How are women effecting change in design culture?
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How are women effecting change in design culture?

The fall 2019 issue of the plan journal looks at new perspectives on gender issues

How are women effecting change in design culture?
By Editorial Staff -

You may recognize the names of Amale Andraos, Lina Bo Barti, Denise Scott Brown, Sharon Davis, Odile Decq, Shahira Fahmy, Eileen Gray, Zaha Hadid, Momoyo Kaijima, Amanda Levete, Maya Lin, Julia Morgan, Neri Oxman, Kazuyo Sejima etc. There are, however, many women architects and designers whose names you may not recognize because their significant contributions to the design field have not been documented. We invite you to learn about some of those design professionals and their incredible careers as well as some ways in which we might advance the design culture moving forward.

In his article, “Beyond What Is Right”, Maurizio Sabini, Editor-in-Chief of The Plan Journal (TPJ) wrote:

It is with this ambition (that we are committed to model also within our teamwork here at the TPJ), of exploring gender matters beyond the rightful call for equity – which still needs to be discussed, analyzed and advocated for – that we present this themed issue of the journal. Relevance and timeliness have been among the main criteria for identifying the topics of focus and certainly gender studies emerged as a compelling choice. Due to the particular nature of the theme, we asked Dörte Kuhlmann, a recognized scholar on the subject, to serve as Guest-Editor. We truly appreciated our collaborative endeavor and we thank her for her vision, insights and commitment. It is our hope that this themed issue of the TPJ will contribute in a meaningful way to the ongoing discourse in architecture, design and urbanism, on gender equity and beyond (271).

There are huge differences between gender issues across countless cultures. Dörte Kuhlmann, guest-editor for the issue, recognizes this and helped build the Gender Matters issue of the journal around this theme. As Kuhlmann notes, “Since the early 1920s, many female planners and designers emerged as professionals in the fields of architecture and interior design and helped shape the architectural discourse.” Architecture, however, remains full of historic design concepts connected to traditional ideas of gender and influence. Women are still often confronted with substantial bias and are undervalued. This volume of The Plan Journal aimed to share innovative studies and relevant research addressing the impact of gender mainstreaming to re-assess the past, change the present and envision the future of the design fields.

We are presenting some of the ideas and visions contained in the Gender Matters issue of the journal that resonated with us.

The first three articles are about some remarkable women design professionals. Stamatina Kousidi’s article, “On the Work of Lisbeth Sachs: From the Aesthetic to the Environmental Impact of Architecture,” explores the theory and work of Lisbeth Sachs, a woman architect who made a strong contribution to the design discourse of the second half of the twentieth century. The article, “The Role of Women in the Culture of Dwelling: Urban Spaces at Play in the Projects of Jacoba Mulder and Marjory Allen, Lady Allen of Hurtwood,” by Paola Di Biagi examines the work of Mulder and Lady Allen of Hurtwood, two female designers dedicated to making public spaces safer and more accessible. Three Case Studies” by Kathleen James-Chakraborty won TPJ’s Best Paper Award in 2019 for the author’s research that investigated “how architecture and design have provided women with possibilities for transforming historically gendered artisanal activities into professional opportunities.”

The next two articles are examples of how women have impacted our urban spaces. Naomi Gómez Lolo, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Diego Martin Sánchez’s article, “Jiyῡgaoka as Women’s Realm: A Case Study on Tokyo Genderfication” is an investigation of how gender and commerce have changed an urban condition. Chiara Belingardi and Claudia Mattogno’s provocative and visionary article, “Making Room and Occupancy Space. Women Conquering and Designing Urban Spaces” advances a new perspective on the “herstory” (a neologism which evokes the idea of history being written from a female perspective) of cities. They highlight the connections between the social status of women (e.g., their work, role, etc.), the female requirements to improve the quality of women’s lives, and the kind of spaces that have been built as a result.

