Five Bay Area Women at the Forefront of Architecture


As the juggernaut of the women’s movement illuminates gender inequality across industries—from entertainment to politics to food culture—the field of architecture is also rousing to change. Recent studies show females at top firms are still paid less than male peers and promoted less often, yet women now make up nearly half the graduates of architecture school, and they continue pushing forward to shape the built environment, as they always have. Meanwhile, visionaries like Jean Gang, Yen Ha, the late Zaha Hadid and San Francisco’s own esteemed Anne Fougeron have been and continue shaking things up on the international stage.

Here, California Home + Design spotlights just a handful of the architectural talents in the Bay Area who are making their mark on the city’s skyline—that also happen to be women.


Karen Curtiss, Red Dot Studio; photo: Thomas Heinser

KAREN CURTISS, principal of Red Dot Studio

What’s your firm’s specialty? We like daylight-filled spaces that are easy to be in, where you feel good design throughout rather than fixate on an expensive or hard-to-accomplish feature.

What’s a recent project you are particularly excited about? We are beginning a new project in Oakhurst, near the south gate of Yosemite. It’s a magical site near a waterfall. Recent fires remind us of our intense responsibility for climate action. This site demands that we change the paradigm of how we build.

What’s your advice for young women going into the field? Look for a firm that has a well-rounded staff. Red Dot Studio has a high proportion of women on our team. Many are mothers, many are not. As employers, we have a responsibility to allow our workforce to care for their families. As family members, we have a responsibility to share equally in the making of our households. Gender equality is both a personal and community decision.


Lisa Iwamoto, IwamotoScott Architecture; Photo: Craig Scott

LISA IWAMOTO, principal at IwamotoScott Architecture

What’s your firm’s specialty? Our work revolves around having a strong conceptual premise in order to create designs that are synthesized and cohesive. We like to use geometry to think through form, space, light and material. We’re interested in negative space as much as positive form. 

What’s a recent project you are particularly excited about? We’re really excited about a large mixed-use development underway in San Francisco’s South of Market district at 88 Bluxome. It’s amazing to be contributing to the future architecture of San Francisco in a way that responds to what is here, but also looks forward. 

What’s your advice for young women going into the field? It’s the same advice I’d give to anyone. Be persistent and go forward with confidence. Don’t underestimate your abilities and strengths. It’s important to not worry about getting something wrong. Proceed as if you know what you are doing and do the work necessary to make sure that is the case. 


Marsha Maytum of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects; photo: Thomas Heinser

Marsha Maytum, principal at Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

What’s your firm’s specialty? Our firm is focused on mission-driven projects in three areas: education, affordable housing and community projects that integrate design excellence and environmental and social sustainability.

What’s a recent project you are particularly excited about? We recently completed the new San Francisco Art Institute Fort Mason Campus, which transformed historic Pier 2 into a dynamic interdisciplinary arts center. The project also promotes environmental stewardship through sustainable strategies, including a 255Kw photovoltaic solar array on the pier’s shed roof.

What’s your advice for young women going into the field? This is a time of great challenges, but also a time of incredible innovation. Architects have the opportunity to positively impact our communities and contribute to a regenerative, equitable and sustainable future. My advice for young women is to find your professional passion, be tenacious and focus on your goals. Seek out mentors and role models—both men and women—throughout your career. Surround yourself with people who share your values, support you in your professional development and provide opportunities for leadership.


EB Min, Min Design; photo: Jason Madara and George McCalman

EB MIN, principal of Min Design

What’s your firm’s specialty? Our approach is guided by a sense of curiosity and playfulness and informed by our backgrounds in not only architecture but also fine art and landscape design. We’re guided by a philosophy that allows us the flexibility to work across a range of projects at every scale. It’s important that everyone in the studio gets to work on many different things.

What’s a recent project you are particularly excited about? I am excited about everything I’m working on. We have interesting and challenging projects ranging from pro-bono and custom residential to large scale multi-family housing and commercial buildings. The best part is working with great teams of designers and clients, both new and longstanding.

What’s your advice for young women going into the field? Looking back at when I was starting out, I would have liked to hear more often that I shouldn’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to ask for a job, for a meeting, for a project, for help, for compensation. Don’t be afraid to give your opinion, propose a design idea or take a chance. If your current situation isn’t right, seek another. Find a mentor or reach out for advice from people you admire. No one succeeds alone.

The most significant impact on my own career was working for Andrea Cochran and Topher Delaney in their landscape design-build office. This absolutely informed my approach to design and practice. Most importantly, it built my confidence to start a practice of my own.

I would like to see the profession stop framing the question as primarily a women’s issue—we need the participation of men. By framing the question as a women’s issue, it becomes women’s problem to solve. Gender inequality affects the entire profession and it will require the entire profession to create change.


Zoë Prillinger of OPA; photo: ikonphoto

ZOË PRILLINGER, principal at OPA

What’s your firm’s specialty? Our projects are all quite individual explorations. We tend to work with people who are positive about the future and want architecture that expresses that optimism. Space and form have an enormous power to create emotional experiences. 

What’s a recent project you are particularly excited about? We recently finished an interesting residential project in Nevada called Shapeshifter, which merges with its high-desert surroundings. The house is stealthy from the front of the property, beginning low and hidden under earthen berms. The most prominent part of the house cantilevers to overlook incredible mountains views.

What’s your advice for young women going into the field? There’s never been a better time to be a female architect, but considerable tenacity, discipline and belief are still necessary to overcome deep-seated cultural resistance. I was fortunate to grow up in a very supportive family and educational environment in which I always felt that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Based on my own experience, I’m not sure it’s entirely helpful to focus on disadvantages and additional hurdles. The most critical exercise is answering the very personal question of what is worth doing in the first place. What will keep you curious and passionate and lend you the drive you will need to do the work you want to do? 



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