Michal Ziso
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"I want this to be a gentlemen's club. Over here, I want to have a long, wooden bar. Over there, I want a comfortable seating area and a small kitchen. Downstairs, I want to have rooms for massages and maybe some geishas for the gentlemen's entertainment." I realize that what my client is basically describing to me is a very fancy locker room for powerful men. I felt my blood starting to boil, and I knew then and there there is no way I can be the architect of such a project. But still, I had to ask him one question: We're in 2017, in the middle of New York City. Why wouldn't you consider having this a women's club instead? His answer was short and simple and completely caught me off guard. "Interesting you ask," he said. "My wife asked me the same thing." "I really wouldn't mind it, but I don't think a woman would be able to pay the high membership fee I intend to charge here." Well, this was obviously not true, as New York houses maybe the most successful women in the world. I was shocked that these biased assumptions still happen and people want to create spaces like this that promote gender inequality. I obviously never took on this project, and neither did the firm I was working at. But there's a good chance another architect would have. And these types of projects will continue to be built. Being a woman in a very masculine profession is a challenge. Architecture is often referred to as "the boys' club." Rings familiar? Many times, I find myself the only woman at the conference table and the only woman at the construction site. There have been times when I expressed my opinion and I was shushed with a hand gesture to my face or explained by a man to the rest of the room that I was very opinionated, stubborn, and bossy. "Bossy." You've got to love that word. Architecture is often associated with the physical act of building, which is mostly linked with men. For many years, women were not even allowed to study architecture in universities. But today, about 50% of architecture students are in fact women, yet, Can you guess how many out of the top architecture firms in the world today are led by women? Three. Only three out of the top 100. You can just Google "famous architects," and you'll immediately see what I'm talking about. It is safe to say that most women architects around the world don't get to higher positions. And they number much fewer when it comes to decision-making roles, in firms and also on city boards, commissions, and councils. When some are being recognized, they're often honored as "women architects." They're not just architects like the men are recognized, as if we are in a separate league and we can't really compete with the men. But why should you care that there are not enough women architects? Because it means that the majority of the built environment we live in today around the world was designed by men - mostly white men, age 45 and up. They may be brilliant, but research shows it is human nature to plan and design from self-experience. And when one narrow demographic is the main planner and designer, it affects each and every one of us on a daily basis. It affects how we feel when we're at home or when we walk down the city streets or even at the office. For example, imagine how our built environment would look if it was designed by elderly people. We would have much more places to sit, right? And how about if it was designed by millennials? We would have charger spots and selfie stations everywhere. And if it was designed by parents - who took an active and equal role in childcare, obviously - maybe the sidewalks would be wider, and the kindergartens, offices, and places like the post office would be found closer together to help make those busy days a bit easier to manage. When our built environment is good and fits our needs, we don't really notice it. Kind of like we don't overthink our body when it is healthy. But when there are problems, we just know it. We feel unsafe. We feel uncomfortable. We feel frustrated. Good architecture is more than just beauty and aesthetics, it is when our built environment is tailored to our personal, everyday rituals but it must come from a diverse point of view, or in other words, it must be equality-driven architecture. So I believe that when more women would influence the built environment, there will be fewer dark or unlit streets. The diaper-changing tables in public bathrooms would always be found in both the men and the women toilets. Underground - (Laughter) (Applause) Underground parking lots may look completely different because their designers would consider safety as their number-one priority. (Applause) And glass, transparent staircases in fancy stores will just not exist because women also wear skirts, you know. (Applause) When design decisions are made by a narrow demographic, it unintentionally treats people differently. This has a name. It is called "discrimination by design," and it affects various groups and minorities in societies. From the poor to different ethnic groups, to the elderly, to the LGBTQ community, and to women. So first, we have to agree that diversity of architects and designers is important. And next, we must realize that women are in fact not a minority group but actually are half of the population, and that gender equality is a good place to start. (Applause) Imagine how different our world would look if the people who design it would reflect the diversity of the people they design for. (Applause) All of the examples I just gave can be an amazing change and yet seem a bit small. I believe that only by thinking big and far, we can really make changes happen, so when I got back from New York, I decided to turn "bossy" into "boss" and open my own firm - (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause) And open my own firm that is designed to combine architecture with innovation and gender-equality ideas. I made it my mission to not only become a top architect but to