their roles completely intertwine. “The Pritzker people have consistently refused to consider me,” she says. “They take a traditional view of architecture—although they call themselves modernists. I've had to face the fact that my role on projects is submerged in the general estimation that architecture is male-run, and that, in our office, all design is by Venturi. That's hard for me.”

That said, Scott Brown suspects she would not have done better on her own, simply because her and Venturi's tandem talents help them produce better work, especially on complex campus planning and urban projects. Many women have told Scott Brown that because of the Pritzker incident, they won't practice with their husbands. But she believes it's worth trying. “It is hard, but if you love each other and are on the same wavelength, you can create better ideas together,” she says. “People say an idea has to generate in one mind; in actual fact, the fun of working with a creative team is the way ideas zip between people. So you would lose doing that with your best partner. And you can get larger projects that way.”

She adds wryly: “One of our clients said, when you have us together, you have double your problem. What he meant was that if he was not convinced by Bob's argument, he found he had to hear mine. That's an advantage, though; I can find a way to explain something when Bob's version doesn't ring true with a client. We can also, between us, approach a project from three or four different viewpoints. This makes the building better, even if it sometimes makes our lives harder.”

making choices

Of AIA members, men outnumber women by roughly 6-to-1. But women have made serious progress. A recent AIA Business of Architecture survey found that the number of licensed women architects rose from 14 percent in 1999 to 20 percent in 2005. Women comprised 26 percent of all architecture staff, up from 20 percent in 1999. And the number of women principals and partners at firms also increased to 16 percent in 2005, from 4 percent in 1999.

At the helm of a successful nine-person firm in San Francisco, Anne Fougeron, AIA, feels her minority status keenly. She's received a slew of design awards for projects ranging from health care and civic facilities to high-end houses, yet her 21-year-old firm is routinely overlooked by large multifamily housing developers. To improve her visibility, Fougeron partners with other firms to go after big jobs, engages in outreach programs for women in business, and aggressively markets Fougeron Architecture as a woman-owned firm. “Some of our best clients have been female clients like Planned Parenthood,” she says. “We seek out groups whose point of view we can understand.”

Indeed, for mid-career female practitioners, getting ahead has meant a persistent refusal to be typecast. Early on, Suman Sorg, FAIA, principal of Sorg and Associates in Washington, D.C., resisted a gravitational pull toward interiors and historic preservation in order to build a reputation for modernist buildings. “I never felt there were career-advancement issues, but it was more the service itself that women could perform,” she says. Her diverse, 40-person practice revolves around embassies, condos, educational facilities, and civic centers. The public sector is an equalizer, since it encourages minority involvement. But Sorg laments that private-sector office buildings are hard to get. “It's been easier for women to be on the housing side—people think house, woman,” she says. “But I find housing to be a much more complicated building type, because office buildings are just the skin and core.” She surmises that, in contrast to the smaller developers doing housing, the old-boys' network is alive and well among big-time developers of office buildings.

Julie Eizenberg, AIA, cofounder (with husband Hank Koning, FAIA, FRAIA) of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Koning Eizenberg Architecture, suggests that what some perceive as a glass ceiling might simply be a mismatch in the way women see themselves and the clients who want them. “Women are afraid of saying, ‘These are my values. If this is what I am, I want the people who think like I do,'” she says. “I don't think we should be changing to meet other people's preconceptions about what an architect is. We tell them what we do, and it will change because we do it. The same people who think there's a glass ceiling should think they're a unique commodity. They have a different point of view, and to me, that's marketable.”

For example, Eizenberg likes doing community-based projects in which she can overturn cultural norms and “deinstitutionalize things that have gotten stodgy. It's not generic architecture but architecture that makes a difference and affects people's sense of self,” she says, adding that “there are tons of clients who prefer to work with women. Some are just tired of guys.” Spear agrees. “When I set forth into the world, I was under the illusion that men aren't as oppositional as they really are,” she says. “In fact, they think very differently. They're not that collegial and are very competitive and jealous.” However, she continues, “It's all in what you want. I find nothing glamorous about designing condo buildings. That's why I became a landscape architect.” Three years ago she added landscape architecture to her long list of accomplishments because, she says, the next wave will be about being good stewards and designing buildings that relate to the earth.

women rising

Young women have only their academic experiences and a few years of practice to go on. But even they have registered gender issues differently. In her seven-year career, Lindy Roy, founding principal of New York City's ROY Co., has encountered sexism on jobsites and in project management meetings. “In some of the battles we've had with developers, I often feel that they wouldn't try that with a guy,” she says. “If you raise your voice or are adamant, what comes out is the idea that you should calm down or go for a walk around the block. It's a cheap putdown I've gotten from fairly sophisticated men.”

Hansy Better Barraza, a principal of Studio Luz Architects, Boston, teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, where the faculty is equal parts men and women. By contrast, she says, “When I'm on the review panels at different universities, I tend to be the only woman, so that's where I see the disconnect.” It's a subtle message to women that men are in charge and will be the ones to comment on the value of their work.

Others have observed apparent inequities in mainstream firms. Angela Dean, AIA, LEED AP, who established Salt Lake City-based AMD Architecture in 1997, says she's seen female colleagues passed over for principal and others hired at lower salaries than men. “It's a real [trend], and I don't understand it,” she says. “It's prevalent even among employers I had respected and trusted. That's why I decided I'll do it my way.” Dean currently has three women on staff and says she's thrilled to be thriving in a conservative town. “It wasn't a deliberate decision to have just women,” she continues, “but it's a good fit for the sustainability we promote. For the men who have applied here, that hasn't been their driving force, and for the women it has.”

On the other hand, Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, design principal of Michelle Kaufmann Designs in Oakland, Calif., has never felt that being female made a difference one way or the other. Still, “I am grateful for the hard work of the women who paved the way,” she says.