If women built cities, what would our urban landscape look like?

Heydar aliyev center, baku, azerbaijan, designed by zaha hadid and patrik schumacher
Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan, designed by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher

The number of women in UK architecture firms is falling, and many urbanists are worried by the ‘very, very male-dominated’ worlds of planning and construction. So how would cities differ if women designed them?

“I hate to stereotype,” says architect Fiona Scott. “Male architects are often quite sensitive, artistic people and any suggestion that buildings designed by women are more curvy, tactile or colourful is wrong. But I don’t think there are many women who think, ‘Oh, my ideal project would be a massive tower.’”

Scott, one half of the award-winning practice Gort Scott, is currently on maternity leave but has agreed to meet me in an east London cafe to talk about whether gender influences her work. She describes a generational divide between female architects working now and those who have retired or are close to it, some of whom rightly feel hard done by. Last year a petition tried and failed to get Denise Scott Brown made retrospective joint winner, with her husband and business partner Robert Venturi, of the 1991 Pritzker prize, which was awarded to him alone.

Scott says it is not uncommon to learn of women who have not been properly credited, but these days there are advantages to being female: “I’ve always thought there was a benefit to being a woman [in this field], because you don’t have to do so much to get noticed, and if your ideas are any good then people want to hear what you’ve got to say.

“It’s a mistake to think women aren’t capable of having grand ideas,” she adds – even if such ideas are often associated with big egos. She mentions Lina Bo Bardi, whose centenary is celebrated this year in Brazil and Italy, and multiple-prize-winner Shelley McNamara.

But for all her positivity, Scott admits that earlier in her career she struggled. “I would go to networking events that were full of guys who had a way of talking I found exhausting,” she says. “Quite bullish, lots about sport. You find yourself feeling you have nothing to say. It’s a vicious circle where your confidence gets diminished if people don’t listen to you. I really wanted a female mentor, I knew I needed to sort it out and I spent a couple of years thinking about that a lot.” ….

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