*This article originally ran on AECCafe's website.
By Jane Wilson, Architect and Owner at E. Jane Wilson, Architect
When I was younger, I thought about becoming an architect. However, sexism in the industry steered me away. After beginning my career in two other male-dominated fields by teaching rock climbing and then working in corporate IT, I thankfully made my way back to architecture, focusing on projects including apartment complexes, educational institutions, and offices, to name a few.
I’d like to share advice from what I’ve learned along the way — for women in particular — on how to be successful in the field. It’s time for this tired question to be put to rest: Why aren’t there more female architects?
Embrace the Uncommon Career Path
It’s never too late to join the party. When I was in IT, I was fortunate enough to work in Eastern Europe to develop new offices, companies and factories. When I moved back to the States, I realized what I missed was the actual design part of my job — creating something.
So, I returned to school and graduated from Temple University, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a degree in architecture in 2005. I began working in architecture the moment that I started at Temple and, being an older student, I could manage my time much better at this stage in my life. Soon after, I started my own business in 2010 in Pennsylvania before later moving it to Ontario, Canada in 2016.
The point is: it’s ok to have a unique career path and to make a pivot at any time.
Tap into Your Female Strengths
Having lived through the different life cycles of motherhood and growing older helps me to connect with my clients’ needs. I know what it’s like to carry a baby and groceries into a house simultaneously. Women should embrace their valuable perspective of the working family. It can be helpful in any type of architecture, but particularly in residential projects.
Another key asset that women should tap into is listening skills. So much of a successful client/architect relationship depends on listening to and understanding your clients. I help my clients think about their lifestyle with these questions:
- How do you want to live your life?
- What things are important to you?
- What things are difficult for you?
Next, I must think how I can best meet their wishes and simplify their challenges. Posing these questions is important; however, listening closely to my clients is where true success lies.
Rely on your strong communications skills and choose tools to complement them. Vectorworks Architect is a leading modeling, drafting, and documentation solution that helps me in my practice. Most clients don’t understand 2D drawings, so it’s hugely beneficial to easily make 3D models. I can make presentations interactive and take a design from the schematic stage to a full visualization to best market my designs.
Focus on What Makes You Unique
Sustainability is one of the prime architectural tools. We have to be sustainable and resilient, and we shouldn’t design anything that doesn’t emulate these two characteristics. My commitment to sustainability on every project is also something that sets me a part from the competition be it male or female. I joined as a Vectorworks beta tester in 2015 when I first heard that Energos was coming. At the time, I was designing my house to the Passive House standards, and I wanted to have all the tools possible.
Based on the Passive House calculation method, Energos is a feature in Vectorworks that provides an intelligent way to gauge a building’s energy performance in real time. Moreover, it reconfirms the points that I need to check in on. Notably, Energos gives me a good reading of the effects of changes in walls and windows. Once I get it to the green option, I work with a specialist who analyzes the home for accuracy with Passive House Planning Package (PHPP).
Courtesy of Vectorworks, Inc.
In addition to Energos, I find the Heliodon tool in Vectorworks helpful. The Heliodon tool simulates the position of the sun for light and shadow studies and is beneficial for architects working in a wide range of climates. In the image below, you can see an example of a sun study that allows me to create better positioning of windows and sunshades. I have also set up several wall styles in my Vectorworks library that are ideal for the climate in Ontario, which entails humid summers and cold winters.
Courtesy of E. Jane Wilson, Architect.
Each year, I enjoy seeing the advancement of Vectorworks software. I'm grateful that a few things are added with each release to help me do my job more efficiently and with sustainability in mind.
Take a Deep Breath
By this point, it’s no surprise that I would love to see more women getting involved in the architecture field. It can be tough for women to break into the field when male-led firms often gravitate toward other young males when filling roles at a firm. Going out on your own can also be scary.
However, if you have a strong business sense, if you’re organized and creative and if you have the will to accomplish goals – that’s the recipe for success. And, when challenges undoubtedly arise, always remember to take a deep breath and stay true to yourself.