Detours column

[DETOURS] I hope to build a better world for women architects

[DETOURS] I hope to build a better world for women architects

Art by David Castuciano

‘I am well aware that much has improved in our field, so I am optimistic’

Editor’s note: Have you ever been in a leadership position only to be looked over because you’re a woman? The author, who is a leading architect, is no stranger to this kind of experience. Get to know her story. You, too, can share your life’s greatest detours. Here’s how.

I still remember going to the project site, newly licensed and excited to have my first entire house constructed, only to feel invisible. The euphoria of having your very own design built tangibly slowly faded. 

My partner and I would take the expressway and drive almost two hours to get to the site every week. I had to check that from lines on the paper to bricks on earth, plans were being followed. I had to answer whatever queries the contractor had and resolve design problems that surfaced. Unfortunately, the construction team barely acknowledged my presence and directed all their questions to my associate. I was confused then realized it was because I was a woman. 

Maybe it was surprising to them that I was there as the lead architect. Sensing this, my partner would walk behind me as we went around the construction site and told them to direct their questions to me. I needed that additional support when I first began because the reality was difficult for me to understand. That I had to stand a little taller – which was difficult with my height – and speak a little louder.

I could also recall being employed in a real estate company and given specific tasks. My superiors are good people and meant well, but they had already determined jobs based on gender. I know some of my colleagues appreciated that. I, on the other hand, felt slightly stuck knowing that certain types of work wouldn’t be assigned to me just because I am female. I felt I had to be more outgoing – which was difficult because I was quite shy – and communicate my interests more actively. I had to show them more gumption, express my desire to take on tasks they felt weren’t meant for everyone even if we all studied the same course, graduated from the same school at the same time.

I also remember a few years back when I was teaching a technical subject of an architecture course, one of my students told me that she is glad the instructor is female. She was quite aware that we are in a male-dominated field and since then I felt the need to reassure her and a few other girls that we belong, too. 

I had to be more aware of what people think of our profession and communicate it with a bigger audience, not just my family and friends. Finally, I went abroad to study and the dividing line between men and women became much more glaring. I was in a strange environment physically and culturally. I had to adjust my perceptions – having lived in the Philippines my entire life – and be mindful of my expressions.

Where was the detour? It was in my response to the conditions I face every day. I was sad then mad and confused then exhausted. Even now there are still those who would interrupt me when I speak. There are meetings that are a little more trying. 

We all have our own struggles. I know we all have our own barriers in life and this prejudice is one that impedes me greatly. Being a woman has its complications – the simple act of walking alone, not even just at night, could be a game of patintero of not getting shoved or poker of not showing emotions when ignored, or worse, badgered. But I’ve learned this much – that you have to assert yourself more than necessary under certain circumstances. Sometimes you have to be more assertive than usual, stand closer to the middle of a huddle, be more vocal.

Things could have been simpler, but what is simple, right? I am well aware that much has improved in our field, so I am optimistic. There are many women architects being recognized, more and more are managing firms across the nation, and enriching young minds in varied universities. The future of architecture in the Philippines is looking bright for us.

CMLorenzo is currently completing a postgraduate doctoral in architecture at a university outside the Philippines. She is an architect, student, instructor; a tomato still ripening.