The International Archive of Women in Architecture Center

Donna Dunay & Paola Zellner Bassett


Traditionally, women have been omitted from the history of architecture and their contributions overlooked in archives. In 1985, Professor Milka T. Bliznakov—with the cooperation of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the University Libraries at Virginia Tech—established the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center (IAWA) to counteract this.

The IAWA constitutes the largest archive of its kind, currently holding over 450 collections representing 47 countries. In collecting the work of women in architecture—sketches, manuscripts, books, individual projects, and the papers from entire careers—the IAWA fills serious gaps in the availability of primary research materials for architectural, women’s, and social history research.

The Board of Advisors of the IAWA Center, elected from around the world, seeks to identify potential collections while overseeing research, publication, and publicity to uphold the IAWA goals to:

  •    find and preserve the records of the pioneer generation of women in architecture and design related fields whose papers may be lost or dispersed, if not collected immediately;

  • appeal to retired women from these professions who have played a part in the history of their professions to donate their papers to the IAWA;

  •     appeal to active women architects, designers, and planners to save their papers and to consider donating them to the IAWA at a later date;

  •   serve as a clearinghouse of information on all women architects, designers, and planners past and present, and to encourage research on the history of women in these professions through seminars, exhibits, and publications;

  •       foster cooperation between all libraries or archives containing data on or collecting material on women in architecture, design, and planning.

Now after more than three decades of commitment to this mission, the IAWA has fostered research and greatly expanded its reach by broadcasting the mission and goals of this endeavor.

When Ivory Towers Were Black

Sharon Sutton

This photo, taken in front of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Department of Architecture in Kumasi shows some of the Kinne Award recipients during the Ghana trip. In addition to KNUST, the group toured the city of Accra, a slave castle, and various projects Max Bond had designed for the government, most notably the Bolgatanga Regional Library.  Left to right : Lloyd de Suze, Ghanaian professor, School of Architecture student, David Kirkwood, Sharon Egretta Sutton, and Marva Britt. Photo courtesy of Stanford R. Britt

This photo, taken in front of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Department of Architecture in Kumasi shows some of the Kinne Award recipients during the Ghana trip. In addition to KNUST, the group toured the city of Accra, a slave castle, and various projects Max Bond had designed for the government, most notably the Bolgatanga Regional Library. Left to right: Lloyd de Suze, Ghanaian professor, School of Architecture student, David Kirkwood, Sharon Egretta Sutton, and Marva Britt. Photo courtesy of Stanford R. Britt

When Ivory Towers Were Black tells the story of how an unparalleled cohort of ethnic minority students earned degrees from Columbia University’s School of Architecture during the Civil Rights Movement.

Chronicling a little-known era in US history, the book begins with an unsettling effort to end Columbia’s exercise of authoritarian power—on campus and in the community. It ends with an equally unsettling return to the status quo.

The book follows two university units that steered the School of Architecture toward educational equity. It illustrates both units’ struggle to recruit ethnic minority students, while also involving them, and their revolutionary white peers, in improving Harlem’s slum conditions.

The book is narrated through the oral histories of twenty-four ethnic minority alumni who, after receiving the gift of an Ivy League education, exited the school to find the doors of their careers all but closed due to Nixon’s racist policies.

The book assesses the triumphs and upending of this experiment to achieve racial justice. It demonstrates how the triumphs lived on not only in the careers of the alumni but also as best practices in university/community relationships and in the fields of architecture and urban planning.

Through its first-person portrayal, When Ivory Towers Were Black can catalyze contemporary struggles for educational equity as injustices increase and historically marginalized students remain excluded from elite professions like architecture and planning.

Women in Architecture at Georgia Tech

Anna Preece

Founded by seven graduate students in 2012, when only 30 percent of enrolled students were women, Women in Architecture (WiA) has continued to gain momentum and presence in the College of Design at Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2015, membership grew fivefold, and the WiA clarified its mission: Inspire. Empower. Celebrate.

• Inspire by encouraging members and peers in the College of Design to pursue their goals with passion and confidence

• Empower by providing a variety of opportunities that are not as easily accessible outside of the organization

• Celebrate by bringing people together to recognize the wide range of talents within the community and offer opportunities to show their talents

This mission guides and frames every meeting, lecture, and event sponsored by WiA. The formation of a mentorship program, created in 2015, fosters relationships between students across all levels throughout the school. In addition, the design, development, execution, and installation of an independent design-build project leveraged the facilities in the (previously male-dominated) Digital Fabrication Lab, putting WiA squarely in the spotlight. Furthermore, amongst numerous events to learn about others’ work, from symposia to casual roundtable discussions with respected professionals, members of WiA seek to showcase and learn from the work created by their peers. In February of 2018, WiA curated a student exhibition held in the Ferst Center of the Arts, which shared the work of many students in a variety of media, from photography to physical models.

