random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

las mujeres y el campo expandido de la arquitectura

gracias a la invitación de Pedro “La Periferia” Hernández, he publicado un pequeño artículo en Arquine titulado “Las Mujeres y el Campo Expandido de la Arquitectura.” el artículo argumenta que a fin de sortear las dificultades de la práctica, muchas mujeres encontraron maneras alternativas de practicar la disciplina, y al hacerlo expandieron el campo de la arquitectura. El artículo es parte de un diálogo que Arquine busca realizar en torno al tema–pueden ver los otros artículos aquí.

Filed under: bo bardi, cv, feminism, rant, scott-brown, waisman

airport urbanism

heathrow airport

that’s it, i’m creating my own urbanism, damned! but this one’s a protest. airports should be public infrastructure, regulated by the state, and involving private enterprises under their scope. however—and i have done no research on this except traveling a lot—they are increasingly managed by private companies, as profit machines. i propose we should discuss airport environments as a type of infrastructural urbanism (which is already a thing). but the rules here are very different. instead of jane jacob’s eyes on the street, retail at the bottom, in airport urbanism we need to have—nay, demand!—less retail.

in the post 9/11 world, air travel has become not only more stressful, but also more costly to manage. to what degree are cost hikes justified because of increased security measures is not for me to say. but as a result, airports are under perpetual renovation, expanding their retail sections to increase profits. as a consequence, the counter-to-gate distances are sometimes ridiculous. in airports like barcelona, miami, and london, the impression is that one has to literally walk through a mall in order to reach the gate. while miami tries to trick its customers by alternating retail and gates, barcelona just dumps one huge retail space between counters and the gates corridors, leaving the frazzled traveler to wonder (or run, if we’re late) through endless shops trying to reach the distant gate. heathrow even offers shopping carts to its customers, with different terminals offering different degrees of confusion as to where the actual gates are.

several airports in south america have been renovated in the past 10 or so years (no research again, but I’ve seen the ones in guayaquil, lima, montevideo, and punta del este) to fit this model. they all look, of course, eerily similar: white metal structure with curved sculptural roof, large panes of glass, some local regionalist nod in the décor, tons of shops. sadly, these remodels usually do not include actual passengers needs—electric outlets are scarce, and wifi (increasingly more of a necessity than a luxury for the traveller) is usually paywalled by boingo or similar internet retailer. the contrast is particularly strong when traveling through older airports such as buenos aires or boston, where distances become surprisingly short thanks to more moderate retail spaces.

my main point is that airports are and should be treated as public infrastructure, and as such it’s time to demand improvements. running them like places of consumption and following retail models is unimaginative, irresponsible, and ultimately results in deteriorated service: it benefits the airport company, but not its users. even if a passenger is willing to pay for additional services, the airport is bloated into a space that no longer serves its function: getting passengers through to their flights, and accommodating their waiting time through different options. retail is the easy answer, but not the only one and definitely not the smartest one.

ps. a more optimistic take on airports here.

pps. also important: availability of public transportation to/from the airport. but that’s another post.

ppps. the são paulo-guarulhos airport is an excellent example of an older airport that works fairly well without excessive retail, managing a huge amount of air traffic. although the location is not ideal—very foggy area.

Filed under: ., rant,

on slums and farms

the recent urbanism wars have focused on the problems of urban and suburban united states. however, on a broader scope, the globe is facing more pressing problems in slum growth and rural abandonment. how these problems are related is an example on how discussions between new and landscape urbanism should be rerouted into more productive conversations.

slums,* or to be precise, illegal settlements, are often romanticized as sites of individual entrepreneurship and spontaneous growth. they are actually examples of ruthless big (illegal) business where the few take advantage of the many. i’ll be specific and address the situation i’m more familiar in (though hardly an expert). in guayaquil, illegal settlements have been developed by a few savvy individuals, who have organized private land takeover under the premise that unproductive land must be reverted to the needy (details in spanish here). however valid these claims might be, this stolen land is then sold off, usually to rural migrants looking for opportunities they lack in the countryside. slums are privatized ventures, where everything is sold at a profit: public transportation and infrastructure comes later, as city halls start grappling with the needs of these unplanned areas. the profit made in such operations in not only economic: the control over these large populations also gives these land traffickers enormous electoral power, and many of them have gone on to weigh in in presidential elections or even participate as local candidates.

