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Women In Architecture: Dana Buntrock
Professor Dana Buntrock - pictured left with Toyo Ito Image: Everyday Wurster's photostream on flickr. Pictured right: the cover of Material and Meaning in Contemporary Japanese Architecture: Tradition and Today
Dana Buntrock is a professor of architecture at University of California, Berkeley. Her research and teaching address the way architects interact with the construction industry in the light of her special interest in architectural practice in Japan. Armed with more than 20 years of international project experience, she has become the author of Materials and Meaning in Contemporary Japanese Architecture: Tradition and Today and Japanese Architecture as a Collaborative Process: Opportunities in a Flexible Construction Culture.
Did you ever face any gender-based prejudice in architectural school? Do you think lecturers/ co-students regarded you and your work differently, because you are a woman?
I attended architecture school in New Orleans in the late 1970s. Early on, I became interested in structural engineering, too, but a professor I admired talked me out of it. I believe it was due to my gender, and he did not disagree when I raised the point at an alumni lecture several years ago. I have always regretted that, since much of my research and teaching over the last ten years has obliquely addressed structural issues. Wish I had been quicker to recognize the biases embedded in advice.
In addition, I had a professor in undergrad who simply refused to teach women; we were partnered with men in the class and got the feedback by demurely listening in to their conversations. You get the idea... lots of those events.
Having said that, I do think that gender issues are complex; I don't often hire women to assist me in my teaching and research (less than I would like!). It is the rare woman who has been socialized to work as hard as men do when the end results are intangible. AND, as a foreigner who spends a lot of time in Japan, I have learned that sometimes I would ascribe something to my racial difference and learn somebody was just a jerk. You can't sort it out, but if you get more cr*p than the boys, you assume some must be due to gender issues.
Do students treat me differently? Of course. There is a ton of research on that. They want female faculty to nurture. Sometimes I do. But when I favor research, they are VERY hard on me, much more so than male faculty experience. And that plays out in evaluations, ad hocreviews--and ultimately in promotions.
In work, have you ever felt a particular attitude from co-workers/clients/employers because of your gender? Do you think women and men receive the same chances for professional development?
In my experience on construction sites and with contractors in Chicago, there was always this annoying "prove yourself" beginning, and ultimately I and a raft of other female faculty left UIC en masse because the older male faculty spent a lot of time treating women like we should be more deferential to them. But living well is the best revenge, and we all seem to have landed nicely, thank you. In the long run, I do believe institutions that discriminate hurt themselves as much as they hurt us.
My gender is less of an issue on the West Coast. I could go on, think it would be politic not to. It is a relatively good spot.
I love Japan! My gender takes a back seat to my rank, and as a professor, I get a lot of freedom. I am not saying gender discrimination does not exist, but I slip through the cracks on that one, so get to see (and feel) the difference. Sometimes in Japan and Taiwan, men ask me frankly if I am female; one asked me yesterday. I'm working hard, I am not willowy. The ambiguity is amusing, but helps me.
Why do you think there is the large discrepancy between the number of female architecture graduates and practicing professionals?
Women leave the profession for a variety of reasons. In part, they make the choice to not work at full-tilt in a setting that only accepts full-tilt or out-of-the-game. In part, they find the field unable to accommodate normal stuff like having a kid. But there are times when some idiot client gropes them or senior colleagues tell them to act more like a girl and they get tired of it. It is not a simple problem. Does that make architecture a man's world? No, but it does mean that only women who want to work very hard will find a place, while society is not teaching many women to be so tough.
How do you think the profession can change to encourage equality?
Equality... Frankly, you are asking me to dream the impossible. I do not expect to see myself treated equally in the next two decades, and that is the top end of when I will retire. in the meantime, the things that draw attention to imbalance help. This, frankly, includes stuff like noting when everyone in the room or on the invited speaker list is male.
But here is the deal: you make your own context by the time you are my age (52). Last month, Susan Ubbelohde and I held an amazing workshop on using natural energy resources in Tokyo. Sejima came, Inui came, Astrid Klein came--but so did Aoki, Kuma, and the head of design at Takenaka Construction. We did not get money from my department or the Lawrence Berkeley Labs, but you get smart about this, and we got money from the Center for Japanese Studies.
Then today was day 2 of my visit to the Taichung Opera House construction site and tomorrow I go shoot some little teahouses by another Japanese guy; I am writing a piece for German Museum catalog, for a show on Terunobu Fujimori next summer.
All in all, I might find the way a bit less cluttered with fools if I was not female, but I do okay.