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Women’s action group launches protest at men-only RIBA Royal Gold Medal

  • 5 Comments

A group of leading female industry figures has begun a ’day of action’ in protest at the lack of women awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal  

The Part W collective, which includes architect Sarah Wigglesworth, the RCA’s Harriet Harriss and former AJ editor Christine Murray, plans to draw up an alternative list of women who should have won the prestigious award.

Since the medal was set up in 1848, only one of its 170 recipients has been a woman awarded it in her own right – the late Zaha Hadid in 2016.

The move is the first in a series of ‘small, multiple actions’ which the campaign group aims to launch throughout the year to ‘raise awareness of the problems that women face in the industry’. It has been timed to coincide with the presentation of the 2019 Royal Gold Medal to Nicholas Grimshaw.

The 79-year-old pioneer of High-Tech architecture will receive the recognition of his lifetime’s work at a special dinner tonight (14 February) at the RIBA’s Portland Place headquarters. 

Part W describes its rival role call of medallists as a ‘mischievous reversal of the traditional list’. 

A spokeswoman said: ‘An alternative list would instead see 170 women granted the medal and 1 man. By compiling a listing that spans both past and present, the group hopes to change the conversation around notions of leadership, and reframe ideas of what constitutes success.

‘By suggesting a list that will celebrate both esteemed and lesser-known professionals, it is hoped attention will be drawn to an awards system that continually fails to acknowledge women.’

The group added: ‘While the campaign is intended to be consciously playful, it seeks to address a serious issue. Over the course of the coming months, the collective will be working on compiling a cross-disciplinary list of women who since 1848 have “made a significant influence either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture”.’

As well as increasing the recognition of women for their work, the collective also wants to highlight the lack of diversity among the medal’s recipients across the board. The group said: ‘The track record of the award being given to people from BAME backgrounds is poor, and the medal has never been awarded to a person of black African ethnicity.’ 

Explaining why she decided to set up the group, founder Zoë Berman of London-based Studio Berman, said: ‘I established Part W because I felt increasingly frustrated by the layers of inequality that pervade the design and construction industry. We want to work collaboratively with others and want to share ideas about how to make change.

’Our hope is to instigate new forms of discussion and debate around the issue of equality within the built environment, and we’re feeling impatient about the need for change.’

We’re not interested in getting into personal spats

She added: ‘We realise there are some who will probably take umbrage at this campaign. We’re not interested in getting into personal spats; we want to call for a proper, open and intelligent debate between both women and men in the industry to talk about this issue, to improve opportunities for women from diverse backgrounds and encourage a rethink about notions of success.’

Others in the collective include co-chair Alice Brownfield, Hilary Satchwell from Tibbalds, Sarah Castle of IF_DO and Tahera Rouf of RCKa.

Part W said that suggestions could be submitted for consideration via their website.

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • Industry Professional

    What are the specific meritocrat criteria that Part W feel is gender biased in this award and that should change? Or do Part W think that they should prescribe the number of female award winners?

    Can we also assess how many non-whites didn't win the award? Or how many non-architects didn't win the award (Engineers have won this gold medal previously) - but should more have won? How many people less than 5'8" didn't win the award? How many non-british won the award? and so on.... how many sub-groups want to set up a protest?

    I thought RIBA gold medals were awarded on merit?

    If the assessment process is fair, and reasonable attempts are made to counter biases, then surely the award is a meritocratic representation... and therefore it would be reasonable to assume the process is carried out with honour and integrity. I think jumping to the male conspiracy theory slur is a bit cheap.

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  • What is the assessment process for the RIBA Royal Gold Medal? Is it fair? What is the criteria? Are there reasonable attempts to counter biases? In your comment, you raise many of the questions that Part W is asking.

    This is not about a conspiracy theory, but it is about honour and integrity.

    It is also about merit. Do you believe that in 171 years, not a single female architect (aside from Zaha) was deserving of the award in her own right?

    Not Jane Jacobs, not Jane Drew, or Lina Bo Bardi?

    Just because it happened, doesn't make it right.

    Posted on behalf of: Christine Murray, former AJ editor

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  • Well said, Christine.

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  • Kate Macintosh deserves it - Dawson's Heights, Leigham Court Gardens now renamed Macintosh Court. I feel like taking a chisel down to RIBA and carving her name onto their stone walls myself

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  • Dear 'Industry Professional' whomever you are - Just imagine, if only one male architect in 171 years had won the award, and instead 170 women had won, do you seriously think that men would sit quiet and say nothing, and believe it had all been judged on merit alone so was fair and honest?
    Of course there have been many worthy female architects and engineers (white, black, under or above 5'8), who should have won too!

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