1. Archive

Getting there is half the battle // VIVIAN SALAGA: ARCHITECT

It didn't take long for architect Vivian Salaga to learn to pick her battles.

"When you go to the job site and the contractor calls you "little lady,' you just can't take offense," she said.

But when the dean of the architecture school at Kent State won't let you in its master's program, despite high grades and an aced entrance exam, you keep trying.

"He told me I wasn't physically strong enough," Salaga, 48, remembered. "And he said, "You will get married. You will have children.' "

But Salaga, who was a teacher and a school principal before she went into architecture, wouldn't accept his "no" about 20 years ago. "I was older, so I wasn't quite as easily bamboozled," she said.

After two years, he finally said yes.

That wasn't the last case of discrimination Salaga has faced in the 16 years she has spent in the architectural field. Prejudice played a part in the loss of two jobs, she suspects.

After the second layoff, about 12 years ago, Salaga started her own company _ Atelier Architecture Engineering Construction Inc.

But gender discrimination is still a fact of life.

Sometimes, she said, her company was turned down for contracts because the client was worried his wife wouldn't approve of his working with women.

And Atelier Architecture can't rely on other women to boost its client base. The company does mostly corporate work, and few women are high enough up the corporate ladder to make decisions about what architect to hire.

"It's funny, because that glass-ceiling problem in the corporate world affects us," she said.

But after a long struggle, Salaga thinks the company she founded is on sound footing. The company has grown by about a third in the past three years and now employs eight people, on average, she said.

Salaga's specialty is designing educational buildings. Her partner of two years, Niki Rysdale, is a forensic architect who testifies in court about building defects.

One maxim Salaga has learned: "In order to be considered equal, you have to be better. There is just an attitude about women in architecture."