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Your views: Response to Women in Architectural Academia

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Tatjana Schneider replies to the AR’s October pedagogy column which highlighted a growing cohort of influential female academics in architectural education

Being a woman in British academia, and, having been a woman in architectural practice in the past, I do read with more or less interest what journals, twitter and other outlets have to say about being a woman in these contexts.

The recent article by Matthew Barac, entitled Women in Architectural Academia – in the section entitled ‘Pedagogy’was not the first article to leave me a bit puzzled, but it was the first that made me want to comment. This urge to comment was triggered by the actual content, methodology (or lack thereof) as much as the tone in which it is written.

Barac suggests that a lot of the ‘disciplinary power’ is held today by women academics. If not steering debate, he says, women ‘at the very least, contribute to it equally’. Barac doesn’t disclose the source or research base of these comments or any other comments he makes and the reader is left wondering where these statements are coming from and what evidence they might be based on. It is also unclear why certain, undoubtedly well-known, women are included and others not. (On a different note, the editorial decision for the online version of this article to link some women featured to their university websites and others to their practice websites also seems a little dubious.)

Of course, one can always argue over who is included in such a list and who isn’t, and doing this in the context of this article would be missing the point. What I find remarkable is that the article hardly elaborates on the values and ideologies of the women included; neither does it actually mention that many of the women portrayed have a rather critical perspective on both the notion of ‘discipline’ and ‘power’.

Instead of focusing on quite unbearable generalisations and stereotypical observations on the juggling of professional, academic and personal life (a discussion I’m still waiting to have about the likes of Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Cook, Hani Rashid, Mark Wigley, Alejandro Zaera-Polo or Brett Steele – I could name of course many others here) I would have appreciated the beginning of a more precise and more interesting discourse. And, I would argue, that this discussion would have been well within reach: Barac held the power to initiate this alternate discourse through the way in which he phrased his questions to his interviewees.

Of course, I do think that it is important to create female role models, both in academia and practice, but – please – can we begin to talk about values, ideologies and content rather than going over the same things over and over again?

I would like to know, for example, what was it precisely that made Denise Scott Brown’s research studio such an exemplar so that it was adopted by many since? And, what concretely are the ‘reconfigurations of the discipline’ that Susanne Ewing talks about?

Indeed, Barac mentions Jane Rendell’s important work here, but apart from that, the article continues in a tone and manner I find insulting, both as a woman and an academic.

Why, for example, does everything always have to be so black and white – (ball breaker / diva)? I really don’t think that female role models are, as Barac states, ‘preposterously limited in scope’. In fact, I almost find it irresponsible to voice this opinion in this manner and find it at odds with the colourful spectrum of women portrayed in his article which he later goes on to acknowledge. But of course, this is not something you can convey in an article of this length and scope.

This is another key problem with the text. I kept on wondering about its concrete purpose? Did Barac set out to show that academia is not as bad as practice for women? But, then I would ask what his criteria were for finding out. Was it simply about numbers of women in schools of architecture? Well, in that case, I would have liked to see some statistics. Are we talking about the issues faced by women in academia? OK. Another good point. There are certainly issues, but what concretely are they?

Given that this article landed in the Architectural Review’s section on ‘Pedagogy’, are we actually talking about women academics in relation to pedagogy? Interesting, but where is the discussion of this? Or, indeed, are we talking about feminist principles of pedagogy? These are all very different questions which all require different sets of investigations.

All, of course, have their merit, but for me, the last one – the question of feminist principles of pedagogy would have been one of the richest questions to pursue. And this is, to a certain degree what I expected when I began reading this article in the ‘Pedagogy’ section.

So, what is it about feminist pedagogy that would give this discussion about women in academia a different angle? I would argue that taking feminist positions into the design studio (but also into other parts of the architectural curriculum) has profound implications not only on the ‘what’ (topics raised, discussed and worked on in schools of architecture) but also on the ‘how’ (the mechanisms and means of how architecture is taught and done).

Instead of designing for, feminist pedagogies favour designing with. Instead of insisting on teacher-student hierarchies, feminist pedagogy favours mutuality and co-learning. Feminist pedagogy is not about a singular truth, but multiple and situated knowledges and truths. It values the soft, the tacit and the intangible. These are different values to those of traditional (male invented) pedagogy.

And, this is precisely what is at stake here: how different – and profoundly feminist – principles might actually shift the ways in which architecture might be taught in schools of architecture and how they are then produced in ‘real’ settings.

So, let’s not get tangled up in the technical aspects. Instead, we should focus on how these different lenses and perspectives help produce different landscapes of practice.

Tatjana Schneider

Other Letters by Tatjana Schneider

Responding to the AR’s review of Spatial Agency

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