New Brunswick’s Acre Architects is exposing the architectural profession’s gender imbalance
When New Brunswick’s Acre Architects made the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2016, a prestigious list of 20 rising stars from around the world, its founders couldn’t get their hands on a copy—the magazine is not sold anywhere in the province.
That disconnect between an unlikely base and global ambitions is something Acre co-founders Monica Adair and husband Stephen Kopp have turned to their advantage, building, since 2010, a firm that celebrates the freedom of the fringe. When the couple, who met as students at the University of Toronto, left jobs at a large New York firm in 2007, they found a frontier of sorts in Adair’s native New Brunswick, free from the conventions and congestion of design centres. “The Wild East,” Kopp calls it.
Now, in what may prove their most transformative project yet, the couple will turn their attention to the elephant in their profession’s room by showcasing inspiring female role models as a counter to architecture’s stubborn gender imbalance. “As architects, we are always working to advance our buildings. But what does it say if we can’t advance our profession?” Adair says.
After winning the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Young Architect Award in 2015, Adair started to notice the paucity of other women in architectural practices. When she and Kopp asked colleagues to name their favourite female architects, many couldn’t name any beyond the late Zaha Hadid or the wifely halves of prominent design couples. “For me it, was a bit of a flooring moment,” Kopp says. “We were part of it, too. We didn’t have great answers either.”
Women make up approximately half of architecture-school graduates in Canada, but less than a third of its registered architects. While there are notable examples of women leading firms, such as Patricia Patkau of Patkau Architects in Vancouver and Brigitte Shim of Shim-sutcliffe in Toronto, there remain few spots for women at the top. Commonly cited reasons for this, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects, are long hours, childcare responsibilities, unequal pay and fewer advancement opportunities.
“There are very few role models, very few principals,” says Annmarie Adams, a professor and former director of the School of Architecture at Mcgill University. An architectural historian by training, Adams has written extensively on gendered space, including co-authoring ‘Designing Women’: Gender and the Architecture Profession (2000). For more