The exchange of ideas, values, and opinions promotes leadership among women within the College of Design and creates role models and mentors within the college and the greater Atlanta community. WiA’s growth and recent achievements continue to build an energetic community of leaders who inspire, empower, and celebrate.

Anna Preece, an Atlanta native, is a 5th year Undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, who will return to the Institute for the Graduate program in Fall 2018. She has served on the Executive Board of Women in Architecture since 2015, and aided in developing the new mission to "Inspire. Empower. Celebrate."

Voyage of the Sable Venus

Imani Day

In October of 2016, the Department of African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh invited three designers of color to create architectural, analytic translations of a book of poetry. The feature poem, entitled Voyage of the Sable Venus, examines the depiction of the black female figure as shown in art history through the titles of artworks from ancient times to the present. Juxtaposing autobiography with historical constructs of racial identity allows the author to envision new horizons for the image of the black woman, both in society and art culture. This conceptual project seeks to do the same.  

The original Voyage of the Sable Venus is a twisted depiction of the Middle Passage, in which a  full-figured black woman gracefully sails across the mid-Atlantic, comfortably supported by a shell. The poet, Robin Coste Lewis, collected these titles as a testament to the complexity of race, confronting its pleasures and horrors. The space created is a theoretical safe haven for the historically disenfranchised to recount and protect their histories and truths.  

The name “Parallel Poetics” comes from the use of similar rules to create poetic and architectural concepts and the power of cross-pollination between the two creative industries. Through a series of two- and three-dimensional sketches, different concepts from Voyage were visualized as physical spaces. The lower foundational structure is meant to serve as a symbolic anchor, filled with memories and shared information to be used as a launchpad for continued support and empowerment. Reflecting on misrepresentations of the histories and image of the black woman is a first step toward reclaiming an identity of strength. Moving forward feeling a sense of safety, under a protective structural expression, women can redefine their image and strategize for how to move forward as an informed unit.

Imani Day is a designer with Gensler and an adjunct professor of design at the University of Detroit Mercy. She is also an editorial fellow with the Avery Review. Passionate about educational spaces and cultural work, Day moved to Detroit in 2015 to focus on community-oriented design projects.

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).


Feminist Practices

Lori Brown

Maryland 2008.JPG

How might feminist approaches impact our understanding of and relationship to the built environment? If feminism, as feminist activist bell hooks posits, “is defined in such a way [to] call attention to the diversity of women’s social and political reality, . . . [compelling us] to examine systems of domination and our role in their maintenance and perpetuation,” we as designers must question normative design relations and their expected outcomes.

First conceived as a traveling exhibition and series of public talks, Feminist Practices: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture focuses on various forms of architectural investigations employing a range of feminist methods of design research and practice by women designers, architects, and architectural historians. The primary mission of the project is to raise awareness among those both within and outside the profession about ways feminist methodologies impact design and our relationship to the built environment.

There were two broad goals in writing this book. The first and most important goal was to showcase more women in the discipline of architecture whose creative practices work at a variety of scales and engage a range of issues through feminist methodology. Women included were emerging in the field as a way to increase exposure of women architects and designers. The second goal was to expand the way we think about architectural creative practice. Architecture is not only about buildings. Designing installations; working in communities doing small-scale design build projects; giving agency and voice to underrepresented groups; researching and writing on pertinent social, political, and economic concerns affecting spatial relationships; and urban strategic planning are all part of the expansion of creative design practices.

Space Unveiled

Carla Jackson Bell

Space Unveiled edited by Carla Jackson Bell, The American Institute or Architects Archives, Washington, DC, 2015

Space Unveiled edited by Carla Jackson Bell, The American Institute or Architects Archives, Washington, DC, 2015

Space Unveiled: Invisible Cultures in the Design Studio is an edited collection that reveals invisible cultures and pedagogical approaches from twenty-four practicing architects and educators in architecture studios in the United States. 

Since the early 1800s, African Americans have designed signature buildings; however, in the mainstream marketplace, African American architects, especially women, have remained “invisible” in architecture history, theory, and practice. As the result of current teaching models, African American architects tend to work on the technical side of building rather than in the design studio. Thus, it is vital to understand the centrality of culture, gender, space, and knowledge that is brought into view in design studios.

