Women Writing Architecture
Women Writing Architecture refers to the editorial team managing www.womenwritingarchitecture.org
If art criticism is the analysis and evaluation of works of art, could architectural criticism be applied to specific buildings, or is the subject of critique much wider? It depends on the limits of the term architecture – which can flood into all realms of life and even be described, when freed from canonical definition, as including instances of human intervention for the purposes of living. So, if art criticism is framed by theory, as an interpretive act involving the effort to understand a particular work of art from a theoretical perspective and to establish its significance in the history of art, what could architectural criticism be? Of all the words in the glossary, critique raises the questions of why and who for? the most strongly.
The earliest existing architectural drawing was made more that 4,000 years ago – an engraving of the plan of a shrine into the hard stone of a figurative sculpture. Since then, drawing has been a principal mechanism through which thinking, and the communication of these thoughts, about architecture is carried out. There is a huge diversity of approaches to architectural drawing, from the scribbles of initial sketches, collaboratively produced construction details, instructive diagrams to polished presentation drawings made for seduction. Citations collected under this term – drawing – are somehow connected to the processes and outcomes of architectural drawing, in its many manifestations.
In this context, the term environmentalism overlaps with sustainability, with a focus on the natural environment as a system. At its simplest, to sustain means to be able to be maintained or defended, and as such requires a system within which there is something to be upheld, or sustained at a certain rate or level. With the particular economic and political meaning that this word is freighted with, the reality of any system that constitutes its context is always in flux, always in question, because it reflects the ideological position of the individual or group using it. Most often, the term is used to define the actions or attitudes necessary to maintain aspects of the world as they exist in the early twenty-first century – that the global temperature and sea levels do not rise, that capitalism can continue as the dominant economic system; but this is often given a progressive intention in advocating a change in the system and how it works globally, with an intention towards equality – providing a consistent water and food supply for all the world’s population, for example, equal access to clean energy and economic security.
The central tenet of this powerful word is a belief in the social, economic, and political equality of women, and it is in this general sense that it has been applied as a thematic term in this annotated bibliography. While this is a clear statement, many complexities are embodied with the ambiguity of its terms, as well as the history of its struggle. As a descriptive term, it has been broken down into various categories which vary with the ideological, geographical and social status of the categoriser. For example, feminism is sometimes assigned chronological waves or stages: from the 1830s into the twentieth century – women’s fight for suffrage, equal contract and property rights; between 1960 and 1990 – a widening of the fight to embrace the workplace, domesticity, sexuality and reproductive rights; between 1990 and 2010 – the development of micropolitical groups concerned with specific issues; and the current wave of feminism that draws power from the me-too movement, and recognises the fluidity of biological womanhood.
This word overlaps with other themes in this glossary – with domesticity and the sourcing, storing and preparation of food, or sustainability in a wider political and economic sense that embraces the perceived responsibilities of individuals and communities alike to produce and consume food in response to global issues of climate change, biopolitics and economic disparity, for example. As such, the definition extends out from its descriptive relationship to the objects of consumption into spatial realms of all scales.
Writing for children is also writing for adults, and not just those who are imminent, although it is a useful place for embedding ethical frameworks for future life and creative work, and for framing desires and aspirations. This term encompasses writing by women to be read to and by children, but also to send messages to each other, and as such can be a feminist form of writing of a type taken to powerful heights by writers like Angela Carter, Jean Auel, Ursula Le Guin and Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Gender is a social construct whose traditional binary construct – male/female – is challenged by the concept of gender fluidity, which refers to change over time in a person’s gender expression or gender identity, or both. Another direction in which the question of gender as a social construct is extended is into the realm of interchangeability with other species.
An architectural monograph usually describes the work of an individual architect or designer, sometimes that of a partnership or collective, which is often interpreted through the life experiences – also recounted – of the subject. Sometimes the subject is a single building or project. Usually written by one author, a monograph presents a single point of view on the subject, often with scholarly credentials through which it assumes authority. The monograph is a familiar tool for defining the importance of the individual creative figure and establishing a place for them within the canon. Until recently, the lives and works of women architects and designers have not often been the subjects of monographs, but important work in redefining the canon of architectural history has led to a series of books addressing this discrepancy.
Searching for writing by women about architecture in the long period preceding the twentieth century reveals few texts in the conventional sense; that is, familiar within the form of canonical histories, theories and critiques of buildings, ideas and architects’ lives. When this is the case, a more lateral approach to the definition of architectural writing is required, and one of the fields where women, intrepid women, were writing about architecture was in their travel writing, where they recounted their experiences and impressions of exotic worlds near and far, and the buildings they found there, for their counterparts who stayed at home.