I am always looking for architecture literature. I started school thirsty for answers to questions I did not know I had. I went to my campus library to find such questions as, what was Etienne-Louis Boullee trying to describe in his essay, written in his native French? Or why, as a Black woman, did African American museums often feel hollow or ingenuine to me?
I found these answers in the small 720 section of our library and they almost always led to more questions. One question I always wondered, but could never figure out how to voice, was why were there so few women architects discussed in school?
Who is Despina Stratigakos?
Luckily, Despina Stratigakos saw my question and posed a stronger one back to me. Where Are the Women Architects? by Despina Stratigakos is an engaging discussion starter into the demographics of the architecture field.
Despina Stratigakos is a Canadian architecture professor at the University of Buffalo. Her education took her all across North America and put her in a unique position to assess Western architecture and architectural history. Her other works as an architecture historian were all related to examining the architecture of Hitler and the Nazi party; the central point of her research and dedication to representation being A Women’s Berlin: Building the Modern City. These publications add to her exhaustive list of works that discuss the neglected parties of exclusion, primarily in design.
What causes the lack of women architects?
The book is a practical commute read; the main story is less than 80 pages, it fits easily into your backpack and can keep you engrossed for the entirety of your trip. It follows the history of women in architecture; beginning with when women began practicing, or at the very least, working. She moves through the current condition of the practicing woman architect, concluding with what our future in these spaces could look like.
Stratigakos examines what causes so few women to become architects, despite the rather large percentage of us that go to school. She analyzes other reasons women might not be architects, besides the vague, and frankly sexist, belief that women do not practice because they are busy starting families.
The themes this book explores can be sobering. Stratigakos articulates so much of what women feel in the workplace and identifies its causes. As you read, you discover so many instances in which women are overlooked, ignored, or chased from the field, despite our best efforts. Yet, there is a sense of encouragement. As if the ability to name the thing that torments you makes it easier to fight.
In the last section of the book, Stratigakos discusses an unexpected avenue that could encourage more women in architecture. Her strategy encourages more women in another field that we often lack representation in, as well.
How does this book by Despina Stratigakos make you feel?
While the question of diversity and equal opportunity often causes those in power to gawk, Stratigakos has written a digestible guide on where women are and how to get more of us. It calls out oppressors without making the readers feel guilty.
She motivates readers to take a less passive view when involving others. It exposes inequities that have plagued the industry for too long. Where are the Women Architects? is a not just great read for firms wanting to produce substantive diversity and inclusion training, but a great read for those wanting more education.
The book does not assume that Stratigakos’ experience is unique or the same as every woman’s. She acknowledges the shared troubling framework of women in design and presents her own experiences alongside. Normally, anecdotal evidence can be thrown out with the bathwater. But Stratigakos tells such a relatable story, I would be surprised if no woman has felt similar. Not to mention my leaving the story desperate for a hot pink drawing tube.
When is this information relevant?
The premise and conclusion are simple. The women architects are right next to you in the studio, in physics class, in the office, in meetings. We put in the same amount of hours, work, and dedication, if not more. Stratigakos does not waste time attempting to argue why women deserve to be practicing architects. By avoiding that discussion altogether, the book, and her arguments, can be concentrated on realizing where the women architects are.
Last summer, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, large design firms like SOM, Gensler, and Perkins & Will announced a renewed commitment to diversity in the workplace. While many focused their diversity on minorities based on race, it poses a fascinating launchpad.
If these companies truly intend to reexamine their inclusivity (as opposed to being performative or hopping on a trend), they have to dedicate themselves to making architecture and design accessible to all people. They have to bring on more people of color, people from different backgrounds, people from the neighborhoods they intend to serve. And they must bring on more women.