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Women Architects . . .
Recently, 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:
- Architecture and Feminism
- Discrimination by Design
- Gender Space Architecture
- “Reflections on Feminism and Modern Architecture“
And because this is women’s history month, here are some links to pieces on some of the first women architects:
- Louise Blanchard Bethune
- Ella Castelhun
- Eileen Grey
- Zaha Hadid
- Maya Lin
- Marion Mahoney
- Julia Morgan
- Norma Sklarek
- Susana Torre
- Leila Ross Wilburn