To what extent is gender a negative factor in the field of architecture and what factors contribute to this?

Nature or Nurture? There are certain attributes that we affiliate with gender, such as how young boy’s rooms are painted blue and young girl’s rooms are painted pink. This relates to the sociological and philosophical debate of whether gender is learnt or if it is based upon our anatomical sex that we are born with. Scientists would argue that gender is down to chromosomal sex, hormones and internal and external sexual characteristics, whereas sociologists would disagree, arguing that gender is down to social construction. The idea that gender is socially constructed was first raised by feminists such as Judith Lorber in the 1970’s. It was argued that ignoring physical differences, there were no other differences between the anatomical sexes when referring to intellectual ability or emotional resilience or stamina. “For the individual, gender construction starts with assignment to a sex category on the basis of what the genitalia look like at birth’’ (Lorber, 1990, pg. 112). She believes gender is defined by our parents and the doctors, how we are categorized by the clothes we are put in and how “As soon as they can talk, they start to refer to themselves as members of their gender” (Lorber, 1990, pg. 112). A child’s Gender is reinforced though clothes they wear and the toys they play with, such as Barbie’s and Legos, this extends to young adulthood, where girls will wear more feminine items of clothing such as dresses and men will wear suits and shirts and ties.

Gender is a label that is reinforced from a very young age, and is silently evident throughout a child’s upbringing. It is also present in adulthood where parenting is gendered, with different expectations for mothers and fathers, referring to what roles they will play. Although gender assumption is invisible, when assessed and questioned, we realise that gender is a crucial factor in the modern world. When referring to the field of design, gender assumption heavily influences the production of everyday material goods. For Exmple, gender, although less so in the 21st century, has always influenced what industries the population are separated into. Traditionally, it has always been the man’s role to go to work while the woman stays at home and looks after the children, “Man Build’s and woman inhabits; that man is outside and woman is inside; that man is public and woman is private; that nature, in both its kindest and cruellest aspects, is female culture, the ultimate triumph over nature, is male.” (Agrest, D. Conway, P. Weisman, L. 1996, pg. 11). Women have always been associated with non-wage earning domestic labour, such as cooking and cleaning and having children, whereas the man has always been affiliated with working and making money to support the family. It was not until the late 1980’s women started to become associated with wage earning jobs, and even at that time they were mostly low paid, low skilled jobs such as receptionists, cleaners, laundrettes and hairdressers. It could be argued that because of this, there are fewer women in the field of architecture as males have previously dominated the industry and it has not revolutionised as much as other fields of work.

Architecture has always been an extremely male dominated industry, even since the 1972 Education amendments act, which legally ended discrimination against women in federally funded education programs. Statistically, it is obvious that women from a young age, especially in the 1980’s where the idea of a woman’s job was to stay at home and take care of a family, are discouraged by their peers to study architecture at university. In 1972, only 6% of architecture students in the USA were female which increased to 44% in 2016. This signified a steady incline in the number of young females encouraged to pursue a career in the industry. However, reports have shown although statistically there has been a significant improvement in young women studying architecture, from the 1990’s up until 2014 female students felt they had been sexually discriminated by their peers or lecturers. In January 2014, the Architects Journal announced that a “shocking 54 percent of the female students responding to an international survey on the status of women in architecture claimed to have experienced sexual discrimination at university” (Stratigakos, 2016, pg. 22). If a woman is sexually discriminated by her lectures and peers at university, then she will be conditioned to understand that’s what it’s like in the real world when she graduates. This could be a negative reason as to why males have always lead architecture, as the woman just accepts low pay and poor judgement from men in charge.

Iraqi born British architect Zaha Hadid was a prime example of a successful female architect that was not limited by her gender in the industry. “Hadid showed a remarkable consistency and continuity in her thought over the entire period of her professional activity.’’ (Jodidio, 2013, pg. 9). She was world famous for her innovative and influential design work and was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. Originally a mathematician and artist, her ideas where not only original but completely revolutionary. Her designs for some of her buildings were developed from 100 different rough sketches all looking at shape, solidarity, individualism, space and shape. She was one of the most famous architects of the 21st century. Although it took a while for her designs to be elevated off paper and erected in real life, once this had been done it was obvious how iconic her design work was and how talented she was. “Hadid, equally extraordinary in her personality and architecture, is the perfect iconic architect. She is collectible, with her furniture designs commanding astounding prices. When money vanished in the west, oil-rich and Asian countries carried on. Her earlier buildings tend to be in European or American cities insecure about their urban dynamism – Wolfsburg, Leipzig, Strasburg, Cincinnati, the outskirts of Basel. Now she’s popular in China, Russia, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia.” (Moore, R. 2013.) Some of her most famous works include the MAXXI building in Rome, the Pavilion Bridge in Spain, the Contemporary Arts Centre in the USA and her Maggie drop in centres in situated in the UK and Hong Kong.


One of Hadid’s most famous designs, the Maxxi building in Rome or National Museum of the 21st Century Arts is a is a national museum of contemporary art and architecture in the Flaminio quartiere. “Hadid affirms the Roman tradition of illusionism at MAXXI. As in almost all her buildings, she forces the perspective of her walls, which has the dynanizing effect of accelerating form and space. She even forces the perspective of a curve, and multiplies the illusion by forcing the perspective of divergent walls, creating multi-perspectival, sometimes cross-perspectival designs. Just as techniques from drawing and painted influenced Renaissance artist’s, she takes similar techniques, augmented by the Russians, to create space that is optical, that influences how we experience a building by subliminally manipulating perception.” (Hadid, Z. 2010. Pg. 14.) Opened in 2010, the structure consists of winding and curved staircases, intertwining walls and glass panels enclosing the space, allowing for natural light to draw in. She addresses the context and location of the building, avoiding the obvious and boring postmodernist contextualism of mimicking adjacent buildings, by integrating features from the nearby river and streets. Even after her death, her architectural firm Zaha Hadid Architects, continues to work on nearly a hundred projects worldwide.

