The Albums des Jeunes Architectes et Paysagistes (“Young Architects’ and Landscape Architects’ Albums”)—or AJAP—is a biennial competition that was relaunched by the French ministry of culture in 2002 after an eight-year hiatus. The AJAP awards are “intended to distinguish and promote particularly talented architects and, since 2005, landscape architects, under the age of 35.” The winning portfolios from the most recent edition of the competition were on display at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, in Paris, from October 14 to November 14, 2021. In this 2020 edition, 15 agencies, comprising 25 individuals in total, appeared in the Architect category. Of these 25, just two were women—or, to put it another way, a mere 8% of the winners in this category. The two women in question were Léa Casteigt from the Atelier Boteko agency, which she represented alone (presumably because her partner is over 35), and Camille Ricard from the mixed team Moonwalklocal. The results were more balanced in the Landscape Architect category, where four agencies were represented, comprising seven individuals in total, of whom four were women, or 57% of the winners.
“Where Are the Women Architects?” asked the American historian Despina Stratigakos in her book of the same name. In this 2016 work, Stratigakos pointed out the general absence of women in architecture, and criticized their invisibility when they did manage to practice. She showed the history of the stagnation of their numbers in a regulated profession, and the low levels of access to project management roles for women. While this question has been discussed in the French-speaking academic world (symposia, teaching, publications, master’s-degree theses, projects)  for the past 15 years (Lapeyre 2006; Chadoin 2007), it nevertheless remains absent from the professional context. It is only just beginning to be raised within the French ministry of culture, which supports and finances the AJAP competitions. Charters, codes, and labels have been put in place in France’s national schools of architecture (écoles nationales supérieures d’architecture; ENSAs) under the supervision of the ministry, in response to the request of the recently appointed equality and diversity correspondents, without succeeding in challenging persistent gender gaps. In turn, the Paris–Île-de-France Regional Council of the Order of Architects (Conseil Régional de l’Ordre des Architectes d’Île-de-France; CROAIF) created a delegation in 2021 to focus on equality, the head of which is CROAIF’s vice-president, which gives hope for concrete action in future.
Women architects are still less visible
The AJAP competitions are designed to function as a lever to promote a new generation of architects and landscape architects, so that they “may be better recognized by contracting authorities and thus facilitate their access to public commissions”—supposedly the most prestigious commissions (Biau 2003). The aim is to ensure the possibility of access to large-scale projects. Moreover, being nominated for AJAP significantly enhances candidates’ value when it comes to recruitment campaigns for architecture schools to teach project design in the discipline of theories and practices of architectural and urban design (théories et pratiques de la conception architecturale et urbaine), which is currently 75% male. AJAP nominations have an impact that goes beyond the careers of these practicing architects and project managers. These nominations therefore contribute to the viability of the professional structure, promoting its visibility, recognition, legitimacy, and consecration.
The low levels of representation of women in AJAP competitions is not new. The two previous editions already testified to this lack of visibility. For example, in 2016, of the 15 agencies selected by the AJAP jury, nine were led by men, two by women, and four by mixed teams. In 2018, a full 10 were led by men, two by women, and three by mixed teams. In 2020, the situation had not improved: indeed, the AJAP jury seemed to place even less value on the work of women architects starting out in their careers, as 13 of the nominated agencies were led by men, only one by a woman (whose partner is a man, but aged over 35), and one by a mixed team. This downward trend in the public representation of the work of women architects is surprising at a time when the profession is seeing increasing parity in its workforce, and at a time of activism and institutional advances in favor of equal rights for women and men in the workplace.
In 2018, women accounted for more than 58% of first-year enrollment and overall initial training in national architecture schools (ENSAs), according to the French culture ministry’s Observatory of Education and Professional Integration (Observatoire de la Scolarité et de l’Insertion Professionnelle). And here lies a paradox: parity has been achieved between male and female architecture students for several years now, with women succeeding in their studies just as much as their male colleagues, if not more so. For example, among the 11 winners of the Maison de l’Architecture en Île-de-France Diploma Prize, there were three mixed teams, four pairs of women, and four women on their own. If we turn our attention to award-winning master’s theses, seven were by women and four were by men. And if we consider the Françoise Abella Prize, awarded by the Academy of Fine Arts (Académie des Beaux-Arts) to one architecture student each year, it was awarded to five women and one man between 2017 and 2020. 
The recognition of women’s work in architecture, however, seems to end as soon as their studies are over. For example, the AJAP winners have all studied in this context of gender parity. The latest edition’s candidates began their studies in the early 2000s at the latest, when women represented 45% of the first-year ENSA students. Parity was achieved among graduates in 2005, which was at the beginning or middle of the 2020 candidates’ architectural education (Macaire and Nordstöm 2021).
The glass ceiling
Consequently, how can we understand the near-total absence of women in this most recent edition of the AJAP competition? This is all the more surprising since the selection bodies have taken on board the need for parity, going so far as to overrepresent women at the expense of men in the composition of AJAP juries: in 2016, the jury was composed of 10 women for six men; in 2018, it was close to parity with eight women and seven men; and for the 2020 edition, it was once again made up of 10 women and just six men!
