Architecture is demanding for anyone, but women face added challenges

Female architects at the top of their game on the challenges and future of the profession
From left, architects Heather Dubbeldam, Camille Mitchell, Brigitte Shim and Megan Torza / © RAINA+WILSON

Alex Bozikovic asks designers at the top of their game about opportunities for growth in the profession

The site supervisor wasn’t sure if he should invite the lady to the Christmas party. This was the late 1970s, during the construction of a federal building outside Edmonton. The lady was Vivian Manasc, then a twentysomething architect and often the only woman working on the project.

The party had “girls serving drinks who were not heavily dressed,” Manasc says. “There was definitely a Playboy feel to it.” In the end, the builders threw a second party, “to which wives and daughters and ladies were invited,” Manasc, now a principal at her own firm, Manasc Isaac, says. But the bunnies kept hopping.

That was nearly 40 years ago; such institutional sexism wouldn’t be tolerated on a building site today. Yet other things haven’t changed much in that time. While Canadian architecture has some women among its leading lights, including Patricia Patkau of Patkau Architects and Brigitte Shim of Shim-Sutcliffe, the profession remains overwhelmingly male.

According to Annmarie Adams, a McGill professor and co-author of the study Designing Women: Gender and the Architectural Profession, approximately 20 per cent of Canada’s registered architects are women. At the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, a national organization, just 1,138 of its 4,860 members, about 23 per cent, are women.[…]