However, over the years of Hadid’s success, it was clear that there was still a negative stigma attached to her being a female architect. Journalists and critics attacked her with references to her gender in every way possible, and put a negative spin on her success whenever they could. For example, there was an absurd amount of negative coverage released following Hadid’s award being granted, compared to other Pritzker award winners.  Although her work was labelled and bold, genius and revolutionary, press coverage referred to her female attributes associated to the social construction of gender. A highly unusual amount of coverage was released, however, there were less complimentary personal references, referring to her reputation for being “difficult’’ and a “diva,” suggesting a female excess and instability of emotion. “Indeed, in some instances it would have been unthinkable for a journalist to write about a male laureate in a similar matter.” (Stratigakos, 2016, pg. 50.) It is evident that even after receiving an award that has been compared to the Nobel prize of architecture, she is still being undermined as a designer due to her gender because of her “female attitude”, how she is limiting herself in the industry by focusing less on her work and more on her image.

In an article published by Herbert Muschamp a few days after her award, he describes Hadid as “having the reputation of a diva, that is what you are supposed to do.” (Muschamp, 2014.) He infers that in order for a female to succeed within the industry, one must come across as mean and demanding in order to build her way up to the top. He later explains that the long-awaited delay of Hadid’s work being built was down to her work being too sexy and not static enough; essentially not enough like a male architect. “The forms didn’t look particularly buildable. Rather, they resembled abstract studies of movement, energy, erotic desire. How could such elusive qualities survive their translation into static concrete slabs?” (Muschamp, 2014.) Muschamp identifies Hadid’s work as unbuildable, highlighting that it’s over conceptual, delusional and unbuildable due to the curvy and sexy shape of her designs; two attributes often identified with the female gender. He projects a negative spin on it, suggesting that it is too out of the box and unstandardized, unlike what some critics would argue as “normal” phallic architecture, which is more straightforward to build. There is more manual labour involved and more industrial work, it’s not simply a design that can be erected out of concrete slabs, there is too much movement and fluidity within her art and designs. He states that her work is elusive, too hard to achieve. Let’s also not forget that the majority of civil engineers are males who would actually be assembling these designs. By reviewing how negative and critical Hadid’s press was, even after archiving one of the most prestigious awards in architecture, it is clear to see that there is still a negative stigma attached to the female gender. She was not only criticised for her design work, but also castigated for her personality. These comments would never be used to describe a male architect.

In conclusion, it is clear to see that gender always has, and continues to, unfortunately have a negative influence on the field of architecture. There are several factors that contribute to this such as the way that gender is silently reinforced since birth, how women have previously, until recently, been associated with having the stay-at-home role in the family instead of earning money away from the home, and how female architecture students feel sexually discriminated at university, which then leads to male domination in the field. Even one of the most successful architects, Zaha Hadid, was targeted and criticized by journalists after some of her most successful works were completed. Although the number of females studying at university has vastly improved since the 1972 Education amendments act, there are still numbers dropping in the field. Gender clearly influences how much male and female architects are paid at any level, and how much design work is phyiscally erected into buildings for females. Even in 2017, femininity is still associated with lack of intelligence and physical strength. There is clearly still a negative stigma attached to females wanting to become architects, and this is not helped by the fact that gender is still seen by the population as the male being physically stronger and higher in intelligence than females.


Stratigakos, D. (2016) Where are the Women Architects. USA, Princeton University Press.

Lorber, J. (1990) The Social construction of gender. England, Sage Publications.

Agrest, D. Conway, P. Weisman, L. (1996) The Sex of Architecture. New York. Harry n. Abrams Inc.

New York Times (2004). STYLE; Woman of Steel. (accessed 11.04.17)

Moore, Guardian (2013). Zaha Hadid: queen of the curve. (accessed 01.05.17)

Hadid, Z. (2010) Zaha Hadid: Maxxi: The National Museum of Twenty-First Century Arts. New York. Rizzoli International Publications.


Agrest, D. Conway, P. Weisman, L. (1996) The Sex Of Architecture. New York. Harry n. Abrams Inc.

Art and Popular Culture (2014). Phallic architecture. (accessed 8.04.17).

Colomina, B. (2008). Sexuality & Space (Princeton Papers on Architecture. USA. Princeton Architectural Press.

Dezeen (2017). Gender pay gap is broadening shows Women in Architecture survey. (accessed 7.04.17)

Durning, L. Wrigley, R. (2000). Gender and Architecture: History, Interpretation and Practice. USA. John Wiley & Sons.

Guardian (2014). ‘Maybe they’re scared of me’. (accessed 11.04.17)

Jodidio, P. (2013). Hadid: Complete Works 1979-today. Germany, Taschen.

Lorber, J. (1990) The Social construction of gender. England, Sage Publications.

Moore, Guardian (2013). Zaha Hadid: queen of the curve. (accessed 01.05.17)

Muschamp, New York Times (2004). CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK; An Architect at the Service of a Cosmopolitan Ideal. (accessed 11.04.17)

Muschamp, New York Times (2004). STYLE; Woman of Steel. (accessed 11.04.17)

Rothschild, J (1999). Design and Feminism: Revisioning Spaces, Places and Everyday Things. USA. Rutgers University Press.

Science-Based Medicine (2013). Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: It’s Complicated. (accessed 25.04.17)

Stratigakos, D. (2016) Where are the Women Architects. USA, Princeton University Press.

Vanity Fair (2104). Zaha Hadid is Still Wrong About Construction Worker Conditions. (accessed on 01.04.17)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s