the other side of this problem is the diminishing rural workforce. in a primarily agricultural country, large areas of high premium land remain uncultivated. years of abandonment have perpetuated the idea that the countryside holds no future. recent increased attention to medium and small-sized communities holds some promise, but land ownership is still a complicated problem—too few own too much, leading to unsustainable models in which the land either sits unused or demands a pattern of work force exploitation that seems (at least from the outside) closer to medieval feudalism.

we know that the problems of the city are tied to the problems of the countryside—it’s just basic logic. but migrations don’t stop there—the problems of the ‘third world’ (compromise quotations—can’t think of suitable word much as i dislike this one) are tied to those of the ‘first.’ or did you think we’re migrating north for the weather?

* let’s not call them favelas—they are favelas in brazil, villas miseria in argentina, pueblos jovenes in peru, invasiones in ecuador. the generalized use of the word favela is regrettable.

Filed under: ., cities, rant,

on inclusiveness

looking at architecture journals from the 1930s, i was recently struck by how important the ‘letters to the editor’ section was. getting a letter published by the journal was a way of participating in the conversation, and the only requirement was that your letter be interesting and relevant—according to the standards of each journal of course.

compare with two recent pieces of architecture news that have recently generated conversation in the blogosphere [i am annoyed by this word but i can’t explain why and can’t think of an alternative]: bruce nussbaum’s piece on design imperialism [see design observer’s digest of the conversation here] and vanity fair’s world architecture survey, countered by architect magazine’s lance hosey’s g-list survey [green, get it?], countered by christopher hawthorne’s critique of the critique.

what interests me here is not the content of these conversations, but the fact that they can take place in the first place. the most common critique of blogs is usually their immediateness—posts are unstudied, un-researched, off-the-cuff observations. well, perhaps some of them are, but it’s worth clarifying that blogs come in all shapes and sizes. while some are as ephemeral as a shallow vanity piece on a flavor-of-the-month architect, others allow conversations like the ones above to take place. furthermore, these are only two very high-profile examples of some very popular media sites—fast company and vanity fair are hardly ‘blogs.’ in this sense a much better example of cross-archi-blog dialogue is the excellent mammoth book club [confession: i haven’t participated because i haven’t read the book]. but in all cases, the advantage is the open nature of conversation. not only can i choose to comment on any of these conversations, i can also comment with a link to a longer blog post. i can, as it where, include myself into the conversation. who knows, if my post is particularly insightful someone might respond [comment moderation filters out the chatter that deters dialogue in forum discussions].

what does this mean for architecture critique? a wider net is cast for voices from different parts of the globe, for information to be shared, but most importantly, for a share in the conversation. although i’m not being naive about the great disadvantages large areas of the world still have in terms of access to bandwidth, web conversations do have a greater reach than paper journals, which ultimately are prohibitively expensive outside of a certain range, and are still limited by print schedules. it is the web’s openness to dialogue that i find ultimately the most exciting opportunity for architecture. as opposed to a themed journal, where authors do not read each others submissions until the release, blog conversations can grow and change: they can be immediate, but they can also last, fall asleep for a while, and wake up again—sometimes even years later.

finally, and regarding inclusiveness: the lamentations for the loss of print often forget the exclusionary nature of material objects [i mean, i thought we’d all read benjamin by now—given how many complain about his work of art text being over-read, i’m amazed at how many people seem to plain not get it]. the materiality of objects comes with a high price tag: i don’t care if your journal is free there, i will not be able to read it here. that is great for you, but your conversation will remain local, or regional, or limited to the global few who can afford you—it’s your loss. the nostalgia for objects ignores their exclusive nature. the digital does not have such limitations. people who can afford to, can keep lamenting the waning of objects. the rest of us will download as much information as we can.

