A predominantly female team is overseeing the creation of a 55-storey skyscraper in South Africa that is set to be Africa's next tallest building.
The Leonardo in the heart of Sandton, Johannesburg, which if completed will have residential apartments, offices, shopping stores, restaurants and lifestyle recreation areas.
Co-Arc International Architects Director Catharine Atkins and architect Malika Walele are the leading women behind the 55-storey building on Maude Street. The tower has been designed by Co-Arc’s emeritus partner, Francois Pienaar and is expected cost about$300-million.
At 233 meters high, The Leonardo will be the tallest building on the African continent. It will surpassing Carlton Centre which is also located in Johannesburg, South Africa at 50 floors.
The project's Principal Co-ordinator, Atkins, who heads Co-Arc’s team on the project indicated that the entire construction documentation team is done women architectures.
She is supported by Walele, Salome Daley, Janel Venter, Megan Holman, Angela Barnard, Keitsitse Losaba, Antonella Giuricich, Rachel Zwane and Mitchell Gibbon.
During their day work, the women often have to deal with cat calls and inappropriate behaviour by some of the over 2,000 construction workers.
According to the Co-Arc team, the fact that women made up the majority of the team was unnoticed until a recent photo opportunity.
Statistics from the SA Institute of Architects in the Eastern Cape show that only 21% of architects in South Africa are women. There isn't much of a difference in the international community as well.
According to the Architect’s Council of Europe, women make up only only 31% registered professionals, and only 20% of the US professionals are women, according to the National Associates Committee Report.
The statistics are a reflection of the tough realities women have to deal with in the construction industry.
The situation does not change whether a woman has a higher position or greater experience than the men she works with. Walele who has worked at the site for the last two-and-a-half years, shared her own experience of the abuse that comes with her work.
Despite her position on the team she's had to stare down groups of men making inappropriate comments, turn down unwanted advances and shrug off sexism from some of the 2,000 workers at the site.
“It can get to you and affect your work at times if you don’t deal with it. Being assertive and dealing with these incidents is crucial for women, as this behaviour is typical of all construction sites all around the world,” Walele said.
Despite this Walele said she would encourage women to work in the industry.
“I love being on site, and the growth trajectory is huge. So much more than being in an office.
“I’d encourage any woman to do this. Unfortunately many women architects don’t believe they can, because it is so male dominated.”
Their journey has not only be filled with horrors. It has had a positive on the attitude of some of their male counterparts.
Walele has noticed a shift in attitude from the foremen and managers on site who’ve witnessed the behaviour towards her first hand.
“It has opened their eyes and made them more sensitive and appreciative of the challenges women face, and may have a positive impact on the treatment of women on sites in future.”
“Once men become aware, it is easier to deal with incidents, and to confront someone if you need to.”
Atkins, the only woman among three male partners, said it has taken time for attitudes to shift outside the office.
“Yes, over the years you move your way up and you make yourself heard, and you secure the right to lead, but it’s a constant push,” she said.
So Atkins wanted to make a statement with her all woman team at The Leonardo.
For Walele, the Co-Arc team “is proof that women can change cities and create buildings that will be the tallest in Africa.
“I’ve never understood why architecture needs to be a male-dominated industry. Women are more than capable of doing this. It’s frustrating that more women in the industry aren’t doing it.”
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