Women Architects, Feminism, And Radical Education Praxis

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Women Architects . . .

woman20at20drafting20tableRecently, I met an African architect who told me that architecture is a feminist issue. I remember trying to process that quickly, you know since she was standing there, and sort of failing. It is not that hard a concept really. Psychologists have long argued about space and mental well being and in the late 80s and early 90s a fusion between psychotherapy and landscaping created several “calming spaces” in Canada and parts of Western Europe. Older traditions like Feng Shui also operate on the mind-space connection. Add to that longstanding manipulation of city planning to disenfranchise or physical isolate marginalized groups from the socio-political process and access to basic municipals as well how these enclaves (or ghettos) become sites for egregious environmental racism, the connection between architecture and feminism is not that hard to make.

What companion argued was a combination of psychology and redistricting/ghettoization, in which she argued that architectural innovation could create spaces that helped communities thrive, students commit more easily to education, and ensure greater safety for women.  All three of things alleviate engendered burdens placed on women – having community gardens decreased the subsistence level agriculture of individual women for collective labor, easier access to education decreased care work and increased female educational attainment, and water wells or water reclamation built into communities decreased exposure of young girls and women to rape on water routes. By designing planned communities with women’s success at the center, my companion argued feminism was changing the face of architecture. Architecture in turn was changing the face of our world.

I was reminded of this conversation this a.m. when reading Eco Warrior which highlights a video (embedding is disabled, follow the link) by two women architects about how they transformed a Laundry House in Jersey City into a charter school that encourages community through open shared spaces, learning through extra exposure to light and light and natural materials, and pedagogical innovation through the creation of functioning office spaces, built around a quad model, for teachers rather than a single faculty lounge which is often just a break room. According to the video, these innovations have already transformed the learning process for both students and administrators as evidenced by test scores, educational attainment, and community involvement. The architects took their eco-feminist vision of a school in which both youth and critical thinking are valued, not just fleeting numbers on national level test scores, and in which difference is a basis of community, and created a space that ran counter to the traditional wherehousing of youth in downward spiraling communities. The emhasis on environmentalism also transformed existing unused space that was a visual blight on the landscape of the city into productive and celebrated space. In so doing, they combated both the negative connection between psychology and space in marginalized neighborhoods and minimized the carbon footprint of construction.

Obviously, this is not my area. However, both of these encounters, as well as the recent petition to save Rhizome, have inspired me to read more about the connections between urban planning, ecology, and feminism beyond the sociological studies I teach and into the realm of architecture and design. Excitingly, there are several texts on the subject:

And because this is women’s history month, here are some links to pieces on some of the first women architects:

9 thoughts on “Women Architects, Feminism, And Radical Education Praxis

    • Welcome to the blog John.

      We do not publish unsolicited work – creative or otherwise – at this blog. The comment section is for comments related to the blog posts. The “Say Hey” section is for general comments unrelated to blog posts. No advertisements, essays, poetry, films, or other stand alone work authored by someone outside of the blog author or invited guest posters/bloggers will be republished on any of the pages herein. This is standard netiquette.

      If you would like my readers or I to be aware of your work, standard netiquette is not to try to publish it here but to start your own blog, website, or publish through traditional means and leave a link to the information along with a substantive (ie related to the blog post) comment. You, like everyone else here, are welcome to do so.

      (You should also note that there are specific communication guidelines for this blog as well. They are posted clearly on the “about page.” I suggest that you familiarize yourself with these guidelines as well as basic netiquette so that, should you choose, you can participate fully in this forum.)

  1. My comment was nothing more than social commentary, and in my opinion, it was most relevant to your blog. I’m also an educator, and I despise the “feminists” that take advantage of their much-earned positions of power to target and ostracize white, male students simply because they have some axe to grind with “men” in general. It’s sad that women with the potential and the opportunity to pave the way for equality for all, are instead using it for retribution. And almost always against young kids who will go on in life with their own axe to grind because of it. Has anyone learned anything? If you want to delete this comment as well, feel free. It’s your blog after all. But I won’t be requiring another lecture on netiquette.

    • John, you did not leave a comment related to “Women and architecture;” you left a lengthy poem about your perception of feminism. As I said, we do not publish unsolicited work (netiquette) and comments unrelated to posts belong on the “say hey” page (blog rules). What you took as a lecture was an attempt to help you participate constructively in this space.

      Perhaps instead of trying to engage me with your concerns about feminist pedagogy you should take it up with your instructors in the Poli Sci department at NIU, where I assume your conflict has arisen. As a student, you should feel empowered to discuss these concerns rather than use uni resources to try to impose them in unrelated forums. If you would like, I would be happy to forward your poem to the Chair or your advisor there to get the ball rolling? Since you are a TA, I would encourage you to engage in direct communication on your own as an opportunity to expand your communication skills from both the perspective of student and future instructor. It really is important to learn how to interact constructively with faculty now if you plan to be succesful in academe in the future.

      Again, should you choose to participate in this blog in a constructive manner, you are welcome. I will not, however, publish any of your poetry or continue to engage you about why that is inappropriate.

  2. oh. ps. I don’t know anything about women and architecture either but I do know Maya Lin did the Vietnam Memorial. Have you seen the doc on her?

    • thanks Alice. I actually own the documentary. I thought the controversy with Lin was an interesting counterpoint to the recent controversy with the MLK sculpture too. (I don’t think the later was done by a woman.)

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