The Women's School of Planning and Architecture

Elizabeth Cahn

Women’s School of Planning and Architecture, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, 1975

Women’s School of Planning and Architecture, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, 1975

The Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (WSPA) was a feminist educational project. The founders, seven women planners and architects, resolved to merge feminist values of the early 1970s with the essential role of design in creating physical and social environments. WSPA was a new space for feminist action with a vision of spatial and environmental design that was a departure from the design professions as they existed previously.

“Women in Architecture: A Symposium” at Washington University St. Louis, held in March 1974, inspired the idea for WSPA. The founders hoped to provide an ongoing space in which women could develop their ideas of feminist design education and extend these experiences to other women across the country.

The central task these women set for themselves—creating an alternative form of design and planning education—was part of their broader critique of the values underlying the design fields and disciplines. They worked to transform ways of being that are characteristic of the professions—detachment, intellectualism, hierarchy, and disconnection from those ultimately most impacted by design decisions—as well as redefine what is considered knowledge in these fields and intervene in the system determining who creates that knowledge. They hoped to build a new national organization that would affect not only the people in the professions, but the professions themselves.

WSPA was more than an educational project. It was a critique of the gendered construction of space and a way for those involved to enrich their personal experiences and critique the ways that the built environment itself repressed women. They fully intended to create a safe space for women to imagine not only new designed forms but also whole new worlds in which women’s needs would be primary.

WSPA held four summer sessions (Maine, 1975; California, 1976; Rhode Island, 1978; and Colorado, 1979) and a weekend conference (Washington DC, 1981).