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The AJ Women in Architecture Awards: students, starchitects and sold out!

A who’s who of architecture attend the first ever AJ Women in Architecture luncheon

The audience at the first ever AJ Women in Architecture luncheon and awards was a remarkable sight. From Sadie Morgan to Patrik Schumacher, Alison Brooks to Julia Barfield, Simon Allford to Di Haigh, Deborah Saunt to Peter Rees, Paul Monaghan to Farshid Moussavi, and Doreen Lawrence to Zaha Hadid, the event was a who’s who of architecture, full stop.

The sold-out luncheon, which took place at the Langham Hotel in London on Friday and was sponsored by Roca and Place Careers, brought together emerging practitioners and established stalwarts, clients and academia in a networking opportunity that will hopefully result in collaborations and mentorships across the profession. It was a welcome kick-off as the first function in the AJ’s new annual programme dedicated to celebrating women in architecture.

When Barbara Weiss approached me with the idea of publishing a power list of women architects back in 2011, she was very insistent that young women were suffering from a lack of role models, as well as the lack of confidence that comes from not seeing your work, or other women’s work, sufficiently published or celebrated.

Her idea evolved into the AJ Women in Practice issue, which also included the results of our AJ Women in Architecture survey of 671 women. The largest survey of its kind, it revealed that nearly half of women were paid less than their male equivalents for the same job, and 11 per cent experience sexual harassment at least once a week; results which attracted media attention around the world, from NBC Washington to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

But the statistics also showed just how far women in architecture have come. Some of the women interviewed said they had experienced no discrimination or bullying at all. And although the 50:50 male-to-female ratio in architecture school drops to 20 per cent of qualified architects in practice, we must remember that a decade ago, less than 10 per cent of architects were female.

There have also been two consecutive female RIBA presidents, and a woman has won the Pritzker Prize and the Stirling Prize (twice) – Hadid, who was honoured at the awards with the Jane Drew Prize for her contribution to the status of women in architecture.

In her acceptance speech, Hadid spoke candidly about discrimination she faced as a student at the Architectural Association and during the high-profile debacle surrounding the competition to build Cardiff Bay Opera House. She also called for women to help each other to achieve success. ‘Women need support from people who have already made the journey, because [achieving success] is hard, but doable.’

Since the event, I have received notes of thanks from many prominent women in the industry, including the winners. Michál Cohen and Cindy Walters of Walters and Cohen picked up the Woman Architect of the Year award, and Hannah Lawson of John McAslan + Partners won Emerging Woman Architect of the Year.

The three students who sat next to me on the top table, who won free tickets to the event via Twitter, were more than a little awestruck by the women in the room – let’s hope this will spur them on through to qualification.

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