WOMEN AND ARQUITECTURE, 2015-2016 year brief presentation

Dear all!

let the birds bring you summer vibes from Vietnam! 😉 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005xjpn



Izaskun Chinchilla and Carlos Jiménez.

Inequity has historically affected women both using and designing architecture in the city. This difference of opportunities and rights is widely evidenced through both qualitative and quantitative means.  Looking firstly at the numbers:  The Office for National Statistics in UK rated a pay gap of 25 percent (the mean hourly rate paid to female architects was £17.40, compared with £23.28 paid to their male counterparts) in 2013. Today women make up only 18.3 percent of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) although they make up approximately 40% of the accrediting in B.Arch and M.Arch programs In Switzerland, France and the Netherlands the percentage of women with a full professorship in Architectural Universities is less than 6%.  In leading this and if we agree our cities are designed mainly for cars it is good to know than men in the uk still drive twice as many miles per year than women.

In terms of qualitative research, a CABE study interviewing architectural students declares, “women generally find crits harder, being more inclined to ‘take it personally’ and less ‘aggressive’ and ‘competitive’ in defending their work”. Ursula Bauer affirms these ideas through her research into public transport in Vienna’s Ninth District where she uses questionnaire’s to capture options from the local residents and discovers “Most of the men filled out the questionnaire in less than five minutes,(…) while women couldn’t stop writing things like ‘I take my kids to the doctor some mornings, then bring them to school before I go to work. Later, I help my mother buy groceries and bring my kids home on the metro’” and of course, “we don’t embroider cushions here” famously replied from Le Corbusier to Charlotte Perriand when she strode into his studio at 35 rue de Sèvres, Paris in 1927, and asked him to hire her as a furniture designer.

These, and so many other pieces of research have provoked a reaction: the egalitarian fight. Women have historically claimed to have equal rights however our year agenda does not ­­­ try to contribute to egalitarian fight but will explore how a fully developed female mindset can create new business, cultural, social and environmental opportunities. The image of women we want to promote in our design exploration is that of a fair, clever and inspiring leader. We want to avoid representing and understanding women as victims at any stage of our research and design. Our year will be based in a ‘blue ocean logic’ (Kim and Mauborgne 2005): don’t try to compete in a ‘red ocean’ (already existing ways to focus your profession) but create new regions of unique opportunities. We will explore the opportunities for a change of ‘meaning’ and therefore for radical innovation (Verganti 2009) women can bring to architecture and urban design.

Our research questions, meeting the Design Research culture in which Bartlett School is an unbeatable leader, will always be directed to find positive opportunities. We plan to develop them in further sessions, but this selection is a good start:

+ Assuming design developed by women has specific values, can introducing the ‘female brand’ in an architectural team allow finding more clients and new types of commissions?.

+ What strategic use of gender directed design and/or unisex design could empower women?.

+ An architecture understanding better women necessities, would be universally felt as more welcoming for everybody?.

+ Could massive incorporation of women to architectural practices leadership improve the working conditions providing intelligent and flexible schedules and forcing to reestablished the rules and the sense of competition?.

+ Would gender aware design for cities increase the environmental quality priorizing public transport and extending a culture in which citizens take care from each other and from their surroundings?.

+ Giving aesthetic legitimacy to the female taste (raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright coppers kettles and warm woolen mittens…) would help contemporary architecture be more appreciate by society?.

+ Is the philosophy of the domestic economy (flexibility, win and win logic and small scale) a good model for new entrepreneurs?  

Particular exercises proposed by the unit combine this year specific intention with the wider Unit 22 methodological background. Unit 22 encourages students to find their own site and program to work in, trying to develop the entrepreneur abilities required by independent practitioners and trusting a strong constructive pedagogical background. Though different terms are dedicated to develop specific skills and scales, students will be welcome to work in the same site and program all through the year.

+ THE ARMILLARY SPHERE (FIRST TERM). An armillary sphere (also spherical astrolabe, armilla, or armil) is a model of objects in the celestial sphere, consisting of a spherical framework of rings, centered on Earth or the Sun, that represent lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features such as the ecliptic. Armillary sphere was used to visualize the structure of the most complex scientific object of the moment: the universe. We think it is a wonderful device to understand our own wicked design problem: women and architecture. Students will be asked to build their own armillary sphere. They will place, in the center of the sphere, the female body of a specific woman chosen as user. Every week over the first term, students will design and build a scale version of an architectural element empowering her woman. We understand recent changes in gender roles as major opportunity for designers. The objects will grow in scale and impact affecting first mainly the body of the woman and then gradually a bigger community. Besides developing main design abilities,   the making of the armillary sphere (scaled design objects, turning rings, and articulated joints) will help students develop their fabrication abilities. But students will also join these capacities with a high level of analytic and strategic thinking, deciding which are the facts that constitute the ‘latitude and longitude’ of a change of position of women in the architectural universe.

+ GENDER AWARE DESIGN FOR A NEIGHBOORHOOD (SECOND TERM).  Planning policy tends to ignore the fact that women and men use public space very differently and have different concerns about how it meets their needs. The integration of productive and reproductive roles, public transport priority, the value given to environmental quality and safety, the integration of diversity, the participated governance are strategic areas for architects and urban designers that we will exercise anticipating many of the professional opportunities our students will find when working as architects.

+ THE PROUD FOR FEMALE BRAND (THIRD TERM). We will dedicate the third term to make a deep reflection on aesthetics understanding the ‘female brand’ or the exploration of aesthetics values associated to women as an opportunity for architects to engage with a wider public, to transit out of the mainstream, to echo biophilic principles that can be universally share and to enlarge and diversify values associated to heritage architecture.

Our fieldtrip will have Vietnam as destiny and will happen in the transition between first and second term. Unit 22 students have been invited to participate in a workshop there in partnership with Ho Chi Minh City University. The workshop will refer to The Heritage Listing of French Villa area in Saigon (district 1 and 3) identifying extended preservation values  under huge threats of new developments.


Cloutier, Céline, and Dominique Masson. “Femmes et structures urbaines : extraits d’une bibliographie multidisciplinaire.” Recherches féministes 2, no. 1 (1989): 125. doi:10.7202/057541ar.

Kaputa, Catherine. The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business. Boston: Davies-Black, 2009.

Kennedy, Margrit I. “Toward a Rediscovery of ‘feminine’ Principles in Architecture and Planning.” Women’s Studies International Quarterly 4, no. 1 (January 1981): 75–81. doi:10.1016/S0148-0685(81)96388-0.

Kim, W. Chan, and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Expanded edition. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press, 2005.

Oerton, Sarah. Beyond Hierarchy: Gender, Sexuality, and the Social Economy. Gender, Change & Society 4. London ; Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

Verganti, Roberto. Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press, 2009.


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