Filed under: ., rant,

i am not a “southamericanist,” i am an architectural historian.

ok, i am from ecuador, which is a country in south america (not in africa—that would be equatorial guinea—not being ironic about geographic ignorance, just gotten the question way too often). but, i am also an architectural historian, and i claim my right to write about whatever the hell i want.

1. when you meet me, if upon learning i am from ecuador, you ask, “oh and what area of ecuador will you be studying in your research?” i will probably smile politely and cross you out mentally. sorry, just the way i work.

2. nobody thinks to ask someone from say, the united states, why they have decided to work on france, or someone from canada why they choose to look at italy or whatever.

3. but, if for some reason i decide to look at an italian architect, i must put up with several questions. am i perhaps of italian descent? (no: actually, i’m half chinese). perhaps i’m being disloyal to my roots! (i’m not: can’t i just find something interesting that happens to be elsewhere?) i am clearly dismissing my own culture, which is in sore need of more study (yes it is, and i do intend to look at it, but don’t i have a right to look at other things also? why the need to categorize me?)

[additionally, did it ever occur to you to think that italian theorists were promptly translated to spanish, and read at a different moment and in a different context, so interpreted in very different ways? don’t you find this generally interesting? i do. i know this does not further my argument, but i had to mention it.]

this ‘regionalist’ line of reasoning often claims to be sympathetic to the rights of the third world (i’m tired of ironic quotations so i’ll skip them), but often rubs me as yet another type of close-mindedness. that is, i am not allowed to question your architects, but should limit myself to study my own. there’s quite a lot of proprietary thinking here—sort of like “get out of my turf,” but with some additional unpleasantness (you fill in the blanks).

furthermore, the whole concept of regional studies makes no sense at all, at least in the very specific way it is sometimes framed. i am all for interdisciplinarity, but i don’t think being from south america automatically qualifies me to write about anything south american—from literature to chickens and whatnot. i do think by being trained in a discipline, i am given the tools to research and write about that discipline, here, there, everywhere. besides, it’s much more fun—and ultimately accurate—to look for connections instead of thinking in terms of boundaries. we already have too many of those. i am also very interested in the question of reverse influences, of rubbing subjects against the grain as it were, and that seems to confuse some people.

finally, by separating regional studies the so called ‘regions’ ultimately end up as separate entities, effectively excluded from the mainstream discourse. if, as a south american, i have a project, it is precisely to include the architecture of south america into the global discourse of architecture, but this cannot be done by excluding ourselves, but rather by claiming a relevance for the region. so perhaps i am a regionalist, but in the sense that i am globalist, and there are sometimes pieces missing from the global picture that need to be stitched back in, not studied separately as rarified objects.

so if you ever meet me, please don’t ask me what ecuadorian architect i’ll be writing my dissertation proposal on. if this keeps going, i may end up writing about architecture in the north pole (inuits had really interesting houses! tempting).

ps. this post influenced somewhat by my advisor, mmj, who has managed to practice history globally, although i take responsibility for all the rant-y unpleasant bits.

Filed under: ., rant,

ecuadorian walls

recently i keep seeing posts about walls a lot. petit cabanon posts about nuno coelho and adam kershaw’s exhibition, including this comparison between the berlin wall with the wall between israel and palestine. lebbeus woods proposed walls as infrastructure for havana, cuba, also with an intro on the berlin wall [and excessive fascination with the aesthetics of informality, imo]. and in the news, the recent arizona law brings up the issue of of the border wall between mexico and the us [click here for some borderwall as architecture].

these very famous walls remind me of some of the walls that have been built in the last ten years in ecuador, where i’m from. i’d like to show you some of them.

