Upon graduating art school in 2000, Rosalba Salinardi enrolled in the Architecture Department of the University La Sapiens, Rome in a move brought about by her curiosity for a discipline that would shape the space surrounding her. Before graduating from university, she began collaborating with architects aware that the academic world differs significantly to day-to-day architectural practice. At RMJM Italia, Rosalba is the designer responsible for the industrial design sector and follows the development of the product throughout all the designing phases, from original idea to production.
When did you decide you wanted to work in architecture?
Since primary school I have always been interested in art and the creative process. When I finished I had no doubt as to the secondary school I would choose: art school. I knew my passion would suit this discipline. Later, my architecture professor gave a lecture on a residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and I was amazed! In that precise moment I realised I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to be a professional who can control, in an acute and creative way, the transformation and innovation of the anthropic space while safeguarding and preserving the natural environment.
Today, women architects in Italy represent 40% of all the registered architects. What do these figures tell us today about women’s present and future in Italy?
Recently, women’s presence in technical professions has been growing substantially. However, in future, women will always have to fight to access decision-maker roles and to be appreciated not just for their “feminine” skills like creativity but also for their technical, operational and organization skills, of which I believe women are the best representatives on Earth.
As for women’s future in Italy, I would like to answer by quoting Zaha Hadid who said: “I used to not like being called a ‘woman architect’: I’m an architect, not just a woman architect”. Our fate is the same of our male colleagues. If we believe in our capacities, we are the first who must not see any difference between women and men. There are difficulties for both genders and these difficulties are different, of course, but this is just a fact not an excuse.
Currently, Italy is the European country with the highest rate of architects per inhabitant with 5 architects every 2,000 people. The competition is very high for the profession. On top of this, a 2011 study carried out by Cresme Ricerche on behalf of CNAPPC entitled “the Status of the architecture profession in Italy: issues, crisis and rearrangement”, highlights that male architects earns 70% more than women architects. Do you think that the construction industry has finally accepted women’s authority or are still there many obstacles to overcome?
I believe that our capacity of being appreciated like our male colleagues (in an industry which is thought to have a male prerogative) is only a result of our efforts. It has nothing to do with our gender, but only with our capacities, our diligence in covering specific roles and the way we make our creativity reality. It is not that the construction industry doesn’t recognise these capacities; they do but they do not admit it publicly. We all have limits but limits have no sex.
As for the salary gap, I’m tempted to answer by quoting Hadid again: “Architecture is particularly difficult for women; there’s no reason for it to be. I don’t want to blame men or society, but I think it was for a long time, the clients were men, the building industry is all male”. Think at Sophia Gregoria Hayden, the first female graduate in architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She graduated with honours and completed her degree earlier than her male colleagues which earned her a special mention. In their motivation, the professors described Sophia Gregoria as a talent “with all the skills”. This bizarre definition recognised her credit but at the same time sounded like a justification. Hayden’s first job opportunity was the competition for the Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1892. For this job, she was given a fee which was 10 times less than her male colleagues, who were involved in similar work. So, yes, this is still an obstacle we have to overcome. Maybe the solution lies in educating the new generations about not exalting pseudo differences so that we will start appraising credits without focusing on the gender.
You are both an architect and an interior designer. Unfortunately these categories are shadowed of a bias which sees women more suited to interior design and men architecture. Do you feel that these bias are tangible in the industry? Has your being a woman ever helped you or disadvantaged you as architect or an interior designer?
I don’t believe that there are real stereotypes, people simply follow their aptitudes. It is true that women architects might be more fascinated by harmony and beauty and are more inclined to work on the interiors, maybe also because many elements are overlooked by those who don’t do housework in the first place. For sure women are more sensitive, but this is not a rule. Women’s presence in the industry is not huge; I saw women holding marginal and not technical roles, and rarely holding leadership roles. Personally, I have alway worked with male professionals. I could tell from their eyes they were worries of not being understood; once I gained their trust, this anxiety vanished. In fact, suddenly the woman was seen as a trustworthy, precise and determined professional.
You are a young professional who is going to take an important step in her personal life very soon: marriage. In a recent survey conducted by Women in Architecture, 1152 women were asked if it is possible for women to have a good work-life balance in architecture. In continental Europe, 44% responded that yes, women architects can have a good work-life balance but only if they don’t have children or dependants to look after. What is your opinion? How can you balance your career with your personal life?
In fact, I’m taking this step only now after a long time, because I had to wait for the completion of my studies and to get a good job. Finally, it is time to live this personal moment of happiness! The professional realization is a choice of life. There are women like Zaha Hadid who dedicated their whole time on Earth to express themselves through their work. It is not by chance that all these women, who put aside their personal lives, created unique works in which women’s individuality and capacity of being as “decisive” as man arise.
The work of an architect never ends; our work doesn’t know limits of time or location. To become a project, an idea has to be “cuddled” like a child. It is not enough for it to be born. It needs to be fed, supported, helped to grow until all its needs are overcome and eventually, it can become true.
Would you encourage a woman to start a career in architecture?
I was asked this very questions by some friends recently. Their daughter would like to undertake this training. My answer wasn’t rational, otherwise it would have been negative. It is clear that there are difficulties which require a great character and confidence to be overcome. The risk is to fall without being able to get back on your feet. So I told her what I’ve been repeating myself for years: if you believe that this is your biggest passion; if you look at the world through the forms that shape the sky; if you see this profession not as a job but as the possibility of expressing your ideas and your personality; if you are aware of the efforts you will have to make in this role; then you are ready to start your journey.
What is your personal motto?
There are several famous sentences that follow me through my personal life, inspiring me and giving me determination. Denys Lasdun once said: “Our job is not to give the client what he wants but what he never dreamed he wanted and when he gets it he recognises it as something he wanted all the time.” This sentence states the difference between those architects who work with passion and a willingness to reinvent themselves every time, and those who indulge their clients’ wants, neglecting their own personality. Another is from Le Corbusier: “Architecture is a thing of art, a phenomenon of the emotions, lying outside questions of construction and beyond them. The purpose of construction is to make things hold together; of architecture, to move us.” The thinking of one the Masters of architecture confirms that only through investigation and experimentation can we make architecture live because it is able to move us.