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May 10, 2021

Women in Architecture: A Conversation with Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA and Gabriela Baierle AIA

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Courtesy Arrowstreet

The following interview with Emily and Gabriela has been edited and condensed.

Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA began her career in architecture nearly 25 years ago. Since then, she’s been active in the profession, both through her work as an architect at Arrowstreet and in her commitment to the Boston Society for Architecture (BSA) and AIA National. Throughout her career, Emily has passionately worked to make the profession a better place for women through the BSA, the AIA and independently. She is currently a candidate for AIA 2023 President-Elect.

As Gabriela Baierle AIA began to establish herself as an architect nearly a decade ago, women like Emily offered a framework for how to make waves. For Gabriela, being an architect, a woman and an immigrant brings both challenges and opportunities, but just like Emily, she’s been working to support emerging architects entering the profession.

Why architecture?

EGR: We’re often too humble about giving ourselves credit for this, but architects have a huge stake in the economy and in the creation of our world. Ours is a profession that quite literally creates the cities and towns around us while also playing an important role in heightening the human spirit through beautiful, inspirational design.

GB: I like that architecture is both technical and creative. It brings all of these different disciplines together in this really elegant and relevant way. I also like that architecture is culturally and socially relevant and we can dissect thorny problems to come up with better solutions for our world.

What is it like to be a woman in this profession?

EGR: I haven’t always had a sense of belonging within this profession. While I’ve seen some shifts in the culture over the past 25 years, I’m still too often the only woman in the room. When I began my architecture career, 11% of AIA licensed architects were women. Now, that number is 22%. This trend is good, but the pace is abysmal. We cannot assume that progress will happen on its own, and we need to fight the fatigue that comes with pushing for change over an extended period of time.

GB: Oftentimes, we’re working with folks who bring their own biases. I’m often the only woman, the only immigrant, the only one with an accent or the only Latina in the room. It’s unfortunately a given that I have to spend energy thinking about how I present myself and my work.

Is the culture improving for women in architecture? What still needs to be done?

EGR: There has been some growing recognition at the profession level and the public policy level of the problems. For instance, I’ve seen much more acceptance of parents' roles as caregivers and making necessary accommodations to create environments where architects don’t need to choose between professional ambitions and familial responsibilities. More needs to be done on this front.

We also need leadership that represents our profession, and we need a profession that better represents our world. We cannot wait for this change to happen—we have to actively work for it.

GB: Visibility matters so much. Before the pandemic, Emily and I participated in an event for kids through the BSA. It struck me as so important that these children see two women architects defining for them what an architect is. I’m optimistic that future architects will know that anyone can be an architect, but as Emily said, we cannot assume this progress will just happen on its own.

In terms of the future, I’m very interested in the impact of labor laws on architectural practice. How does the lack of paid parental leave, for example, stop women from entering or staying with this profession that can be such a rewarding career? To me, these are things that still need to be challenged.

What keeps you motivated to push for more equity and inclusivity within the profession?

EGR: My passion is to be a disruptor and to change the culture within our profession. I want everyone to feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. Architecture is better when we better represent the world we serve, and this can only happen if a diverse group of architects feel welcomed, embraced and encouraged.

GB: As I was becoming an architect, I desperately wanted to see people like me succeeding, and to know that there was a path for me in this country and in this field. Quickly I realized that I needed to be part of that conversation. The realization was that if I’m not seeing my people at the table, maybe I need to be at the table, and work to bring others like me up.

Let’s end on an uplifting note. Can you share any specifics about the work you’re doing to make architecture a better profession for women?

EGR: Through the Boston Society for Architecture and AIA National, I’ve led several major initiatives with the goal of improving equity in architecture. One example: I was part of AIA’s Equity in Architecture commission that produced 11 recommendations for expanding and strengthening the commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in every practice.

I’m currently running for AIA president with the goal of continuing this work and actively fighting for more gender and racial equity, diversity and inclusion. I think these issues matter greatly for the future of our profession.

GB: My most rewarding legacy to the Boston Society for Architecture Emerging Professionals Network was the FeedBack mentorship program, which is now entering its third year. At the time, it was clear for my co-chair and I that people were seeking mentorship opportunities, but a framework that supported emerging architects from all backgrounds was lacking. It was immensely satisfying to build the program from the ground up and see it gain support from so many members of our community.

Now as a member of the BSA’s Nominating Committee, my focus is to ensure architects from underrepresented backgrounds reach positions where they can have a voice and influence the future of our profession.