Space Unveiled offers a significant contribution to the study of architecture education. Architecture education needs to emphasize an inclusive cultural perspective, but research shows that, in the case of American architecture education, it does not because part of the culture is “invisible.” Space Unveiled focuses on cognitive apprenticeship approaches (CAAs) from architecture educators to improve and align architecture curricula content to encourage more participation and to employ CAAs, which assume the near-continuous presence of an expert who works alongside students to tackle expert challenges, in their design studios. 

Space Unveiled examines teaching approaches in the field and probes into critical challenges in architecture education that contribute to the lack of diversity among licensed architects. Further, Space Unveiled serves as a basis for pedagogical approaches that are hidden under a veil of CAAs in architecture curricula content. Finally, this book reproduces the voices of students and a wide range of diverse perspectives from professional architects and educators who have experienced and taught cultural and pedagogical approaches that are underutilized in modern American education.

African American Studies Minor at Tuskeegee

Carla Jackson Bell

The Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science in conjunction with the department of History at Tuskegee University was awarded a grant from the National Education of Humanities in 2018 to develop humanities curricula—architecture, education, history, and philosophy—for a first–ever interdisciplinary minor in African American studies with a concentration in the Tuskegee Architects and the History of the Built Environment in the South. The minor will explore ways of thinking, researching, and writing about the diverse experiences of African Americans.

The new minor seeks to extend African American history and liberal arts formally into the architecture curriculum through new humanities offerings, and in so doing, provide a focused historical perspective for students’ current educational and professional trajectories. The minor will be discipline-specific to architecture and integrate a humanities approach into the professional training of architects and builders. Unlike many historical courses of study, this minor goes beyond documenting educational inequities and offers an alternative curriculum that will advance diverse issues and inclusiveness in architecture and humanities education.  

In order to make an interdisciplinary connection between African American studies and the architecture curriculum, a collaboration will take place in the summer of 2018 between visiting scholars with critical research projects, national guest speakers, and an HBCU faculty cohort. After this one-week workshop, participants will unveil a curricular model that is vital to understanding and appreciating the philosophical roots of African American architecture education, history, and culture for students in any major. The product of the workshop will be three new architecture course syllabi for classes beginning fall 2018. This minor will serve as a model for other HBCUs with schools of architecture and will unveil how to integrate the humanities into other professional disciplines as well as stimulate the revision of existing humanities courses to bridge humanities studies with professional schools. 

The New Alchemy Institute

Meredith Gaglio

The New Alchemy Institute was an environmentalist organization, established in 1970 by Nancy Jack Todd, John Todd, and William McLarney to develop prototypical ecological technologies that would promote self-sufficiency and sustainability. John Todd and McLarney were marine biologists alarmed at the ecological and social impact of contemporary pollution on the ecosystems they researched. Their Institute, with outlets in Cape Cod, Prince Edward Island, and Costa Rica, pursued what John Todd referred to as both “new alchemy” and the less mystical “biotechnology,” creating research centers as sites for scientifically-supported experimentation into economically and environmentally sustainable systems that could be broadly implemented.

For John Todd, alchemy was a fitting analogy for the work he and his partners undertook. The New Alchemists believed that a restoration of environmental well-being required comprehensive, fundamental changes in the current societal structure, and their small-scale experiments in alternative energy production, organic agriculture, aquaculture, and self-sufficient building were alchemical phases in an ultimate global transmutation. Such an approach reversed the technocratic program of mainstream society, which favored provisional, low-cost substitutions and ever-changing technological “fixes” in response to ecological difficulties. The New Alchemy Institute (NAI) replaced such unsustainable practices with small-scale, simple, and nonviolent “appropriate” technologies (AT) espoused by British economist E. F. Schumacher in his seminal book, Small is Beautiful (1972).

The New Alchemy Institute East (NAE), the Alchemists’ twelve-acre farm in Woods Hole, MA, quickly became the experimental epicenter of the organization, the site upon which the researchers would execute their first bioshelter designs, develop self-sustaining aquaculture systems, and test biodynamic, holistic agricultural theories. From New Alchemy East, the contingent would also publish articles, newsletters, and the Journal of the New Alchemists; apply for countless grants; and host AT icons, journalists, and curious passersby.

A sixteen-acre Costa Rica-based center, the New Alchemy Institute South America (NAISA), situated in the coastal Limón province, was established by McLarney and fellow Alchemist, Susan Ervin, in 1975. During its first two years, NAISA experienced more setbacks than victories as its staff adjusted to the new physical and social ecologies of the region. However, by 1977 they had resolved such issues: together they had erected a house, successfully cultivated traditional produce, and established fruitful relationships with their neighbors. The Costa Rican center prospered and still exists today, as the Asociación ANAI.

