I first met Wendy at a conference three years ago while presenting my preliminary research findings at UC Berkeley. There was something remarkable about the brief interaction we had that day, and I knew almost straight away that she would be my mentor. We stayed in touch over the years, and the projects that got both of us so excited to see each other complete did eventually get done – she had published her autobiography, Enamored with Place: As Woman + As Architect, and I had submitted my dissertation. Whew. Wendy was also a keen observer of the development of Architecture + Women in New Zealand, whose first major public exhibition via the biennial Auckland Architecture Week last year was a roaring success.
A couple of weeks ago, we met again in San Francisco, this time in her beautiful home – a converted 1920s Victorian bungalow surrounded by gorgeous landscaping which she designed and built herself – I imagine it would be hard for most people to not be totally enamored by its beauty: strikingly simple and practical, yet well proportioned and homely. In the soft glow of San Francisco’s dusk, it looked like something straight out of a fairytale. Well, in this case, her autobiography.
Upon Wendy’s invitation, I attended OWA‘s first book circle of the year last night to join the lively discussion with others on Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design. I almost didn’t make it because I caught a cold earlier in the week, and frankly, a throbbing headache together with runny nose don’t mix too well with talking and critical thinking. But the thought of missing out on the opportunity to meet other women architects and friends of Wendy was almost too much to bear so I went, even though I was 30 minutes late thanks to the unpredictable flow of the Bay Bridge, I am definitely glad I went. Kira Gould, the co-author of the book and the Director of Communication at William McDonough + Partners was there, and it was refreshing to hear other women’s perspective on what it’s like to work in a traditionally male dominated profession – in cultural, social, emotional, and physical sense. Here are some of the comments from the discussion that stayed with me:
- how do we overcome the discomfort of putting “gender” on the table?
- is men’s approach to sustainability more technology-driven (focus on means), and women’s more holistic (focus on end)?
- why is it that we mostly find men leading institutions, and women leading communities?
- can our approach to architecture be reframed to privilege (collective) voice over (singular) vision?
- is regulation the only accurate way to measure progress in sustainability? Some would say regulation is a sign of design failure.
- we measure sustainability through energy efficiency, but how do we measure health and well-being that are equally important?