Welcome to our blog
OpenBuildings blog is our personal take on architecture & design.
Women In Architecture: Deborah Berke
Dubbed "Miss Minimalism" by British design bible Wallpaper, Deborah Berke runs her own highly successful practice Deborah Berke & Partners Architects. She started her education by consecutively obtaining bachelor's degrees in both fine arts and architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, went on to study Urban Design at The City University of New York and in 2005 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, her alma mater. Her elegant architectural work has been continuously evolving side by side with an impressively intensive teaching activity: having previously taught at the University of Maryland, the Rhode Island School of Design, the University of Miami, and The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, Deborah Berke is presently a professor of architectural design at Yale University, a post held since 1987.
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 think it was less about direct discrimination than it was a certain awe or surprise at what I was designing. My design received attention from my professors. I don’t think people thought more of my work, or less, because I was a woman.
I create contextual architecture that is elegant, rugged, discreet, and in some cases, when appropriate, industrial. I like steel and bare lightbulbs. I don’t think anyone can look at my design style and say it is particularly female.
I have been a professor at Yale since 1987. I teach architecture to students wishing to pursue this career path. My goal is to engender the best thinkers, the best designers; and to cultivate their creative talent. I want them to be their own best critics.
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?
I have never felt an attitude from co-workers but I have run my own practise for a long time and most of my co workers are colleagues and employees. I have found clients who come to a woman architect are somewhat self-selective.
At my firm, men and women receive the same chances for professional development. I promote those who think creatively, work hard, take responsibility, and get the job done well. In fact, at my office, our senior staff is comprised of 6 women and 6 men.
Why do you think there is the large discrepancy between the number of female architecture graduates and practicing professionals? What happens to the other 38%?
Economic reasons for one. Some of my former students who have left architecture have become product designers, set designers, or work at NGOs - but stayed in the field of design and the built environment in the broader sense. In most cases, people leave architecture when they cannot make a living at it. Dips in the economy have been the dominant factor.
Architecture is a great education that teaches you to think non-linearly – not just for a career as an architect. Looking at the facts, a bigger question to ask how many people, men and women, leave the profession between graduation and practise? And then ask if women are misrepresented by this statistic?
Everyone cites motherhood as a reason, but I honestly think it is a large number of tiny things that has led to the discrepancy, as opposed to one big thing.
Is architecture a 'Man's World'?
Architecture is a “man’s world”, but less and less so. The problem is less about the profession and more about the financing - building a building requires a large amount of capital and the sources of capital are most often controlled by men. Is the financing for architecture a man's world? Absolutely.
But if someone – a man or woman- wants to shake things up in the design world- the opportunity is there. In fact it’s more there now than it had been in decades. Look at Zaha Hadid or Kazuyo Sejima - architects that can design something different, something daring; something that makes a statement will be noticed. There is no reason why that can’t be a woman.
I think it’s about perspective.
My best work attains a seemingly paradoxical significance: evidently designed, but not overtly so. One is aware that one is regarding a product of design, but it does not shout "look at me!" I am sensitive to the surroundings – cultural, climatic, philosophic, and historic – of my projects and work to ensure that not only do my buildings draw from their context, but that they add something as well. It is important to me that design is foremost responsive to the needs of those who will inhabit and use the buildings.
My style, and what I design, is about aesthetic. I believe people hire who they hire for the design aesthetic that appeals to them.
How do you think the profession can change to encourage equality?
Let me change the question here, it should be - How do you think the profession can change to encourage all kinds of equality? Architects should be from all different backgrounds. Ultimately I think this will come back to the comfort zone of the people who have the capital. Another factor is the cost of education relative to what you can make from the profession – under-represented groups will often choose other pursuits that traditionally pay better.