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Global women architects we should all know

Words:
Harriet Harriss, Naomi House, Monika Parrinder & Tom Ravenscroft

The authors of 100 Women: Architects in Practice pick out three of the book’s world-leading female architects that exemplify this neglected section of the profession

The market in the village of Dandaji, Niger, 2019. The Dandaji market provides 52 enclosed stalls and colourful round canopies that shade each individual slot.
The market in the village of Dandaji, Niger, 2019. The Dandaji market provides 52 enclosed stalls and colourful round canopies that shade each individual slot. Credit: © atelier masōmi. Photo by Maurice Ascani

We wrote this book as a form of peaceful protest not a bloody revolution. It is the inequitable product of an inequitable profession, and all four authors eagerly await the day when the need for publications like this are rendered obsolete. When that day comes, it will mean that the perennial problem of gender-prejudice in architecture is a thing of the past.

100 Women: Architects in Practice showcases the work of 100 world-leading architects from across the globe who happen to be women. While the women in this book should all be household names, the reality is that they are not. This publication is a small step towards correcting an imbalance, not only in relation to the gender identity of those practising architecture, but also in the stories that told about what architecture is, who it is for and what it can do. 

On a practical level, this book acts as a bluffer’s guide or who’s who in architecture – a coffee-table trojan horse, richly visual and content-heavy, that attempts to pave the way for ending the spectre of all-male architecture panels – ‘manels’ – that dilute the current state of architectural thinking. We know of no other book that captures the work of architects from Congo, Syria, Tajikistan, Nicaragua, Namibia, Trinidad and Tobago, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and 70 other countries, ensuring that all voices are represented equally.

This book does not pretend to make everything right, as women are still paid less, run fewer studios, and are less visible. Yet it is a step in the right direction – a flower in the nozzle of a rifle challenging the male-privileging matrix. In making our methods transparent, we hope that they are also transposable, assisting in the construction of a global architectural network that raises awareness and creates opportunities for those featured. 

Acknowledging the breadth, quality and creativity of contemporary architectural practice, the work of three of these 100 women provides an illustration of this approach. These profiles highlight the socially engaged, future-building agendas evident throughout the book – sustainable in the broadest sense. These agendas are not in themselves new but, when taken together, the architects included here offer ways forward that are contextually grounded, authentically democratic and, at their most radical, supportive of systemic change.

  • Sumaya Dabbagh has designed a series of cultural buildings including the Mosque of Mohammed Abdulkhaliq Gargash , Dubai UAE, 2021. View from the street.
    Sumaya Dabbagh has designed a series of cultural buildings including the Mosque of Mohammed Abdulkhaliq Gargash , Dubai UAE, 2021. View from the street. Credit: © Gerry O’ Leary Photography
  • Breaking down barriers: Sumaya Dabbagh, Saudi/UAE
    Breaking down barriers: Sumaya Dabbagh, Saudi/UAE Credit: Sumaya Dabbagh
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Sumaya Dabbagh, Saudi/UAE

Many of the women in this book are breaking down barriers. Growing up at a time when it was illegal for women to be architects in Saudi Arabia, Sumaya Dabbagh is one of only a handful of Saudi women running long-established architecture studios in the Gulf. She had to leave the country to study architecture, before returning to the region and founding her studio in UAE where she has designed a series of cultural buildings. These include the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, Sharjah, and the Mosque of Mohammed Abdulkhaliq Gargash in Dubai – one of the world’s few prominent mosques designed by a woman.

With women now able to practise architecture in Saudi Arabia, Dabbagh is working on several cultural commissions. ‘The community loses when one segment of the population is largely responsible for building our cities,’ she told us. ‘My dream to see homegrown talent – both men and women – build our cities, is becoming a reality.’

  • Co-founder of Co.Creation.Architects, Suhailey Farzana, helped realise people’s dreams with this public open space by the Naboganga River in Jhenaidah, Bangladesh, 2020.
    Co-founder of Co.Creation.Architects, Suhailey Farzana, helped realise people’s dreams with this public open space by the Naboganga River in Jhenaidah, Bangladesh, 2020. Credit: © Co.Creation.Architects
  • ‘I see the future as community-led,’ – Suhailey Farzana, Bangladesh
    ‘I see the future as community-led,’ – Suhailey Farzana, Bangladesh Credit: © Co.Creation.Architects
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Suhailey Farzana, Bangladesh
Many of the women we interviewed shared a profound concern for equality across the built – and unbuilt – environment and the power of architecture to facilitate this is most visible in regions of the so-called Global South.  In Bangladesh, for example, Suhailey Farzana is co-founder of Co.Creation.Architects, a practice which responds to the needs of the local community, in particular the women, enabling them to work towards the renewal of their shared environment. In one instance, it improved the local ecology as part of the Jhenaidah Citywide People’s Network. For her, this is what architecture can do.

Farzana describes the work she is engaged in as ‘very organic’, co-designing and co-creating with communities who usually self-fund any building that takes place. ‘In this process I always feel there is an equity,’ she told us. ‘I see the future as community-led. I keep sharing what we are doing here and students often come to work in the community and get to know the people and their lives.’

  • Mariam Issofou Kamara designed the market in the village of Dandaji, Niger, 2019. The Dandaji market provides 52 enclosed stalls and colourful round canopies that shade each individual slot.
    Mariam Issofou Kamara designed the market in the village of Dandaji, Niger, 2019. The Dandaji market provides 52 enclosed stalls and colourful round canopies that shade each individual slot. Credit: © atelier masōmi. Photo by Maurice Ascani
  • ‘Meaningful, context-appropriate architecture’ – Mariam Issofou Kamara, Niger
    ‘Meaningful, context-appropriate architecture’ – Mariam Issofou Kamara, Niger Credit: © atelier masōmi
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Mariam Issofou Kamara, Niger
One emphasis of the book is on meaningful, context-appropriate architecture. Whether converting a mosque into a community centre in Dandaji, building a colourful market in the same village or the high-profile Niamey Cultural Centre in the country's capital, Niger architect Mariam Issofou Kamara demonstrates a coherent philosophy creating locally focused, materially sensitive architecture. 

‘I want to create a universal way of working that produces completely different results depending on where you are,’ she told us. This includes ‘attention to the local conditions – what is available locally, what the local skills are and what the local history is – then having a process that can happen everywhere.’ The trigger for Issoufou Kamara’s philosophy was understanding the impact that architecture can have in local communities. ‘I wanted everything about it to be local,’ she explained. ‘I did not want to work on projects with eyes that came from outside of the place.’

100 Women: Architects in Practice, by Harriet Harriss, Naomi House, Monika Parrinder & Tom Ravenscroft, is published by RIBA Publishing, 2023

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