Celebrating SWaM: Advice For The Next Generation Of Female Architects

I like helping homeowners, I like ‘problem-solving’, I like drawing and picking out materials — I like a lot of the clichés about architecture… but I really like running a woman-owned business.

Recently, I had a zoom call with my “little” cousin who became a licensed architect herself just 2 years ago. We chatted about building and running a business, up front expenses, and of course about the projects that we’re working on. 
In many other industries, the conversation could have ended there, but there was one more question to ask: “What is it like to be a woman in architecture?”
Serendipitously, DFC-LMA has just been acknowledged by SWaM as a Woman-owned company
My cousin inspired me to take a step back and consider the full picture of being a woman in architecture, from my personal inspiration to the advice that I’d like to pass on to the next generation.  
My hope is to be visible enough to be making an impact on our community – with my buildings but also in my involvement in the Planning Commission and in the schools – to serve as an example for other women and girls that we can do this.

Inspiration From Female Architects 

I’m grateful for the inspiring female architects who broke the glass ceiling generations before us. Because of the first women trailblazers in architecture, my favorite sources of inspiration are quite current. 

Zaha Hadid: I first heard of her when I was in undergrad and she was working on primarily conceptual work. I appreciated that she unapologetically did this — pushing boundaries with her space-age style of design. I also appreciated that she was a powerful POC — as a British-Iraqi who attended school in Beirut, you can immediately understand, without knowing her, that her path would not have been “easy”.

Billie Tsien (as a partner with her husband, Tod Williams): Since learning about this firm (as a bit of a “start-up” when I was in undergrad), I have always loved their love of materialconstruction and space. I have heard Ms. Tsien speak and her reverence of material is inspirational. I think she is a big reason I love BRICK

To The Girls Who Want To Be An Architect 

I was there once, too. When I was ten, my mom found the house plans I designed for my Barbies and she said, “You know, that’s a real job you can have, you can be an architect.” I didn’t quite believe her then, but it turns out she was right, as mothers so often are.
Now that I’m in a position to inspire others, I would like to add my own advice. Even if you don’t feel like it, project confidence. There are a lot more people rooting for you than you might notice. 

Embodying the confidence that ‘fake it till you make it’ gives you will help until you truly shake off that imposter syndrome. It’s okay to make mistakes and ask questions, but never doubt yourself.
I am a goal-oriented personality, so my more specific advice is based on my experience. It is easy for young women and men to become sidetracked by ‘life’ in meeting their goals. Do not delay in passing your Architect Registration Examinations (AREs). 
For example, Kerri Ann shared that her most impactful projects were after she took a hiatus to have her first child. She eased her way back into architecture by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. 
“The homes I helped to create for the habitat families were not notable for their design, but they were impactful for the people and the surrounding neighborhood.”
A Habitat House Kerri Ann and I worked on together.
Once you have your AREs under your belt, believe in yourself to step out into the world and your career can take you in any direction you want to go!
Most importantly, lift other women up! We can’t do this alone.
Leesa Mayfield, edited