An Iowa State University professor will become the second woman ever to lead the American Institute of Architects. Kate Schwennsen was just elected the 2006 national president of the architects’ association. Schwennsen says it’s important for architects to start having a stronger voice in community planning, including design, sustainability of structures and affordable housing. Schwennsen says she also thought it was important to have a woman be president of the group. Schwennsen says “role models are important” especially for young women starting out in the profession.Schwennsen didn’t realize there were few women in the profession until she was in her first job. Architecture is still a male-dominated profession, but the numbers are changing. About 40 percent of the students in architecture school are female, but about 20 percent of the principals in architecture firms are women. Schwennsen says that’s a huge increase, but many women are leaving the profession after a few years. Schwennsen says research indicates the culture in many architectural firms where 60-hour-work-weeks are the norm is partly to blame. Schwennsen got her undergrad and graduate degrees from Iowa State University, then worked at a Des Moines architectural firm for nine years. Schwennsen designed retirement communities across the country and some shopping malls in the southwest. She worked at another Des Moines firm for a couple of years before beginning a career teaching. Schwennsen says the profession has changed in many ways since she got her master’s degree in 1980. For example, building materials have changed and there’s any even greater demand for faster, cheaper, error-free architectural plans. Schwennsen says Americans may view architecture in a different way than residents in other, older countries.Schwennsen says it’s probably because we’re a young country, “we don’t have as much old stuff” and there’s been a sense of limitless expansion in the U.S. Schwennsen says that view’s starting to change, and there’s a new emphasis on urban planning. Schwennsen says as Americans travel more, they’re seeing how great architecture can add to a quality of life. Schwennsen will be president-elect of the American Institute of Architects in 2005 and then president in ’06. Only one other Iowan has served as the group’s president.
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