Newsletter | Nov/Dec 2018

OWA+DP Meeting at Now What?! Exhibition, CCA Galleries, Dec 6, 2018
by Wendy Bertrand

Now What?! Advocacy, Activism, and American Architecture since 1968

A CCA’s Creative Citizens in Action Series event (12/6/2018)
Hubbell Street Galleries
California College of the Arts, San Francisco

OWA section @ exhibition. Photo by Maryam Moayery Nia

It was exciting to be in the Now What exhibit because OWA+DP has a rich story of recognizing the interests of women architects and design professionals since it launched in 1973. According to the Now What website, “Now What?! is the first exhibition to examine the little-known history of architects and designers working to further the causes of the civil rights, women’s, and LGBTQ movements of the past fifty years.” As an OWA+DP member, I feel like a more individualistic focus and drive to personally succeed has slowly overshadowed the potential power of the group to make changes to the profession, thus the topics addressed in the show and at the meeting were relevant reminders of the essence of our founding intent.

The full potential of each woman is important
The issue is NOT that NO women (or others in the show) feel like they have reached their full potential, some feel like they have, but for most, they have not. This exhibit is mirroring efforts to improve architecture for the many, about how it is learned, taught, practiced and understood is being challenged to expand culturally. Now What indirectly asks all of us to pay more attention to the cultural potential and priorities of architecture’s contribution to society.

A patchwork of panels demonstrate advocacy, activism and alliances in American Architecture since 1968, including conferences, organizations, design research, academic classes, twenty-five books, lectures, posters, videos, and much more. The exhibit panels can be seen here.

Space to Engage
One of the innovative and multi-dimensional goals of the exhibit was to encourage local organizations represented in the exhibit to have one of their meetings around the tables provided within the exhibit space to discuss Now What for their organizations. The Organization of Women Architects and Design Professional (OWA+DP) held its meeting, Alive and Adaptive at 45, on December 6, 2018.

OWA’s Jean Nilsson started the round table asking the 19 women and one man present to introduce themselves. We learned that 12 were existing OWA+DP members (out of a current membership of 86 in-town members) and all had served on an OWA Steering Committee (SC) during OWA’s long life. Seven worked in architecture and Mr. Huang was a graphic designer interested in curation. The age of attendees spread rather evenly between 30 somethings to 70 somethings.

Photo by Maryam Moayery Nia

Interest in OWA
Karina Andreeva introduced her firm (see-architecture), an interest in feminism, and asked questions about OWA+DP, as did others who were new to the organization, which helped members reflect on OWA’s activities. Longtime member Susan Aitken shared how her needs for the organization have changed over the 35 years that she has been a member and Gloria Kim said she valued the community aspects of the organization. Several members mentioned that being a woman and what impact that had on them, or women as a group, had not been prominent in their thinking. When a nonmember asked about programs, Janet Crane mentioned the annual retreats, Bridget Basham mentioned the recent #Me too and you program, and I mentioned the talk I gave on The Architecture and Feminisms Conference in Sweden. Other programs we could have mentioned might have been the open program on Accessory Dwelling Units by Loni Gray at the Rockridge Library, or, the on-site program about the Design for the Headquarters of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind.

When I mentioned OWA+DP’s lack of evolution to include how women’s issues are treated in design, Carol Mancke brought up the way the SC changes every two years leading to a feeling of starting over rather than building a long term organizational reputation in the field. Naomi Horowitz spoke to her appreciation for spontaneous round table discussions in OWA, where members can get feedback about concerns, like applying social, economic or political values at work. Professor of Architecture, Sandra Vivanco, who recently taught the seminar, A Feminist Critic of Architecture at the California College of the Arts, expressed an interest to further feminist issues, as well as, to explore a closer relationship between OWA+DP and CCA. Bridget Basham suggested OWA could provide opportunities for CCA students to visit construction job sites as she is working on an affordable housing project soon to start construction in Oakland. Inge Horton brought up the role California Women in Environmental Design (An activist group born out of OWA+DP with similar groups in San Diego and Los Angeles, in the late 1980s for about 5 years) played in bringing forward professional political issues, and that she feels there is still a need for political activism today.

Helen Vasquez asked “Are the same issues coming up over and over again?” Time ran out, but I felt that there was an earnest dialogue reaching toward thinking about Now What?

I came away thinking that although the organization is a source for its members individual needs, it is also in the group where one learns to acknowledge the complexity of the context for others. It is this awareness not to change the individual, but to group together as a critical force to unsettle the status quo (Lori Brown uses this wording), that this exhibit features. An inspiring task!

Round Table, Photo by Maryam Moayery Nia

Round Table, Photo by Maryam Moayery Nia

Press Reviews
Los Angeles (August, 2018) and New York (May, 2018)

Wendy Gilmartin speaks to past activism in her Los Angles Times review and quotes a 1993 Chicago Exhibit by the feminist design collective Chicks in Architecture, who named seven concerns: ”the wage gap, the glass ceiling, family leave policies, gender bias in treatment on the job, sexual harassment in the workplace, family/workplace issues, and attrition. Twenty-five years later, these concerns still haven’t been cured.”

Zachary Edelson of Metropolis Magazine also notes how long efforts toward change have been plugging away. “In fact, the show’s starting entry is civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr.’s trenchant 1968 speech to the AIA national convention in Portland, Oregon, where he reprimanded the nearly-all-white profession for designing ‘vertical slums’ and offering a ‘thunderous silence’ on the civil rights movement.” and “ArchiteXX cofounder Lori A. Brown says the group strongly ascribes to an intersectional framework—a belief that activists can only substantially reform society if marginalized communities work together.

Round Table, Photo by Maryam Moayery Nia

Group Photo of attendees

Preparation for the meeting

• OWA+DP contributed $2000 for shipping to bring the exhibit to San Francisco and Jean Nilsson helped install the exhibit.
• Bridget Basham, SC/programs coordinator made sure the meeting was advertised to the public and that there was fine food, Maryam Moayery Nia, SC Newsletter editor, took lots of photos, both made sure everyone felt welcome.
• Printed Jan/April 2018 Newsletters, membership information, and our History Booklet were available at the door. Specific OWA posters from the past were on display for our meeting and a video collage of some of OWA+DP historic events played silently in the background as part of the exhibit during the meeting.

About the author: Wendy Bertrand served on the first OWA steering committee in 1973 and has served additional times over the decades. She credits her experience with OWA+DP for her decision to write and publish, Enamored with Place: As Woman + As Architect (Eyeonplace Press, 2012) that was available, at no cost, during the entire SF exhibit. She wants the public to know more about the everyday architect and to encourage women to write their concerns and their experiences, so we, and architects in general, are more visible, understood and valued.