A revision of the consolidated written history

by UN DIA | UNA ARQUITECTA (18th UIFA Congress)

(ir a versión en español)

The history of women architects has not been explained in the same way as the history of their male colleagues. This is because the system of values that has influenced history has prioritized a singular view in which all the things that does not conform to this perspective become unknown, denied and forgotten. This biased view excludes the history of the others, of ethnic minorities of the non-white, and poor.

Even without creating new paradigms or values, there have been women who have followed “classic” parameters – or patriarch- who should have been included in the annals of the history of architecture in equal conditions; but have not been.

The presence of women in the books of the history of architecture is scarce. If we search in a library in some of the most renowned references we find that only 1% refers to female architects or firms where women architects have participated. The remaining 99% is dedicated to men architects and men-only architectural firms.

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When counting the times that women architects are mentioned in these texts, they are even inferior than in general data sets and encyclopedias.

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This leads to a lack of references and role models for female professionals. The study of forgotten women also reveals that the oblivion is not coincidence or one time affair that to a specific historic figure, but rather a persistent trend with clear patterns. As Eli Bartra suggests “one of the questions that often has triggered feminist research is simply: where are the women?” (Bartra, 2012).

 

Historians have contributed to this absence. For example, Pevsner minimizes the work of Elizabeth Wilbraham in his texts. Kenneth Frampton, William Curtis or Christian Norberg Schulz gives almost no visibility to women architects and designers. Christian Norberg Schulz cites the work of the Pietilä, giving authorship to Reima, while reading interviews with the men architect always mentions Raili, her firm partner.

In the Encyclopedia Gustavo Gili de V.M. Lampugnani, with more the 400 cited names, the presence of women is tiny (Lina Bo Bardi does not appear and Gae Aulenti only appears briefly). It is obvious the absence of names of women architects, but also women in general are discriminated when cited in the text. For example, when a team is composed by several men such as Van der Broek-Bakema or Bohigas-Martorell-Mackay, these architects appear twice, one within the group in a generic voice, and another as individual architect.

But when there are women in the team, they only appear in the generic voice of the group of architects, for example, Robert Venturi-Denise Scott Brown or Franco Albini-Franca Helg. Also the media contributes to this lack of representation: for instance, the case of the controversial absence of Patty Hopkins in the picture of presentation of the BBC documentary film The Brits Who Built the Modern World.

It is an example of omission of visibility and acknowledgment of women’s contributions that perpetuates the invention of the hero… This is the case of Alvar Aalto and his female firm partners: Aino Marsio and Elsa Kaisa-Makiniemi or Angela Bielus and Olga Wainstein Krasuk in Estudio Staff in Argentina, group that has been labeled as alternative or with lesser protagonists for being only women.

Also we find male colleagues that do not recognize the work of their female partners, for instance, the case of de Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng. There are women that studied at the same time than their partners, obtaining excellent grades or who worked without the possibility to distinguish their production from the one of men.  This is the case of Julia Morgan who built more than 700 buildings.

In the field of history of science this is called the Matilda Effect, which explains that many women who contributed to important scientific findings such as the DNA or the nuclear fission, working next to male colleagues, were excluded of obtaining the Nobel Prize.

Other architects had to fight against racism such as Norma Sklarek. Many of them have developed a critical reflection about gender and have worked to break inequality, for example, Wivi Lönn, who in 1942 founded the Association of Women Architects in Finland, or Milka Bliznakov who created the International Archive of Women in Architecture in 1985.

  

Inés Moisset had the idea to dedicate each day during one year to a woman architect. Other architects known for their gender analysis such as Zaida Muxí and Eva Alvarez joined the project, and a network started between colleagues interested in this theme. We question why so few women are known in architecture, when for decades now in many university departments, especially in Latin America, female students have represented 50% of the total class. It is this way that the idea of publish on-line came up and we have created the blog One day | one woman architect – Un día |una arquitecta.

 

As a group, we created a list of 365 women selected from 500 profiles. The list includes women architects since 1400 to the present, trying to rescue the greatest diversity of nationalities and the diverse practices of the profession: project, design, recycling, teaching, theory, urban planning, curatorship, etc. Ultimately this means to rethink the discipline, often focused on the hero and the genius, the white architect dedicated to design and construction of buildings. At the same time we have identified excellent and highly inspirational architectural projects developed by female architects that history has not included. There is an incredible and high quality production, which is not available in regular bibliographies.

Our goal is to increase the visibility of female architects who have formally studied with the exception of the ones born before the 1900s. Since this is not a research project of primary sources, we have gathered names cited in academic works. We will present published material of many women architects, although largely it is sparse material and published in different languages.

We ask how they were able to work and survive in such adverse environments and how historians and their colleagues of the time valued women architect’s work. To review the contemporary architects, we have personally interviewed them to incorporate aspects that are not evident in their formal resumes, in particular, issues related with their difficulties to work as women architects. We make an effort to illustrate each woman as a person, not as an abstract name attached to a list of works and publications.

The team seeks to give visibility through two actions: “surfing” and “diving”. It is possible to initially know a first mark or “virtual footprint” of the woman architect of the day: complete name, picture, date of birth; and then to dive in her personal history. It is important to present the texts but also the images and visual material, which are fundamental in this discipline.

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This is a project specifically thought for the social and virtual networks. WordPress is our blog platform, which allows us to post and edit contents from all places. Through Facebook we have a closed work group where we share information of the blog themes, about how to write with a non-sexist language. This is the backstage of the blog, where we discuss criteria, make decisions, exchange information, and where we ask and support each other. These tools are sustained by the experience in the editorial field of some team members. The rest of members publish often in known architectural media.

The virtual exchange platforms that we use have allowed us to multiply the objective of the project. We realized this few months after the blog was launched. Thinking this project without the information, social and exchange networks would have been practically impossible. The diversity of the blog is possible due to the modality of interconnected work. In addition, these technologies support directly the main goal of the project: to make visible and socialize the contribution of women architects in different areas of the field.

Through the blog and Facebook we have received considerable support and encouragement and surprise for the quality of the outlined professionals and for how incredible is their invisibility. Several professors of Latin American universities have written thanking us for making available this material, as well as architects who feel identified with some of personal biographies.  As we mentioned before, the material about women architects is scarce and mostly written in other languages than Spanish. When we write we make a strong effort to get material and present it in Spanish, to share it with the Spanish speaking community. Male colleagues have been included as guests to write some biographies and also some male colleagues disseminate and share in a daily basis the context of One day| One woman architect.

In the group, there are women architects who work to give visibility through the press, teaching and research. This multiplies the communication of our efforts. After four months, we have realized that due to the format and regularity of the blog and the Facebook page, the work is having a great impact.

We know that in the history of rights and access to opportunities, in general, and women in particular, nothing has been easy to achieve without fighting. For this reason we consider essential to contribute our bit.

We believe that to promote a balance it is necessary to review history, which is a major task. We will be here citing some of the main characters and organizing the information. Each entry is a door that opens to discover the work, achievements and challenges that these professionals face. It is the different ways of developing the profession where we can find today, beyond the contexts, in everyday life situations. In these 365 days we are exploring five centuries where every day, a woman architect, will accompany us …

 

BARTRA, E. (2012). Acerca de la investigación y la metodología feminista. En N. BLAZQUEZ GRAF, F. FLORES PALACIOS, & M. RIOS EVERARDO (Edits.), Investigación Feminista: epistemología, metodología y representaciones sociales. México: UNAM, Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades.

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