Concurrent with its pioneering research in Costa Rica, the NAI embarked upon an alternate alchemical endeavor on Prince Edward Island, Canada. In 1974, the Canadian Ministry of Urban Affairs invited the Institute to submit a proposal for a biotechnological demonstration project to be built the following year as part of the country’s Urban Demonstration United Nations Human Settlement Program. A departure from the sprawling campuses of the Cape Cod and Costa Rica farms, the Prince Edward Island outpost was a single, fully integrated unit: a self-sufficient “world in miniature” that wove together renewable energy systems, polycultural facilities, and residential space.1 Similar to Noah’s Ark, the “PEI Ark” internalized organic structures as a response to a potentially devastating ecological threat, but conversely, the NAI’s proposal offered a symbiotic alternative to global collapse. If reproduced throughout the northern hemisphere in place of inefficient suburban housing, the New Alchemists theorized, this domestic bioshelter could check further environmental decline and even reverse some of the social, economic, and ecological crises facing Western nations. The demonstration model served as a beacon for a wiser future, yet its complexity and high cost rendered it an inappropriate solution for most of the population. Thus, the PEI Ark, which was closed and sold by the Canadian government in 1981, remained the only of its kind and the last residential bioshelter attempted by the Institute.

Following the frenetic productivity of the early to mid-1970s—during which the NAI successfully founded three distinct compounds, created multiple bioshelters, and developed aquacultural facilities and biodynamic outdoor gardens—the organization began to prioritize the maintenance and evaluation of completed and ongoing ventures over new construction in 1977. From a scientific perspective, the Institute had a methodological imperative to collect and analyze data related to these various projects, and so it adapted its work toward the tacit mandate. After almost nine years of relentless effort, such concrete validation relieved, to a certain degree, the formative urgency of New Alchemy; having met its initial objectives, the collaborative devoted itself to monitoring its impressive portfolio of built work.

From late 1976 onward, many members of NAI East redirected their energy to those less appraisable sorts of appropriate technologies such as public education and environmental activism. Educating the public on the benefits of clean, safe solar and wind energy systems was crucial to effect national or even global change, and inspiring antinuclear sentiment would prove equally significant. In the following years the Alchemists trained in community organization and established summer school education programs for elementary school-aged children, among many other efforts.

In the early 1980s, John Todd departed as the executive director of the Institute, and McLarney began to spend an increasing amount of time at NAISA, disconnected from New Alchemy East. Without the founding biologists, the Woods Hole cohort began to focus almost entirely on educational outreach. By concentrating solely on education, the Eastern New Alchemists abandoned many of the foundational principles of the Institute: the objectives of biotechnology disappeared from their work; the communal-libertarian philosophy essential to the NAI’s early success became irrelevant; the mystical component of the alchemical project was discarded; and scientific experimentation ceased for the most part. Untethered from these bedrocks and from its sister projects in Costa Rica and Prince Edward Island, the Eastern outpost was the NAI in name only.

Over the course of two decades, the NAI’s seminal microcosmic adventure transformed into a more conservative project. The remaining Alchemists dissolved the Institute in 1991, creating a new nonprofit organization, The Green Center, on the Cape Cod site. This new foundation maintained New Alchemy’s original mission statement—to “restore the land, protect the seas, and inform the Earth’s stewards”—but reframed its role in meeting those objectives, emphasizing the informational component of the slogan as the primary method by which the Center might accomplish environmental restoration and protection.

1 J. Todd, “A World in Miniature,” The Journal of the New Alchemists 3 (1976): 54.


Xx Voto

ANY 4, Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-Up Work , January/February 1994.

ANY 4, Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-Up Work, January/February 1994.


March 20th 2018

“Dear ANY #4,

Forgive me for not writing sooner. It has been decades now, and I’d like to place you into context, but as you may know, we architects still tend to stay very late at work these days, and it’s a challenge to find a quiet conference room to write. So here I am after today’s site visit to a mis-poured stair on level 62, canopy redesign meeting, and a number of rather hasty submittal returns. I’ve had my Pad Thai delivered to my desk (please excuse the honesty of young architect’s domestic sphere here) and am ready to “historically describe” your contributions. I expect you are not too surprised by my delay since, as you made evident, and I am here to report, there has been so much work done but still far more that must come.”