this is the wall between an existing town called buijo historico and a new-ish gated community. the wall is 8 meters high [more than 26’], which seems to be about the height of the wall between palestine and israel.

the idea of course is that nobody in the new gated community would buy if they realized how close the town really is. the town is called “buijo historico” [historic buijo] because it lodged simon bolivar before he went into guayaquil [whether he invaded, liberated, or conquered guayaquil depends on who you are reading]. guayaquil is my hometown, a city surrounded by horizontal growth consisting mainly of invasions, privatized low income single family housing, and gated communities. in the example above, the town happened to be located in a piece of land that suddenly became very valuable.

on a reverse type of example, the following gated communities were planned as low income social housing near santa elena [zoom out to get the full picture], in the coast of ecuador.

these are my pics of the billboards some brilliant marketing exec planted in front of them a few years ago in a campaign for overpriced furniture [“exceptional comfort” and “environments that thrill”]. because poor people have a right to gated communities too! [actual paraphrasing from our socialist president, although not referring to these examples]. most of the people that live here have no cars, and have to wait for a bus to stop in the middle of a high traffic highway in order to get access to anything.

in this increasingly privatized environment, the city hall of guayaquil started renovating its public spaces, and promptly fencing them. under the guise of saving the city, the city itself was transformed into a series of walled spaces of atrophied publicness. the success of these spaces, in a city starved for public space, was confused with the validity of privatization as a strategy [x. andrade has written eloquently about this phenomenon and its consequences].

finally, new urbanist champions andres duany and elizabeth plater-zyberk are responsible for these upcoming gems: that’s right, moats replacing walls. i could say many things about this project, and there would be lots of four letter words involved, but i’ll let you come to your own conclusions. my own opinion might be slanted since i was involved in an academic exercise funded by the region’s city hall to project the future growth of this area. still, i’d like to believe my bitterness is pure and uncorrupted.

the border walls of berlin, palestine/israel, and mexico/usa are [or were] political walls, polemically separating zones of conflict, often the cause of disagreement and always the site of great tension. the 8 meter wall between palestine and israel tells us of the enormity of the problems between these countries. the 8 meter wall between a small middle-class gated community and a small river town in ecuador is a caricature.

the walls [and non-walls] popping up in ecuador come from an increased privatization of life, the constant [real and increasingly imagined] threat of delinquency, and the need to hide reality in order to imagine an idyllic life. in ecuador, walls hide dirty secrets and nasty realities and let us pretend things are ok. walls separate income levels and teach us to fear difference. walls make us deny everything that we are, and prompt us to pretend what we are not. walls increase intolerance, discrimination, and fear. and they give me a headache. let’s get rid of them.

if only it were so easy.

ps. related, entrevista con marc auge, via paco gonzalez.

Filed under: ., cities, politics, rant, walls,

want to look ahead? look around instead.

while writing a post challenging current critique to take on a more global outlook, i ran into this post by kazys varnelis—now my original post has collapsed into my response for him. in his post, kazys starts by outlining two ‘types’ of consumers. the first one is the citizen of the global city, collapsed here with the creative class, who lives an apparently ‘green life’ (read: local consumption, pedestrian oriented) in new york, chicago, and other us cities, and then jets off to various parts of the world, often owning pied-à-terres on multiple continents. the second one is the suburbanite, often despised by the green hype movement but actually consuming much less in his daily commute since kazys assumes he suburbanite does not fly around as much.

