Nearly 200 women converged on New Haven in early December for the first ever reunion of Yale Women in Architecture. They came from as far away as Taiwan for two days of discussions about education, careers, families, satisfactions, disappointments, and aspirations.
The atmosphere was electric, the pace fast and intimate. First on the agenda: Anne Weisberg of The FutureWork Institute, whose understanding and promotion of workplace diversity has brought her international recognition. She spoke movingly of her mother, Sonia Schimberg (’50 M.Arch), an architect of enormous accomplishment who graduated as one of only two women in her class in 1950. She then moved to South America where she designed commercial buildings. Upon her return to the United States she had a career in interior design.
The many statistics that appeared over the course of the weekend made it clear that today there are still wide and puzzling gender-related disparities in architectural practice and opportunity. This weekend, however, the natural question – Where are the women? – was swept aside: the women–Yale women–are everywhere.
Saturday’s session began with high-speed presentations by 18 graduates from the 1960s to the 1990s. Sara Caples (’74 M.Arch), whose firm Caples Jefferson Architects was just named AIA New York State firm of the year, showed an inner city community center with bullet-proof glass that allows youth to play in an outdoor courtyard. Lisa Gray (’87 M.Arch), one of the organizers of the weekend, talked about the importance of jobsite authority and the advantages of personal/professional partnerships. MJ Long (’64 M.Arch) discussed The British Library in London, a 35-year project she designed in partnership with her husband, Colin St. John Wilson, as well as her most recent work on artists’ workspaces.
Maya Lin (’81 B.A., ’86 M.Arch, ’87 DFAH) spoke about her career (huge success at a young age), her practice (wanting to keep it small), and her future (keep doing memorials). She was followed by the psychiatrist Anna Fels, who emphasized the concepts of mastery and recognition when women speak about—or deny—ambition. Fels, author of the book “Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives,” (Anchor, 2005) has concentrated her inquiry on the resilience and persistence of gender inequality in the workplace and beyond.
At the end of the second day, it was clear there was not enough time to say everything that needed to be said. The discussion period scheduled after each series of presentations was cut short or eliminated as presenters found it impossible to squeeze their messages into a few minutes. While this may have been frustrating to speakers and listeners alike, it was a manifestation of the bounty and richness of these architects’ work and their commitment to opening and sustaining the vital conversation among and about women. When the moment came to end the last plenary session, Dean Robert A.M. Stern’s emphatic summons to the closing reception was overruled. For an extraordinary occasion such as this one, where women could talk to and with each other—and could, in fact, be in architecture together, it was unanimous: the martinis could wait.