Looking to provoke his colleagues to share their opinions on challenging topics, architect Mark English launched his blog, The Architect’s Take, several months ago. He already had been blogging about energy compliance—specifically California’s Title 24 requirements—and was getting a lot of traffic. “This was exciting,” English says. “People who didn’t know anything about architects were visiting our site—we went from getting 200 hits a month to 2,000.” Inspired by that experience, English started this second blog to focus on architectural topics that appeal to a broader audience. A big concern on his mind was the lack of women in his profession, so he asked four prominent female architects and one landscape architect who started their own firms to impart their views and advice.
“I was the chair last year of the AIA San Francisco’s Small Firms Committee and I’d been on this committee for years with the same guys,” English explains. “We made it a goal last year to get women more involved and next year the committee will induct its first female chair.” English is the one who called most of those women to encourage them to get involved. Those conversations, along with his desire to get their voices heard on a wider scale, led to this interview series. “It’s not about women as much as it is about how this profession works and how it impacts a woman trying to work in it,” English says. “I wanted people from small firms who do mainly residential like us and who had to fight their way in. I also tried to find women in various situations within those parameters.”
The five women selected for the interviews are Amy Eliot, AIA, of Tom Eliot Fisch, Anne Fougeron, FAIA, of Fougeron Architecture, E.B. Min, AIA, of Min | Day, Karin Payson, AIA, of KPA+D, and Kate Stickley, ASLA, of Arterra Landscape Architects. English worked with one of his associates, Rebecca Firestone, to come up with the initial set of questions—although they let the interviewees lead conversations once they began. The questions cover the reasons why these women made certain career choices—such as starting their own firms—and how they have coped with being a woman in a male-dominated profession. They also dive into the touchy issues of discrimination and why it’s more difficult to earn peer and public respect as a woman. The final interview in this series will be posted this week. The Architect’s Take will continue to cover other subjects and discussions that English wants to tackle. He’s hoping the blog will motivate his peers to form more of a community. He explains that, especially as small-firm owners, he and his colleagues don’t really enjoy a sense of camaraderie and feedback that architects working in larger commercial offices might feel. “Everyone is busy and we’re all struggling,” he admits. “People don’t share information, but we’re much more useful to each other as allies than competitors. I found out that we’re not really competitors at all because if you want a Jim Zack house or Anne Fougeron project, you’re not going to hire me. And we can learn much more from each other than we take.”