In the early 1990s, a deluge of texts examined and tested the relationships that gender and sexuality had to architecture. The movement built on adopted conceptual schemas from postmodernist and post-structuralist French theorists of the 1970s. Helene Cixous explored the relationship between sexuality and language, Luce Irigaray made the inherent masculine philosophies in our language visible, and Julia Kristeva used physchoanaltics to explore the individual and the body.

Gender studies formalized in the 1970s, emerging from women’s studies and feminism to give space in the academy for writing and thinking on the subject and set the stage for a pluralistic feminisms to emerge.1 Early texts ranged from liberal to radical, from a focus on equal representation in the discipline—as in the 1976 “Architecture and Urban Planning” by Dolores Hayden and Gwendolyn Wright—to demands to topple the patriarchy—as in Shulamith Firestone’s 1970 book The Dialectics of Sex. Interdisciplinary applications of these new feminist ideas questioned grand narratives and forged new paths of inquiry. Although not yet architectural, an early example of this future thinking is the 1984 “A Cyborg Manifesto” by Donna Haraway, a posthumanist metaphor that reconceived of the decorporealized self through the emergence of a newly connected digital realm. Architecture beyond built work emphasized the contribution that architectural thought can contribute to culture at large.

New emphasis on works of architecture included writing and language in the early ’90s (particularly academics the northeast architecture schools), which put philosophy from Derrida, Deleuze, and Guattari into dialogue in search of meaning between space and semiotics. Projects like Sexuality and Space by Beatriz Colomina deployed feminist interpretive techniques to reread the masters, introduced a new intersection with feminist thought, and laid to foundations for collectives including Assemblage and ANY Magazine to continue the inquiry.

ANY #4’s “Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-up Work” amplified the many voices within architecture, philosophy, classics and gender studies and edified post-structuralist, postmodern, and deconstructivist feminist thought in the architecture academy. The issue contained a correspondence between contributor and editor, included a set of critical essays, displayed exemplars of work in architecture and the feminine, and documented a resulting symposium dialogue “In Any Event” at DIA on November 20, 1993. As a platform for displaying substantive work being done on the issue, guest editor Jennifer Bloomer described the issues as more of a “bag that conforms to the contents” of what is within it than a proscriptive collection. This loose conceptual framework resists categorization in favor for each piece’s subjectivity individually.2 Jennifer Bloomer explored the metaphors and metonymy at play in gender and architecture. With language as a loose scheme, her intent to overcome the simplifications, gut associations, and continual metaphorizing within the field goes directly to the overarching action items presented within the magazine and the conference. In a presentation, she described the issue’s intent to give a platform to the wide range of paradigms of working within architecture and the feminine.

Perched courageously in the front of the issue, the series of letters between editor, guest editor, and contributor reveal a dialogue on the discipline’s discomfort with the topic. This correspondence offered readers a generous look at the messy business of championing a topic historically ignored, but it also embraces the difficulties (and elusion) of articulating a grand narrative regarding the conceptual curation being done. As noted by Cynthia Davidson in her Letter to the Reader:

“Why is the idea of the feminine problematic for architecture? What is it about a discussion of the feminine in architecture that for many women still feels like a ghettoization of a cultural issue? Where does the feminine find its site?”

What can ultimately be gleaned from a brief encounter with a journal from 1994 on architecture and the feminine? The project requires a rigor of inquiry and critique akin to that given to the radius of the nosing of the stair, which will keep those in the future from tripping. One must study the difference between painted aluminum and plate bronze as well as the substantive differences in chora by Grosz and by Eisenman. For a practitioner such as myself, it is a reminder to specify all of the above in my practice daily, and to continue to educate myself in all available work. It is a reminder to study the work of Claire Robinson, Michelle Kaufmann, Durham Crout, and Liquid, Inc.; to read and discuss George Hersey, Diana Argest, Elizabeth Grosz, Ann Bergren, and Jennifer Bloomer. The details and complexities of each work are best explored in their original production. To reiterate the action items set forth by Ann Bergren, ANY #4: “Mop-up Work” is a reminder to practitioners of the polyvalence of feminisms at work.

“Anyone who wants to begin this discovery—a discovery as difficult as resisting the force of reality as we have known it—should return to Sheila’s and Frano’s bridges and to your [Jennifer Bloomer] Tabbles of Bower, studying every detail for insight into the principles of an architecture not ‘beyond’ or ‘outside’ the feminine but rather ‘beside’ it, the para-feminine architecture that all three of you have already built.”3

1 For a more comprehensive survey of shifts in the discourse around feminism and architecture, see Jane Rendell, “Tendencies and Trajectories: Feminist Approaches in Architecture,”in The SAGE Handbook of Architectural Theory, edited by C. Greig Crysler, Stephen Cairns & Hilde Heynen (Sage, 2012), 85-97..

