The Great Wars of the early 20th century brought several social transformations, including the introduction of women into the labor market. Decades later, work dynamics are different, but the market continues to reinforce the division of labor by gender and to explore the triple shift. However, there are gaps for possible transformations.
The entry of women into the labor market – due less to the conquest of rights and more to the need for productivity since the number of men decreased considerably because of wars – did not break the domestic logic and the patriarchal structure. It increased their workload, adding household chores to work in the factory or, more recently, in the office. This triple journey is known all over the world, with women, regardless of their career, responsible for taking care of the house, children and also financial gains.
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In architecture and urbanism, the scenario reflects this triple journey, besides other difficulties women face in the job market. In general, architecture and urbanism courses tend to have a higher fraction of women than men in the classrooms. However, this proportion reverses over time after graduation. When counting the number of award-winning male architects, the figure is much higher than the awards given to female architects and leading female figures in the field.
Although intense, with shifts that exceed conventional hours and exacerbated demands that lead many professionals to burnout, work dynamics represent a particular challenge for women. In addition to the already-known salary differences between men and women who perform the same function, and all the prejudices that revolve around possible motherhood, architects’ workspaces are mostly male. Women find it difficult to make themselves heard and validated in the face of the structural machismo that crosses the professional field. Added to this, many women end up focusing on invisible jobs in the offices, rarely taking on positions of command and creation.
This social relationship between genders and the sexual division of labor refers to the old relationship between productive and reproductive work. Productive and paid work, which is culturally associated with men, is seen as the central point of everyday life and responsible for access to resources and livelihoods and, therefore, more important than reproductive work, associated with women. Not least, reproductive work takes place daily at home, providing conditions for productive work to existing. In offices and work environments, it occurs with women in more operational roles and men in important and creative ones.
In this way, women architects deal with the imposed challenge of earning respect and gaining space with men. Once inserted in the workspace, they are destined to support places, reproducing archaic social divisions and distancing them from more prestigious positions of coordination and creation. The result of this dynamic is the historical erasure of women in architecture, with exceptional figures fulfilling the role of historical, albeit limited, references, such as Lina Bo Bardi and Zaha Hadid. It is necessary to recognize this problematic situation without making it a protagonist. In recent years, the debate around gender and architecture, although restricted to binary, has advanced, bringing different perceptions and transformations in offices, academia and in specialized media.
This can be seen in the most important architecture award in the world, the Pritzker Prize, which has been given to architects since 1979. Only six women have been awarded among the 43 awards already given. Five of them in the last twelve years, and only three with protagonism. Except for Hadid and Irish Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, all the other awarded women were along with their male partners. There are also cases like Denise Scott Brown’s, that had her story erased, and only her partner, the architect Robert Venturi, got the award. Even so, this increase in recent years is essential for the debate and should reflect within the offices.
What is left for female architects is to make the most of the spaces conquered throughout this process, expanding them more and more, seeking not only individual professional recognition but also a cultural shift that addresses gender issues and the sexual division of labor. Above all, it is essential that female practices, and those that escape heteronormativity, have more and more opportunity and protagonism in the architecture world.
Sky-Frame is characterized by its empathic ability to take on different perspectives and points of view. We are interested in people and their visions, whether in architecture or in a social context. We deeply care about creating living spaces and in doing so we also question the role of women in architecture. From the arts to the sciences, women shape our society. We want to shed more light on this role, increase the visibility of Women in Architecture and empower/encourage them to realize their full potential.
Initiated by Sky-Frame, the “Women in Architecture” documentary is an impulse for inspiration, discussion, and reflection. The film’s release is on 3 November 2022.
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