Why Aren't There More Women at Portland Architecture Firms?

Bora partner Amy Donohue talks bros, flow, and higher ed.

By Ko Ricker March 20, 2017 Published in the April 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

Pomo 0417 bora microsoft office nsylq7

The Bora-designed Microsoft Building 83 in Redmond, Washington.

Amy Donohue is one of only a handful of female principals at Portland architecture firms. The 44-year-old Bora partner spearheaded major projects, including Portland State’s Lincoln Hall and Oregon State’s Learning Innovation Center, and is now working on the Pearl’s Block 20 condos. Bora, meanwhile, became the city’s first architecture firm to institute a paid family leave policy in 2015.  

What’s with all these bros in this line of work?

When I was in undergrad, there were 85 of us in my year, and 18 were women. When I went to Princeton [for grad school], it was 50–50. But I’m still the only woman at the partner level here at Bora. I’m one of six partners, so I would love to have some company. I think sometimes assumptions are made about young women—perhaps about their commitment to the profession. There has to be a willingness from all of us in leadership positions to make opportunities for young women.

Pomo 0417 bora amy donohue nb8lfo

Amy Donohue

How did you know this was your calling?

My mother always tells stories about me going to parties as a 5-year-old, and I would come home and explain more about the house than I would about the party. I was very interested in the experience of moving through the space. Where did people enjoy being in the house? How did they use it? How did it flow?

What do you mean, flow?

You have to make sure that the exterior and the interior flow. You have to make sure that the space is really supporting people and giving them opportunities to connect with one another. We can suggest behavior through architecture. We can make spaces that support better interaction—we work a lot in higher education, so often it’s the interaction between teacher and student, or the interaction between students doing a project together.

How does your work align with higher education?

I come from a family of educators, so it’s a natural fit for me. It’s fascinating: I meet physicists who are doing these incredible experiments, or computer scientists, or writers, and I’m getting to learn about what they are trying to do and how my design can support them doing it. It was great to see the reaction of some of the students [at OSU]. I asked this young man, “What do you think of the space?” He said, “Oh, this place is sick!” Which, I think, was a good thing.

Three Iconic Portland Landmarks Designed by Women

OHSU Tram 

Only the country’s second such urban aerial tram, this high-flying cable car was designed by Sarah Graham, a cofounder of the Los Angeles/Zurich firm AGPS.

Portland aerial tram in the snow huoplp

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Merryman Barnes, one of the first Northwest women-owned firms when it was founded in 1992, worked with Suzhou-based designer Kuang Zhen Yan and over more than 65 Chinese artisans to create this serene Old Town landmark. 

22786796176 f2a7af72ef o nsee6d

Portland Art Museum

Boston-based Ann Beha’s firm led the Portland Art Museum’s major 2005 expansion and renovation, which won awards from AIA Northwest and the Boston Society of Architects.

Portland art museum mark building   oregon mjjkxy
Filed under
Show Comments