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Why we put Barbie on the cover

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Even the AIA hailed Architect Barbie as a role model for aspiring female architects. We can think of more than 60 better, real-life ones

When Mattel launched Architect Barbie last year, selecting the profession as her ‘Career of the Year’, the story was picked up not only by architecture blogs everywhere, but by institutes as well, praising Mattel for raising the status of women in architecture. ‘We believe the Architect Barbie will help inspire a new generation to consider the profession of architecture,’ the American Institute of Architecture told the Telegraph.

Indeed, it was architectural historian Despina Stratigakos who encouraged Mattel to launch Architect Barbie, in hope that a Barbie architect would make a fine role model and encourage more young people to enter the profession. Stratigakos said: ‘As a scholar and educator deeply concerned with making architecture not only relevant to little girls, but also women relevant to architecture, I hope to persuade Mattel to reconsider the viability of Architect Barbie’.

But we don’t believe a toy doll is a viable role model. The AJ’s Women in Practice issue contains more than 60 non-plastic practising architects. And as the results of the AJ Women in Architecture survey show, the problem isn’t getting women to enter the profession in the first place, it’s getting them to stay there. Roughly half of all architecture students in the UK are female, but this drops to 20 per cent in practice.

The purpose of the AJ Women in Practice issue is to campaign for the equal treatment of women in architecture with regards to pay parity and career progression, to present successful female architects for women considering architecture and show that the glass ceiling can be broken, and to raise awareness among men about existing sexism. To this end, we are also launching three new Women in Architecture awards.

We decided to shoot Barbie for the cover, restyled in black leather instead of denim and pink, as a tongue-in-cheek explosion of a stereotype. We hoped it would catch your eye, and by extension draw as much attention as possible to our campaign. Reactions ranged from the highly skeptical – ‘Et tu, AJ?’ wrote architecture blogger Amanda Kolson Hurley on Twitter – to the enthusiastic – ‘Is this the best Architects’ Journal cover ever?’ tweeted by Hari Phillips, director of Bell Phillips architects. Every comment drove more visitors to our content, which calls for equal pay and flexible hours.

Barbie a role model? If you want to be inspired by real women, open the issue and read on.



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