Friday, March 6, 2015

104. The Ulitmate Female's career guide to getting in and navigating The Starchitect Staffers Club©

Before you read any further, I suggest that you first take a quick read of note #102 and #103 first. This article is basically a follow up to those articles with specific advice towards female students in starchitecture school.

Unlike the lopsided gender ratio that you might find in the proportion of actual female starchitects to male starchitects as exemplified in the pool of Pritzker recipients, architecture school and the Starchitect Staffers Club has a close to even male to female ratio. Peter Zumthor's office for example has a ratio that tips in the favor of females which makes him one of the worlds foremost starchitects in the way of gender equality for women. The good news is that within these two institutions, gender equality is real and it is here, however it needs to be navigated well if you are aiming to get through it and become a female starchitect.

Getting in the club;
In note #102 I mentioned that you should be outstanding and that as a student you are never evaluated by just your work. Every single aspect is taken into consideration when your starchitect professor selects a student for internship in his office.

I listed a number of random factors and possible selection criteria if you will. Among them was sex appeal. Since the great majority of starchitects are men by far, then for women, sex appeal becomes an important determinant.

If you are a long time reader of this blog, then you may have noticed that I am a fan of collecting data, analysing them to find patterns and making prediction models based on these patterns and findings. A good example would be my Pritzker Prize analysis: From that data one can conclude that any future Pritzker recipient will most likely be an Asian or Caucasian male Starchitect from Europe, the USA or Japan.

So in this context let me share a simple yet powerful observation.

I have done a similar study (albeit empheracally) on the types of students likely to be selected for internships in a starchitect office. Lets just say it is a casual observation from being around the starchitecture school environment for some time.  After seeing several types of students being selected for internships, I have noticed a number of patterns.  Among them is this: if you are a certain type of female student, then your chances of being selected for an internship increases dramatically.

What is the type?

I like to call it the Designer Chic Type: The type of woman that is fashion conscious and elegant as was with Jacqueline Kennedy. This type fits all the cliches of what you think of when you close your eyes and imagine the female designer or architect.

The picture of the lady above fits this category perfectly.  First and foremost is that she has an elegant sense of style that carries through in the way she dresses and carries herself.  Women of this type are generally the smart and intelligent type that communicates very well, but then again so are most of the women who make it to starchitecture school.

Men of power, especially starchitects, love women of this type and they tend to like to have many of them around them (did I mention Peter Zumthor earlier?). As a result, starchitects tend to select female students for internships who fit this type more often than other female students who don't. In other words, if you are a smart female student, you produce good work and communicate very well, but do not fit this profile, then chances are you have a lower possibility of being selected for an internship than another female student who does.

I have seen this happen so often I am confident that if you were to put me into a studio run by a starchitect at Harvard's GSD, the Architectural Association or Columbia or any other Starchitecture school and you say to me "Conrad which one of these female students will be asked to be an intern?"  After 2 to 3 days of observation I would be able to guess with reasonable accurately which ones will be selected, just like I can guess with reasonable accuracy that the next Pritzker Prize will be an Asian or Caucasian male Starchitect from Europe, the USA or Japan..

So what does this mean for you?

If you fit this profile or close to it, then great. All you have to do is be aware of it. If you notice that your starchitect professor spends significantly more time at your desk during studio visits, then you are doing well. If you catch him admiring you or flirting with you, then its almost a done deal. That is your cue to flirt back with him a little bit. The warning I give to these girls, and you should see it coming, is it is also likely that your starchitect professor will make sexual advances on you. If this happens, gently deflect them, but keep him interested.

Its a dangerous game and you will need a strong nerve. You will have the full and undivided attention of a world famous architect trained on you. You will be inundated with the charm of a guy with a charisma so enigmatic that he has got a huge following spanning a whole profession. Can you resist that?

You have got to! under no circumstances should you have sexual relations with your starchitect professor.

If I were to completely suspend all and any ethical predispositions that I may have about this and discuss it just in terms of a career path, I would give you the same advice. Here is why:

True! there are many a girls that get into a sexual relationships with their starchitect or even non-starchitect professor and it results in an internship and even a successful relationship and lifelong professional partnership. Elisabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio is a perfect example. Ricardo Scofido was the starchitect professor and Elisabeth Diller was his student. They had a sexual relationship and it lead to one of the most successful and influential starchitecture firm in the world today. However, for every Elisabeth Diller there hundreds, if not thousands of girls that slept with their professors and got discarded afterwards - never even setting a foot into the starchitect staffers club.

But as I said in my earlier note, if you want to gamble this is your decision to make. The odds are against you.

What if you are not the Designer Chic kind of girl?
This is an interesting question. Its a given that if you made it to Harvard or Princeton then chances are, you are intelligent and can communicate well. Not every last one of you, but a good lot out of the bunch are. What if you are all that, but not the Designer Chic Type?

My response is that not being the Designer Chic Type does not automatically exempt you from being a sexual object or prey for your starchitect professor. Starchitect professors come in many different types and have a wide array of preferences: some like the tom-boy type, some like the dominating type, some even like dumb girl type. Some are even gay, in which case it is the boys that are then the sexual objects. My observation is just that most of them seem to like the Designer Chic type.

