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Women in Practice: Editor's introduction

This issue presents role models for aspiring female architects, and dispels the myth that you can’t be a successful woman and have a life

When architect Barbara Weiss approached me last year about publishing a power list of female architects in the AJ, the timing seemed apt. Despite lingering inequalities, the position of women in architecture is more tenable today than ever in the profession’s history.

Things that were once unthinkable have now occurred: a woman has been awarded both the Pritzker and the Stirling Prize, the latter twice (Zaha Hadid’s profile can be seen here). There have been two consecutive female RIBA presidents, first Ruth Reed, now Angela Brady.

Prominent women are now shaping the industry, to name but a handful: Colette O’Shea, development director at Land Securities; Moira Gemmill, director of projects at the V&A; Laura Lee, chief executive of Maggie’s Centres; Margaret Ford, chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company; Sarah Ichioka, director of the Architecture Foundation; Vicky Richardson, director of architecture, design and fashion for the British Council; and Victoria Thornton, founder of Open House and director of Open-City. The Architectural Review also has its first female editor in 116 years, Catherine Slessor; the AJ, its second.

Weiss’ initial idea evolved into this issue, Women in Practice, featuring more than 60 female founders, directors and partners. Not a power list per se, the purpose of this issue is to present role models for aspiring female architects, and to dispel the myth that you can’t be a woman, have a life, and run a successful architecture practice. In these pages you’ll read about women who have done just that, and benefit from their business advice. Photographs of their projects are big and portraits are small, because the emphasis is rightly on the quality of their built work.

I was overwhelmed by the response to our call for contributions to this issue: from Deborah Saunt to Denise Bennetts, Elsie Owusu to Kathryn Findlay, Farshid Moussavi to Yasmin Shariff, their thoughtful responses to a range of personal and professional questions has created an invaluable document on the status of women in the profession today.

According to several women interviewed in this issue, the single largest factor inhibiting the success of women in this industry is no longer sexism, but our own lack of confidence. I hope this issue will give aspiring female architects the courage and determination to pursue a successful career in architecture.

In support, the AJ is launching three new honours to advance and promote the status of women in architecture: Woman Architect of the Year, Emerging Woman Architect of the Year, and the return of the prestigious Jane Drew Prize, for which men are also eligible. You can nominate yourself or someone else – the criteria are outlined below. We will be awarding these honours at a special Women in Practice luncheon in the spring. This issue is simply the AJ’s first step in supporting the call for total equality in this great profession.

Christine Murray is editor of the AJ

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