2 Sherry Ahrentzen speaks to the implications of the conceptual clarity of collections at the time, see Sherry Ahrentzen, “The Space between the Studs: Feminism and Architecture” Signs, Vol. 29 No. 1 (Autumn 2003): 179-206.

3 Ann Bergren, “Dear Jennifer” ANY #4 - Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-Up Work (January/February 1994).

Xx Voto is a licensed architect with a demonstrated history of work in all phases of NYC large-scale mixed-use design and construction. She holds a B.Arch from Cornell University.

The Modern Architecture Network

Laura Foxman

Wireframe sketch, map view.  The Modern Architecture Network . Courtesy of Laura Foxman.

Wireframe sketch, map view. The Modern Architecture Network. Courtesy of Laura Foxman.

Challenging the Canon

The history of modern architecture runs parallel to that of globalization, to an expanded market of international exchange. The Modern Architecture Network outlines the extensive mobility of modern and contemporary architects and diagrams events that brought about a conflux of innovative minds. By diagramming networks of learning, collaboration, movements, world expos, and exhibitions in architecture dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, The Modern Architecture Network’s web-based platform challenges the canon by offering new perspectives on the development of contemporary architecture practice and constitutes a rich tool for evaluating concepts as they emerge and mutate. A user will be able to easily explore and critically interpret each practitioner’s trajectory and draw one’s own conclusions regarding influence and innovation. Since the project’s founding, however, the primary objectives have remained and include:

1) Foregrounding architects who have been marginalized because of gender, race, or location, and whose significance is often overshadowed;

2) Diagramming networks finely embedded within predominant historical narratives so as to uncover threads of great significance and intrigue;

3) Ushering the history of architecture into a new era of big data;

4) Visualizing history as a work in progress, which is both constructed and fragmented;

4) Creating new knowledge.

Practitioners, scholars, and the larger public would all benefit from more robust histories based on interrelation rather than singular feats of mastery. This project promises to be as illuminating for the serious scholar as the curious web surfer, with information sure to prompt as many “ah-ha!”s as “ha-ha!”s. The Modern Architecture Network takes inspiration from projects like Charles Jencks’ diagram, titled The Century is Over, Evolutionary Tree of Twentieth Century Architecture, and Henry and Elsie Withey’s Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased), but also from questions that have trailed from our own research. Where are all the women and people of color working on their own terms, in their own ways, who have shaken the architectural genealogical tree? Might we include philanthropists like Museum of Modern Art founder Abby Rockefeller for making design accessible and appreciable? What do artists like Rachel Whiteread, Vik Muniz, and Jenny Holzer see in monuments that escapes those entrenched in a stricter disciplinary understanding? Haven’t performance artists such as Adrian Piper and William Pope. L meaningfully challenged boundaries of what does and doesn’t qualify as common space? How about environmentalist Rachel Carson, whose activism has greatly impacted systems thinking? And when we talk about material culture, might we include Coco Chanel and Zelda Wynn Valdes along with Art Smith and Charlotte Perriand? Why not broaden our scope in order to magnify architecture's aegis while engaging a larger public for the sociocultural good? The Modern Architecture Network offers an interactive archival framework that aims to equalize the playing field and challenge disciplinary boundaries.

A comprehensive visual and computational analysis or genealogy of modern architecture has never yet been formalized. The Modern Architecture Network, formerly The Modern Architecture Genealogy, aims to accomplish just that. This project is premised on the belief that a collection of historical documents and accounts can not only provide a reliable record of events, but can also serve as a potent source of energy for what is yet to come.

The difficulty posed by conventional historical projects is that they tend to reinforce existing narratives without questioning them. The Modern Architecture Network instead presents a means to explore latent and potential chronologies that have, for a number of reasons, escaped attention. This interactive archive rewards the curiosity of a user interested in multiple approaches to a subject. By observing and linking patterns, the researcher encounters new perspectives as well as new problems worth considering.

The Modern Architecture Network's primary platform is an interactive website, an online archive that charts the extensive mobility of architects and diagrams their convergences. It begins with the first World Expo, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in London in 1851. This date marks the conjunction of design innovation and globalization. Tracing from this crucial point, where the history of dramatically expanding markets and international trade emerges in consort with the history of modern architecture, the research platform is invaluable to scholars in countless fields including economics, business, and sociology as well.

