Image credit: Samantha Lee[/caption] The launch event for AA XX 100, an initiative aimed at celebrating a centenary of women in architecture brought these words back into the forefront of my mind as I sat in the AA library on an evening in early July. Organised by MISS (Vere van Gool & Mary Wang) in collaboration with the AA XX Steering Committee, the room had been reconfigured around a large central table and a few television screens, with silver balloons spelling out 100 and rose-tinted food and drink lining the perimeter. Interesting speakers, thoughtful presentations and important announcements were all part of the programme for the evening ahead. It began with an introduction by Yasmin Shariff, the AA Council’s Honorary Secretary, who explained the purpose of AA XX 100 and the events it will hold in the build up to 2017, a year that will mark 100 years since women were first admitted to study at the AA. Yasmin also introduced the members of the steering committee as well as the first of a growing list of patrons. Her speech was followed by three brief presentations by three inspiring women, each at a different stage of their career, and each with a very different approach to architecture.
Image credit: Samantha Lee[/caption] Next up was Sadie Morgan, President of the AA Council, who never studied at the AA but instead taught a unit in the 1990s with her husband and co-founder of the practice dRMM, Alex de Rijke. Called Off the Shelf, it looked at the ideas and spaces that could be constructed using readily available items. “I’ve never worked for anybody but myself,” proclaimed Sadie in her engaging talk that spanned teaching her AA unit, setting up her own practice and the importance of team building, as well as facing the challenges of motherhood. She showed a wonderful picture of herself and her two daughters trying on her dress to meet the Queen, a touching example of how her private and public worlds occasionally do overlap. She ended her slot with the important reminder, “Confidence is nothing unless you have self belief.” 2007 graduate Julia King followed with an explanation of how her five years at the AA “nurtured a broad understanding of what architecture might be.” She spoke of her joint Diploma project with Asif Khan, of how they rented a plane and mapped the unchartered territory along the Thai/ Burmese border only to return and then have to convince the AA Director Brett Steele to allow them to present to the Diploma Committee together. This determination that the AA fostered, to make maps where there weren’t any, translated soon after graduation into Julia’s own practice. After working for structural engineers Atelier One, she set up on her own working in many developing contexts ranging from Latin America to Asia. In India especially, her work focuses around the “toilet as a fundamental building block.” Julia talked candidly about sanitation as a major part of city-making. A toilet is something we all take for granted but it has much wider socio-economic implications that go beyond mere hygiene. Citing the recent horrific rape in Uttar Pradesh, India of two young girls who went into the fields after dark to relieve themselves, Julia explained how these atrocities could have been avoided by making sanitation facilities available to all.
Image credit: Samantha Lee[/caption] Following these three talks, the rest of the evening was populated by more presentations, this time by a selection of female graduates from the past academic year who had been nominated for a prize or graduated with honours (this year four out of the five recipients were women - a first!). It was a nice cross-section of the diversity of ideas and projects within a school like the AA as well as an example of the confident and intelligent women that it nurtures. An idea to tour the Projects Review end-of-year exhibition was cancelled as the lengthy programme of the evening had to be curtailed, with calls for attendees to get photographed and register with the AA XX 100 database before leaving the building. While the whole evening was enjoyable, intimate and informative, it was those three brief presentations at the beginning by three such interesting and incredible women that really stood out to me as I left the library and headed home. Zenghelis’ words reminding me to find a way to stay involved resurfaced as I walked to the bus stop, but instead of the usual accompanying feelings of worry and panic of whether I would succeed in this endeavour, I felt reassured. Here were three women, each doing something entirely different within architecture but each still managing to achieve their goals whether it was making big career changes and finding new opportunities through the recession, or managing a practice as well as a family, or even making a difference through small actions in vast places without compromising values or beliefs. Not only have these women found a way to stay involved in architecture but they are doing it in their own way, on their own terms. The AA XX 100 launch event opened my eyes to the important truth that for women to not just remain but to also succeed in architecture there is no single solution - to stay involved you just have to figure it out, your way. [caption id="attachment_3496" align="alignnone" width="360"] Julia King discusses the importance of sanitation as a tool for city making
Image credit: Samantha Lee[/caption] For more information: AA XX 100 microsite Follow AA XX 100 on twitter Like AA XX 100 on facebook Sophie Hicks Architects dRMM Julia King Julia King on AA Conversations Diploma Honours 2013-14 Awards 2013-14 MISS