There are, of course, prominent women-led architecture firms—including those headed by Julie Snow, FAIA; Andrea Leers, FAIA, and Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA; and Ann Beha, FAIA—all of which have been celebrated for their award-winning cultural and education projects. Yet women architects have had a much harder time landing developers as clients, with Jeanne Gang, FAIA, and her Aqua Tower project in Chicago a notable exception.
Architecture and development are tied together in a close and sometimes uneasy symbiosis. Architects complain that they’ve ceded the role of master-builder to developers, yet depend on them for work. For developers, the architect is only one performer (albeit a key one) amid a host of contractors. But smart developers know that hiring the right architect can make a project, just as hiring the wrong one can doom it.
Many studies over the years have investigated the gender imbalance in architecture, but few have explored the potential connections with the male-dominated world of development. Does the prevalence of male developers help perpetuate—subtly or indirectly—the lack of woman architects? Why aren’t there more projects led by women developers and women architects? Could greater inclusion of women within real-estate development, just maybe, foster a more inclusive architecture?
The Rarest Of Species
As a journalist who has covered architectural practice for several years, I’ve come across only a handful of women who have been the principal architects on developer projects. It’s a stereotype that women architects gravitate toward interiors and custom home design, yet there is also some truth to it, in part because women are often subtly—and not-so-subtly—steered into those specializations.
Bay Area architect Anne Fougeron, FAIA, is, like Gang, one of the few exceptions. Fougeron, who founded her own practice in 1986, recently designed a condo-and-retail project in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley for DM Development, headed by Danielle Dignan and Mark McDonald—a project that makes Fougeron that rarest of species: a woman architect who has designed a project for a woman developer. (At press time, the project—called Wavehouse, a joint venture between DM Development and a New York City development firm called DDG Partners—was in CDs.)
Wavehouse was Dignan’s first experience working with a female architect as the design lead. She describes Fougeron’s architecture as “forward-thinking” and “cutting-edge,” and says, “Regardless of whether she was a man or a woman, I would have hired her in a heartbeat.”
But she adds, “It’s impossible to separate that completely. Here’s this fantastic architect doing the exact kind of work we want to do. For me, it’s a huge bonus that she’s a woman.”
Indeed, Dignan clearly grasps the social significance of her collaboration with Fougeron. “I’m glad my daughter gets to see me as the head of a company. If she were a little older, I’d be proud for her to understand what Anne has done, and what we collaborated on. I think role modeling is incredibly important [for young women].”