Why just adding women to the broken system is not enough?
“The star system, which sees the firm as a pyramid with a Designer on top, has little to do with today’s complex relations in architecture and construction. But as sexism defines me as a scribe, typist, and photographer to my husband, so the star system defines our associates as ‘second bananas’ and our staff as pencils.” wrote Denise Scott Brown in her article “‘Room at the Top?’ Sexism and the Star System in Architecture,” first conceived in 1975, but published for the first time only in 1989.
While a lot of indicators from the last year show that the star system she was describing is past its peak and the voices asking for more equitable approach towards architectural profession are getting louder, there is still a lot of work to be done. Initiatives challenging the lone (male) architect genius as a dominant model of professional identification, asking for recognition of architecture as first and foremost collaborative practice, safety networks enabling discussion about sexual harassment, as well as challenging exploitative working conditions in the architecture offices are slowly, but hopefully surely, changing what is considered a norm. Understanding that these issues should not be addressed only when architects enter the practice, there is a lot of change happening within the academia. However, the change cannot be reduced to inclusion of the work of women architect into the canons, but it has to be based on understanding how power relations that prevented their inclusion in the first place have to be dismantled, and not corrected. Generations of students have gone through architecture studies encountering during this time perhaps two or three female architects and even less architects from diverse socio-political origins as references. Unaware educators have only served over and over again the same slides, the same icons, the same architectural references without contextualizing nor questioning the power structures that have heralded some while sidelining others—negating questions of gender, race, and class in their choices. An overall overhaul of architectural curriculums has to happen, and that this change has to be grounded on the principles of intersectionality. This type of intervention is of utter importance for the future of the profession, which can continue to exist only if its problematic culture changes to become more equipped for understanding and designing for all, and by embracing collective, inclusive creativity. In such reflection, labor, how we work, for whom, and how those who work to materialize and maintain the products of our ‘creativity’ is not a footnote but one of the core questions. Such reflection can and should be expanded to questions of norm propagated by outdated ‘ableist’ and sexist standards such as the Neufert.
In the lecture Dubravka Sekulić focuses not only on what and why needs to change in architectural education in an effort to make a discipline more equitable, but also on how this change can happen. This lecture is entangled with always-in-process collaboration with Charlotte Malterre-Barthes “Curriculum Revolution” and builds on the work done by, among others, Parity Group at ETH, Feminist Art and Architecture Collaborative, and the Architecture Lobby.
Dubravka Sekulić is an architect researching transformations of contemporary cities between production of space, laws and economy. She is an assistant professor at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Tu Graz, Austria and a PhD fellow at the Institute for History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zürich, Switzerland.