ON EXCLUDING FEMALE ARCHITECTS*

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The Architectural Mystique

April 7, 2016

 

NADYA STRYUK CHANNELING LE CORBUSIER, B.A., ARCHITECTURE 2016

 

I originally wrote a shorter version of this piece for my Modern Architecture course. We were asked to write a reading response channeling  Le Corbusier’s voice in his Vers une architecture. In his manifesto, he addressed pressing issues of his time and called for reform in architecture. As such, I decided to address the underrepresentation of women in the architectural curriculum.

‘TO EXCLUDE FEMALE ARCHITECTS FROM THE HISTORY OF MODERNISM IS TO CRIPPLE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF ARCHITECTURE. The heroes of the modern movement, according to academia, are Loos, Gropius, Le Corbusier, and van der Rohe. They are all men. These men create unadorned buildings based on the image of a nude male. Heroic architects are not afraid to break with tradition and to bring pure,austere forms to the world[1]. Decoration and mass culture are dismissed as commercial, feminine, and, thus, inferior. This understanding of modernism is too simplistic and does not include concerns about domesticity, social issues, and changes in gender roles. In the 1920s and 30s Modern Architecture was not all about men. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Charlotte Perriand, and Elizabeth Denby proved through furniture, kitchen, and urban-scale designs that rationality and modernization were not exclusively about or necessarily produced or perfected by men.[2] Women were then, and still remain, both sources of inspiration and creators of new forms. TO EXCLUDE FEMALE ARCHITECTS FROM THE HISTORY OF MODERNISM IS TO CRIPPLE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF ARCHITECTURE. ‘

I didn’t have to take an elective class to learn about Loos, Le Сorbusier, Gropius, van der Rohe, Wright, or Aalto. Their names and ideas are in the air of the school. They are naturally woven into syllabi and textbooks. Their buildings serve as precedents in studios.  They are referenced in critiques. At the same time, the contributions of Marion Griffin, Lilly Reich, and Anne Tyng are still overlooked. We have to use their full names so others can try to remember who they are. The exclusion of women produces a deformed understanding of how architecture developed in the 20th century. This failure to acknowledge women in architecture happens not only in general– it happens within the architecture school, producing architects with a distorted understanding of the history of their own field.

 

[1] McLeod, Mary. “Domestic Reform And European Modern Architecture: Charlotte Perriand, Grete Lihotzky, And Elizabeth Denby.” Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art. Ed. Butler, Cornelia H., and Alexandra Schwartz, Museum of Modern Art, 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] M.E.D. Spring 16 seminar “Gender and Space”