do so by actively working for a cause I care so deeply about, which is gender equality. The very thing that held me back will now be the thing that pushes me forward. So in the name of thinking big, I want to tell you about a rather unique international architecture competition I took part in and had the opportunity to design a settlement ... on Mars. (Applause) You're probably thinking, What does Mars have to do with equality-driven architecture? Well, I found this competition fascinating and decided to use Mars as an opportunity to experiment with what equality-driven architecture could look like. And I will show you how, but first, I want to tell you why. If I were to ask you right now to imagine a world and society as far into the future as you can, you'll probably be thinking about things you know or places you've been to that may have been there long before you were born or even things you've seen in movies. You'll be doing that because it is hard to truly let go from what we know. But if I were to ask you to imagine this future on a far foreign planet like Mars and ask you things like "What would you take with you?" or "What would be the things you would choose to leave behind?" I'm guessing you will not find these questions intimidating but, rather, exciting and maybe have some good and innovative ideas. You see, the Martian environment is very harsh and extremely different than Earth, which allowed me to really go far with my imagination. So for my Martian settlement, I decided to explore the pure geometric shape of the circle. I found that circular shapes of building complexes provides a natural sense of unity. Think about the way people sit around the campfire or sit around the table, there is no one seat that is more special than the next, right? So, in that sense, the circle is a magnificent structural way to promote equality. It is also practical for defense against danger, like the shape of walls or water channels guarding medieval cities like Milan or Paris. It was used in different ways back in history, but as power systems such as religion and governance came into play, both needing large, landmark buildings that would stand out from the rest - and both also typically led by one narrow demographic - the circular architecture was left behind. If you were to walk around these circular settlements - which are kind of like donut-shaped, right? - you would notice that the public functions are always in the center, and they're surrounded by the private, the residential areas. In that sense, the private is always overlooking the public, which helps to eliminate unwatched and therefore unsafe areas. Another thing that can be unsafe looking from the equality lens are means of mobility, both indoor and out. Indoor means of mobility are elevators and staircases, which are usually closed spaces that can bring uncomfortable encounters between different genders. The Martian low gravity allowed me to eliminate both things: get rid of the closed spaces, and also benefit from a more compact and efficient floor plan. By basing my architecture on the ability of humans to jump higher with the help of machines I call "suction boosters" [that] I placed on ceiling corners, people can now jump from floor to floor. How often do architects on Earth question the existence of elevators and staircases? Let's question outdoor transportation as well. We can avoid altogether the idea of underground parking, which can be unsafe, avoid traffic and pollution and also avoid unwanted physical contact that can result from crowding on public transportation. Instead, we can travel in electronically operated tunnels underground, choosing who we travel with. You see, the Martian settlement, which offers a clean slate, helps us experiment freely and truly understand the benefits of change. I ended up not winning the competition - (Laughter) (Applause) but what I did gain is this new perspective and these three equality lessons from Mars. Lesson number one: bypass cognitive fixations. I realized I could use Mars as an alternative channel to think and talk about things that otherwise were too uncomfortable or complicated to imagine, just like when I asked you to imagine the far future. Thinking of our life on a whole different planet can be a tool to help us get past cognitive fixations, which is when we only act from what we know, and we do this unconsciously. So, next time you encounter such a block, try to use an example outside of your everyday life. I can lend you my Mars if you want. Lesson number two: equality-driven architecture is an actual thing. My Martian settlement offers one option as to how equality-driven architecture could look like. It is one out of many possible outcomes to both looking at the built environment from a woman's perspective and also to what happens when we step outside our comfort zone. How else could it look like? Well for that, we'll first need a true diversity of architects. And finally, lesson number three: why wait? I personally believe that the day is not far when we will be faced with some tough sociological questions regarding actual life on Mars. And when this day comes, we have to be confident that this reality on Mars has equality written all over it and also know exactly how to get there. But if we know how to get there, What stops us making this equal society a reality here on Earth? We are born into architecture. It doesn't matter if it is in a city hospital or a village or a camp; it was designed and laid out by someone. We go through life being influenced by our built environment and never stop and ask "Is it good enough for me?" At the end of the day, we are here on our blue planet for a relatively short period of time, so why wouldn't you demand that this life would be planned perfectly for you? And it will only happen when diversity will work for diversity. Mars, the Red Planet, is not so far from humanity's reach. But why wait until we get there when we can start the change right here, right now? Thank you. (Applause)