The Modern Architecture Network encodes complex data sets into easy-to-use models including maps, statistics, timelines, an image archive, and a library of written resources. By diagramming trajectories of pedagogy, collaboration, migrations, and exhibitions in architecture, the platform invites users to critically interpret work and draw their own conclusions on matters of influence and innovation. The Modern Architecture Network is just as much an effort to fortify the legacy of visual histories (such as catalogs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, and atlases) as it is to provide a contextual tool for understanding them as part of a continuum—a living, and therefore incomplete, statement.

Since the project's founding, its primary objectives have remained the same: to diagram networks finely embedded within predominant historical narratives so as to uncover threads of great significance and intrigue; to usher the history of architecture into the data frontier where new knowledge can be extracted; and, most importantly, to foreground marginalized figures who, because of gender, race, or location, have been unjustly overshadowed.

When architectural history becomes more inclusive and more honest about its generations of unacknowledged participants, architecture's agency expands. Architecture’s disciplinary fundamentals are challenged and strengthened by engaging the real histories of the creative networks that shape the built environment and its discourses—by duly acknowledging the contributions of lesser-known architects and non-architects.  Indeed, The Modern Architecture Network recognizes contributors, such as patrons, curators, and allied professionals who have collaborated in formulating urban and domestic design schemas, infrastructure, and material culture to the present day.

Laura Foxman is a Detroit-based architect, information artist, teacher and researcher. She leads the interdisciplinary architecture studio WE ARE ALL COLLAGE. Her projects include architectures, environments, and cultural archives and explore the materiality of place, information, and experience. Foxman is a licensed architect in Michigan and New York. /

Queer Theory

Olivier Vallerand

Poster of  Queer Space  exhibition, 1994, at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Courtesy Storefront for Art and Architecture.

Poster of Queer Space exhibition, 1994, at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Courtesy Storefront for Art and Architecture.

The emergence of queer theory and its challenges to normative understandings of sexual and gender categories has changed a wide number of disciplines, but its impact on architecture has been quite limited compared to other fields, such as art, art history, geography, or planning. Most queer scholarship in architecture appeared in the mid-1990s. It emerged from two different streams: feminist histories and critiques of the built environment and a larger interest in theory across architecture, including post-structuralist French theory, an important source in the development of queer theory. Building on these diverging sources, queer scholarship in architecture approached different themes with varying objectives.

An important number of these works focused on the issue of visibility, be it in contemporary representations or in architectural history. Aaron Betsky, in one of the most well-known books on the topic, presented a history of spaces designed or used by queer people—mostly gay white men—that he connected with his personal experience of clubs.1 A similar impulse to make gay and lesbian people visible—a reclaiming of history that is also present in other disciplines—sustained, for example, Alice Friedman’s discussion of Philip Johnson’s Glass House or Katarina Bonnevier and Justine Rault’s analysis of Eileen Gray’s E.1027.2 While most of these projects focused on domestic spaces, Maxine Wolfe’s article on lesbian bars, “Invisible Women in Invisible Places,” made clear that the issue of visibility also applied to spaces considered public. Other thinkers looked at how queer people were represented in the profession or in architecture magazines—in one instance, Henry Urbach showed how magazines such as Architectural Digest at once reveal and conceal queer couples by insisting on showing two separate bedrooms in their photographic features, among other strategies.3 Discussions of both historical and contemporary examples, however, often fell into the trap of focusing on privileged gay white males at the expense of more marginalized people (women, transgender people, and people of color being among them) or of trying to identify a “queer design aesthetic,” to use Jonathan Boorstein’s terms.4

The focus on visibility of much queer scholarship in architecture aligns itself more with earlier gay and lesbian studies than with the political challenge to categories that underlines queer theory, even if making marginalized people visible is itself a political endeavor. Some architects have, however, built on this political aspect. By the mid-1990s, feminist thinkers had already begun to challenge the gendered assumptions that supported the design and experience of the built environment by focusing on women’s place in it, both as designers and as users. Queer theory pushed for a further rethinking of the ways sexuality and gender intersect with space by questioning the role that architecture plays in the construction of male identity, as exemplified by the essays in the collection Stud: Architectures of Masculinity, edited by Joel Sanders. The political potential of queer space theory has also developed from the shifting focus of architectural history and theory through a discussion of minor architecture, as in John Paul Ricco’s analysis of sex spaces inspired by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s theory of minor literature,5 or more broadly through an analysis of cruising spaces, bathhouses, and sexualized bars and clubs.6 Others have built from the performative aspect of queer theory to suggest that queer space is, in Christopher Reed’s words, “imminent, [. . .] in the process of, literally, taking place, of claiming territory.”7 Similarly, Henry Urbach discussed the ante-closet—the space created by the opening of a closet door—as an ephemeral space where “private and social realms interpenetrate” and as a space where the line between what one hides and what one shows breaks down.8 Bridging between disciplines, including architecture, the edited collection Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance explored the interactions between queer identity, activism, and public spaces, underlining the relationship between physical spaces and the political potential of social visibility.9

In addition to more traditional essays, scholarship on queer space also materialized in exhibitions such as Queer Space, held at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York in 1994. Organized around the question, “What exactly is queer space?” the projects exemplified many of the approaches discussed here—highlighting the complexity of a concept like queer space but also the importance of thinking about space as layered in a way that acknowledges the diverging political and social implications that different people will experience.

