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
I don’t pay much attention to the Pritzker, or to who’s who in the world of architecture, so I didn’t understand what was behind the efforts on behalf of Denise Scott Brown, and I decided to do just a little digging. Here’s what I found.
The Pritzker had not been given to two people until 2001, ten years after Venturi received it. I admit I don’t know the histories of the award winners, but it seems possible that earlier recipients also were profoundly influenced by their partners. However, the description of the purpose of the award – from the Pritzker website – is “To honor a living architect…” Not two or three, but one. One could argue that the awards to Herzog & de Meuron, and to Sejima & Nishizawa, were incorrect, in that they overstepped the charge of the jury. The fact that the jury followed its instructions in 1991 can hardly be faulted.
There also is the issue of name recognition, always important to juries, regardless of what they say. When I was in architecture school, I had heard of Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, Robert Venturi, and Jorn Utzon. Again, I don’t keep track of who the famous architects are, so if I didn’t know who Denise Scott Brown was, it doesn’t mean much, except that those whose names I do remember had been more highly publicized.
That Venturi supports changing his award to include his wife is seen as significant, but really, what else could he do? More important is what he was doing in 1991. Did he share his fame with Brown? Or did he accept most of the accolades without acknowledging her contributions? Hindsight is clear, but how important was her work perceived to be at that time? Was she seen as being an equal to Venturi, or just a partner in his firm? That her name was included in the name of the firm means little; many firm names include several people, with one accepted as the one who counts.
Most contests have a rule that states, “Decisions of the jury are final.” Like it or not, that’s not unreasonable. Without a cutoff, every award could be debated forever, and the awards would lose meaning. While Brown’s worthiness is debated, perhaps we should open the discussion, and ask if some other architect was more deserving than either Venturi or Brown.
In his acceptance speech, Venturi referred to Brown twice, acknowledging her influence the second time only, when he refers to her as “my fellow artist”. At that point, he says he used “more and more the first person plural, that is, ‘we’ – meaning Denise and I.” He may have been referring to comments other than his speech; of the ten times he used we, only two appear to include Denise. On the other hand, he used “I” forty-seven times.
I’m not saying Brown was or was not a prominent architect, or that she should not have received the award, because I don’t know enough to offer an opinion. Who knows? Maybe it should have been Brown, rather than Venturi, who received the award, but the jury, for whatever reason, thought otherwise.
Assuming her work was as significant as suggested, it seems the correct course of action is for a future Pritzker jury to award a prize to Brown on her own merit. That would both acknowledge her work and comply with the description of the award.
Excellent comments, Sheldon, thank you for sharing. I appreciate the research and thought you’ve put into this important topic.
I think the issue is far greater than one person: Denise Scott Brown.
She now represents an archetype in architecture: the forgotten woman (Calling All Women: Finding the Forgotten Architect— is the title of an excellent essay/blog post by Alexis Gregory, a registered architect and Professor of Architecture at Savannah College of Art and Design). I ran across it in the archives of the AIA KnowledgeNet site. I will provide a link to it later today. (Note: as of 05-14-2013, I have provided the link).
In my opinion, Denise Scott Brown and the group of Harvard students who initiated the award petition are the embodiment of all the pent-up frustration many women architects have felt over the ages- and still feel- at the obvious and subtle discrimination we face in the profession. Not to mention the plain truth: architecture is very difficult and is all-consuming. Not many women have been able to succeed at both being a practicing full time burgeoning architect and being an attentive mother.
Hello Tara: Thank you for this post. I found the highlights of architecture history pertaining to women you cited most helpful in understanding the issue.
Denise Scott Brown’s contribution to architecture was not part of my education. However Venturi’s work is well spelled out in many forms of literature.
It’s hat’s-off to Sheldon Wolfe for his research and insights regarding the award given to Venturi solely. He has been successful in removing ambiguity and replacing with clarity. It appears the purpose of the award “to honour a living architect” is key in the process and it appears the jury exercised sound judgement in their determination.
In my view the energy invested in the petition is unlikely to reverse or modify the decision as to the award recipient. However the petitioners efforts do not go unnoticed and undoubtedly will motivate the administration of the awards to revisit their policy with a view of amending.
While I share your concern about women leaving the profession for a variety of reasons its imperative to recognize the many that have or are practicing and their huge impact in terms of architecture history. For instance I applaud the imagination of Phyllis Lambert (Seagram Building NYC)who applied her time, talents and resources to create the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. The centre was built as a study facility and museum to foster an understanding and establish architecture as a public concern for those with little or no knowledge of the building arts.The centre and it’s contents are the pride of Canada and Phyllis’s impact has been unmatchable.
