Newsletter | Sep/Oct 2014

Fifty Women Architects and Design Professionals Gathered for 2014 Retreat

Feminism and Architecture: Intergenerational Conversations

by Jean Nilsson, Ed.

Susana Torre's 1977 Book Cover with House from NY Exhibit

Susana Torre, architect, feminist, critic, and educator, gave the March 18, 2014 keynote address at Feminism and Architecture: Intergenerational Conversations, a program of The Architectural League NY and Parsons The New School for Design. You can view a video of her address on The Architectural League of New York's website or read the lecture, which is published on Parlour's website in three parts: Feminism in Architecture, Tokenism, and Where to Next? Thank you to Wendy Bertrand for bringing this must-see lecture to our attention.

Torre reflects on the influence that feminism has had on the profession since the 1977 exhibit she curated for the Architectural League NY and the accompanying book. The video is part of an Architectural League NY Feature, Women in American Architecture: 1977 and Today, which also includes a 2013 interview with Torre and the full text of A Parallel History, the introduction to her 1977 book (now out of print).

Torre's work presented here is exceptionally informative and thought-provoking. In the interview, she states, "I think the development of design and planning ideas over the past three decades is where feminism has actually been most effective but least acknowledged."

Torre discusses several significant ways that feminist ideas have contributed to changing architecture and planning, including “the development of new building types and the redefinition of old ones...My contribution in this area was the redefinition of the fire station typology with Fire Station #5 in Columbus, Indiana. It was the first to replace the dorm as the place of bonding, where women firefighters would be seen as quasi-but-not-quite males, with the kitchen and the gym as environments in which women and men could see each other as equal, powerful, and capable of conviviality.

"Feminism has also affected the way we conceive of engraving collective memory in the American city. Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial was crucial in making this change happen, not only because it was designed by a woman, but because the [Vietnam Veterans] memorial was not heroic and did not resort to a conventionally male monumentality.

"Finally — and I think this is widely understood as one of the most urgent challenges to confront today — feminism has contributed to the radical revision of our attitude towards the preservation rather than conquest of nature and the emergence of sustainable design as an ecological practice. The change in attitude from domination to cooperation with natural processes is symbolic of the change in status that women have experienced worldwide. . . So, to the question of what has happened in the past 36 years, I think the fair answer would be both a great deal and not enough."

Take time to view this video of Susana Torre, an exceptional thinker and speaker. She also addresses Tokenism: "... tokens are highly visible and serve to create the appearance of inclusiveness... [We] did not anticipate the issues involved in the token’s adoption of the dominant institutional culture in order to survive or succeed ... It may also explain why many women in architecture have supported women’s advancement in the profession as a principle, but have rejected being associated with feminism", and concludes by considering: Where to Next?

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