Reema Masri, Principal Architect and owner of MORe can relate to the sentiments shared in this impactful Toronto Star article found at this link and inserted below: Q4 Architects wants more women in the field
When Frances Martin-DiGiuseppe was studying architectural technology at Toronto’s Centennial College, a professor — speaking to a class filled mostly with men — dissuaded her from continuing her studies.
“His words were to the effect of ‘You’re here to find a husband and then you won’t even practise.’ He kind of thought women … he didn’t take them seriously,” Martin-DiGiuseppe recalls.
“Things were different then. It was the ’70s. You just carried on. For me, there was a sense of pride,” she says.
Today, Martin-DiGiuseppe is the founder and principal at Toronto-based Q4 Architects. She wants to see more women in Canada holding positions like hers.
Over her career, Martin-DiGiuseppe has become an architectural leader who gets behind projects — housing related and otherwise — that have socially conscious purposes. For instance, her firm built a centre in Oakville that provides free services, including physical and emotional therapy, for people living with cancer, as well as Marnie’s lounge, an in-patient space in Toronto’s Sick Kids hospital.
She was also an early adopter in addressing the so-called “missing middle” — mid-density housing such as townhouses, semis and row houses — as her firm years ago designed suites, produced development schemes and proposed zoning and design guidelines that helped the town of Markham create policy for secondary units — coach houses — over garages in laneways.
“They created a lot of rental stock in Markham,” Martin-DiGiuseppe says.
She believes Toronto needs more missing middle housing as a viable solution to the city’s density challenges and a way to help stem the problem of housing affordability.
“Somebody has to show leadership on this issue,” Martin-DiGiuseppe says in an interview at her office on Avenue Rd., near Hwy. 401.
From the time she was a young girl, Martin-DiGiuseppe wanted to become an architect, like her grandfather and great-grandfather on her dad’s side.
Her parents were solidly behind this pursuit.
But she was discouraged by others from getting into the field “lots of times” she says.
Her high school guidance counsellor in Aurora and the professor at Centennial both tried to dissuade her because she is female.
As it turns out, she did later get married — her husband, Maurice DiGiuseppe, is currently associate dean in the faculty of education at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology — and they had two children, a boy and a girl.
As a result, she ended up completing her education “the long way,” she says.
After finishing the three-year architectural technology program at Centennial, she attended the University of Toronto in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. She tried to do those studies part-time but decided to stop.
Raising a family required that she find a job and take a break from her education and her career.
She did, however, later resume her studies, enrolling at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) in Toronto, where architects went to do combinations of studies to complete their degrees. During this time she also worked at an architectural firm in the city and later rose to the position of principal.
In 2004, she launched what would later become Q4, a firm specializing in residential designs that now has 46 employees in Toronto and 10 in Calgary.
She completed the RAIC syllabus program in 2009.
She’s a major proponent of women pursuing carriers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — architecture is loosely considered part of the engineering field.
“I’m well aware of STEM and the need to encourage women to get into those fields,” she says.
According to figures from the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, this school year 62 per cent of the 388 students in its master’s programs — architecture, landscape architecture or urban design — are women.
But 2016 Statistics Canada figures show there is still a gap between the number of women and men in the field nationally.
StatCan data show that women account for 5,340 of the 16,770 architects working in Canada — 32 per cent.
“Architecture has a lot more women grads today than in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Still, not enough are becoming licensed architects.” (There’s a lengthy internship between graduating with a master’s degree in architecture and getting a licence, typically four or five years).
Martin-DiGiuseppe says she encourages women at her firm.
“We hire good people, so there’s no affirmative action or targets here,” she adds.
But Q4 tries to accommodate the busy and demanding lives of its female staff, she explains.
It’s not about one solution fitting everyone, but rather a conversation that considers the types of schedules they need to make their lives work, says Martin-DiGiuseppe.
“One mother may need to work four days. We have another mother who works from home. Another starts later in the day. We accommodate fathers, too, but women still do a lot of the child care. And so making it easier for them to continue working is a win-win,” she says.
Some of the women she’s describing are architects, others are intern architects.
Q4, which also employs architectural technologists, interior designers and finance and administrative staff, does work throughout Ontario, Alberta and several U.S. states.
The firm was the architect behind the recently completed homes on federal land at Downsview Park, nearly 600 units in all including townhomes, affordable rental units and single-family dwellings. The construction value is an estimated $350 million.
The firm is designing a similar project at an Air Force base in Ottawa. The first phase of construction is underway on the Wateridge Village development in Rockcliffe Park and will feature townhomes. Apartments will come in a later phase and the more than 500 units in all will respond to the need for more density — more people requiring housing — in Ottawa.
Frances applies the same conversational approach she has with employees to clients as well.
Peter Gilgan, CEO and founder of Mattamy Homes, the co-builder on the Downsview Park project, a client and a friend of Martin-DiGiuseppe for several years, says he had many experiences with residential architects before meeting Martin-DiGiuseppe.
“Generally, I noticed that they were not particularly good listeners. They seemed to know all of the answers before I sat down with them,” he said.
“But I found Frances to be very different. She was very open to the idea of conversations and open to the idea of saying, ‘Let’s really think this through before we design the homes,’ ” Gilgan said in an emailed statement.
Q4 has designed housing developments in the 905 where townhomes, single-family dwellings and mid-rises are all together, but that’s difficult to do in Toronto, says Martin-DiGiuseppe, who was born in this city.
One of the reasons, she says, is so-called “yellow belt zoning,” named after the yellow markings city planners use to show areas in the city’s official plan where higher density zoning isn’t permitted and only detached and a limited number of semi-detached homes are allowed.
“We have a lot of highrises in Toronto. What we don’t have is midrise,” she points out.
One solution can be found on a number of roads in the city that have an aging shop with an apartment above, she argues.
“Instead we could put a six-storey building in there and house a number of people, and replace the shops on the ground floor because we don’t want to lose the retail and the jobs and neighbourhood businesses,” she says.
As well, Martin-DiGiuseppe says infill solutions lie near apartment buildings on streets such as Sheppard Ave. or Don Mills Rd. in North York. These streets are home to towers surrounded by green space or huge parking lots.
“What about filling in some of those spaces? Get the parking underground and start building overtop,” she says.
There are also a lot of strip malls that are not doing anything for the city or the communities they’re in, she argues.
“Why not replace some of them with businesses that address the street and have new housing above? That would be great,” she says.
These are ideas that could help stem the flow of people leaving the city for cheaper housing outside the core, she adds.
“A lot of people go to the suburbs to buy their houses, but is this really what they want to do, especially with the traffic congestion on the roads and highways?
“It’s more than sustainability, or air pollution or environmental protection. I see it as protection of people’s mental health, too. I don’t think it’s very healthy spending hours in your car every day. Think of the toll that takes on a family.”