Welcome to Part 5 of the Firm of Her Own Series, which highlights the career of Giusi Mastro. This series is dedicated to all of the women in architecture who commit to providing superior services and work diligently to make their mark. You can visit our profiles of Maya Lin, Angela Brady, Zaha Hadid, and Beverly Loraine Greene, the first four spotlighted in this series — wonderful examples of marketing for female architects.
Women In Architecture: Italian Architect Giusi Mastro
Italian architect and AMI client, Giusi Mastro thinks deeply about the impact of her minimalist designs, informed by her artistic Italian roots. But having a clear style is not enough. She credits her success to clear client communication.
Today we celebrate women in architecture who dare to dream bigger with a profile on contemporary Italian architect Giusi Mastro. She continues along a path first traveled by female architects who paved the way and shattered the glass ceiling of a demanding and male dominated industry.
In a profession where men vastly outnumber women, Mastro stands out. It is with her design expertise that she earns the respect of clients, and her personal and cultural influences illuminate Giusi's perspective on the Essence of Design and Architecture.
One of her core beliefs is that high-end client support is the basis for luxury design.
“A home renovation is a long process, and sometimes frightening,” Mastro says. “It’s important to work closely with a professional. The client-architect relationship is emotional. Clients feel comfortable when they can trust and open up.”
Mastro, true to her name, is a master of transformation. “Even though clients have ideas and dreams, selecting the right architect for their project can help them to dream bigger and beyond what they think is possible,” she says.
When Giusi Mastro founded ORA Studio, she wanted to create an oasis where clients connect with their inner self and can learn a lot about themselves in the duration of the design and renovation process.
Born Into Art
Mastro was born into a family of artists. At their home in Grottaglie, in the region of Puglia, Southern Italy, her father and grandfather were ceramists; on her mother’s side were builders, and her grandmother was a famous seamstress.
“I have always been aware of my creativity, since I was very young,” she reflects, “but the day that one of my favorite teachers told me‚ ‘Giusi, tu sei …figlio d’arte’ meaning you are ‘born into art,’ I at last felt validated.”
At that moment, her teacher positioned this future architect as a unique force in the art world.
All the while, she perceived the world around her through the eyes of an artist. An architectural image she’ll never forget — the star shaped ceiling of her father’s pottery company.
Clay was the first of many materials she experimented with. Today, she recalls the pottery workshop's scent, the freshly fired pots being pulled from the kiln, the vivid colors of the powder used for the enamel.
The clay, glaze, fabrics, and building materials around her engulfed Mastro’s mind in a wave of curiosity. Every experience taught a lesson in proportion, balance and color. Growing up in Italy offered a wealth of architectural knowledge, as well.
“I treasure the timeless beauty of historic buildings spanning centuries,” she said, and this is how she learned to appreciate details.
This creative upbringing nurtured the seed planted in Mastro’s psyche. Yet she felt shy to express her passion for architecture so young. The fourth of seven children … and a girl, she knew in her heart that pursuing a career would be a challenge.
So, she made it happen on her own.
Clear Communication of Design Goals Transforms Friend’s Life
At 19, Mastro set out for the University of Florence. She worked to pay for her education and rented a room with a local family.
As a young woman studying architecture in the late 1970s, she was outnumbered by the many men who came together in this renowned cosmopolitan center for the arts, but she was not deterred.
“I realized, there, the value of being passionate about your craft, becoming a magnet for people who will support your learning,” she says. “My time at university taught me many lessons.”
One of these was the impact of color on our everyday lives, and a story about an eccentric Florentine friend, who encouraged her to design textiles at his company.
“Don’t be shy, you are fashionable and have a good sense of style,” he assured her.
Through their conversations, Mastro realized that her friend was unhappy. She sensed his melancholy in his “black bachelor pad” where he sat amid shiny black lacquer walls, black furniture, and metal accents.
She thought about his emotional challenges from a design perspective. Instinctively, she knew the problem: black absorbs energy and he was living in this dark space.
He was frustrated, and asked Mastro, “Do girls have favorite colors? Or do they only like pink?” Her perspective — there are no male and female colors. There are masculine and feminine sensibilities, but there are men who like bright colors and women who gravitate towards darker colors. It’s more about the character of that person.
“Sometimes men think that using dark colors is more demonstrably masculine and instead of attracting, they repel people,” she reflects. “He took my advice and guidance, and lightened up the space and made some changes that transformed his ‘naughty seeming’ apartment into a more inviting bachelor pad.”
It was one of the first times Mastro would transform a person’s life through design and clear communication.
Bolidismo Movement Sparks Change
Moving forward, Mastro continued to think deeply about the power of design …
The 1980s proved a magical time for architecture in Italy. She utilized this time to hone her networking skills, with a group of friends and students all encouraging each other to create space in their own minds for ideas to blossom.