The final three articles suggest we might learn from research in order to improve the design fields. Annelise Pitts and Julia Mandell’s article, “No Architect Is an Island: The Agency-Communality Spectrum and the Construction of Professional Identity in Architecture” unwraps findings from the 2018 Equity in Architecture Survey by the American Institute of Architects. “The Diversity of Women’s Engagement with Modern Architecture and Design. Shelby Doyle and Nick Senske’s article, “Women’s Work: Attributing Future Histories of the Digital in Architecture” is an exercise in thinking about how to address the “long-held conventions and traditions of assigning credit for architectural works” that has perpetuated “women’s lack of representation in the field.” Finally, the book review of Women [Re]Build: Stories, Polemics, Futures (Franca Trubiano, Ramona Adlakha, Ramune Bartuskaite, eds.) by Lynnette Widder provides insight from female architectural educators, scholars, and practitioners answering the question: How will we know when and if women have [re]built architecture?

>>We encourage you to browse The Plan Journal and explore its issue dedicated to Gender Matters for yourself.

Have you heard of any of these remarkable women design professionals?


In Stamatina Kousidi’s article, “On the Work of Lisbeth Sachs: From the Aesthetic to the Environmental Impact of Architecture,” Kousidi describes “the theme of the intricate interplay between interior and exterior spaces” as “central to Sachs’ design philosophy.” This is evidenced by the SAFFA Kunsthalle Pavillon (below, center).

Lisbeth Sachs in her office at 50 Rämistrasse in Zurich, while  SAFFA Kunsthalle Pavillon, 1958. Interior view.  working on the SAFFA Kunsthalle Pavillon project in Zurich.

The author continues to explain that Sachs was interested in construction. “Efficiency, stress and force, the most minimal use of material possible, and elaborate geometries” framed her design research. This curiosity led her towards her 1971 design of Jugendherberge [Youth Hostel] project for Lake Zurich. Particularly impressive is Sachs’ editing of the special issue on Tragende Häute [Bearing Skins] of the magazine archithese. The issue hosted a clay model of Sachs’ Youth Hostel project on its cover (above, right). Also central to Sachs’ studies was “the embrace of the environmental impact of architecture.” Her progressive thinking from the aesthetic to the environmental impact of architecture leaves the reader wondering if there are many more woman architects, like Lisbeth Sachs whose work had not been explored, from whom we might likewise learn.

>>The abstract for this article can be found on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)


The article, “The Role of Women in the Culture of Dwelling: Urban Spaces at Play in the Projects of Jacoba Mulder and Marjory Allen, Lady Allen of Hurtwood,” by Paola Di Biagi considers the making of domestic and urban spaces. Jacoba Mulder was a Dutch urban planner. Marjory Allen, Lady of Hurtwood was an English landscape architect. They both strove to design safer public spaces that were accessible to all— particularly children.

Playground at the Frederik Hendrikplantsoen in Amsterdam, 1959.

Amongst Mulder’s many accomplishments is the first playground she realized in the Bertelmanplein in 1947 that led to the organizing of over 700 outdoor play areas for children throughout that region during the next decade. Included in the many contributions of Lady Allen of Hurtwood are her publications and the most famous, Planning for Play (1968) to serve administrators, architects and urban planners as a tool for designing playgrounds. The author of this TPJ article, Di Biagi, provides many more outstanding examples of how “women’s knowledge of dwelling is capable of crossing the borders between the domestic and the urban” and how Mulder and Lady Allen of Hurtwood found ways of “nurturing feelings of belonging to the neighborhood.”

>>The abstract is available on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)


The award-winning article, “The Diversity of Women’s Engagement with Modern Architecture and Design. Three Case Studies” by Kathleen James-Chakraborty studied the careers of Estrid Ericson who established and managed Svendsk Tenn [a Stockholm design shop] for over fifty years; Ethel Power who edited House Beautiful magazine from 1923 to 1934; and Gira Sarabhai who founded the Calico Museum and National Academy of Design in India. This array of frequently disregarded ways of working within architecture and design-- retail, journalism and philanthropy, have historically provided women with making means, helping other women’s careers, and allowing for artistic expression.

This article shares the accomplishments of three extraordinary women who aided in significantly changing the architecture and design cultures of their nations.

>>The abstract can be found at on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)

Have you considered how women have impacted our urban spaces?


The authors, Naomi Gómez Lolo, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Diego Martin Sánchez, of the article, “Jiyῡgaoka as Women’s Realm: A Case Study on Tokyo Genderfication” questioned “how gender influences the production of urban space” and looked at the development of the particular suburban area of Jiyῡgaoka as it relates to “women as caretakers and consumers.” More than the typical Tokyo city, Jiyῡgaoka encourages social interaction and invites automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians with its green spaces, paved areas and urban furniture. Particularly intriguing is the careful planning executed for “creating relationships between behaviors and their supporting physical environment.”

