Architect or female Architect

Dorte Mandrup, a leading Danish architect, remarked in a recent interview that if you were to look at a building you would not be able to tell if a woman or a man designed it, thus why should we emphasise that it is a woman’s achievement? She said, “I am not a female architect. I am an architect.”

This topical debate of whether women should be singled out for their accomplishments questions whether in fact that only detaches them from the main stream of competition and standing. The Jane Drew prize is an award given to architects who have raised the profile of women, a platform to celebrate and propel women architects. Those who have won it include Denise Scott Brown, Zaha Hadid and Odile Decq. The argument therefore stands: in the C.21st are we still in need of separate gender specific awards and lists of women’s success in the industry or has architecture come to a point where male and female success are indeterminable.

Eileen Gray, Irish Architect and Furniture Designer stands as a testimony to how times have improved in the last century. Zeev Aram remarked that her designs are now as recognisable as other early 20th century architects such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, yet in her working days although highly Modernist she went by somewhat undetected. Her E1027 house on the Cote d’Azur defines Modernist philosophy, putting theory into practice. The house has recently been renovated. Zeev Aram was the one to encourage her to begin a production line of her furniture designs in response to which she asked if it was worth doing. This insecurity in her own talent is potentially what held her back from becoming a household name. The likes of Le Corbusier in contrast believed without doubt that his architectural language would redefine the physical landscape. He wrote books like, ‘Toward an Architecture’ a statement of what should become the new norm and he succeeded, we remember him. He is one of the geniuses of the 20th century. What is not so quickly remembered was his obsession with Gray’s E1027, how he defaced the house with several mock murals, outraged that a woman could have made a work in a style he considered his own and yet built a ‘cabanon’ in sight of the villa. Eileen Gray somehow created a building that epitomised Modernist philosophy which disgruntled Corbusier as he had not designed it.

The styles of contemporary female architects vary hugely, as one would expect. Being female doesn’t lead to one look. Yet there has been a renewed vigour for texture and layers, and Eileen Gray believed that “the poverty of modern architecture” “stems from the atrophy of sensuality.”

Zaha Hadid was her own giant success story, who soared through the glass ceiling with her talents showing the world that ultimately gender and race are irrelevant to architecture and art. She has been termed a “diva” by some, or temperamental and eccentric and her work somewhat reflects this image with designs filled with asymmetry, movement and abstraction. They don’t follow rules and even appear to defy gravity. A revival of organic shapes after the doctrine of rectilinear Modernism defines 21st century design.

Odile Decq, a French architect, is another example of a woman who defies stereotype and catapults herself into a league of her own. Her renovation of Maison Bernard is an example of more is more, a collision of colours and spontaneous curves. In a completely different yet equally bold language is her Saint-Ange residence: a jet-black angular sculpture from which punctured, indented, fields of yellow light pour out.

A lot has changed in the last century but much more needs to be done. The term architect or designer need to be gender neutral.

Images via Friends of e.1027