The categories produced by the inherited relationships of domination and power, which have favored men to the detriment of women in the world of architecture, have not therefore been reversed. The fact that there are more women than men on a jury does not seem to be enough to challenge the historical mechanisms that have long excluded women from the professional world of architecture. The equal presence of women (even leading to their superiority in number in the jury of the last three editions of the AJAP) certainly symbolizes an improvement in the political representation of women in the prestigious bodies of competitions. But it does not, however, reflect specific feminist political interests, produced by a focus on gender relations (Bereni and Lépinard 2003). The most plausible hypothesis seems to be that of the persistence of a set of criteria, or even representations, relating to masculinity and femininity in architecture, operating without the knowledge of the jury members themselves. The fact that the new architecture featured in the AJAP competitions, especially when it is marked—as it was in this latest edition—by references to ecological construction techniques and vernacular designs, is almost exclusively embodied by men is a clear sign of this.
It is now a matter of urgency that we call into question the models and figures of the architectural profession that are conveyed through this prize. AJAP selections are not without consequences for the future of the profession, in terms of representation as well as in terms of the updating of practices and the transmission of knowledge within educational institutions (Dadour 2020). In view of the scope, consecration, and public dimension that underlie AJAP, the competition’s organizers must address this distortion. AJAP needs to revise its selection process so that it does not privilege one gender over another.
Persistent inequalities that mark careers
Beyond the competition itself, the low level of representation of women among AJAP nominees echoes the fact that inequality becomes ingrained in career development. This sustained underrepresentation of women among AJAP winners is all the more strange given that, among architects aged under 35, just as many women as men are now applying to be members of the Order of Architects (Archigraphie 2020). In the space of 20 years, female enrollment in the Order has increased from 16.6% (2000) to 30.7% (2019), with female applicants more numerous among younger generations. According to figures from the French National Order of Architects, “they now represent nearly one in two architects under the age of 35, compared to one in three in 2000,” an increase of nearly 15 percentage points between 2000 and 2019 (Archigraphie 2020, p. 3).
Women architects earn lower incomes early in their careers, resulting in a certain degree of precarity. In 2019, they represented just 28% of associate architects and 31% of freelance architects, having fewer resources than men to create or help create an agency.  According to the ranking of architectural agencies by turnover compiled by the architecture magazine d’A  for the same year, analyzed by the collective Mouvement pour l’Équité dans la Maîtrise d’Œuvre (Movement for Equity in Project Management; MéMo), only one agency out of the 100 largest in France was founded by a woman alone, while less than 15 were partly founded by women. It transpires that, in France, 51% of women architects are civil servants, while 42% are employees of an agency.  They thus have less access than men to large-scale projects and suffer from a lack of female role models among recognized and award-winning architects (Regnier 2020; Macaire and Nordström 2021).
Although no information is available on the total number of female applicants for the 2020 edition of the AJAP competition, which received 74 applications for assessment and selected only 15, there is an urgent need to encourage female applicants, rather than entrenching already well-established inequalities in women’s careers.
It is now a matter of urgency to open our eyes and investigate, with precision, the causes of a phenomenon which, regardless of profession, values men to the detriment of women. Above all, action must be taken urgently to change the representation of the place of women and men in architecture, for everyone’s benefit!
- Archigraphie. 2020. Observatoire de la profession d’architecte, Conseil National de l’Ordre des Architectes.
- Bereni, L. and Lépinard, É. 2003. “La parité, contresens de l’égalité ? Cadrage discursif et pratiques d’une réforme”, Nouvelles Questions féministes, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 12–31.
- Biau, V. 2003. “La consécration des “grands architectes””, Regards sociologiques, nos. 25–26, pp. 1–22.
- Chadoin, O. 2007. Être architecte : les vertus de l’indétermination. De la sociologie d’une profession à la sociologie du travail professionnel, Limoges: Presses Universitaires de Limoges.
- Dadour S. 2020. “Des féminismes en architecture”, Re-vue de l’ENSA Paris-Malaquais, no. 6, pp. 4–19.
- Lapeyre, N. 2006, Les Professions face aux enjeux de la féminisation, Toulouse: Éditions Octarès.
- Macaire, E and Nordstöm, M. 2021. Génération HMONP, la formation à exercer la maîtrise d’œuvre en nom propre comme fabrique de l’architecte, research report, LET–LAVUE/Ministère de la Culture/Conseil National de l’Ordre des Architectes.
- Ministère de la Culture. 2021. Colloque international: “Dynamiques de genre et métiers de l’architecture de l’urbanisme et du paysage” (International colloquium: “Gender Dynamics and Practices in Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape Architecture”), Paris, 4–5 February 2021, webinar.
- Regnier, I. 2020. “Les étudiantes en architecture sont demandeuses de modèles de femmes reconnues par la profession. Entretien avec Stéphanie Dadour”, Le Monde, 8 June 2020.
- Revue d’A. 2019. “Classement 2019 des 400 agences d’architecture par chiffre d’affaires”.
- Stratigakos D. 2016. Where Are the Women Architects?, Princeton: Princeton University Press.