MIR/Zaha Hadid Architects.The Bee’ah Corporation’s headquarters, designed by Zaha Hadid, replaces right angles with a windswept form.
Architecture was long called a “gentleman’s profession,” which may have been true if by that you meant one that systematically excluded women for most of its existence. Before World War II, you could count the number of noted female architects on one hand. As late as the 1990s, the percentage of architecture firms owned by women in the United States was still in the single digits.
Today, less than a third of the American Institute of Architects membership is female, and a survey of the world’s 100 largest architecture firms found that women occupied just 10 percent of the highest-ranking jobs. The first time a woman won the AIA’s Gold Medal, its highest honor, was in 2014. The recipient, Julia Morgan, had been dead for 57 years.
There are signs of improvement. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the number of women in the field continues to rise: Women now account for nearly half of the students in architecture schools in the United States; they make up about 40 percent of those taking licensing exams — up by nearly 50 percent in 20 years.
Offices led or owned by women are creating a range of public buildings that address architecture and urbanism in new and invigorating ways.
The Parisian architect Manuelle Gautrand aimed to create an urban gathering place with her new Belaroia Hotels, a mixed-use project in the French city of Montpellier. Ms. Gautrand wraps a conference center, hotel, shops and apartments around a five-story public terrace that looks out over the city. “The question of how we make our cities welcoming to new populations is paramount,” Ms. Gautrand said. “This space addresses that.”
The architect Amanda Levete and the artist Anish Kapoor, both of London, are pursuing a similar goal with the subway entry plazas they have created for a neighborhood in Naples, Italy. Two massive, contrasting sculptures — one in aluminum, the other in Corten steel — now mark the two entrances of the Monte San Angelo station. Below ground, Ms. Levete incorporates the vaults of an earlier, failed transit station into the rest of her design. The 7,400-square-meter project is scheduled to open in early 2019.
In October, when a school that Toshiko Mori designed for free for the remote Senegalese village of Fass opens, it will be functionally and architecturally momentous. It is the first school in a region with 30,000 school-age children. Ms. Mori’s oval design, plaster-covered mud-brick walls, and thatched roof are a modern take on local housing traditions — an effort to make the building welcoming to its 200 students, ranging from 6 to 10 years old.
“I’m fascinated with how we bring forward the vernacular with contemporary applications,” Ms. Mori said.
Magui Peredo and her partner, Salvador Macias, the principals of Estudio Macias Peredo in Guadalajara, Mexico, elegantly reinterpret the Mexican building tradition of thick walls and courtyards for their mixed use González Luna Building.
“Walls are an enduring aspect of Mexican architecture in general, and our work in particular,” Ms. Peredo explained. “Luis Barragan, who was from here, used walls to critique the thinness of glass, its impermanence. For us, the question was how to express the wall in a vertical building.” Their solution was to puncture the exposed concrete perimeter structure with recesses that give visual depth and create private terraces for the apartments.
Creating context was not an issue for Huang Wenjing and Li Hu, principals of the Beijing-based Open Architecture, with their Tank Shanghai project. It repurposes the fuel storage tanks of a former military airport into an art museum and cultural center in the booming West Bund arts district. There’s a traditional museum in one tank — and a restaurant, nightclub, and event space in individual tanks. The 10,000-square-meter project includes a tank with an open-air oculus, for large-scale art.
More than almost anyone, Zaha Hadid unmoored contemporary architecture from its affinities for right angles and male dominance. The first woman to win the Pritzker Prize (in 2004), she died at the height of her powers in 2016. Two of her later projects will finish major construction at the end of this year and extend her legacy. The first, 1000 Museum Tower, is a 84,000-square-meter condominium in Miami with an exposed structural system that climbs the 62-story building like the tendrils of a giant, otherworldly beanstalk.
Hadid’s 6,500-square meter headquarters for the Bee’ah Corporation, an environmental consultancy in the United Arab Emirates features a 20-meter-high, dunelike composition that looks as if it was swept into place by a desert wind.
When Hadid opened her office in 1979, there was some question as to which was more radical: her work, or the idea that a woman could lead a practice that would grow to a staff of more than 400. Today only the work continues to amaze.
Females invigorate public spaces with fresh ideas.