Sarah Rivière and Elke Duda review the recent symposium ‘Yes, we plan!’, hosted in Frankfurt by n-ails Berlin in cooperation with the German Architecture Museum (DAM) and the German networks of women architects.

Panel “Status quo” left to right: Sarah Rivière, Eva Alvarez, Olivia E. Schimek-Hickisch, Béatrice Auxent, Veronika Selig, Alexandra Hagen, Anne Dorthe Vestergaard and Elke Duda.

There are many women architects, but why are they not more visible in the public arena? Barely a quarter of architectural offices are run by women architects, and women architects are still consistently less visible in the public arena. The German networks of women architects invited seven European colleagues to discuss such questions at a symposium held at the Deutsche Architekturmuseum DAM in February 2018 in association with the exhibition FRAU ARCHITEKT.

Internationally women have long constituted about half of all students in architecture schools. But in subsequent stages of their careers, the situation changes. In Germany only 34% of the Chambers of Architects’ registered members are women. In German architecture offices, the proportion of women at executive level is dramatically low at 21%, dropping even further to a mere 10% when only mid-sized to larger offices are considered. Between 2001 to 2016 the percentage of women sole practitioners rose from 15% to only 21% (Statistics from the German Federal Chamber of Architects) – at the current rate, it will take some 75 years to achieve a balanced 50/50 ratio in the profession!

The rate of change across Europe is similarly slow, with only Sweden and Denmark providing positive exceptions. In particular, Sweden has an exemplary cultural and political framework – as is most clearly seen in figures for Sweden’s public expenditure on maternity and parental leave per child born at €25,800 per child. In comparison, Switzerland takes last place with €6,100 per child, with the German figures (€10.200 per child) in the lower mid-field (OECD Social Expenditure Database, 2016).

As Alexandra Hagen from White Arkitekter (Göteborg) made clear in her keynote presentation, talent is not related to gender, and diverse societies need diverse architectural approaches that bring increased innovation. Hagen depicted an improved career and life balance as a real possibility within the construction industry today.

Best practice in publicity was presented through the Prize for Women Architects (ARVHA) in France by Catherine Guyot. The Argentine “un dia I una arquitecta” internet platform was presented by its co-founder Eva Alvarez, and Switzerland and Austria discussed support given by their professional associations. The German networks of women architects created over the last 15 years presented their extensive range of activities.

The symposium showed that women architects are called upon to commit themselves to preserving the (student 50/50) percentage of women in the architectural profession, as well as to work to increase their presence in the public sphere. The professional associations in the construction industry were called upon to raise their level of support in these areas. To this end, n-ails presented DAM with a CD of 100 current projects by women architects, and collected wish lists from the audience to give to the German Federal Chamber of Architects. The wish lists expressed a demand for more equal opportunities for women, task forces and committees for gender equality in the Federal and local Chambers and at EU level in the ACE, as well as for more exhibitions, prizes and publications of architectural work by women.

FRAU ARCHITECT, the first exhibition specifically presenting the work of women architects, was the result of a long overdue impulse for increased diversity at the DAM (and beyond). The exhibition gained significantly in its relevance to the profession through its extensive accompanying program, through which it has developed the potential to travel to other cities and be further supplemented with additional local and contemporary accents.

The symposium was organised by n-ails, the Berlin-based women’s network, as a cooperation between the German networks of women architects and the DAM, and continues the tradition of previous meetings in Switzerland (2015) and in Austria (2016).

The positive resonance before, during and after this event will be extended next year by the PIA network in Hamburg, who invite all architects, interior and landscape architects and city planners to the next international meeting as part of Hamburg’s Architecture in Summer 2019.


‘Yes, we Plan!’ was a joint event hosted by the German networks of women architects: n-ails e.V. Berlin (concept and organisation), PIA Netzwerk e.V. Hamburg, architektinnen initiative Nordrhein-Westfalen, Arbeitskreis Architektinnen at the Baden-Württemberg Chamber of Architects, BauFrauen e.V. Nürnberg, Die Frauen at the Bavarian Chamber of Architects, Architektinnen-Stammtisch at the Brandenburg Chamber of Architects and the Deutsche Architekturmuseum (DAM), Frankfurt/Main.

Next year’s international women in architecture symposium will take place in
 Hamburg as part of the Hamburg Architecture Summer.