14 April 2020

Architecture, a female noun in many languages

“Would they still call me a diva if I was a man?” wondered Zaha Hadid – and she’s probably not the only one, challenging more than a century of stereotypes about female architects. There are so many female icons who have designed incredible buildings all over the world over the last century. Jane Hall takes the same lively and energetic tone as she tells us about them, or rather illustrates and describes their projects. Her book Breaking Ground. Architecture by Women is an anthology and a pioneering visual manifesto of more than 200 extraordinary constructions by women. Not just by illustrious names such as Lina Bo Bardi and Eileen Gray but also contemporary ones like Kazuyo Sejima and Elizabeth Diller, and well-nigh forgotten figures such as Post-War design icon Mary Medd, and Margaret Kropholler, the Netherlands’ first female architect. Not to mention Itsuko Hasegawa, winner of the Inaugural Royal Academy Architecture Prize of 2018, Frida Escobedo, the youngest person chosen to design London’s Serpentine Pavilion and, obviously, Zaha Hadid.

The book is arranged into alphabetical order and every building – from skyscrapers through cultural spaces to private homes – is presented through a powerfully communicative image and a concise but eloquent descriptive text. This particular period – the 20th century – is significant in that it places the work of these women precisely at the time when architecture was becoming a profession in its own right, and during the intensification of modernism, dominated, as we know, by men.

While on one hand, the author’s intention is for a copy of the book to end up in the hands of every single young student or female architect and encourage them to make their mark on the world, on the other there’s also the hope that we will soon move on from putting the onus on parity of numbers as a demonstration of progress to a reflection on how people are living these days, in order to better understand how architects – men, women, able and disabled – can produce better architecture.

Well worth a thorough read.

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