Designing Women

This seminar examines the evolving role of women in landscape architecture and architecture by addressing how gender affects the culturally defined notions of \”profession\” and \”professional.\” By analyzing historic and contemporary case studies, the class will chart developments in the design professions and how these changes influence the role attributed to, or seized by, women.In landscape architecture, the binary relationships of nature/culture and house/city, coupled with the implied association of female with nature, have long formed a comfortable, if questionable, model for the positioning of women in design. In architecture, women have traditionally occupied the \”fringe\” of the profession–as planners, critics, or background employees in male-owned firms. In rare instances, \”exceptional women\” have crossed over these gender barriers.The impact of professionalization on designing women remains crucial in understanding their current position. The founding of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 1899 and that of the men-only Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard in 1900, led to specialization within the profession. Men, unquestioned in their ability to shape the public sphere and their mastery of architecture and urbanism dominated the newly defined scientific field. Women, in turn, were deemed specialists in domestic design–the house and the garden. When seeking an advanced design education, they often had to enroll in alternate programs such as the Cambridge School of Domestic Architecture and Landscape Architecture, which further marginalized them. Likewise, the educational and professional discrimination of women in architecture has been amply documented. Small in numbers and with a low status in schools and offices, women seldom had the chance to prove their abilities. As their numbers rose, they joined a \”devalued\” architectural profession (whether cause or effect of the higher ratio of women in architecture), in which they nevertheless retained their roles of \”adjuncts.\” Although gender boundaries in landscape architecture and architecture education and practice eroded with the passing of the twentieth century, men continue to outnumber women within the ASLA and AIA. Even more strikingly, the high female ratio of the landscape architecture student population does not carry forward in the professional world. Thirty years after Gwendolyn Wright wrote \”On the Fringe of the Profession: Women in American Architecture,\” the situation needs reassessing.Conceived as a landscape architecture course, this seminar draws heavily on an architectural body of literature and equally concerns those interested in the evolving condition of women in architecture. Students from all programs are encouraged to enroll. Seminar discussions will assess the broader theoretical context as well as specific case studies–whether \”exceptional women\” or gray zone operators–challenging the notion of design hero and suggesting alternatives to the prevalent modes of practice.