Odile Decq wins Jane Drew prize for women in architecture


French architect Odile Decq has been named as the recipient of the Jane Drew prize for raising the profile of women within architecture, as a survey finds large numbers of female architects reporting sexual discrimination or harassment.

Decq, 60, will receive the Jane Drew prize as part of the Women in Architecture awards (WIA), an annual programme that seeks to recognise the contribution of female architects.

The awards are supported by the Architectural Review magazine (AR) in the UK, which has also published the results of the WIA's fifth annual survey of women in the profession. The report found that one in five women would not encourage another woman to start a career in architecture.

Odile Decq wins Jane Drew prize
Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Roma, 1991

Of the 1,152 women surveyed worldwide, 72 per cent said they has experienced sexual discrimination, harassment or bullying within architecture – up from 60 per cent in 2015 – and 12 per cent said that they experienced discrimination monthly or more often.

Over 80 per cent of the female respondents also felt that having a child was a significant disadvantage for a woman pursuing a career in architecture.

Decq, who attracted international attention during the 1990s with projects including the Banque Populaire de l'Ouest in Rennes, told the AR that she was "still at war".

Odile Decq wins Jane Drew prize
GL Events in Lyon, 2014. Photograph by Roland Halbe

"There's so much to fight for," said Decq, who was described as "a creative powerhouse, spirited breaker of rules and a vocal advocate of equality" by the WIA jury.

Decq is known for her use of bold colours – particularly black and red – and her strong views on education and equality. She launched her own studio in Paris in 1978, and was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1996.

Among her other significant projects are the 2010 glass-covered extension to the Museo d'Arte Contemporanei di Roma, which features an auditorium enclosed by a bright red-lacquered shell, and the Frac Bretagne in Rennes.

Odile Decq wins Jane Drew prize
Frac Bretagne, Rennes, 2012. Photograph by Roland Halbe

She has also recently completed work on the Fangshan Tangshan National Geopark Museum in Nanjing, China, and the five year renovation of the 1970s Maison Bernard, also known as the Bubble House – an iconic red bubble-like building designed by Hungarian architect Antti Lovag and built in the south of France.

Decq was dean of Paris' École Spéciale d'Architecture (ESA) from 2007 until 2012, and taught at the school for 20 years. She launched her own architecture school in Lyon in 2014 – called the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture – after becoming frustrated with the lack of freedom to reform the way the subject was being taught.

"Today many people think of architecture only as a discipline that produces shiny, spectacular objects," she told UnCube magazine in an interview that year.

Odile Decq wins Jane Drew prize
Fangshan Tangshan National Geopark Museum, 2014

"Architecture is a discipline that requires a deep cultural, sociological, economical, political and ethical understanding of the world. This is what students need to learn because, when we are in a state of crisis like we are today, we have to rethink the world."

Departing Serpentine Galleries director Julia Peyton-Jones was also named as the recipient of the WIA's Ada Louise Huxtable Prize for individuals working in the wider architectural industry. Peyton-Jones instigated the Serpentine's influential annual pavilion commission, giving international architects their first chance to build in the UK, which she has overseen for 16 years.

She recently shared memories of each of the pavilions in an exclusive series of video interviews for Dezeen.

Odile Decq wins Jane Drew prize
Banque Populaire de l’Ouest in Rennes, 1990

The awards will be presented at a lunch at Claridge's hotel in London this Friday.

Previous winners of the annual Jane Drew prize have included Zaha Hadid, Eva Jiricna, and Grafton Architects' founders Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara.

Last year Hadid was named as the first woman architect to win the Royal Institute of British Architects' Royal Gold Medal in her own right.

"We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn't mean it's easy," Hadid said.

Odile Decq wins Jane Drew prize
Nanterre motorway bridge and control centre, 1996

"Sometimes the challenges are immense," she continued. "There has been tremendous change over recent years and we will continue this progress."

Photography is courtesy of Odile Decq, unless otherwise stated.

  • Jan Limon

    Spooky picture!

    • Isn’t 60 a bit old for the “Goth” look?

      • guest

        What does that matter?

      • Ammaarah Felix

        Why is that important? Reducing a talented, ambitious, successful woman to her physical appearance just reinforces the sexism she’s fighting against even more.

        • G

          Agreed! Far too much has been made of her appearance here. What about her work?! Is there a discussion about that anywhere?

      • Dave

        Hey Chuck, isn’t 60 a bit old to wear purple? This article is about her work so shouldn’t the question have been about it and not her look?

    • SWPOS

      I think she’s just a big fan of The Cure.

  • james juricevich

    I really like Decq’s work, particularly the Frac Bretagne, which she presented at a talk I saw a while ago.

    It is pretty pathetic though and not at all surprising that the first few comments are about her appearance. As though it has anything at all to do with the article or the honour she received.

    Dezeen, you shouldn’t publish such comments. Take a stand against it.

    • R Smith

      Architecture blogs such as Dezeen never publish photos of her work, only her face and hair. I can’t even name one building she’s designed. I can’t even remember her name despite having just read it.

