Modern Architecture and Gender: The Case of pre-State Israel
7 April, 2022
20 years ago, I researched the 1934 Levant Fair in Tel Aviv, an international exhibition whose purpose was to boost the economy and the commercial ties of the Jewish community in Palestine under the British Mandate (Mandatory Palestine, 1921-1948). This was also an important architectural event that marked the acceptance of the international style as representative of the nascent Jewish society. Leading local modernist architects designed permanent pavilions. Among them were two women architects: Genia Averbuch and Elsa Gidoni Mandelstamm. Together, they designed Café Galina, which is considered an outstanding example of modern European architecture in Pre-State Israel and a milestone in the development of local architecture.
My initial search for information on Gidoni Mandelstamm proved futile, even though she planned six buildings on the fairgrounds, which were acclaimed in the local and international press. This spurred me to start a long and fascinating quest for the work of the first women architects in Pre-state Israel. A decade of data collection in local and international archives, along with collaboration with women researchers around the world, uncovered a hidden treasure: large and impressive body of works by 17 women architects who were active in the early decades of the 20th century in Mandatory Palestine.
The course “Modern Architecture and Gender: The Case of pre-State Israel” is based on this research. It explores gender and modern architecture intersections in the early 20th century, with an emphasis on Mandatory Palestine. The course begins with an introduction to theoretical texts exploring feminism and gender followed by discussions of modern architecture topics related to gender. We explore themes such as the concept of the “new woman” and the domestic reform in 1920s Weimar Republic, the transfer of this discourse into Mandatory Palestine and the work of the first-generation of women architects (mostly German immigrants). The course highlights the design of social institutions by women for women in Mandatory Palestine, such as training kitchens, affordable housing for urban single women, domestic science and agricultural schools and health clinics. The reading list combines articles on similar German institutions (women clubs, housing for single women) and topics that can shed light on the local case of Mandatory Palestine.