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Newsletter | Mar/Apr 2013


OWA Book Circle Report 7: Various Articles on Gender and Architectural Discourse
by Wendy Bertrand

Keeping things interesting the book circle members decided to read a cluster of articles recently published on line about women and architecture instead of a book. In rereading them I find the topic of gender comes up in different ways. When I say gender I mean what some scholars define as the deep imprinting of cultural beliefs, values and expectations on one’s person because of their biological sex, forming a fundamental component in a person’s sense of identity (Lori Brown).

The Incredible True Adventures of Architectress in America by Gabrielle Esperdy


Why Architects need Feminism by Despina Stratigakos


What I learned from Architect Barbie by Despina Stratigakos


Architecture is too important to be left to men alone by Jermey Till


Judgement Pending by Shelly Penn


Who wants to be a Woman Architect? by Karen Burns


Needed – a more profound commitment to behavioural change by Shane Thompson


Double Whammy Would there be more women in architecture if there were more women in development? by Amanda Kolson Hurley

Of these eight articles, six by women and two by men, we discussed in depth four of them and it became apparent that it is not so easy for women (and probably men) to discuss gender in the work world, but like race and religion, it is helpful to be able to understand the cultural forces around us and to be able to discuss gender matters with some understanding of why it is important for us as working women.

The two articles by men express their understanding of the issues and propose evidence of what they are personally doing about increasing gender equality in architecture. Jermey Till has devised a personal boundary to not be a speaker at any conference without at least 30% women architects at the table, in order to make a point that women need to be at the table. He shares some of the reactions to his gender politics from men and women that he received for this outspoken action in Architecture is too important to be left to men alone by Jermey Till


Shane Thompson talks about his philosophy in Needed – a more profound commitment to behavioural change by Shane Thompson. In his firm of seven with four women, together they are trying structural and behavioral changes, with an emphasis on leadership building.

“I suggest there is a need for more fundamental change in our behaviors than we have yet accepted. Our professional behavior, which has developed historically from the dominance of men in architecture, is generally authoritarian, competitive, intolerant, posturing and controlling. Unless we become more self-aware, respectful, mindful, validating, empathetic, supportive and generous, we will not mature as a profession or engage meaningfully with the still-latent contribution that women can make.”

What I learned from Architect Barbie by Despina Stratigakos “As a feminist scholar, I am interested in analyzing the ideological fences that architecture has built around the profession —the barriers that determine outsiders and insiders.” We ended up talking about who played with Barbies and who didn’t and what it might mean to play with Architect Barbie. Many of us had not played with Barbies and didn’t like the idea. One of us did enjoy her Barbie. But how toys influence what you want to be in still a question although an engineer has designed the toy Goldie Blox, a game with building and engineering concepts built in, it is not just a doll. Will Architect Barbie help girls understand that women can become architects, as Christina mentioned she has encountered girls that still think that architecture is not for women. Gender image seems to be very powerful in culture. How to dress Architect Barbie was a big challenge, hey how we women architects dress is a challenge everyday and appearance for women is part of gender culture that is still a big part of being female.

The Incredible True Adventures of Architectress in America by Gabrielle Esperdy revisits some of the feminist womanpower for gender equality in American architecture during the last 40 years. This is a 13-page article is worth reading, for anyone not familiar with some of the national feminist history of women in architecture. “…gender difference is alive and thriving, as political tool and rhetorical device, and that in architecture, as in the larger culture, we ignore it at our own peril.”

Karen Burns bring to the surface again this issue of the complex interactions between culture and individual agency, that is being valued for one’s work and being framed by the fact of our gender in her article Who wants to be a Woman Architect?

Double Whammy Would there be more women in architecture if there were more women in development? by Amanda Kolson Hurley brings to light the problem of banks not wanting to lend to women in development and wondering if that means that there are less women in architecture because there are fewer women developers.

Despina Stratigakos suggests expanding the definition of feminism in architecture in her article Why Architects need Feminism. She states, “…that feminism weds theory to practice and encourages us to rethink the relationship between architecture schools and the larger professional world. By linking individuals to systems, feminism allows us to perceive structural limitations and to envision dissolving barriers. And feminism’s attention to practice – and not just to practitioners- fosters new ways of understanding and experimenting with process.”

Many of the articles link women’s position in architecture to the overall health of the profession, which shows signs of weakness on various fronts, like declining influence in the building industry, lack of ability to earn a good living, less appreciation by the public, with fewer new graduates going into architecture and continuing on traditional career paths.

What we as group recognized that gender issues are vaster than some thought and often controversial and therefore difficult to talk about even in a friendly all woman book circle. Culture of course is not like mathematics where results are clear and reliable, which makes for the need for personal reflection and learning to counter our unconscious and personal cultural imprint. At the OWA Symposium: Gender Matters (April 13, 2013) out-of-state scholars will share their work in how gender and architecture overlap in the way we practice, how we design, and what we envision.