Interior design magazine Watashi no Heya headquarters, built in 1982. The shop innovative designin relation with the public space was used as model for pedestrianization of the surrounding “Sunset Area.”

This research refers to genderfication as the creation of a space for new gender ideas. In western contexts, gentrification is typically the removal of a community that is replaced by a wealthier social group. The authors explain that Jiyῡgaoka “is remarkable for being a genderfication process with women as the target group and driven by a bottom-up transformation from local commerce which has produced a high-quality urban space.”

>>To learn about the progression of Jiyῡgaoka, check out on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)


The improved role of women as city builders is a result of the transformation of physical space by a planner, architect, or landscape architect. Often these transformations rise from social movements, feminist claims, or informal practices aiming to increase women’s visibility. This can also happen with “feminist toponymy” which is women’s appropriation of public urban space— renaming streets and squares with the names of important women as a way of becoming visible. Most urban spaces are named after men, which suggests that only men have attained notable accomplishments.

The article, “Making Room and Occupancy Space. Women Conquering and Designing Urban Spaces” by Chiara Belingardi and Claudia Mattogno describes the connection between women’s movements, social status, and need for spaces (social and physical), and the way women have designed and conquered space in the past. 

>>Find out more about the “herstory” of cities on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)

What can we learn from research to improve the design professions?


In the article, “No Architect Is an Island: The Agency-Communality Spectrum and the Construction of Professional Identity in Architecture,” authors Annelise Pitts and Julia Mandell examine the results from the 2018 Equity in Architecture Survey by the American Institute of Architects to find that architectural professionals are inclined to describe their work in terms of personal agency instead of communality. Practitioners’ work orientations are related to two major obstacles related to equity in the profession. First, the practitioners who are most satisfied with their work are usually more communally oriented. This tells us that architecture’s overemphasis on the professional self may limit possible ways to positively experience one’s work. Second, women in the profession face substantial bias as they embody a stereotyped professional personification, and are undervalued when they do communally-oriented work. Pitts and Mandell suggest two corresponding stratagems to advance outcomes by addressing the opposing effects of agency-orientation in the architectural profession. 

>>Learn more on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)


Shelby Doyle and Nick Senske describe their article, “Women’s Work: Attributing Future Histories of the Digital in Architecture,” as a “thought experiment about potential uses of data collection methods to provoke questions about architectural labor and its attribution.” The authors suggest the need for transparent digital records of labor that they call “attribution frameworks”. These “protocols, processes, and policies” have the “intention of addressing inequality of authorship” and creating a more accurate and inclusive architectural narrative.

The ideas presented in this article offer ways the design disciplines could adopt a more urbane system that accurately recognizes the innovative, disseminated landscape of present-day architecture.

>>Check out the abstract on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)


Two architecture student-organized conferences on women in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 and 2018 resulted in the book, “Women [re]build,” using autobiographical accounts, field reports, interviews, position pieces and quantitative analysis. The book starts with editorial statements and an introduction by Joan Ockman on architecture and the #Metoo movement of 2017. The publication is divided into three sections interwoven with four interviews of a female practitioner. The first provides advisory accounts, definitions and historical context. The second trails two mid-career architects whose work in academia and practice positions architecture as a mechanism through which to impact public policy governing spatial equity. The third contains first-person testimonials by three women practitioners at different points in their architectural careers.

Particularly interesting to us is toward the end of the book where Nicole Dosso shares her poignant, personal account of her experience as a junior member of SOM overseeing construction of 7 World Trade Center Tower. Her essay echoes many of the themes of the book— history, metrics and sense of purpose. While Dosso does not offer solutions, her style suggests how much skill, wit, and persistence are essential to understand buildings in the current economic and regulatory environment. Widder proposes that “perhaps these are the metrics best used to answer Trubiano’s question: How will we know when and if women have [re]built architecture?”

>>Continue reading more about intriguing professional women in the architectural field on TPJ Volume 4/2019 Issue 2 (in English)

What might the future of the design fields look like?


