By Xiaoxi Chen Laurent and Kate Reggev
Powerful, thoughtful women are easy to find at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). On November 11th, Architexx teamed up with GSAPP to host the Roundtable Lecture “Women in Architecture: Between Practice and Pedagogy,” a conversation with Karla Rothstein (Latent Productions) and Galia Solomonoff (Solomonoff Architecture Studio), both GSAPP alumnae, current design studio critics, and the founders of their respective firms. The event was a unique opportunity for students to connect with both speakers, who mused on their professional practice, experience teaching, and where the two intersect. The speakers’ presentations were followed by questions from moderators and the audience, touching on Rothstein and Solomonoff’s experiences at larger and smaller firms, starting their own practices, work-life balance, and the role feminism has played in their trajectories.
The two speakers took differing approaches to their careers in teaching and practice. While Solomonoff had built an impressive CV of major firms, universities, and clients before starting her own firm, Rothstein spoke about opening up her firm to accommodate projects with local, small business owners soon after graduating from GSAPP. In each case, their candid and inspiring responses emphasized the need to be go-getters — to go out into the world with confidence and a belief in oneself — but also to learn the importance of balance with life outside of the professional world.
A concluding comment from the audience highlighted an idea that emerging female architects fear they have to face: that of being a “superwoman,” a woman who does it all, all the time. Indeed, Solomonoff and Rothstein appear to fit that bill: they are undoubtedly formidable in their balance of and excellence in their professional, educational, and personal lives. Yet how can we address the challenges of being heard and gaining respect without having to be a “superwoman” in all aspects of life? While it currently seems as though only the exceptional woman receives comparable recognition to her male colleagues, perhaps it is time to move away from both societal and personal pressures that urge, if not require, us to excel in every facet of our lives in order to have a voice. Equal respect should be granted freely, not proven to be deserved- something that even hard working, high achieving women may forget. Solomonoff assured the audience that while it may appear that they “do it all,” she does not, and that it is not humanly possible to do everything; she also stressed the importance of acknowledging the fact that there are limitations, and that relying on and working with others relieves the feeling of needing to do everything, all the time. Rothstein reiterated the necessity of acknowledging boundaries while still taking on challenges; however, she conceded that “it is not easy to do all the things you are going to want to do.” Collaboration both suggested, is key to accomplishing one’s goals.
A generation of young female architecture students are entering a new environment with a larger share carved out for them thanks to trailblazers like Solomonoff and Rothstein. At GSAPP, we feel inspired and empowered by these role models, and now it is up to us to define the next chapter.
See video from the event:
Xiaoxi Chen Laurent and Kate Reggev are both current M. Arch students at GSAPP, completing their final year in the program.