‘Women in architecture’ is an emerging phrase one gets to hear a lot these days. With the rise of feminism in the world, the call for equality has become a major concern today. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, this year’s Pritzker prize winners, are proof or rather an important milestone in the culture of the architectural profession that women are stepping up their game.
We want to go back in time to the 20th Century, to commend one such Nobel figure, Odile Decq, to note her important contributions to the field of architecture and the state of society alike. Odile Decq is a French Architect who is notable for her revered gothic style and heads her practice called ‘Studio Odile Decq’ in Paris. Decq is almost always seen attired in black conforming to her gothic vogue. She and her late husband, Benoit Cornette earned fame in the architectural field often nicknamed as ‘Architecture’s first Rock and Roll Couple!’
Decq started her practice alone in 1979, the same year as she graduated in Urbanism and Planning from Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris following a Diploma in Architecture from the Ecole d’Architecture de Paris-La Vilette.
“ARCHITECTURE IS MUCH MORE THAN A PROFESSION; IT’S A DISCIPLINE.”
She is celebrated for her rebellious style, visible in experimentation with buildings in glass and metals. Decq practiced met her husband in 1985 and the two practiced together for the next 15 years, the firm being called as ODBC Architects, (Odile Decq Benoit Cornette Architectes-Urbanistes).
In the year 1998, in an unfortunate automobile accident, Benoit Cornette passed away. After practicing alone for some time, she renamed her firm to ‘Studio Odile Decq’ in 2013. Despite the tragedy and the loss of a partner, resilient Studio Odile Decq has won a lot of acclaim and awards in the past years.
“Architecture, in a certain sense, is a war. It’s a tough profession where you always have to fight. You have to have great stamina. I kept going because I started working as a team with Benoît who helped, supported and pushed me to go my own way. He treated me as an equal, strengthened my own resolve to assert myself, follow my own inclination and be as I wanted to be. I also tell students and repeat at conferences that you need a good dose of recklessness to go down the road of architecture because if you are too aware of the difficulties the profession entails, you might never begin. You have to keep fighting but without really knowing what the fight is. Very often this recklessness is considered folly. That’s wrong; it’s pure recklessness – something that is socially acceptable for men, but not yet for women.”—”Interview with Odile Decq” by Alessandra Orlandoni, The Plan Magazine, October 7 2005
Decq has remained an academic since 1992, teaching in her Alma mater, Ecole d’Architecture de Paris-La Vilette. But Decq, as rebellious as she is, couldn’t resonate with the closed education system she came in contact with in the Institution. Soon in the year 2014, with a collaboration with a small group of international architects and educators, she started a new College called as Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture.
She envisioned this new College with an intent to break away from the traditional methods of architectural pedagogy and research. Her emphasis on inclusiveness stems from the fact that she recognised the battles women had to face against sexism. In an interview, Decq has even disclosed that she never really worked for any architects and that is also why she started her practice soon after her studies.
Odile Decq, among many other awards, is a recipient of the Jane Drew Prize. The award, named after English Modernist architect Jane Drew, is accredited by the Architect’s Journal to someone remarkable in showing innovation, diversity and inclusiveness in architecture.
She is revealed as to lead the group of five astounding architects who will be the grand jury of the 2020 RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) International Prize.
Decq is a believer in the future generation, with a lot of hope even. Which is why she remains as an academic even now, constantly encouraging her students to push further in the field.
Le Cargo, New Cyprus Museum, Halle Totem Montpellier etc are just some of Studio Odile Decq’s noteworthy built and competition entries in architectural design projects. Apart from architectural design projects, her practice has ventured even into Art, Urbanism and Design. This makes Odile Decq one of the most celebrated architect and a woman in the field of architecture.