Women’s History Month Highlight: Beverly Horii, OAA, ARIDO, LEED AP
The managing director of the new Toronto office brings years of multi-cultural professional experience, and a passion for education and wellness to the firm’s North American presence.
In honor of Women’s History Month, IA is highlighting female leadership within the firm. Where the conversation around women in architecture has recently bubbled to the surface—AIA’s posthumous Gold Medal award to Julia Morgan in 2014, and the proliferation of advocacy organizations like The Missing 32% and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, for example—IA Interior Architects demonstrates a position unique in the practice of architecture. Approximately half of IA’s offices are managed and operated by female architects and designers.
I knew from a very early age that I loved to make things. I also loved learning across a range of different topics and an architectural education really allowed me to embrace that variation. I’m a third-generation Japanese Canadian woman and I don’t have any brothers. So, I became the substitute “first born son” and was expected to become a professional. I wasn’t expected to just “find a good husband.” That gave me the freedom to explore what I wanted, with my parent’s support. I thought architecture would provide the challenge I wanted while combining many different skill sets into one career.
Early in my career, I encountered bosses who would tell me to be more like my racial stereotype and be more “inscrutable.” Looking young, Asian, and female certainly had its disadvantages at first. There was a turning point though. On my first job site when everyone thought I was a just a kid, the contractor was patient and respectful, eventually becoming a mentor to me throughout the project. Now, I believe that youth is all about attitude. That said, I enjoy learning as much as I can from others and am constantly curious about life.
There is still gender inequality in the field of architecture, particularly as mothers are still traditionally the parent who commit fulltime to raising a family. I worked at an architecture office in Tokyo as a recent graduate, and there were very few women in architecture in that country; much less than in Canada. And they certainly didn’t have any children if they wanted to remain as practicing architects.
Since we strive to bring a healthy, balanced work environment to our clients, we also aim to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle for ourselves. I’m very passionate about creating a healing environment for the workplace. Everything from environmentally friendly, to ergonomically, psychologically, and energetically positive work environments are what I love to bring to this world. One has to decide what has meaning in one’s life.
I don’t believe one’s gender creates an issue if one is competent in his or her field. Unfortunately, there are still people in the industry who create barriers for women but this, I believe, is changing as our society is beginning to embrace and value what women bring to the workplace. I love bringing in other viewpoints and perspectives into my design practice, and to continue learning about new developments in our world. I also think that we have a lot to learn from older cultures. There is a lot of wisdom that we’ve lost, but I believe we can embrace new ideas while still respecting ancient knowledge.
There are definitely more role models for women in leadership now. In the past, the only role models were those women who decided not to have children, or who had children and had someone else to look after them. Who is a woman you have always admired? I have always admired the work of Eileen Gray, a furniture designer and architect who was a contemporary of Le Corbusier. She was highly innovative in the field of design and was overlooked by mainstream press because of her gender. However, she seemed to do what she loved, and as Pearl S. Buck said “to find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.”
My advice to women interested in the field of architecture is to find the area of the discipline that you love. The choices are broad. Never stop learning, growing, and creating.
Beverly Horii, OAA, LEED AP, ARIDO, holds a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo. Her professional experience includes projects for York University, Levi Strauss, and the Royal Ontario Museum. Beverly is passionate about innovation and new experiences.