How to get ahead in architecture by Eva Jiřičná
Czech architect says site visits aid learning and lead to international projects in Architects' Journal interview
Building sites might once have been a place for male chauvinism, yet they're also the ideal location for female architects to distinguish themselves, according to one leading practitioner.
To mark the third annual publication of its Women in Architecture survey, the Architects' Journal profiles Eva Jiřičná, the Czech-born, British-based architect and winner of last year's Jane Drew Prize, awarded to an individual for her outstanding contribution to the status of women in architecture.
Over the last five decades Jiřičná has established a reputation for technical brilliance and a close attention to detail; Jane Drew judges Zaha Hadid and Rafael Viñoly described her work as "incredibly influential" and "extraordinary."
While Jiřičná makes no excuses for the widening pay gaps and growing incidence of sexual discrimination highlighted by 2014's survey, she does insist that some degree of career success lies in a willingness to take a hands-on approach with architecture.
"You will never get to deal with projects of an international scale if you don't take an interest in site," she tells the publication. "You can learn so much from contractors and builders. They might joke about you not knowing how to use machinery, but they really appreciate it when you take an interest and are willing to go to site and learn."
Jiřičná's practice is currently completing a conference and exhibition centre in Monaco as well as the complete renovation of a museum for the New York Historical Society. Yet she reaches back to an earlier formative experience when drawing examples from her own life.
Recalling a decade spent overseeing the building of Brighton's marina early in her career, she says, "My boss sent me to run a site meeting with 56 people, most of them male. I was in my early thirties and had not done this before. The partner in the practice I worked for was a former admiral and was used to delegating work, so he took me through the whole process of how to run a site. I worked on that project for 13 years and loved every single minute of it."
In an age of digital design, many architects can work for long periods without realising a single plan.
As the editor of our forthcoming online architectural project, the Phaidon Atlas, Jean-Francois Goyette puts it, "all too often, we forget that architectural ideas don't matter if they are not actually realised. Convincing people to complete them is as important as any design concept. The backlash and cheap shots that have marred Zaha Hadid's recent Quatar Stadium proposal are indicative of the difficulty female architects can face being taken seriously - even today. "For Eva Jiřičná to complete uncompromised work in an era when women were barely accepted to study in the field and in countries with far different cultural expectations and traditional views, is a testament to her leadership and talent."
Read the full piece here, and for greater insight into architecture around the world, take a look at the Phaidon Architecture Travel Guide App, the essential tool for anyone who wants to discover contemporary architecture in glowing, digital detail. Buy it from the people who made it, here. And look out for a bigger interview about the Phaidon Atlas with Jean-Francois Goyette later this week.