Most of the queer scholarship in architecture has focused on gay men and, more marginally, lesbian women. Only recently have trans people become subjects of discussion, as in Joel Sanders and Susan Stryker’s “Stalled.” Issues surrounding trans people have been much more present in planning discussions, such as in the work of Petra Doan,10 but they seem to have triggered a renewed interest in architectural discussions after a period of limited visibility in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Sanders has discussed this shift in his own thinking in a recent article published in a special 2017 issue of Log, one of the few architecture journals to devote special issues to the relation of gender, sexuality, and the built environment.11 This interest also aligns with a similar renewed interest in feminist issues. Like earlier scholarship, these new projects present a broad range of interpretations of what queer space can mean, highlighting its potential for rethinking both the practice and study of architecture. The projects return to a socially informed practice of architecture that had been erased in the early years of the twenty-first century by an overwhelming stream of digital experimentations and formal or projective approaches to design. Hopefully, this renewed interest will be sustained as the complex challenges posed by queer theory to architectural practice—particularly the translation of discursive practices into design and construction—call for a sophisticated understanding of the connection between gender, sexuality, and the built environment—something that can only appear with time and careful experimentation.

1 Aaron Betsky, Queer Space: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire (New York: William Morrow, 1997).

2 Alice T. Friedman, "People Who Live in Glass Houses: Edith Farnsworth, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and Philip Johnson," in Women and the Making of the Modern House : A Social and Architectural History (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998); Katarina Bonnevier, "A Queer Analysis of Eileen Gray's E.1027," in Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial Productions of Gender in Modern Architecture, ed. Hilde Heynen and Gulsum Baydar (London & New York: Routledge, 2005); Jasmine Rault, Eileen Gray and the Design of Sapphic Modernity: Staying In (Farnham, Surrey & Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011).

3 Henry Urbach, "Peeking at Gay Interiors," Design book review: DBR 25 (1992).

4 Jonathan Boorstein, "Queer Space," in Building Bridges: Diversity Connections: American Institute of Architects National Diversity Conference Proceedings (Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Architects, 1995).

5 John Paul Ricco, "Coming Together: Jack-Off Rooms as Minor Architecture," A/R/C, architecture, research, criticism 1, no. 5 (1994).

6 Henry Urbach, "Spatial Rubbing: The Zone," Sites, no. 25 (1993); Betsky; Ira Tattelman, "The Meaning at the Wall: Tracing the Gay Bathhouse," in Queers in Space: Communities | Public Places | Sites of Resistance, ed. Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997); "Speaking to the Gay Bathhouse: Communicating in Sexually Charged Spaces," in Public Sex/Gay Space, ed. William Leap (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); "Presenting a Queer (Bath)House," in Queer Frontiers: Millennial Geographies, Genders, and Generations, ed. the Queer Frontiers Editorial Collective, et al. (Madison, WI: The University of Winsconsin Press, 2000); Henry Urbach, "Dark Lights, Contagious Space," in Intersections: Architectural Histories and Critical Theories, ed. Jane Rendell and Ian Borden (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).

7 Christopher Reed, "Imminent Domain: Queer Space in the Built Environment," Art Journal 55, no. 4 (1996): 64.

8 Henry Urbach, "Closets, Clothes, Disclosure," Assemblage, no. 30 (1996): 70.

9 Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter, eds. Queers in Space: Communities | Public Places | Sites of Resistance (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997).

10 Petra L. Doan, ed. Planning and Lgbtq Communities: The Need for Inclusive Queer Spaces (New York & London: Routledge, 2015); "Beyond Queer Space: Planning for Diverse and Dispersed Lgbtq Populations," in Planning and Lgbtq Communities: The Need for Inclusive Queer Spaces, ed. Petra L. Doan (New York & London: Routledge, 2015).

11 See for example Log issue 41 (with a section titled “Working Queer”) or The Funambulist issue 13 (on “Queers, Feminists & Interiors”).