Thank you and I certainly encourage you to keep up the good work of developing posts that are meaningful and worthwhile.
Thank you for adding brevity to the conversation and for pointing out the importance of “celebrating what’s right”, to use my daughter’s elementary school’s slogan.
There are a number of women who’ve succeeded in architecture, including Phyllis Bronfman Lambert– whom you’d first mentioned to me last summer.
Is it fair to note that her father (the owner and patron of The Seagram Building designed by Mies) was a rich man and put his daughter “in charge” of a large building right out of school. This is a rare scenario, no?
Yet, as you say, she put her money and talents to work by raising the profile of the profession in the ways you’ve mentioned. That’s why she was honored with the Vincent Scully Award in 2006:
And yet, as Le Corbusier quipped, this rings true: “Architects should be born rich or marry into wealth.”
Although I wonder how globalization and the new computer programs such as Revit will change this.
I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.
Bruce Goff was a rarity in the 20th Century, an architect who came up by apprenticing at an architecture firm. He was an imaginative architect. Check out his Bazinger House. My personal connection with him is that he designed the Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an Art Deco Cathedral. He was still in highschool at the time, but he had help from his Art teacher, Adah Robinson.
His young age is a surprise, but he had been apprenticing as an architect since the age of 12. He returned the favor by designing her house some years later. Both her house and the Boston Avenue Methodist church can be be found on my website. The first at my page on Art Deco Houses . It is currently the fourth photo from the bottom, but I keep adding.
The Boston Avenue Methodist Church pics are at my page on Art Deco Statues.
He must have done something right as he became chair of the Architecture Department at the University of Oklahoma.
Thank you for giving me the scoop on Bruce Goff, the gentleman who was quoted in my post above.
I visited your blog links and enjoyed your posts and pics of the Art Deco houses very much.
I’m glad to have met you via Twitter!
If anyone wants to follow Joffre, his twitter handle is @homesower.
You had me at Bruce Goff.
I’m originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, I like organic architecture, I like Bruce Goff, and I grew up next door to a Goff-inspired house.
Oddly, this is the first I’ve heard Goff connected to the Boston Avenue Methodist Church.
Here’s what the webpage of the church itself says about the building design:
“Architects were hired, then dismissed when their suggestions were less than inspiring. Finally, in desperation, the wife of Building Committee Chair C. C. Cole asked Miss Adah Robinson, a University of Tulsa art instructor, for her help. The sketch Robinson produced a few days later was a real shock to committee members, but her idea gradually caught on. The design was done in a new art deco style rather than the then-popular Gothic architecture, and included a round sanctuary and a slender 15-story tower. With the 1920’s oil boom at its peak, church members were optimistic enough about the future to embrace both the new look and the $1,500,000 commitment. Robinson’s design was approved, and Rush, Endacott, & Rush architectural firm was hired. A young man named Bruce Goff, one of Robinson’s students and an employee of the firm, did the drafting and another former student, Robert Garrison, created the sculptures. Robinson supervised the project, working closely with church members and construction workers through the building’s completion.”
Sounds as if Robinson came up with the design concept and supervised construction… and Goff… did the drafting. Now, I’m a person who believes that the technical people (detailers, specifiers, drafters) are the people who make the execution of a design concept possible. And detailing is part of design, but not usually big D design. The technical people often aren’t big D designers, and big D designers are what we think of as architects… and this is so weird that it’s come up in your post about Denise Scott Brown and the Pritzker… that her husband won for his work with her…
Considering Goff’s comment about women, and this building that some people attribute to him, and some attribute to Robinson, well, I’m not sure what to say.
Thanks for your comments! It’s great to see you here. As always, you bring added clarity to the discussion.
I am going to think more about this matter involving the Bruce Goff quote (from the book as mentioned in my post above) and respond later.
For now, these are my current thoughts on the overall Pritzker issue (not directed to anyone in particular):
It seems to me that pitting women against men in the work arena never ends well– and, unfortunately, that’s what the Pritzker debate seems to be devolving into.
And relatedly, in my opinion, efforts to increase diversity in the workforce are like climbing a slippery slope. Can someone’s talents be held back or ignored by others? Yes. Can we do anything about it in retrospect without getting down in the mud? No, it would seem not.
I agree with the sigh for sure!
Regarding Bruce Goff and the Boston Avenue Methodist Church:
I found the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Boston Avenue Methodist Church from 1977. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/78002270.pdf
It addresses the controversy.
“…the rough sketch of a high school art instructor, Miss Adah Robinson, finally captured the imagination of the building committee chairman.”
“The architectural firm of Rush, Endacott and Rush was hired to supervise construction of the revolutionary church, in conjunction with Miss Robinson, who was charged with supervision of the art features.”