Mastro, along with 15 colleagues, founded the Bolidismo movement. The meaning of “Boldi” in Italian is rather fitting for this time in her life — something going to high speed. Her group felt inspired by retro cars designed for fast movement.
True to the “Mastro” tradition, she explored many genres of design. She first taught interior architecture. Then she started working as a lighting designer for the renowned manufacturer Targetti. This experience deepened her fascination with how lighting can create ambiance – and is now, a characteristic component of her interior design style.
Becoming a ‘Mastro’ of Architect Marketing
This emerging designer continued to expand her horizons when she moved to New York in 1995 … on a mission to transform lives through design. Even though she had never designed a restaurant before, she took on a restaurant as her first project in the U.S.
The Miami restaurant, Savannah, fit perfectly into in the Art Deco district, and became a nominee for a James Beard Foundation Award in 1997, reinforcing her belief that “if you have a philosophy, you can design anything.”
Mastro’s mission is crystal clear. She thinks deeply about the impact of minimalist design, and its power to create transformations in a space. She implements this in all her services (consultations, space layout, and full renovations as well as custom furniture and lighting design).
ORA Studio, the Firm of Her Own, continues to succeed in fulfilling this mission due to diligent marketing. Giusi Mastro shines brightly among the many architects in NYC. Educational videos showcase her voice and passion, and she deploys special strategies for keeping in touch with a core group of her referrals, who value her advice.
As she says, “The greatest quality for an architect is having the balance between being creative and being a great communicator.”
About the ‘Firm of Her Own’ article series on marketing for female architects
The Architect Marketing Institute recognizes the challenges that women face in establishing leading design practices.
Through this series of articles, we analyze how female architects and designers have shaped our world through persistence and determination, and celebrate their achievements through our A Firm of Her Own designation. (Yes, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own.’).
Each article in this series takes a look at a woman-owned firm in which the female principal has ‘leaned in' (as Sheryl Sandberg says) and impacted this world through projects that matter.
Did you know that 31 percent of architects in the United States are women, yet only 20 percent of architecture firm principals or partners in the U.S. are women?
At the Architect Marketing Institute, we work with many female architects, landscape architects, and interior designers to empower them to build robust, competitive practices that align with their personal values and aspirations, while allowing them to live the life they design. Both male and female architects have experienced this success.
We exist to empower architects and designers through tools, training and resources so that no architect or designer will be at a disadvantage because of gender, race or any other factor.
Are you a female architect marketing your firm? Tell us your story …
If you are a female architect and have a Firm of Your Own, we'd love to hear your story. Please leave it in the comments below!
Bozurka, thank you for sharing your story. I admire your courage to forge your own path and appreciate that you felt moved to be so vulnerable here in the comments. We’d love to get to know you more and see how we can help you market your firm. Have you joined our private Facebook group? Just go here to request to become a member and feel free to message me if you have any questions: archmarketing.org/facebook
Thank you for touching on this topic. As a women architect and also a wife and a mother I often wander weather my carrier would be different if I were a man…. or if other women in architecture feel the same way when at times, I believe, the gender may have been an obstacle. This is my story…a bit long but certainly unique…like any other of my lady colleagues I am sure.
After graduating with an architectural engineering degree in my native Belgrade I worked as a freelancer collaborating on many projects (to build up my experience) but also was fortunate to very early get some of my own work. Unfortunately, due to unstable political situation, I had to leave my country. Quickly after moving to Canada I managed to get a job in a mid-size architectural firm and started the licensing process. It was challenging and time consuming to get the degree certified but that did not stop me from moving forward. Even though I was doing mostly design, soon I realized that prospects to do more creative and diverse work were very limited. Looking for opportunities I received a job offer and moved to Seattle. Through reciprocity I was able to get my American Professional License and after five years working in a larger architectural firm (and after welcoming our son) I decided to go on my own. We through that would be the best for our family (more flexibility and time for our son) but also more flexibility in choosing type of work I would do. With my industrial product design and architectural engineering degrees and solid European interior design experience I finally felt I could do more fulfilling work. It was not always easy. There were challenges along the way. The deadlines overlapping with my son’s sicknesses, projects and clients that could be a bit better, or site inspections where, as a women, I had to prove that my technical knowledge is not inferior just because I ware long hair. Even now after having my own studio for 17 years I still wander if may little practice would be further ahead if I were a men….
Again, thank you for touching on this topic and for reading my story that hopefully may inspire some new, young women architects to stay on the path after graduation and don’t give up their love for architecture easily.
Thank you for sharing your story, Bianca. I’m glad to hear that your family business is so successful in each of your niches.
This company is started by my Aunt and after i came to join as partner. We have two company, one is a renovation and construction company and another is Architecture and Interior Design Studio.
We have been in this industry for more then 14 years. We are base in Cambodia, Phnom Penh.