Four Bay Area women in architecture reflect on their work and the profession that defined them.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN OCTOBER 2015
By Alice Yin[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile the sky seems to be the limit for architects looking to reshape city skylines, for women in architecture there’s a barrier along the way—the glass ceiling. Women represent nearly half of the students graduating from accredited architecture programs in the U.S., yet the number of women who are members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), licensed architects or in senior leadership roles varies between 15 percent to 18 percent of the total, according to The Missing 32%, a project looking at gender equity in architecture formed by the San Francisco chapter of the AIA. Despite challenges, many female architects have flourished in the Bay Area. Four of these women—Liz Ranieri, Marsha Maytum, Paulett Taggart and Anne Fougeron—reflect on their careers below:
One of Liz Ranieri’s biggest projects bloomed from an earthquake. In 1989, as the Loma Prieta earthquake rattled through the Bay Area, the architect saw plaster popping off the walls of the office in which she was working. Upon visiting the site of her then-current project, a historic stone building in Napa Valley, she was met with a massive crack running through the earth.
Starting with a shaky foundation like that can rattle the most determined of architects. For Ranieri, it was a chance to think even bigger. Not only did she win a national AIA award for her design of a new interior of the building, used as a private residence and LEF Foundation offices and gallery, she also founded her own practice, San Francisco-based Kuth/Ranieri Architects, alongside her business partner and husband, Byron Kuth, the following year.
Ranieri says she and Kuth make a great pair and have now worked together for more than 30 years. He is an “intellectual, curious researcher” and she’s an “intuitive designer,” she said. Above all, Ranieri said one of her greatest strengths is her will to fight for design until the last minute. “Because once it’s built, it’s built,” she said.
Ranieri grew up around construction as the daughter of a developer and general contractor. After studying at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and working as a design studio teacher in architecture programs for several years, Ranieri is now making the calls on site surveys—and she also has dealt with the challenges of being a woman in architecture.
“Walking onto a construction site, it’s 60 guys and you’re actually needed to be the bully because things are out of sequence, problems are coming up … it’s intimidating,” she said. “The most important advice to give to any architect is to be prepared and do your homework,” she says.
Ranieri is now working on the redevelopment of Terminal 1 at San Francisco International Airport. The project, which is expected to be completed in 2020, is a joint venture between Kuth/Ranieri and global design firm Gensler. The endeavor has Ranieri studying the system of baggage, security, check-in and more, in order to immortalize a more harmonious space for travel.
“Generally, there are two kinds of jobs,” Ranieri says. “There’s a job that’s making something part of [the] physical world, and jobs that are information based and not the physical world. And I think it’s an amazing opportunity to extend the physical world around us … You get to be a scientist, an engineer, you get to be a painter. I don’t think there’s a better profession to be in. For me.”
For Marsha Maytum, architecture is about collaboration. After more than 30 years in practice and 15 years as a partner in San Francisco’s Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, Maytum describes herself as “outward-directed.” She said she works to respond to her clients with a design that adds community and function.
“We work to create a timeless sense of design that really serves our clients well,” Maytum said. “We don’t get on board with the current latest fads. We tend to have a much more disciplined approach that’s still inspiring and beautiful, but really is an outcome and outgrowth of our clients and the place the building is in, responding to the climate, topography and culture.”
Maytum’s work is varied, but her favorite projects are where her heart is—making a positive difference beyond the physical structure. With experience including projects from affordable housing to community centers for adults with autism, Maytum’s projects accomplish more than keeping a roof over someone’s head. They go deeper in addressing social issues—they are “mission-driven,” she said.
“Architecture is this wonderful blend of creating places for people, being able to design things that have impact and make difference in the world, and also create things of beauty and meaning. I feel pretty lucky I’ve been able to do that.”
As an example, one of her firm’s projects, The Ed Roberts Campus, located at Berkeley’s Ashby BART station, features a universal design that allows people with certain disabilities to “gracefully find their way to where they want to go,” she said, adding that the architecture has an “iconic purpose.” At the center of the building is a blood-orange helical ramp to the second floor. Other features include wide corridors to allow wheelchair use and automatic doors. The campus fosters independent living and includes offices, meeting rooms, a childcare center and a recreation area.
Maytum, a graduate of the University of Oregon in Eugene, said she came to the profession when there weren’t many female role models. Though more women are entering the field, she said representation across the nation isn’t perfect. She advises young women to dedicate themselves to knowing as much as they can. That is how she flourished best, she said—through passion every step of the way.
“The most important advice is to really follow what you’re passionate about. Just dedicate your time to know as much as you can,” she said. “This profession is not a particularly easy one. It’s a lot easier when you believe in what you do.”
For members of La Cocina, a nonprofit kitchen incubator for low-income women looking to develop a catering business, walking into the building can be a first step toward success. The space, which opened in 2005 in the city’s Mission District, includes a main kitchen featuring sand-yellow walls with skylights bordering the edges, casting an upbeat atmosphere for the people bustling below.
“It’s a huge success and made a difference in people’s lives,” said architect Paulett Taggart, who worked on the project design. “With every project, we’re responding to the particular situation.”
Taggart, who started San Francisco firm Paulett Taggart Architects almost 30 years ago, sees each of her works as a puzzle piece to the city’s urban skyline. Often working with other architects and engineers in the same area, Taggart said she believes, “The total is much larger than the sum of its parts in that way.”
Taggart’s works have a continuity among them. La Cocina, for example, carries on a tradition with other projects. With a concentration on the quality of light, the building shares themes with Taggart’s North Beach Pool and Clubhouse project. The recreation center features a slanted sunroof and glass wall, maximizing the effects of natural light.
When asked about challenges in her career, Taggart said, “The thing about architecture is there’s a certain art related as well as science.” She explained that architects must weigh the desired concept with real-world expenses. It’s a long process, yet it is her favorite part about architecture.
“I like art and science and history and technology and people,” she said. “[Architecture] feels like a profession that’s all encompassing. It involves every aspect of the world we live in, including some politics that I wish we didn’t. It’s rich that way.”
Anne Fougeron first dabbled in architecture as a student at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. More than 30 years later, she is now at the helm of Fougeron Architecture, a nationally recognized San Francisco firm.
One of Fougeron’s latest projects is dubbed “Fall House.” The glass-and-metal house, which overlooks the Big Sur coast, blends with the natural landscape. Anchored on a sloping foundation in the contours of the cliff, the creation is an intimate place to enjoy the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s a great privilege to be able to create an environment in which people live,” Fougeron said. “If you think about what people do when they go on vacation, they look at architecture, older buildings and they look at cities. As an architect, you get to build that environment.”
Fougeron manages to have an eye for such magic while also maintaining pragmatism. She said she is all too familiar with the ups and downs of a business like architecture, which took an especially hard hit during the recession. Nonetheless, for her it’s about moving forward. “We always like the latest one, like a proud parent,” she said.
She said part of her work is perseverance—her willingness to delve into her work. Architecture is, after all, a labor of love, she said.
“Stick to it. You cannot start with an attitude that you won’t succeed. Start with the attitude that you’re as worthy as the next.”