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Women in American Architecture: 1977 and Today

In 1977, The Architectural League, through its recently established Archive of Women in Architecture, organized a book and exhibition entitled Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective. The dual projects, guided primarily by Susana Torre with support from other founding members of the Archive — Phyliss Birkby, Regi Goldberg, Marjorie Hoog, Naomi Leff, Dimon Liu, and Mimi Lobell — emerged out of a desire to present the range and quality of women’s work, as both practitioners and commentators, in the fields of architecture, planning, and design. Marita O’Hare, Administrative Director of The Architectural League at the time, reflected on the purpose and goals of the project in her foreword to the book:

The idea for the exhibition came at a time, the early 1970s, when the enrollment of women in schools of architecture increased substantially, marking a trend that saw greater numbers of women entering other professional programs, such as law and medicine. At the same time organizations were formed to examine and improve the role of women in the design professions. The conjunction of these events, no doubt a part of the dramatic shift in women’s attitudes toward their lives and career choices, which has shaped the decade of the seventies, underscores the fact that women intend to participate in the design process as professionals and that many of these women feel that there are significant issues affecting their careers that can best be examined in the context of their own professional organizations. For the first time feeling the strength of numbers, and also exploring their identity in a so-called male profession, women wanted to organize an exhibition that demonstrated the range and quality of women’s work as architects, planners, and designers.

To make the content from this seminal study readily available (the book is long out of print) and contribute to the ongoing conversation about women in architecture, here we publish a 2013 interview with Susana Torre, alongside her original introductory essay to the book. In her interview, Torre makes international comparisons while touching on the culture of architecture, the structure of the profession, and the media’s portrayal of female practitioners. In March 2014, Torre presented a lecture, co-organized by the League and Parsons The New School for Design, on the influence that feminism has had on the fields of architecture and urban planning. Video of her talk is also available below.

First published September 3, 2013; updated July 28, 2014.