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Annmarie Adams on The Architect: Reconstructing Her Practice
16 December, 2020
This annotation is an extract from Annmarie Adams (2001) review ‘The Architect: Reconstructing her Practice’, Design Book Review, No. 44/45 2001, 71-73
A classmate in architecture school once told me that an architectural education teaches women to think like men. ‘It wipes out all our female instincts’, she confided in a hushed, nearly conspiratorial voice during a review of student work at the University of California, Berkeley, ‘and forces us to value what the [men] do’. This notion that architecture school erases ‘women’s ways of knowing’ has haunted me for the last fifteen years, returning with particular intensity during design crits. Is architectural education really a form of gender deprogramming? Do I, as a woman and feminist critic, encourage women students to think like men? I hope not.
The Architect: Reconstructing Her Practice, edited by Francesca Hughes, puts an optimistic spin on the premise that female architecture students learn to think like men. In the book’s introduction, Hughes suggests that women architects are ideally located to reform the male-dominated profession precisely because they have undergone a process of gender indoctrination. ‘Insider by her education, her adoption by and of certain professional institutions; outsider by her difference, her gender-related experience contains grounds for resistive reading of certain architectural operations’, states Hughes. The editor then explains that this liminal position of women architects as both mainstream and marginal forces them to ‘invent’ a critical practise. This is a fascinating idea. Architecture school turns us into honorary men, but then we supposedly bring our womanly ways to the office, making the profession a much better place in the end. These same conclusions, in fact, were reached by Sherry Ahrentzen and Linda Groat in their study of women faculty members in professional programs of architecture, whom they saw, like Hughes’s architects, as both peripheral and central and thus in positions of relative power.
It is unfortunate that few of the women who were asked to contribute autobiographical essays to The Architect seem interested in Hughes’s hypothesis. The twelve essays in Hughes’s book, in fact, comprise a rather eclectic scrapbook of contemporary architectural ‘practice’. The authors include well-known architectural theorists – such as Beatriz Colomina, Catherine Ingraham, and Jennifer Bloomer – and practitioners like Merrill Elam and Françoise-Hélène Jourda. Many of the contributors are architects from the ‘real world’ who maintain strong links to academia: Diane Agrest, Elizabeth Diller, Christine Hawley, and Dagmar Richter, among others. This choice of contributors, if nothing else, is testament to the profound impact women had on architectural education in the 1980s and 1990s.