Envision the rich dialogue around the table of a truly diverse architectural team (gender, race, age, political alignment, sexual orientation, religious affiliation etc.).  Multicultural teams bring a wide-range of perspectives to the decision-making process resulting in stronger solutions. It seems as though such a forward-thinking field like architecture would have fostered such a disposition for its profession long ago. But, alas, this is not the case. As Kuhlmann points out, “more or less fifty percent of the architecture students are female, yet women represent just about one in five licensed practitioners”; and there lacks equal opportunities for women to grow professionally. She continues, “still relatively few women architects have received lasting international recognition.” Given the suppression, lack of support and little recognition discussed in TPJ’s Gender Matters’ issue, is it surprising that so many women have chosen to walk away from their architectural aspirations? Consider the lost talent. We need to attract more women to the field, support their professional progress and reward their achievements!


"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when, they are created by everybody." - Jane Jacobs

The good news is that the conversation and support for change around diversification, equity and inclusion in the design field is growing. This is evidenced in the advancement from early online databases for designers and design students that provided homogenous—predominately Caucasian figures for renderings. Now, sites like Skalgubbar provide options that allow us to add a more realistic narrative to a project. Others have followed suit like Escalatina that provides Latin-American individuals. There is also a wide-range of offerings at Nonscandinavia, a site initiated by students from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Micrópolis’ site, Skalgubbrasil was developed to offer a selection of Brazilian people. And the list continues.  

Eric Oh. " 5 Places to Download Free, Ethnically Diverse Render People" 20 Nov 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Aug 2021. ISSN 0719-8884

Most recently (June 15, 2021) and on a broader scale, the Diversity in Design (DID) Collaborative, was announced by member organizations including 2x4, Adobe, Architecture Plus Information (A+I), Aruliden, Civilization, COLLINS, Dropbox, Fossil Group, Freeman, fuseproject, Gap Inc., Herman Miller Group, Knoll Inc., Levi Strauss & Co, Pentagram, Stamen Design, Studio 0+A, Wolff Olins, and Work & Co. The Collaborative’s focus is to increase its memberships and to work together on ventures that address the lack of representation of black designers in America. Their aim is to also grow career opportunities for black youth and foster an educational pipeline that leads to full-time employment. This initiative is another positive sign that the design professions are headed in the right direction.

Potts, Morgan. “Diversity in Design Collaborative Launches to Take Meaningful Action to Increase Diversity in the Design Industry.” A + I, August 25, 2021. 

Gender matters, race matters, and frankly, the whole make-up of a human being matters. Not only will our professions and its design solutions be enriched by diversification, equity and inclusion, but we believe there will be an increased respect for our professions by a larger community as a result. Let’s capitalize on our core strength as design professionals and make the vision a reality by inviting more female designers, as well as more design professionals from a wide-range of backgrounds, around the table to design a future that will then and only then maximize, in the words of guest-editor, Dörte Kuhlmann, “the power of architecture.”

Why support + read TPJ?

The Plan Journal is intended to disseminate and promote innovative, thought-provoking, and relevant research, studies, and criticism related to architecture and urbanism. The journal grew out of an awareness that academia is all too often engaged in research that’s disconnected from the real-world challenges that face different professions, and that research is only possible for a small number of professional organizations, and, even then, with limited platforms for its dissemination. The overarching aim of TPJ is therefore to enrich the dialogue between researchers and professionals so as to foster both pertinent new knowledge and intellectually driven modes of practice.

How does it work + why does it matter?

Prospective contributors are encouraged to submit proposals or complete manuscripts to the Editor-in-Chief. Subject to positive feedback, proposals can then be developed into complete manuscripts and submitted for review, using the dedicated portal on the TPJ website.

After preliminary approval, manuscripts will be forwarded to suitably qualified people for commenting. TPJ is committed to following a rigorous double-blind peer review process using at least two reviewers. The Editor-in-Chief may also occasionally invite recognized academics, critics, or professionals (including members of the editorial board) to contribute to the journal without going through the peer review process, if warranted by the author’s reputation.

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TPJ Vol4 - Issue2
TPJ Vol4 - Issue2

Beyond What Is Right
Maurizio Sabini POSITION PAPER
Gender Matters.The Grand Architectural Revolution
Dörte Kuhlmann, Guest-Editor PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE AND EDUCATION ... Read More

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