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Katia Broz on Room at the Top
20 November, 2023
Throughout architectural history, women were always in the background, many shadowed by their male coworkers or husbands. Just like Denise Scott Brown with Robert Venturi, incredibly talented female architects had major roles in contributing to great designs, but never received the recognition they deserved. In this text, Scott Brown advocates for the importance of accurately mentioning who contributed to what part of architectural works. Without recognition, female architects might feel self-doubt and confusion and think they are ‘dull thinkers’, she says. Then, Scott Brown explains her main argument: this lack of recognition is due to the architecture Star System. This system is unfair and hard on women because it thrives in a sexist environment. The Star System of Architecture over-represents male gurus and omits the complex relationships happening under the designer at the top.
Figure 1: Montage of ‘the greatest architects of all time’. These male figures were our gurus from the very first day we started architecture school. The female contributions behind their work were never mentioned.
My favourite part of the text was when the author talked about the source of the problem: the education in architecture schools. Indeed, the promotion of the Star System starts early in an architect’s life. Teachers show us early on that the best designs were all made by male architects (figure 1) and that a toxic office and studio culture made them successful. There is no room for broader views of the profession. Indeed, fantasizing about doing the same designs as male gurus comes from authoritarian and judgmental educational techniques that we were thought in architecture school. Unfortunately, after five years of studying the Star System, this will undoubtedly and subconsciously be the model students will want to reproduce. This has great consequences. After their studies, women will be tempted to be part of the men’s club (figure 2). Instead of building their own identity, they will try to fit in and do what male architects do. If students only have male architect models, women will become as macho as them because they will think it is the only way to survive in this competitive world.
Figure 2: Norma Merrick Sklarek in meeting. The few female architects mentioned to us at school were exceptions that were able to fight for recognition in a male-dominated sexist environment.
Moreover, Scott Brown’s article is not that much about herself wanting to be recognized, but rather about revealing that her story is a more common phenomenon than we think. She is not alone in feeling that there has never been much room for women at the top. She is stating loudly that most women experienced discrimination, and we must talk about this issue. She makes women want to be more aware of the forces around them, understanding their role, how people see and treat them and what they should fight for. Finally, after reading this text I am more aware that speaking up about female injustices in architecture is important. To my great surprise, people might relate, tag along and support me. Just like Denise Scott Brown noticed during her conferences and talks, if I speak up, I will quickly see that many people identify to my experiences