let me stop here and just point out a few problems i have with these two ‘types.’ first, the prototype of the global citizen is not global: he (or she, although there is something very masculine here) is part of a very reduced, ‘local’ group that belongs to a few cities that all happen to be based in the united states. this problematic character is then eminently local. he jets away to different cities around the globe, but only finds the same: if anything, wealth has a tendency to equalize both consumption and environment.  however, he is actually in a very small group. let’s zoom out a bit. none of these cities (except shanghai, which seems hastily added as a destination in this argument) are among the biggest cities in the world. let’s review the top ten according to wikipedia: shanghai, mumbai, karachi, delhi, istanbul, sao paulo, moscow, seoul, beijing, and mexico city. so  kazys’s global citizen actually lives in medium- sized to small cities. but, you might say, they are a big influence in the global discourse. perhaps, but which discourse? the discourse that overwhelmingly seems to talk only to itself? and more importantly, how many people in these cities (big and small) actually live this jet-setting life? we would need a study to really know if there are any differences between the flying patterns of the city dweller and the suburbanite. isn’t the businessman after all the ultimate frequent flier, and isn’t he usually a suburban type?

the fact that a frequent flier that lives in the city is worse for the environment than the suburbanite is predicated on a dubious equation where the city dweller flies and the suburbanite doesn’t. this means nothing to the relative sustainability or lack thereof of city and suburb. the logical consequence is that, if both types were to fly the equal amount of miles (which for all we know, they might), the city dweller would still be more sustainable. answer: stop flying so much!

Suburbio - GYE, EC

the second part of kazys’s argument focuses on the volcano in iceland (i won’t attempt to type it). ah, the woes of interrupted flying in europe. first of all, coming from an andean country, volcanoes erupt all the time. the interruption of flying patterns is actually a minor problem. they cause great suffering, and while the losses might not be the same in terms of dollars, they amount to a higher percentage of the set of possessions people had. furthermore, you might loose the same amount of money on hotel and time than the total amount of losses by a farmer in the andes, but she just lost everything she owned. and the population affected can be much higher. let’s keep a bit of perspective here. so i hope by now you have surmised where i’m going  (and no, this is not an ethical, “third world,” post-colonialist argument, in case you are getting confused). rather, i’m arguing a truly global outlook.

the oil spill in the gulf scared a lot of people in the us. well, this is old news in the global picture. frequently, oil spills in the amazon jungle affect the last ecological reserve in the world. and oil spills in nigeria happen regularly. it is hard not to be cynical about laments on the gulf, when oil companies eager to accommodate the needs of the suburban lifestyle have caused so much pain and suffering in the rest of the globe. i understand kazys is not arguing for suburbia, but it is important to remember the consequences of this lifestyle. the recession has people talking of downward mobility and the new poor. again, old news. the rest of the world has been living in a recession for years. all these problems have already happened in the rest of the world. which brings us to my point: just as some of these problems are old news in the rest of the world, some of the solutions have already happened there also.

when new high-tech and high-priced gizmos like the kindle and its much hipper cousin the ipad came out, the blogosphere was very excited. nevermind that hacker websites from russia to south america have been scanning and posting pdfs for the consumption of the rest of the world that does not have a library around the corner nor easy access to jstor et al. the ipad is not the revolution, digital text is. it is less important how you read it, than the possibility of being able to read it at all! ingenuity finds uses for technology other than those originally intended, and this often happens because of need. think of cell phones used as micro loan mechanisms in india. think of the development of the bus rapid transit system in curitiba, transforming the bus into a dedicated line system resulting in an affordable mass transportation system that has been replicated in several cities in south america. christopher hawtorne thinks we should look at medellin… he is, of course, a bit late, but hey, we’ll take it.

in the end, i actually sort of agree with kazys’s conclusion, but my point is that it is not so much a prediction, as already a reality elsewhere, and that a more comprehensive argument should include this reality. want predictions for the future? want to look ahead? look around instead. the future of the ‘developed’ world is already happening in the rest of the world. it’s not all slums (although there are important lessons to be learned there, too). it’s not just a matter of ethics. it’s a matter of broadening our scope. so let’s fly sparingly. but the next time you fly, perhaps veer off your usual destinations (the same applies with your internet browsing!). it’s a big world out there, to be truly global you have to be aware of the full picture.

ps. ecuador: tungurahua volcano erupted and forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 people. 28 may 2010

pps. nigeria’s agony dwarfs the gulf oil spill. the us and europe ignore it. 30 may 2010

