In her new book, Women Who Work, Ivanka Trump observes: “… women benefit immeasurably by architecting their lives in a way that honors and supports their relationships and pursuits outside of work.” So, what if you actually are an architect? How would you go about architecting your non-architectural life?
The word “architect” gets misused a lot these days, which is bothersome in varying degrees to those of us in the profession. A phrase like “architect of foreign policy” is probably tolerable, and even more so if it extends the metaphor and “galvanizes” some segment of society. However, a computer programmer upgrading his/her (mostly his) brand by calling himself an architect really is galling. After all, these virtual “architects” can correct their annoying mistakes with the release of version 2.0, but mistakes by real architects can be serious, and aesthetic ones simply persist.
Ms. Trump has taken misuse of our moniker to a new height – in her book, she uses “architect” as a verb at least six times. Some in our profession might not be overly irritated, and others (mostly male) might even embrace a phrase like Architecto ergo sum. But for most of us real architects, the sound of a phrase like “architecting their lives” is akin to fingernails scraping a blackboard. Other professions do not seem to have this problem, except maybe doctors. Although “doctoring,” as my wife (who is a doctor) pointed out, does not usually refer to the practice of medicine.
I actually purchased the book – I was able to find a used copy only a week or so after it had been released. That alone must say something. The New York Times calls it “a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes,” which is charitable. The First Daughter fails to comprehend that not all women are born into her socio-economic stratum. This is not new; the powerful political elite have never quite understood the hoi polloi they purport to represent. Bush Sr. painfully illustrated this when he marveled at a bar-code reader in a trade show mock-up of a grocery store checkout aisle, revealing that he had actually never been in a grocery store check-out aisle. Ms. Trump’s cluelessness makes President Bush’s gaffe trivial. She has published a book purportedly to empower women, while the policies of her father are doing just the opposite.
As a major league developer, she must have worked with architects, but she is clearly unaware that there is a gender equity problem in the profession. The fact that her father was elected president moved this issue into the spotlight when poor Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects, attempted to speak for the profession only to find out that most members were not especially keen on supporting the new president, in part because of his “history” concerning women (remember the pink hats? – seems like a long time ago).
The profession of architecture does have a gender equity problem. My class of AIA Fellows included Julia Morgan, 58 years after her death – an architect who contributed more to the profession than I ever will. At the 2016 AIA Convention in Philadelphia, the most riveting keynote was delivered by Denise Scott-Brown, followed by an incoherent discussion by Rem Koolhaas billed as Delirious Philadelphia, a reference to his seminal Delirious New York. His keynote turned out to be a stream-of-consciousness rambling with his buddy Mohsen Mostavi – with no mention of the City of Brotherly Love.
For the past 30 years at least, graduates of schools of architecture have been roughly half male and half female, yet only about 18% of architects who are AIA members, licensed, and in leadership roles are women. Led by architects in San Francisco, the Missing 32% was launched in 2011 to explore the root causes of this phenomenon. Now called Equity by Design [EQxD], the movement has brought to the surface what is obvious. Architecture is a clubby, white male-dominated profession, one fraught with conscious and unconscious biases. It is a time consuming profession, to be sure, and most in it would argue under-compensated as well, which makes “architecting” one’s life outside of work, as Ms. Trump suggests, almost impossible.
The profession has a problem, and the advice proffered in Women Who Work (or any other insipid milkshake) is no cure. It’s time for the architects of architecture themselves to re-architect architecture.
1 Ivanka Trump, Women Who Work, New York: Penguin Random House LLC. 2017. p.12.
2 “Having Trouble Having It All? Ivanka Alone Can Fix It”, Jennifer Senior, NY Times, May 2, 2017.