Despina Stratigakos’s Where Are the Women Architects? is a nuanced effort “to track an unfinished dialogue that has haunted architecture—in a cycle of acknowledging and abandoning its gender issues—for a long time,” as she writes in her introduction. One of two inaugurating publications in the Places Books series—a collaboration between Princeton University Press and the online publication Places Journal (placesjournal.org)—the book sprang from two pieces Stratigakos wrote for the site. It offers a wide-Ranging examination of why expansion of the role of women in architecture has continued to be so slow.
The author’s account is a measured one. The dialogue about the role of women in architecture has been advancing and has yielded some genuine movement—but the status of women in the field has also become puzzlingly becalmed. Forty-four percent of U.S. and U.K. architecture students are female, but, according to the author, “despite women’s increasing enrollments in architecture schools since the 1980s, their numbers in practice have flat lined, and the higher one moves up the career ladder, the further [the numbers] decline.”
The greatest strength of Stratigakos’s account is an examination of the comprehensive lack of role models, mentors, and mentorship for women architects. “You cannot walk into a large commercial bookstore, where the design shelves are filled with glossy monographs on international stars, and expect to walk out with a book on a woman architect,” she writes.
Stratigakos notes that while architecture schools boast rising numbers of female faculty, they are rarely serving as senior members or instructing design studios. Syllabuses are frequently entirely free of women architects; guest lecturers are infrequently female. Once into practice, female architects often encounter an absence of female partners in the practice.
The book is an excellent primer if you already are concerned about the topic—but especially if you are not.
Anthony Paletta writes the Spaces column for the Wall Street Journal and contributes to Metropolis, Gizmodo, the Awl, the Daily Beast, and a variety of other publications.