In last month’s ‘Women in Architecture’ issue of the Architectural Review, Professor Jane Rendell outlined ‘Collectivity’ as the first of five qualities that “might characterise a specifically feminist approach to critical spatial practice.” In another essay, this time for the most recent issue of the free online architecture journal Field, she wrote about the collective effort involved in ‘From, in and with’, an art piece produced by Anne Tallentire for the exhibition STILL WE WORK, held at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin during Autumn 2013. Rendell outlines the limitations of the rules of academic citation, traditionally used to clarify authorship or ownership of an idea, when applied to the “convivial collaboration” more characteristic of feminist practice. Reading these two pieces recently has helped clarify a point made to me during an informal discussion with Professor Ruth Morrow during the early stages of the student project I have been helping to develop at UCD; namely that feminist practice is about exchange through collective discourse.
Without even really understanding or realising it, our group has been talking its way towards change. Starting with a series of lunchtime lectures that act as an entry point for students into the topic, the project has begun to move into its second stage where students have been invited to read and respond to a series of critical texts. The project will then end its run at UCD with a face-to-face exchange between student and author in a lecture to be held at Richview on 7 June. The event will be organised around students in conversation with some of the authors who have inspired them, sharing their thoughts, ideas and questions.
“There should be room for everybody out there”
Kathleen James-Chakraborty, from a lecture entitled ‘The Wright Women’. Held at UCD Architecture on 21.02.2018
We are just over half way through the series, which has focussed so far on a number of individual women whose roles have often been overlooked or misrepresented in the general architectural history survey. Though there is a complex network of reasons that could be used to explain this, one reason that has arisen from the talks, that has particularly interested me, is that some of these women played supportive or generative roles (i.e. not necessarily always as architect) in the story of architecture. This point links back to the initial move made at the very start of this project where I produced weekly posters of a series of women in and around architecture, specifically highlighting their multiple roles as professional women (architect, curator, educator, researcher, author, editor….). However, the point has also made me realise the role that our student team plays in this project. Like Aline Barnsdall, the unconventional patron of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, or Hille Rebay, the socialite who played a key role in instigating the Guggenheim, we act as generators and supporters, facilitating the sharing of knowledge through events.
READ AND RESPOND
“For those of you who, like me, care deeply about architecture and want to see it become a truly inclusive profession, I ask that you be vocal and make trouble.”
Despina Stratigakos, Where are the Women Architects?, p. 4
As a topical issue, gender provides a poignant foothold on which students develop their skills in critical thinking. In hindsight, we are actively working within what Rendell calls ‘critical spatial practice’. Reading and responding is the generative method we have chosen to prepare an exhibition of student work. Taking our inspiration from a series of six texts published since 2016*, students have been invited to select a reading that interests them and then make a visual response to its ideas and arguments.
“Recently a female architecture student approached me about undertaking a research project on the current status of women in the discipline. As she explained, because she and her female peers had not experience discrimination in architecture school, she surmised that the barriers that had once confronted women architects now lay in the past, or at the very least, that ‘things are not that bad anymore.’ I understood that behind this premise of change lay both hopes and fears about the future before her, and I encouraged her to learn and be prepared. ‘Go ahead’, I said, ‘and see what you find’.”
Despina Stratigakos, Where are the Women Architects?, p.82
Personally, like the student in the quote above, I have never experienced any form of discrimination in my educational or professional architectural experiences. This project has been about highlighting and learning about some of the invisible, and thus insidious, structures in the profession and in society generally. As students we have been informing ourselves of the hurdles that marked the lives of many women in architectural history, and that may await us after graduation. Through talking and debating these issues with staff members who have direct experience or a body of research in this topic we are arming ourselves with foresight.
This form of direct exchange with experienced professionals is exactly what the university environment facilitates, and is certainly a situation we are making the most of as we hurtle towards the end of our thesis semester and nearer our summer exhibition and events.
* 6 x Books
1. A Gendered Profession
Ruth Morrow, Harriet Harriss, James Benedict Brown and James Soane
2. Where are the Women Architects?
3. How to make yourself a feminist design power tool
4. Feminist Futures of Spatial Practice
Meike Schalk et al
6. Architecture and Feminisms
Hélène Frichot, Catharina Gabrielsson, Helen Runting