Filed under: ., cities, rant,

3 unasked questions

after a conference-filled week, i don’t think i have the energy, time, or desire to summarize, but i did accumulate a series of unasked questions in my notes. here are the 3 most critical ones, in lieu of commentary:

to alejandro aravena:

how do you deal with the government? can you explain the slide you skipped over, where all your houses had political propaganda on them? [i won’t say which one] you argue that to compete with the private industry, you have to undercut their prices, isn’t that a dangerous stance to take? tafuri [your former teacher, i believe?] critiqued ernst may’s siedlungen because they were enclosed neighborhoods that did not address the city’s problems, one might argue the same of your interventions: they don’t address the enormous scale of illegal settlements. do you have any thoughts on ways to address this problem at the scale of the city? [yes that’s more than one question]

to peter eisenman [webcast], a question requiring three preliminary statements:

1.      postmodernism cannot be reduced to venturi and scott-brown [hey you were there too], and venturi and scott-brown cannot be reduced to genius loci and zeitgeist. this glaring omission of your own contribution to the postmodernist discourse seems to be a way to hide and resurrect an old argument anew [yes krauss called you a postmodernist. we’re not talking historicism here, but rather the whole time period and all its different manifestations].

2.      where would the denise scott-browns of today write their books, you asked. where would they go? um, the internet? india? south america? china? your examples of the incongruity of a brooks brothers store in an airport [whereas before, all harvard, princeton and yale people would go to the same store] just reminded us of the elitism and old white male club character of architecture. who cares there is a brooks brothers store in an airport?

3.      your argument against the failure of innovation and your own lack of relevance seems to be an admittance of the failure of the autonomy project. if you can only see innovation in terms of autonomy, it is clear that this project is over. your paradoxical nostalgia for the paper and the pencil seems to be a nostalgia for the elitism of the cult of the individual. you said yourself how ‘architects like gehry’ are now pressured into building big—which is actually also a sign of lateness since i’m pretty sure you’re talking about 5 years ago and probably more—.

the question is, are your statements of lateness really a veiled attempt to disown your own progeny of form for form’s sake digitally rendered children through this late nostalgia and tongue-in-cheek awareness of your own irrelevance?

to rafi segal:

your initial focus on wittkower and corbusier seemed off-topic. i would suggest more attention to ernst may and margarete schutte-lihotzky, particularly the latter’s interest in taylorism, and relate that to neufert’s architect’s data.

using chantal mouffe’s statement on political art, i would argue that neufert’s drawings [which you showed as a search for the ‘minimal’] are intensely political in what they do not say: their search for an ideal ‘type’ is after all completely congruent with neufert’s nazi associations [which you also forgot to mention—hello?]. as an example, the whole south and central american continent used neufert’s book for decades, and keeps designing based on measurements drawn from an aryan type [plazola’s enclyclopedia is an alternative]. i also think you should address the fact that all of the drawings for the ideal type are men, except when it comes to cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting, when we see an exclusively female house cleaner.[not a fan of hyper-political correctness, but showing these drawings without some sort of acknowledgment of how outdated/offensive they are participates in their complicity—note: i could not find the exact drawings of the neufert hard-working maid—]. these drawings should remind us that our task as historians and critics is to precisely unmask these claims of neutrality, and i would argue that this unmasking was missing in your presentation, and would be helpful when addressing the auschwitz drawings—which in their seeming neutrality and banality of design, are actually politically charged, not in spite, but because of their claims to neutrality.

ps. for more on architecture and politics see krier and ockman’s debate on oppositions 24 (sept 1981), somewhat echoed later by eisenman and ghirardo on pa (ghirardo nov 1994, reply feb 1995).

