Observing the patriarchal structures of architecture history and education, Chloe Spiby Loh tells us how she organized a series of events (exhibition, debates, lectures, etc.) in her school in order to address gender in a discipline that often satisfies itself with an innocuous demographic balance in lieu of feminism.
As the wave of women’s marches in the United States took hold of global news coverage in January 2017, I was travelling back to Dublin from London to continue my studies in architecture after the Christmas break. The collective energy of all these women was transmitted to me from across the Atlantic, fuelling me to take up their call for change and start something new of my own; so over the next year and a half I devised a student-led project that came to be called Gender: An Architectural Agenda.
In the wake of so many global and local campaigns for women’s rights in other areas of cultural production, inequality in the architectural profession must be better addressed by the institutions that both educate and regulate the industry. When I ran this project in Dublin, between January 2017 and June 2018 there was only one female partner between the top five largest offices in Ireland. During this same time, according to the U.K.’s annual Architects’ Journal “Women in Architecture” survey, 20% of the female architects stated there were no women at all in their senior management staff, whilst only 1% said that there was an equal split.
While studying, I felt distinctly lacking in my ability to critically engage with issues surrounding power relations. Despite attending two schools of architecture in two different countries, neither curriculum covered the relationship between architecture and feminism in any sort of meaningful way. I could wax lyrical on how a building’s façade, material palette, programme or size suits its location and situation, but I didn’t feel I’d be able to engage in an equivalently educated way with any conversation about the intersections between architecture and feminism, class or race.
The first aim of the project therefore, was to equip myself and the rest of the student body with basic knowledge about the role and place of women in architecture, past and present. However, it was equally as important to me that the project also enabled us, as students, to develop our own voices in calling and acting on the changes to the profession that we deemed necessary. In this way, we would both form our own educated and critical stance on the issue of unequal distributions of power in architecture and hopefully find our own agency in developing methods of resistance.