Women and the Other Domains of Architectural Production

Photograph of Florence Mary Taylor, Australia's first qualified female architect Author: Rita Martin, Dorothy Welding and others (created 1920-1955), Source: The State Library of New South Wales

Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent

The launch of Archiparlour earlier this year got me thinking of not only of women in architectural practice, issues of equity, opportunity, and visibility, but also of women’s contribution to the broader discourse of architecture. This involves the realms of curating, writing, managing, and marketing architecture. Taking a documentary strategy as opposed to historiographical one, I mapped the lived experience of my interactions and collaborations with women in leadership positions in Sydney for over a period of six months, in these other domains of architectural production.

From the middle of year, the Australian Architecture Association planned the four-part talk series titled Women Take on Design that featured Archrival (Claire McCaughan and Lucy Humphrey), Caroline Pidcock, Heather Whitely-Robertson, and Annalisa Capurro. The talk series was as interesting as it was successful. It should be mentioned that Australian Architecture Association, which ‘supports discourse and the promotion of architecture in the Australian cultural milieu’, is activated by the energetic leadership of Annette Dearing (Founding Director) and Vanessa Couzens (Volunteer, Architect, Designer, Project Manager, and Editor). The Sydney Architecture Festival brought forth the women in the public life of architecture. The festival was organized, managed, delivered, and marketed by Siobhan Abdurahman (Projects Officer, NSW Architects Registration Board) and Gillian Redman-Lloyd (Events & Marketing, NSW Architecture Awards Manager). The range of talks, tours, exhibitions, and workshops aimed to engage the many interests and capacities of its collaborators and audiences. Jennifer Kwok (Manager, Customs House Sydney), is a designer by training yet a strong thinker in built and visual worlds. She has produced many architecture exhibitions such as as Form to Formless, Remodelling Architecture, Transclimatic to name just a few, and her creative direction and acumen in production was instrumental in my curatorial contribution to Inter-action, the Sydney Architecture Festival exhibition consisting of six independent exhibits. Along similar lines, my collaboration with Ann Quinlan (Program Direction for Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, UNSW) also informed the curation of BE X Section, also a Sydney Architecture Festival exhibition.

Other key contributors to the Sydney Architecture Festival included Joni Taylor, a researcher, writer, and curator focusing on the transformation of the urban environment, curated The Third Landscape at the Tin Sheds Gallery. Taylor explains: “The exhibition examines the transformative possibilities for regenerating seemingly negative landscapes of the forgotten and the blighted”. As part of the Festival, Annette Mauer, Head of Learning at the Object Gallery, organised a workshop called Building Connections, for teachers and students at the Museum of Contemporary Arts Australia. Mauer explained: “The aim of both the workshop and resource was to make architecture accessible to visual arts teachers and relevant to their teaching the Visual Arts syllabus”. Dearing and Couzens made a substantial contribution to the Festival by organizing the talk by Ken Yeang as well as the planned walks around key public domains in Sydney. Other contributors to the Festival included Aanya Roennfeldt (Gallery Curator, DAB LAB, UTS), who contributed curatorial insights to William Feuerman’s exhibition and talk titled The Mechanics of Visual Perception, and Imogene Tudor, whose co-directorial role in Make Space for Architecture would have been vital to the success of the event, Public Space: Private Interest. Unrelated to the Sydney Architecture Festival but coincident with it was the launch of Kylie Legge’s book Doing it Differently, a well timed publication on urban living and city making, focusing on collaborative consumption (a concept made popular by What’s Mine is Yours by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers).

This piece, which I am sure is full of omissions, suggests the possibility of a more inclusive sociology of practice, which will allow for the expansion of the definition of architectural practice, beyond what is legitimized by the legal status of the architect, such that the other ‘stuff’ that women do can become included in the ‘business’ of architecture. That this is a timely argument is evidenced by the talk recently organized at Tusculum (home of the Australian Institute of Architects, NSW Chapter), What’s your architecture, the multifaceted career path that is an architecture degree. The photographer; the journo; the artists; the builder, which unfortunately failed to acknowledge women’s contributions in this area. This piece itself is imperfect because it does not as yet include women in complementary disciplines of photography, teaching, animation, illustration, graphic design, performance, set design, and so on. Perhaps when the picture is complete, we may even discover fuller participation of women in architectural practice.

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