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Writing the Record: Women in American Architectural History

Mon, Apr 23, 2018    6:30pm

GSAPP Incubator Open Sessions. Writing the Record: Women in American Architectural History

Women’s absence from accounts of American architectural history has been a longstanding problem. In 2017, Pioneering Women of American Architecture, a web-based resource sponsored by the Beverly Willis Architectural Foundation (with support from the NEA), was launched with the goal of documenting and publicizing women’s contributions to the built environment in the U.S. Project co-editors Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner, together with contributor Gabrielle Esperdy, will talk about their work on this timely project and the challenges of writing women back into American architectural history.

Pioneering Women of American Architecture is a collection of profiles of fifty women who have made important contributions to American architecture. All of these women were born before 1940, at a time when women struggled both to be allowed entrance into the architectural profession and to be recognized for their work. As such, the names of many of these women are not well known, even among architectural historians. 

However, as these profiles show, each of these women has made significant individual and collective contributions to the history of American architecture and the built environment. While their work is stylistically varied and ranges in its scope from urban plans and institutional buildings to domestic interiors and furniture, many of these women were important innovators, designing utopian communities, humane tenement houses, “rational” kitchens, built-in storage units and fold-out beds, and even early solar houses. They also broke many barriers, both sexual and racial, challenging the institutions of architecture itself as well as many of the social conventions and gender stereotypes of their time.

Documenting the lives and works of these women was an enormous task, requiring hundreds of interviews and countless hours digging through archives, as well as endless fact-checking and photographic documentation. The scholars who worked on these profiles represent one of the largest groups ever to focus exclusively on women’s contributions to the U.S. built environment and to place the work of women squarely at the center of architectural history. The fifty women profiled here are just a beginning of an effort that we hope will continue to expand as more women’s lives and careers are added to the historical record. Going forward, we hope this project can move architecture created by women to the center of architectural history and invite more young women to study and practice of architecture.

Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner, Co-Directors

Moderated by Gabrielle Printz ‘16 MSCCCP, Rosana Elkhatib '16 MSCCCP, and Virginia Black '16MSCCCP former Incubator members and founders of
feminist architecture collaborative.

Pioneering Women of American Architecture online collection here.

Mary McLeod is a professor of architecture at Columbia University, where she teaches architecture history and theory. Her research and publications have focused on the history of the modern movement and on contemporary architecture theory, examining issues concerning the connections between architecture and ideology. She has written extensively on Le Corbusier’s architecture and urban planning, and is the editor of and contributor to the book Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living. She is also the co-editor of Architecture, Criticism, Ideology and Architecture Reproduction, and is presently co-editing with Victoria Rosner a website Pioneering Women of American Architecture (BWAF). Her essays have appeared in magazines such as Assemblage, JSAH, Casabella, and Oppositions, as well as in books such as Architecture School, Modern Women, and Architectural Theory since 1968.

Victoria Rosner teaches at Columbia University, where she is also Dean of Academic Affairs for the School of General Studies.  She writes about modernist literature and culture, with particular interests in architecture and design, gender studies, and life writing.  She is the author of Modernism and the Architecture of Private Life (Columbia UP, 2005), winner of the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize.  She is also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Bloomsbury Group (Cambridge UP, 2014) and The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time (Columbia UP, 2012; with Geraldine Pratt).  With Nancy K. Miller, she edits the Gender and Culture book series for Columbia University Press.  She is currently completing Machine Age Modernism, to be published by Oxford University Press and, with Mary McLeod, editing Pioneering Women of American Architecture

Gabrielle Esperdy is an architectural historian whose work examines architecture, consumerism, and modernism in the metropolitan landscape. Her first book Modernizing Main Street studied efforts to use modernist architecture to transform shopping districts and commercial strips as an antidote to the Great Depression. Her forthcoming book American Autopia examines how architectural and urban discourse absorbed the ideals and concerns of the automobile and the territories of the car after WWII. An Associate Professor of Architecture at NJIT, she is also Editor of SAH Archipedia, for which she is completing the Buildings of New Jersey, and a columnist for Places.

feminist architecture collaborative is a three-woman architectural research enterprise aimed at disentangling the contemporary spatial politics and technological appearances of bodies, intimately and globally. Their projects traverse theoretical and activist registers to locate new forms of architectural work through critical relationships with collaborators in the Amazon of Ecuador, on the US-MX border, and in Jordan and Lebanon. f-architecture was founded by Gabrielle Printz, Virginia Black, and Rosana Elkhatib in 2016. They are alumni of the Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture program (CCCP) at Columbia GSAPP, and former members of the GSAPP Incubator at NEW INC.

If you are not a member of the GSAPP Incubator or NEW INC community and would like to attend this event, please RSVP.

Organized by Columbia GSAPP Incubator

Image credit: Ada Louise Huxtable