“Miss Robinson was no architect or engineer, hence the need for an architectural firm. But her role in Boston Avenue extended far beyond that of provider of the original, be-towered sketch and supervisor of ‘art features.’… art features involved almost every step of construction… She is thus recognized generally as principal architect of the church’s interior.”
“… difficult to determine is the responsibility and/or credit to be assigned Bruce Goff, the brilliant, young, admittedly controversial Rush, Endacott and Rush architect who undoubtedly did much of the firm’s work on the church… although probably not as much as he later claimed!… The church was eventually constructed pretty much according to Adah Robinson’s original rough sketches. The basic concept of Boston Avenue is undoubtedly hers.”
Fantastic research! Thank you for finding and sharing this info on Art teacher Adah Robinson, making it clear she was the designer of the historic Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Oklahoma and Bruce Goff was essentially the architect who prepared the working drawings.
Regarding Mr. Goff’s alleged quote (referenced in my original post), I read Gwendolyn Wright’s essay’s bibliography and it did not contain the source citation for that particular quote. But it was fabulous reading for info on other resources on the topic of the role of women in design, work culture, society, and architecture.
I will continue to research the source of the Bruce Goff quote.
A quick addition to this stream. First Bruce Goff is a fascinating and legendary cult architect in Oklahoma and part of that wholly amorphous brand of architecture called “organic.”. He was a drafting prodigy and did a series of very quirky and idiosyncratic buildings of which the best surviving example is the Ruth Ford House in Aurora, Illinois. The interior of this house is an absolutely challenging and enjoyable space. Easy to Google for images. Goff was an outsider architect and rejected the AIA establishment completely and was a very early enthusiast for what was at the time radical modern music. Only as a passing thought, Goff was a homosexual, so those hoping to interpret the comments as being somehow anti-women from the perspective of an entitled white male may have to be careful how they elaborate their views. A lot of silly stuff is written about Goff but the best work is by Sidney Robinson (who happens to live in the Ford House). Goff and Philip Johnson are a truly fascinating comparison.
There are phenomenally capable and talented women in architecture. The reasons for the lack of representation has as much to do with the stupid macho studio education as much as the simple fact that they may not suffer fools as gladly as men in architecture seem to do. But of course there are so many men in architecture who are themselves masters of puffery, so suffering other fools gladly is an easy task. Unfortunately, Brown was a terrible architect, so was Venturi for that matter. The intellectual back-bone of their work was silly (as with many pontificating architects) but was deeply marred by the fact that Ventuir’s seminal work produced after his Rome Prize was a plagiarized version of the work of a prominent literary critic of the time and sets the pattern for this kind of plagiarism in architecture ever since. Women architects deserve a much more thoughtful model than Brown, and they can begin by being the first to call foul on all the bunk that passes for design with a capital “D” these days and insist of intellectual as well as ethical integrity. The last two are in short supply in the current world of architecture no matter the gender.
The reasons, it seems to me, for the lack of women in architecture is the same reason that most talented people leave the architectural profession. They can’t stand the mumbo jumbo and are smart enough to get jobs that pay better and give them more options in life. The glass ceiling exists in architecture, and once smart talented women or men realize this they can find ways to move on and out. The fact that there are fewer women has always seemed to me an indication that women are simply smarter and won’t put up with crap to the degree that often infantile young (and as often old) male architects with visions of greatness will tolerate.
Often enough, the women that remain move into solo practice if they can, or if they have financial resources, create small firms that reject the professional silliness both intellectually and ethically. Extraordinary competency, intellectual rigor, ethical integrity, good character are often in short supply in architecture and the self-selection process for architects seems to encourage this activity in men particularly in the same way that the number of insider traders are overwhelmingly men. The loss, over the first five years post-education, of strong, intelligent men and women should be a cause of great alarm for the AIA and other orgs in this area, but is instead a confirmation that the folks that leave don’t have the “balls” to stay in the game. Architecture remains a profession where the higher you are in the pecking order the more useless assertion is accepted.
To me the missing women in architecture has exactly the opposite interpretation to the one commonly reported. Striving for parity in getting arrested for insider trading is not worth doing. And the fact that there is sub-representation only increases my regard for intelligent, talented and ethical women. What this says about the women that remain and the travails of the intelligent, talented and ethical women that remain (or often can’t get out) is another question altogether.
I would very much encourage smart, talented, women with real integrity to reject the crumbs being offered by orgs like the AIA or pay attention to the Pritzker. If you knew how that sausage was made it would make you retch anyway.
To what do I owe this honor! My only response to your post is a standing ovation.
Many happy returns here…