Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2015

OWA Book Circle + AIASF Missing 32% Discuss Feminism and Architecture

by Jean Nilsson

Thirty of us met at MK THINK in San Francisco February 11 to view video excerpts and discuss issues raised by Susana Torre in her talk FEMINISM AND ARCHITECTURE.

The Book Circle at MK THINK (Francesca Martin)

Wendy Bertrand introduced the Book Circle and the joint program. Liz Lessig and Katie Peska of MK Think welcomed us in their workspace, which was perfect for the gathering, and at the end of the program gave us a tour of their studios and look into their collaborative process and projects. We opened the discussion by going around the circle introducing ourselves and sharing a few words on how comfortable we each feel talking about feminism, on a scale of 1-10.

Jean Nilsson and Rosa Sheng facilitated discussion. We viewed three segments of Torre’s talk, with discussion after each excerpt, along the following outline. The participants included architects and other design professionals with a wide range in their career stages, and the discussion was both provocative and supportive.

Torre titles her address “Feminism and Architecture” and uses the word “feminist” throughout the lecture. She outlines the strong Impact of Feminist Ideas in Architecture over 40 years, and is very comfortable talking about Feminism in connection with Architecture.
Do we have a responsibility as women architects to incorporate feminist concerns and ideas in our design work? How can we do so? Why might we choose not to?

Torre notes that the phenomenon of tokenism may explain why many women in architecture have supported women’s advancement in the profession as a principle, but have rejected being associated with feminism. The opposite of a “token” is a “change agent”.

Does “tokenism” explain why some women insist that they are “architects”, not “women architects”? Or are there other reasons? Are the women in leadership roles in architecture tokens or change agents?

We shared our views on how we see ourselves and others, some commenting on why we may prefer not to use the word woman and architect in the same sentence, others sharing examples from their work lives in which they were agents of change.

In the last video clip, the end of Torre’s lecture, she notes that the respect and support of peers is a stronger factor of success than having a mentor, and also reminds us of the importance of challenging and redefining the criteria for “inscribing the work of women into history.”

We ended the evening’s discussion by again going around the circle to hear closing remarks from everyone present, and made a commitment to keep the discourse alive.

The video, courtesy of The Architectural League of New York, is available to view at the League's website

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