by Despina Stratigakos. Princeton University Press, May 2016. 128 p. ill. ISBN 9780691170138 (pbk.), $19.95.
Reviewed July 2016
This small, but content-rich volume is the first title in the Places Books series published by Places journal (placesjournal.org). The series aims to "present smart, lively titles on architecture, landscape, and urbanism." The author, a historian on architecture and design in Germany, is an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Buffalo and one of a few scholars actively attempting to change or at least expose long-standing biases against women in architecture. While there have been many books on women as architects, this particular collection of themes provides context for the small percentage of women architects in practice currently and the lack of an industry-wide approach for addressing the gender gap.
The book contains five chapters, two of which began as articles in Places and have since been expanded. One chapter details when the author and an architect colleague at her institution approached Mattel in 2010 after a failed launch of Barbie as architect in 2002. The final Architect Barbie prototype became the catalyst for a heated debate on the status of women in the profession. The second article was originally a call to action to respond to the lack of entries on female architects in Wikipedia, as the architectural monograph on the (male) celebrity architect endures.
The book starts with a historical overview of women as architects, from the nineteenth century until women began demanding change in an organized fashion during the 1970s. The field operates as a "star system," privileging individual male figures and discriminating against female colleagues in various ways. Both here and elsewhere, the author provides examples from both within and outside the United States. The following chapter describes the architecture school environment and firm culture and how they address women, while the fourth chapter discusses the awarding of major architecture prizes. Central to this last chapter is the discussion of the 1991 Pritzker Prize awarded to Robert Venturi minus his spouse and long-time collaborator Denise Scott Brown, along with the more recent petition to challenge this decision.
The volume serves as a rich reference source, citing countless publications, scholarly and popular, as well as documenting events and key organizations, followed by an extensive bibliography. The text is well-written and accessible to a range of readers, and it no doubt will serve as an essential text for architecture school collections and firm libraries, as well as large academic libraries. Fifteen black-and-white half-page or smaller illustrations are included, depicting subjects highly relevant to the text; color images of Barbie would have been an added bonus.