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BUILT BY WOMEN

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Younger women in the AWA still feel they have the harder route, nonetheless. Although some schools (Columbia, Cooper Union) may count 40 or 50 percent female students, others don't (Harvard has only 10 percent, chosen from 10 percent female applicants, however). Meanwhile, women account for only 1.9 percent of the nation's registered architects, and bias remains.

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Interviewed for a job in the late 1970s, Nancy Vigneau found the familiar refrain. ''They just think you're doing it for a hobby. The first question is: 'When are you getting married?' '' That's her description of the inquiry from one of the largest firms in Hartford, Conn. After two years, it finally said, ''You're not getting married.''

Nonetheless, most AWA members report progress. If their exhibition underscores variety vs. achievement, founder Regi Goldberg asks for forbearance: ''Women are just proving themselves,'' she says, citing the organization's starting goals: places in universities; visibility in the press and architecture community; encouragement to register as an official architect; and support in opening their own practices. In 1973, 80 percent of male architects took the final step (registration) and only 20 percent of the women, she says. Today women have reached 60 percent.

Women have gone from ''pretty drawings'' to hard-hat supervision, as she says , from fuzzy eccentricities to work in larger firms. Whether these gains in male-defined success have moved them too far from the softer, if stereotyped, caring work assigned to women in homes, community projects, nurturing designs, is an ongoing question here as in other professions.

Women in the show consult, write, teach, and use their skills in multiple ways. Will they produce a ''woman's way of building''?

Susana Torre, for one, feels that in architecture, as in any art, experience stamps the work. ''And women's experience is different.'' Regi Goldberg notes the new approach of her women students and hopes they will produce a ''new population'' in design.

''I'm sure the way I look at things and respond to things is different,'' says Marjorie Hoog of Prentice/Chan and Olhausen, ''but it's hard to tell what that coloring is, that trademark or brand.'' At the same time, Ms. Hoog, at 35, has had to acquire special skills to help her on the site - ''humor and being the best workman,'' she says. ''You have to learn to be a little tough, to be aggressive.''

''There are times when you look around and don't see other women.'' Jocelyn Brainard describes how the alliance helps: ''It's kind of an affirmation.'' Ideally, the alliance would help women designers affirm both these traits - the toughness to be soft, and the softness to be tough.

''The public must first learn to trust us, as it does lawyers or doctors, before architecture can develop into a great art,'' the 19th-century critic Marion van Rensselaer put it. ''Only when a public has learned to put its interest in building into the hands of trustees who are architects can the latter do their best work.''

''If this view is accepted,'' Susana Torre has added, ''women architects would still have to repeat this plea nearly a century later.'' She and others are laboring to make this more than a plea these days.