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What does it mean to be an architect and a feminist?

To start a deeper interrogation of our personal feminisms and their relationship to our chosen career as architects, we made a reading list. That reading list turned into a class. This newsletter is the monthly-ish product of that class. We are graduate architecture students Ibiayi Briggs and Lorraine Gemino, working under the guidance of Assistant Professor Ellie Abrons, all at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. As an experiment in a public, adaptable, learning format, we plan to use this space to share an edit of the ideas, people, spaces, iconography, and more that make up the worlds of feminism and design via reading, interviews, and short written and/or visual responses to what we learn.

We’re interested in feminism as a practice, with all its connotations. Practice as a method of training. Practice as a way of working. Practice as the act of architecting. To paraphrase——and contradict——hall of fame basketball player (and the only dude we’ll be citing going forward) Allen Iverson, "Not a game, but [feminist] practice?"1

Here are some highlights from the first few weeks of class...

WHAT WE'RE READING

“When feminists are dismissed as sensationalist, we experience the world as all the more sensational; what is ordinarily overlooked or looked over appears striking. The world registers yet again as sensory intrusion; the events you might have tried to forget come more and more into focus as you make feminism your stance. The past is magnified when it is no longer shrunk. We make things bigger just by refusing to make things smaller. You experience the world on a different scale.”

-Sara Ahmed, Living A Feminist Life, pg. 40


“In a profession where masculinity is collapsed into the neutral figure of the 'architect', and sites of current architectural education and discourse: the office, the media, the institution and the profession, are also considered gender neutral, recognizing gender as a social construction in order to critique the heterosexual patriarchal bastion of architectural practice has been of key importance.”

-Jane Rendell, Tendencies and Trajectories: Feminist Approaches in Architecture, pg. 89

 

“Why does the human body, be it woman's or man's, apparently dictate spatial language? Do we create visual form in our own body image? If we could conceptualize the body as a continuum instead of a dichotomy, would we structure space differently? If the notions of masculinity and femininity and the inequalities associated with them were abolished, how would we design and experience cities and suburbs, workplaces and dwellings?”

-Leslie Weisman, Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment, pg. 32

SPOTLIGHT

As part of practicing feminism, we would like to draw attention to current and former collectives, exhibitions, projects, and practitioners.
 
     

In 1993, an exhibition, “More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts,” premiered at Chicago’s Randolph Street Gallery. Designed and produced by the collective CARYATIDS (Chicks in Architecture Refuse to Yield to Atavistic Thinking in Design and Society), its intentions were to illustrate the systemic gender inequity in the profession. The exhibit didn’t feature buildings, but instead multimedia and multi-disciplinary displays meant to be a bit humorous, bringing in a wider audience despite its political nature. One of the installations, "The Great Man Myth--Just How Big Is It?,” had upside down models of famous high rises like the Sears Tower with a breakdown of time contributed by different people who worked on the project, noting that the male architects who often receive all the credit worked the least amount of hours.  

CARYATIDS, an offshoot of Chicago Women in Architecture, was a collective that included over seventy architects and designers of all genders. Their name referred to the caryatid, a column formed in the shape of a woman. The group believes, “it's time for women to be freed of responsibility of carrying the load of sin and castigation.”

Read more on the Chicago Architecture Biennial blog and view works from the exhibit in the collection of the Virginia Tech International Archive of Women in Architecture.

THE LINK LIST

We spent some time in our discussion talking about the power of lists. Lists as tool for visibility, citation, documentation, organization, etc. So here’s a short list of lists/listicles:

This is our first newsletter! To continue receiving these emails, please sign up here. We also appreciate dialogue and can be reached at editors@fwd-slash.com.  
 

Until next time!

Ibiayi and Lorraine,The Editors of FWD /

1. In a much referenced press conference by Allen Iverson, he defends his often questioned dedication to practice by delivering a rant where he mentions the word ‘practice’ 22 times. Despite being a hall of famer, Iverson has never won a championship and perhaps should have put more weight into practice. 
2. Where is the US version?
for links to more readings, practices, projects, and people we come across
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