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'Architect Barbie' builds a dream home, but her profession needs a makeover

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Reforming the lengthy and costly internship and exam process for architects, which together take an average of seven years and cost many times more than the bar exam for attorneys, is unquestionably the single-most urgent need and logical first step. It is precisely where we see a precipitous drop in women, in no small part because those seven or more years correspond with women’s prime child-rearing years.

The internship process, for example, is based on “seat time” literally performing a task, and should instead move to comprehension of skills – more seamlessly integrated with the exam, whereas now the two are wholly divorced from one another. This could reduce the time and cost investments substantially, yet with clear standards for competency.

We must also see a shift in male-dominated firm management by creating family-friendly tracks for women and men alike to become partners. And we need the AIA to lead by example with substantially greater numbers of women in senior leadership and elected positions, because to this day just two of the organization’s 150 presidents have been women.

Further, the AIA’s Architect Barbie Dream House contest perpetuates the profession’s addiction to conceptual design competitions with no compensation and little chance of being realized.

How can we possibly justify hypothetical housing competitions, when our country is facing such a serious housing crisis, complete with foreclosure evictions and chronic homelessness?

If architects want to celebrate the architecture and housing contributions of a trailblazing real-life woman, they could point to the remarkable work of Rosanne Haggerty, the MacArthur Fellow and founder of nonprofit Common Ground, which for 20 years has worked to reduce homelessness in New York City. Ms. Haggerty has created real homes out of previously beleaguered architectural icons like the old Prince George Hotel in Times Square.

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