After a period of dormancy, the topic of women in architecture has once again become salient. Globally, women have made significant gains in the profession, but as recent reports attest, they have yet to reach professional equity. In an international survey published on February 26th, 2016, The Architectural Review found that only fifteen percent of respondents thought that women’s authority has been accepted by the building industry. Forty percent of female respondents thought they were paid less than their male colleagues, and seventy-two percent had experienced harassment or discrimination at work.1 These statistics provide just a snapshot of the issues women face when pursuing careers in architecture.
Women’s participation in architecture dates back to at least the nineteenth century in both Europe and North America and to the beginning of the twentieth century in Latin America, Spain, and Brazil. But it was not until the 1960s in Europe and North America, and even more recently in the Spanish and Portuguese- speaking world, that women embraced feminist tactics to improve their professional status. In Europe, Solange d'Herbez de La Tour launched the Union Internationale des Femmes Architectes in 1963.2 In the United States, female architects formed their own professional organizations from the early 1970s onwards and began to research women’s historic contributions to architecture. Projects like Susana Torre’s 1977 groundbreaking exhibition and book, Women in American Architecture, introduced the historic and contemporary work of female architects to a larger audience. Other groups addressed how redesigning the built environment could improve women’s lives, for example the US-based Women’s Development Corporation (1979)3 and the UK-based Women’s Design Service(1984).4 In the 1990s, another wave of scholars, located mainly in the US and the UK, gave conferences and published articles including: Sexuality and Space, The Sex of Architecture, and Desiring Practices; the culmination was the invaluable anthology Gender, Space, Architecture published in 2000 by Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner, and Iain Borden.
As Nuria Álvarez Lombardero points out in her article, the global economic crisis of 2008 increased unemployment amongst architects, particularly women. So, it should not be a surprise that the resurgence of interest in women in the profession started during the economic downturn. From performance art to exhibiting the work of women architects, a new generation of activists and scholars continues the work of dissecting gender, representation, technology, and the contributions women have made to architecture.5 Since 2008, women have launched new initiatives to support and promote the work of female architects, including Parlour6 in Australia, Architexx7 and Equity by Design8 in the United States, Arquitetas Invisíveis9 in Brazil, and Un día, una arquitecta10 in Latin America. Unlike in earlier periods, those active today in one part of the world can connect to others around the globe using the various means of communication and social media available. Even with the challenge of language barriers, there is amazing potential for an extended global discussion regarding women in architecture. This is manifest in the multinational effort to write women architects into the digital record. One of these initiatives is #WikiD,11 supported by Parlour, Architexx, and Nails in Berlin, which has contributed to Wikipedia in English and German. In an essay she wrote, Inés Moisset, one of the Un día, una arquitecta founders, describes the challenges and progress that has been made in including women’s profiles in the Spanish-language version of Wikipedia. As Despina Stratigakos pointed out in her 2013 article, “Unforgetting Women Architects: From the Pritzker to Wikipedia”, this work is crucial to avoid the loss of women’s histories in the digital age.12
In the current climate of women’s activism and scholarship both within and outside architecture (massive global participation in January at the Women’s March being an example), this issue of DEARQ contributes to the discourse by showcasing a cross-cultural selection of articles about, and projects by, women.
Working between cultures and languages is not without its pitfalls as concepts and contexts get lost in translation and references are not always shared. Many of those that are originate from the English-speaking world, a fact which overlooks possible contributions to the discourse from other cultures. By bringing to light some of the newer material, in particular from Spain and Latin America, we hope to start to rectify this imbalance in the scholarship while at the same time promoting a discussion across gaps in culture and language. The language barrier also means that histories and important figures that are known in one part of the world have not necessarily reached other parts. Juan Fernando Valencia Granda’s article on the pivotal role Phyllis Lambert played as the client of the Seagram’s building and Ana María Flórez’s on women at the Bauhaus introduce these important topics to a new audience.
Despite cultural differences, what becomes clear from the articles submitted for this publication is that the challenges facing women in the profession are eerily similar, no matter the cultural context. This is highlighted by the resonance between the performance of gender in the architectural review, explored by Elisa Iturbe, and the gendering of architectural visualization, discussed by María Novas Ferradás. In both cases, social expectations of gender, whether understood through Butler’s performative theory or Simone de Beauvoir’s social construction of sex and gender, shape the roles women play: from how students present themselves to juries to their educational and career choices. Nuria Álvarez Lombardero’s portrayal of female architects in Spain could easily have been set in the US, Australia, Colombia, or any number of other places in the world.
The diversity of articles in this issue are a testament to the richness of the scholarship and the original approaches taken. Together, the various contributors force us to consider how gender and paternalistic structures affect women in the profession, how we produce images, and even, as Jan Smitheran shows in her text, how we define success. The authors further highlight the possible roles women play in architecture, as students, teachers, and practitioners as well as the long history of their contributions to design and construction.
5 A showcase of this new work was presented at the 2016 AHRA conference, “Architecture and Feminisms,” http://architecturefeminisms.org/.