Two years ago, Metropolis photo editor Kelly Rakowski sent the rest of our team an email with the subject line “Reading about Phyllis Birkby.” That was our introduction to architect, feminist, and environmentalist Noel Phyllis Birkby, and the program she cofounded in 1974: the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (WSPA).
Slowly we began to understand the connections between the WSPA and other initiatives undertaken by feminist architects around that time—for instance, the Organization of Women Architects and Design Professionals, or the 1977 exhibition Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective. We saw how female architects developed networks of solidarity and creativity in which they tried to imagine an architecture that wouldn’t perpetuate an unequal society and lead us to ecological suicide. In “Building Sisterhood,” critic and longtime Metropolis contributor Mimi Zeiger looks back at those feminist forebears and asks what we might learn from them for our current time.
We also look at a contemporary network of women when we profile Alda Ly and Chiara de Rege, the architect and designer behind The Wing, a coworking start-up focused on making spaces for women. Client and architect were well matched on this project, for The Wing began by accepting only women as members, and the design team was entirely female. In fact, “virtually every collaborator we work with, from general contractors and expediters to lighting designers, is female-owned and -led as well,” Ly says. As The Wing continues to expand, Ly and de Rege will hand off the design reins to another female-led firm, CallisonRTKL.
While this sort of women-first initiative is groundbreaking, we take to heart Zeiger’s exhortation to not just highlight women in architecture (i.e., female representation and visibility) but also focus on women and architecture, which she defines as “the relationships between women and the built environment.” In that spirit, we showcase French researcher Anna Saint Pierre’s pioneering work on on-site recycling of building materials and learn from Harvard professor and noted urbanist Toni Griffin about how we should be planning for more-just cities.
As we read these four stories, plus the additional articles on women-led projects and initiatives included below, let us heed Zeiger’s reminder to stay open to a radical reshaping of the field of architecture and design. Indeed, history shows us that whenever women’s voices have been heard as they should be, the world has changed for all of us. Universal adult enfranchisement, civil rights, the LGBTQ movement—all of these important fights began with women. Women first took a stand, first sat in a seat not meant for them, first threw a brick; and the rest of us followed through the doors they opened.
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