Double Whammy

Would there be more women in architecture if there were more women in development?

Architect, Sept. 2012

It was a brownfield site, an old car dealership in New Orleans’s Warehouse District. Five years ago, Angela O’Byrne, AIA, envisioned something more there: a mixed-use, 10-story, carbon-neutral redevelopment, the first of its kind in the city.

She would develop as well as design the project, she decided. Taking on both roles made sense. After all, O’Byrne, president of Perez, a New Orleans–based architectural and engineering firm, had earned a master’s in real-estate development at Columbia University and, decades earlier, had developed smaller projects. She also had $1 million in cash as collateral.

Her architectural, business, and civic bona fides were clear. A past president of AIA New Orleans and founder of the nonprofit City-Works, she was one of the most successful and recognized architects in the city, a Hispanic woman in a profession with no shortage of white men.

Still, the banks weren’t inclined to lend her $40 million for the project, and so she began wooing more established developers, almost all of whom happened to be men. She hit the golf course with one prospect. With another, who had especially good connections in the banking world, she went on an overnight fishing trip. She was the only woman in the group of five—“I didn’t even know how to fish,” she recalls.

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Photograph by Noah Kalina