Filed under: ., aravena, eisenman, may, mouffe, politics, rant, schutte-lihotzky, tafuri,

women architects: f’ing cool

denise and other monuments

the new york review of books recently published this article titled “the world’s foremost female architect,” giving it up for denise scott-brown. my first reaction was that selecting “the world’s foremost” seems like a particularly [excuse my political incorrectness] male thing to do. i mean, do we really need a foremost female architect? because being the leader necessarily means being lonely there at the top, and as a woman architect myself, the experience of ‘lone woman in the office,’ while dealable, is not something that i would call pleasurable. let me be clear. while i’ve often enough been the sole women at the office, or at the studio, or at the class, or at the faculty meeting, i’ve been lucky to have had fantastic male colleagues [well, most of them] that have minimized any friction that might come from a ‘gender unbalanced’ environment. in fact, i long ago decided that this would not be a problem, and it largely hasn’t [ok, there was that creepy guy that liked to stand by my desk and watch me work, but we won’t go there]. and i should add i’m delighted that many younger generations have not had this lonely experience [actually lonelier when working in the us than back in ecuador].

source: and ray eames

so back to the article above. part of the problem with female architect role models, is that there are really very few of them that ‘fit’ a perfect ‘role model’ mold. denise is part of a husband-and-wife team, as were alison smithson [although, note the dark overtones of the photograph, with her literally in the blurry background] and ray eames [a fun image, i’ve always thought, but part of its humor coming from the observer being amused at the fact that she is driving]. more recent examples of such partnerships include diana agrest of agrest and gandelsonas, billie tsien of willians and tsien, sarah whiting of ww architecture, and monica ponce de leon of office dA. although all these partnerships work in different ways, they have managed to keep their respective offices working successfully.

interesting anomalies in these examples are the recent split of farshid moussavi and alejandro zaera polo, of foa architects, and the changing partners and office of enric miralles, carme pinos (her studio here) and benedetta tagliabue (who decided to keep his name in the office).

these women are all fantastic examples of accomplishment, yet we are left wondering, what would have happened if they had been on their own? would certain clients have been less than willing to hire? (in this sense, pinos and tagliabue make interesting examples) why do we seem to thrive more easily in an academic environment? is it possible for a woman to make it on her own, as an architect?

this is probably the reason so many flock to zaha hadid as feminist role model. but, lest we forget, zaha does have a partner in the office, patrick schumacher. and what about sanaa? kazujo sejima has ryue nishizawa. actually, is there any ‘big’ architecture office out there, with a sole woman partner?

but this is the wrong question to ask, because it uses the same logic of the ‘foremost.’ in fact, most architects work as partners, male or female- design is a process enriched by discussion. and i love discussion: i love talking about architecture, and although i can happily spend a night designing [or more recently, writing and researching] on my own, i love coming out for air and discussing my work, or someone else’s work. so perhaps we should stop looking for the foremost and think more about the great role women architects have in these partnerships. let’s stop looking for the one example and focus on the many.

there are of course, the forerunners. eileen gray (1878-1976), margarete schutte-lihotzky (1897-2000!), charlotte perriand (1903-1999) and lina bo bardi (1914-1992) are early examples of women architects (and by the way, move over oscar niemeyer, 103 years old, props margarete!) that not only managed to work on their own [sometimes], but made no excuses about their interest in designing a kick-ass kitchen or incorporating some very handy domestic gizmos into the home [nudge, nudge, wink wink].

so, what can eileen, margarete, charlotte, and lina teach us? be sure to get credit for your work [i’m talking about you, old editions of k. frampton’s modern architecture with your incomplete, yet recently corrected, credit on the kitchen]. don’t let your old boss take over your beach house at cap martin. don’t let the pritzker forget about you. but also, relax. let’s stop apologizing for having partners, if we want them. let’s chat more: conversation is good between partners, it should also help us as professionals. yes, it’s satisfying to denounce nasty old men’s misogynistic ways, but perhaps we need more information about the cool women that were able to work things out. because we are cool, too. f’ing cool.

ps. don’t let the pritzker forget about DSB!

Filed under: ., bo bardi, feminism, gray, perriand, rant, schutte-lihotzky, scott-brown,

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