    • Mike

      She is the one who has released that image.

      • H-J

        She also released the images of her work I suppose, yet some people here prefer to focus on her looks instead of her buildings. I thought she got the award for her architecture not her appearance.

      • LM

        Does her appearance alter the way you think about her architecture?

        Is commenting on people’s appearance fair game to you?

    • janine

      The only time there are ever comments on appearance here are when it is women, usually Zaha. I agree, time to take a stand and have some rules about common decency, which includes personal comments about people’s appearance.

    • H-J

      If she were a man, we would simply discuss her work.

      • G. Oth

        No, the exact same comment and picture of Robert Smith would have been posted.

    • unacom

      Actually everybody should have the right to speak their mind. Literally and architecturally. If Dezeen did not to publish comments, be they irreverent, dumb or outright insulting a distorted image of the readership and its opinions would be presented.

      That would be, in my opinion, far worse. Turning a public forum into an “accepted members club” would do a disservice to architectural discussion. It is us who have to challenge, in a civil way, insulting views.

      • marmite

        Dezeen does a lot of editing to put across one view.

    • SWPOS

      When this article was first posted, my first initial thought was to comment on how Decq took inspiration from Robert Smith, but I resisted knowing that such a comment would have people going on about how I’m only making such comments because she’s a women and that we should focus on the architecture etc.

      So I didn’t, but then Mr Durgen Jensen made their comment, I couldn’t resist but take part. To be fair, the comment was not on her physical features, whether she was attractive or – it was based on a style/aesthetic that Decq chose to have – and it’s a rather eccentric one. That photo alone will lead to discussing her work. I never knew what she did until know, perhaps that’s all part of her master plan? As a side note, I personally don’t like her work.

      If a male (say, Marc Newson) wore something that made him look ridiculous (like, a stupid coat and glasses) I’d happily return to point that out.

      • Nick

        Her look is not at all eccentric. It’s been a part of Britain, France and Germany (and many more) since the 70s and makes up more people than any ethnic minority on the continent.

        You go on to suggest that it could be part of her “master plan” and use words like ridiculous. You’re a small-minded bigot. Be as polite about it as you like but it doesn’t change the simple fact that you can’t see past your own inward ideologies of how a person should appear.

        • Joel K.

          And you are incapable of looking past your own inward ideologies of how a person should act. Chill out Nick.

          Their comments are only offensive to you because you choose to be offended by them. This has nothing to do with social justice.

          • Nick

            I’m perfectly calm, thanks.

            Using words like “ridiculous” to describe a person’s appearance is offensive. Whether it’s correct or not or even merely alluded to as in the original comment.

            And I beg to differ – he can act how he wants – I won’t attempt to change that. However I’d entertain a lifelong argument on this subject – but isn’t that what these comments are for? To invite conversation and argument? I think so.

          • Joel K.

            You didn’t open up a dialogue or present an argument. You insulted someone for (supposedly) being insulting. You’re particularly hung up on the word ‘ridiculous’, which wasn’t directed at Decq. You’re literally going out of your way to be offended.

            Your comments contradict each other; I’ve learned that contradiction is often a sign of delusion.

    • Jan Limon

      The comments were about the picture, not the woman. The woman is not black and white in real life. If it were a man I would have said the same exact thing.

    • Jan Limon

      She is talented, accomplished, and confident. She really doesn’t need you to defend her. This is a common misconception that many modern male feminists have.

      • guest

        I’m sure she doesn’t, but I’m not sure the comment was about that really. It was making a wider point about how women are subject to scrutiny over their appearance in a way men never seem to be. The comments came from a good place, not a chivalrous crusade.

        • Jan Limon

          Thank you for man-splaining what their comment meant to me. I never would have understood what they meant without your help.

    • guest

      Well said.

    • Derek_V

      Dezeen should take a stand against censors like you. I am sure they won’t.

  • trip

    She’s not serious, is she?

    • Matt

      Very serious, very talented.

  • Kaleb Quirin

    The short summer internship I had in Odile’s office in ’07 was the best experience I have had in architecture. I have not worked for anyone since who is more passionate about their craft or more dedicated to producing quality design.

    I find it appalling that she is so often overlooked in the architecture world but, I am inspired by the fact that it doesn’t seem to affect her ability to turn out amazing work.

  • Miriam

    Comments focusing on her appearance speak volumes about the state of architecture and the under-representation of women in the industry. More needs to be done to change things in society but it will take time.

    • Derek_V

      No it doesn’t speak volumes for the fact that people who dress and style themselves outside of the ordinary will certainly hear about it, and most likely they also want to hear about it.

      Be it Lady Gaga in a meat dress, Björk as a swan or Odile as Robert Smith from the Cure.

      • marmite

        Where do you live? There is nothing wrong with her appearance. She looks perfectly normal to me but then I am from London.

  • GDavies

    Much deserved recognition for a great architect.

  • Ammaarah Felix

    This is long overdue, to say the least.