So I would actually give you the same exact advice as I gave the Designer Chic Type:
Be aware that as a woman, you are a sexual object. If there is anything you can do to increase your sex appeal, go for it! Use it to your advantage, but above all do NOT sleep with your starchitect professor.

After you get in the Club

Freeze your eggs!: Whether you think you want children in the future or not, go to a clinic and harvest and freeze your eggs: as mentioned in the previous note, all the alumni of this club seem to agree that the lifestyle that you will endure in the Starchitect Staffers Club is a torturous, painful, demeaning and unhealthy one. It is characterised by sleepless nights, little or no time off and massive amounts of stress. You can not have a child and be in this environment at the same time. Getting pregnant is like a silver bullet to the gut of the vampire that is the starchitect staffer. Even if you have made up your mind that you will not have children ever, it is still a good idea because there is a slight possibility that you might change your mind when you hit 40.

Some of you may say, why this advice for women and not for the men? 

Although, parenting is a joint responsibility, your male counterparts will not have to make this choice should their wives or girlfriends becomes pregnant.  Our society and profession do not expect men to make a choice between career and children. Is it unfair? yes, but to that I will tell you "suck it up!! and get over it already!!!" life is unfair and its not constructive to spend spend your time dwelling on the unfairness of things. If you feel that strongly then you should quit architecture and become an activist and devote your life to doing something about it. Otherwise you accept that it is what it is and move on. You are not going to be the next female star-architect if you let things like this affect you. With every situation you have advantages and disadvantages and you will have to take a hard and honest look at it and figure out an effective way forward.

Think about it, Zaha Hadid is not or have never been a feminist.  She is an egoist! she discusses the unfairness of situations in relation to gender only (and absolutely ONLY) when it suites her. If she is criticized in the press, she will say it is because the critic is sexist and or say if I were a man then they would not have said this or that. For her the whole feminist movement centers around one female and her name is Zaha Hadid. If you want to be the next female starchitect, take a page from Zaha and drop the feminist agenda. The only woman that matters is you. Get comfortable with the phrase kicking the ladder behind you. If the woman in front of you falls, step over her, but make sure no one sees you.

Ready for some more advice?

Let talk about sex:
If you took my advice above and used your female radiance as part of your strategy to get into the Starchitect Staffers Club (...and in many cases even if you did not), there is a strong chance that the starchitect will make sexual advances on you.

Do not under any circumstances capitulate to any of these advances.  Politely redirect them.
If you did not recognize the elegant lady in the picture that I fist showed you above, that is Ann Tyng. She was partner at Louis Kahn Architect and has been referred to as the geometrical strategist and muse behind the famous architect. As smart and talented as she was, she made the mistake of having a sexual relationship with her starchitect boss and eventually got pregnant. When it became apparent, she was sent to Italy to have the child in order to mitigate the scandal. Soon after the relationship ended and with it the career she could have had.

Similarly, this also happened with Harrit Pattison, a landscape architect who worked at Kahn's office. She also made the mistake of sleeping with the starchitect and getting pregnant. Guess what happend? Discarded and career ended? Yep! you guessed it!

Let me retort, for every Elisabeth Diller there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of Harrit Pattisons and AnnTyngs. I am not your father or grandfather, so I have no interest in keeping you a virgin until you die, I don't know you and you do not know me either, and for all I know we will never meet each other. So why this insistence that you do not sleep with the starchitect. It is strategically stupid and the odds are against you.

If you prefer to think strategically and make intelligent decisions, I would like to point you to this video.

Exit Strategy
As I mentioned in the previous note, as you approach your late 30's or early 40's, this lifestyle might get a bit tiring and impractical for you especially if you are thinking about starting a family or just realizing that this life style is not sustainable.

Most of you will take option 1 and go and work at a regular architecture firm and spend the rest of your days telling your star-struck colleagues stories at the lunch table about the good old days when you used to work for Richard Mier or Aldo Rossi.

Some will take the option of being a full time mom or some combination of this with the above option. This is not an option for your male colleagues. It partly explains why despite the relatively even gender ratio in the Starchitect Staffers Club, that there is such a low ratio of women that actually go on to become starchitects. If you took my advice and froze your eggs, for those of you who are exiting in your early 40's, this is where your frozen eggs will come in handy. If you watched the video above and did your homework, you may have found a suitable partner and not the guy closest to you when the music stopped. You can now unfreeze your eggs have children with him or her and live happily ever after.

Unfortunately only the few will take option 3 (starting your own firm with the intention of being the next starchitect), which most likely means not having children. For you, I give you the  same advice as in previous note. Go to OMA and find a partner (preferably male) your chances of becoming a star will increase tremendously. If you came this far, I congratulate you. I might actually meet you or hear of you after all. I will be down here in the trenches writing and campaigning on your behalf when the Pritzker committee passes you over and hand your husband a Pritzker Prize for the work that you both accumulated over the life of your practice without as much as a mention of your name.

Conrad Newel,
Liberating Minds Since August 2007