On reading yet another article about architect Denise Scott Brown , this one on the architecture website www.archdaily.com, I started to write a post to upload in response. My internet connection was slow and there was some lag time for its review and adjudication, so my post did not upload. Just as well, I thought, as I was mostly sharing insights from books I’ve read rather than my own personal experiences, unlike the other two commenters. And since this topic has been of interest to me for a long time, I decided to share it here on my blog. It is not an easy topic to address without coming across as a victim or a nag. I’ve been wanting to address this topic for a long time but had held off for those very reasons. However, this fact remains: there are far fewer women practicing architecture (stats show 17% of licensed U.S. architects are women) compared to the number of women who graduate from architecture school (women make up about 50% of current graduating classes). I think my own graduating class in the 1980s had about 12 women graduating (probably about 7% of the class?).
Here is my edited post in response to the above-mentioned article by Arch Daily regarding Denise Scott Brown and the low percentage of licensed female architects in practice today:
I’m glad Denise Scott Brown is standing up for herself and (finally) getting the support and recognition she deserves for her contributions to architecture.
Long fascinated by the conundrum of women in architecture versus women who fade away from architecture, I’ve been researching and reading various books, blogs, and articles on the topic. One book that stands above the rest is Dana Cuff’s Architecture: The Story of Practice, MIT Press, 1992. Another enlightening book I’ve found is: The Architect- Chapters in the History of the Profession, Edited by Spiro Kostof; it has a new Foreword and Epilogue by Dana Cuff, University of California Press, c. 2000 (original by Oxford University Press, Inc., c. 1977). In reading this second book, I feel as though I’ve cracked the code as to why- up until current times- there have been so few women who have succeeded in Architecture and as to why the AIA had seemed to, for the most part, disown residential design.
One need look no further than Gwendolyn Wright’s essay in Kostof’s book, p.280-308.
She starts off with two quotes, the first one is most piercing:
“Women are as imaginative as men; they just have the wrong kind of imagination for architecture.”- Bruce Goff (whoever he is, I feel sorry for his comment).
Ms. Wright goes into great detail, describing in chronological order, key decisions- made by mainstream public culture and by the profession- that kept women at bay from becoming more central in the profession of architecture.
You might be wondering why bring this up now, despite the hoopla about whether or not Ms. Brown should be retroactively recognized for her role in her husband being awarded the Pritzker Prize. And in light of the Great Recession, who really cares if women were pushed aside years ago? Well, for now, my goal is to raise awareness of the existence of these books and compilation of essays in hopes you and others will read them, too, and will engage in more open dialogue about this issue overall. I believe it is incumbent upon us as a profession to reach a more clear understanding of how we’ve arrived at “this place,” i.e. the place of too few women remaining in the field of architecture after having toiled alongside men in architecture schools and studios.
I find Ms.Wright’s essay astounding! It was published in 1977 and would have been available for my perusal when I was in college. Had I read it, I would have had a more clear perspective on what to expect- and conquer- in architecture. The famous saying: “those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it…” is applicable.
Ms.Wright’s essay, titled “On the Fringe of the Profession: Women in American Architecture,” is shedding much light on this topic for me with passages such as this starting on p.282 where she quotes from an editorial published in the September 30, 1876 issue of American Architect and Building News on the “woman issue:”
“‘First, the planning of houses, at least so far as the convenience of their arrangement is concerned, though a very necessary part of an architect’s duty, is not architecture at all; and the ability to arrange a house conveniently does not in the least make an architect. There are thousands of people who can adjust the plans of houses to their own perfect satisfaction and convenience, and to those of others, and who do it, but who yet are not architects; just as there are millions of people who know their multiplication-table thoroughly, and use it constantly, and yet are not mathematicians [p. 313].’
She then goes on to observe:
“This statement, issued some time after the founding of the American Institute of Architects in 1857, signified a major schism in opportunities for the sexes and in architecture practice itself. Not only was the division of labor between men and women clearly stated, but there was the implicit dismissal of most domestic architecture as too lowly for professional consideration. The profession would favor theory over practicality, theoretician over user, monument over common building, as well as men over women.”
Did you read that last part?: “The profession would favor….men over women.”
And she concludes that section with these words:
“From the late 1800s on, women and housing were both on the periphery of the increasing corporate network of professional concerns.”
I will be sharing further thoughts on this urgent, intriguing topic, so please stay tuned to this blog…
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share your perspectives, thoughts, and personal experiences in the comment section below.
*Revised and edited 05-14-2013 by TI