Denise Scott Brown, one of my early heroines and a successful woman-architect, has recently been the subject of a flurry of discussion in the architectural community. A group of female students from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design has petitioned to have Scott Brown’s name retroactively added to the 1991 Pritzker Prize awarded to her long-time design partner (and husband). As co-founder of her firm, Scott Brown has been a lead designer, collaborator, and writer for several decades and as such offered women inspiration as she was able to overcome the hurdles that so many of us faced. In this interview with ARCHITECT magazine, she talks about her experience as a woman in a male dominated field, and what it has meant for her to also be the “architect’s wife.”
Witnessing Denise Scott Brown’s successes offered me the encouragement to pursue a career in architecture at a time when few women joined the profession. Having practiced for several years in both the Washington DC area and Atlanta before moving to Portland in 2006, I’ve come to realize how special the Pacific Northwest culture really is – from our environmental sensibilities to our ready acceptance of women in the profession. During my internship days on the east coast, I didn’t notice a lack of acceptance of women in the profession but once I began to spend more time in the field observing construction and participating in job meetings, I realized that women weren’t always welcome. And during that time, women principals and mentors were non-existent in my professional circles.
The glass ceiling ultimately led me to Portland, where I arrived at THA mid-point in my career and experienced a professional culture that is very supportive of women. I also found construction sites in the Northwest to be more welcoming than I had in other parts of the country. Kacey Jurgens, one of the early principals at THA, has had a large influence on hiring and mentoring women in the office. Over one-third of THA’s architects are women and we serve at all levels – from interns to principals. This more egalitarian culture leads to a mutual respect among colleagues, where gender is simply not an issue. Additionally, it provides the foundation for a highly collaborative design process, which ultimately influences the work in positive ways – a very refreshing change to have witnessed in my career thus far.