Woman…. breaking stereotypes

Por Silvina Brito

AND WHAT ABOUT US… The figure of women in the world of architecture.

From the beginning of history, women were involved in the creation of their own habitat. In prehistoric times they played a fundamental role in the conditioning of the caves, so much so that it has been proven that the hands that appear in the caves, such as those of El Castillo and Pech Merle, mostly belong to women.

Throughout history, women have taken a back seat to men. In fact, at first, the field of construction was reserved exclusively for the personal and professional development of men, and women, so fragile and delicate, could not walk in the midst of cement, sand and stones. Much less was she considered capable of managing a construction site.

Thus, until a few decades ago, it was unthinkable that a man would receive instructions from a woman to perform any work.

From the beginning, the roles of both men and women were traditionally well differentiated: men worked outside and women stayed at home, so that, for women, formal education was not an option and they could only have access to the profession through internships.

The first women to make their way in this discipline were the French Katherin Briçonnet (1494-1526), who supervised the construction of the Château de Chenonceau while her husband was at war, and the English Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632-1705), considered the architect of Wotton House, in Buckinghamshire, among other buildings.

In Europe, Finland was the first country to allow women students to enter architecture school, although they were initially considered “special students”. The first on record was Signe Hornborg (1862-1916), who managed to graduate by “special permission” in 1890.

However, it was the American Julia Morgan (1872-1957), who in 1902 became the world’s first woman with a degree in architecture. She designed more than 700 buildings, many of which were commissioned by women’s organizations, which carried out important work in support of female education, a reflection of the new role that women were already claiming at the beginning of the 20th century.

It was just after World War II that women had greater opportunities to enter university. However, society in general was pushing hard for them to return to housework.

Many famous architects’ couples met while they were studying. However, the truth is that most of them were relegated to the shadow of her husband, losing any recognition for their work. Such is the case of architect Denise Scott Brown (1931) married to architect Robert Venturi. They worked together since 1969; however, she was excluded in 1991 from the Pritzker Prize, which provoked her protest and the debate about the difficulty of women architects to be recognized in their profession.

They were pioneers, fighters, tireless, great transgressors in their time and builders of this path that reaches our days, so it can be said that, during this XXI century, women architects gained greater notoriety and wide recognition for their achievements.

In 2004, world-renowned Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid became the first woman to win a Pritzker Prize, followed by Japanese architect Kazuyo Seijma in 2010, Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara in 2020, and finally in 2021 the prize went to French architect Anne Lacaton.

Many women have contributed in one way or another to write this history, despite all the obstacles they had to face at the time to study and then practice this traditionally male profession, always fighting for the acceptance and recognition of their peers.

Clearly, the road was long and, although there is still a long way to go, multidisciplinary work models have generated new ways of understanding the profession, from a position of solidarity and collaboration, fostering a more egalitarian work environment, which is ultimately what a modern and just society should aspire to as a whole.

¡Today more than ever, we women have decided to leave the kitchen to go out and eat the world!

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