"Veterinarian? You don't even like to feed the dog!" was my father's reply when I said that I wanted to apply to the University of California at Davis and study veterinary medicine.
He did, however, make another observation that would pan out.
"I've noticed that you like to go through your mother's Better Homes and Gardens magazines comparing the floor plans of the 'befores' and the 'afters.' Why not go into Interior Design?" This inspired the healthy "one-upmanship" which is prevalent in my immediate household. Instead of interior design, I thought to myself, "HA! I'll go into ARCHITECTURE!" And so it began.
Being an African American woman in a traditionally white male profession has had its ups and downs, no doubt. I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with roughly 50 percent women in my graduating class, and I was among the five to six who were black. Going out into the "Real World," I found the percentage of women in architecture firms astoundingly low: two or three women for every 15 men in most firms at the time. I didn't see anyone who looked like me for quite a few years. Was it hard? It could be isolating. I think this truly explains why I have kept in touch with the black women architects, construction managers and designers that I've met over the years.
We broke barriers. Stared adversity (real and perceived) in the face and went for what we knew. Simply put, no matter what, I love the profession. Who wouldn't? Where else does an artist at heart get to draw something that may get built and contribute to society? I have to say, the ride has been a good one.
Being an architect in a mainstream firm with roughly 50 percent women has been a total blast! I've had the opportunity of working on an all-woman team early in my career at WATG. This may seem minor, but I don't know of many large firms that would field a team of all women that kicked butt and took names!
From my experience and observations, WATG has consistently recognized that women in the design and construction field contribute as much as men.
So is it really a man's world? Look out boys, here we come! GO girls, GO!
What is ecotourism? It’s a term we hear repeatedly in the leisure and hospitality industry, and has enjoyed increasing usage over the past 10 years. It is often associated with high-end, small scale hotels and lodges in stunningly beautiful, frequently exclusive, natural locations. But what is it?
Although the term was first coined by Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, a Mexican architect and environmentalist in the early 1980's, it did not come into common usage until the 1990's. It is based on the concept of sustainable development:
"People need to strive to provide for their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
This concept was formalised with the signing of Agenda 21 at the United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This then led to what is known as the 'triple bottom line' concept where environmental, economic and social concerns must be satisfied to ensure sustainability.
This had important repercussions on the tourism industry and finally led to the evolution of a new type of tourism, "ecotourism" and various forms of sustainable tourism.
The term ecotourism has been widely used in many different contexts: there are a plethora of definitions and much controversy surround them. But that of TIES (the International Ecotourism Society) is one of the most widely accepted and relevant:
"Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people."
This means that those who implement and participate in responsible tourism activities should follow these ecotourism principles:
• minimize impact
• build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
• provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
• provide direct financial benefits for conservation
• provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
• raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
Although the above might seem like a tall order, ecotourism is basically about creating a balance to achieve a 'win-win' outcome and results in benefits for all concerned but particularly for local communities.
Ecotourism is often wrongly used by the hospitality industry to describe lodges that do not exhibit any of the above principles. This is often referred to as "greenwashing" where destinations, products, companies claim to be green and follow sustainable principles but are and do neither. It also attracts a number of myths. Some of these are:
• it is only concerned with nature
• lodges are basic and rustic, or conversely
• lodges are very upmarket and affordable to few
All are untrue…..ecotourism lodges are usually located in natural environments but can engage in many activities not related to nature as long as they are sustainable. They can range from simple and unsophisticated to luxurious and exclusive.
Kuyima Lodge in Mexico and Al Maha in the United Arab Emirates refer to their lodges as ecotourism resorts but interestingly differ markedly when scored against the ecotourism principles above. Kuyima was built using local building materials; it is run on renewable energy, and, provides jobs for local people who also manage it. Al Maha helps conserve the natural environment and operates a conservation area but it uses non-renewable energy and is owned and managed by Emirates Airlines, not the local community.
These examples are at opposite ends of the green spectrum where the most sustainable ecotourism i.e. increased social responsibility and decreasing environmental impact is considered "dark green." Less sustainable ecotourism is considered "light green."
So what has all this to do with us at WATG?
Our business revolves around the leisure and hospitality industry. We are leaders in this field in the design industry and so must be responsive to current trends and new thinking. Ecotourism is a relatively new trend and, although currently only a small percentage of the tourism industry, is growing very rapidly (20-34% per year according to the World Tourism Organisation.)
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