How do we design to educate and for education? What contributions have women made in this area of architecture? Any discussion of the future, the current generation, and the generation of the near future needs to address the role of schools, women, and architecture, all of which are vital in themselves but also have equally urgent ramifications. School buildings are the places and spaces where children and young people spend most of their day with their peers, teachers, and parents – you could say, with their whole community.
Addressing the question of women in architecture involves gender equality, the fight against violence, the wage gap, and the gap between men and women in top positions. But first, it means addressing a cultural issue. Architecture shapes our lives, but the opposite is also true.
To discuss all the interacting forces at work here, the Foundation of the Order of Architects, Planners, Landscapers, and Conservators of the Province of Milan presented an event entitled the Contribution of Women in Contemporary Architecture. Education Projects in Europe: the Finnish, Dutch, Spanish, and Swiss Examples. Organized for International Women’s Day, the event marks the final date in a long series of talks dedicated to the role of women in architecture today, curated by architect Arianna Callocchia and officially opened by the president of the foundation, Marialisa Santi. Held on March 8, the conference on educational architecture also marked the opening of a free exhibition, which will run until the end of March, that looks at the same issues. Also curated by Callocchia, the exhibition brings together a selection of works recently created in Australia, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. In all, there are twelve featured works, including new builds, renovations, expansions of existing buildings, and urban regeneration projects, by the female founders and co-founders of international architecture firms.
The exhibits include projects by Inès Lamunière (dl-a, designlab-architecture sa), Carme Pinós (Estudio Carme Pinós), Dorte Kristensen (Atelier PRO), and Virve Väisänen (Luo architects), who all attended the opening evening to talk about their respective projects in Switzerland, Spain, Netherlands, and Finland.
“I’d like to tell the architects of tomorrow to go on site to see the reality and how it’s being changed with their own eyes. But ears are also important for listening, as are shoes for walking.” These are, according to Inès Lamunière, the keys to any good project. And they’re always valid, even – and in particular – if the project involves creating a school and community center, as was the case with the restoration of this existing building. Built between 1965 and 1975 (and completed between 1975 and 1980) and designed by Jean Jacques Oberson, the building continued to be a community hub for the Pâquis quarter of Geneva. It was a project involving renovation and reuse in which these actions served as a model of a “contemporary process,” both in Switzerland and abroad, focused in particular on quality and the comfort of users through a constant openness to outdoors, as well as the enhancement of outdoor spaces for the community, for parents waiting for their children, and for outdoor educational activities. “The direction that school buildings should take,” continues Lamunière, “is towards a space that is much more open and free from certain rules that are too rigid. The space needs to be open to activities, not just educational ones, and should be developed together with the students who use these spaces. In a sense, the school itself should be part of their path of growth. For this reason, it’s more correct to talk about spaces that are not only designed to host the more traditional activities, but also workshops, which can even be done with parents. And then there’s the relationship with the neighborhood, with schools needing to be an extension of it,” even more so if complex dynamics exist between the two.
But the task of the school and its space, in Lamunière’s opinion, should also be to offer an alternative to the changes brought about by digitization and the pandemic. It should be an environment in which to rediscover physicality and experience interpersonal relationships.
“It should therefore become ever more tactile, with student-friendly proportions and architecture that is an experience in its own right,” she adds. “Students should be able to think of their school as a second home. The teachers, too. A space that’s separate from the home but that has a close relationship with it.”
The first Spanish woman to win the Brunner Memorial Prize in 2022 and the National Architecture Prize in 1995 and 2021, Carme Pinós never starts a project before studying every aspect of the site, convinced that architecture can achieve dynamism through continuity and respect for the existing circumstances as much as through contrasts and opposites. This is how the Escola Massana, Art and Design Center came into being in the heart of the old center of Barcelona near Gardunya Square and its market. “An architect mustn’t arrogantly take possession of a portion of land,” she stresses, “but should approach it with dynamism … and discretion.” A telling example of this is the interlocking floors of this school, which create staggered levels and broken lines. The same is true of the off-center windows between floors, which add both liveliness and lightness to the façade.
According to Pinós, architects should always keep the nature of architecture in mind as “a reflection of culture and vice versa. In this sense, the pandemic forced us to reevaluate,” she continues, “reminding us that the market can’t go against people’s lives and crush their needs. From this perspective, it highlighted the despotism of the market and the fact that it’s unthinkable to give it total power over the management of our cities. On the contrary, cities must in all respects be social places centered on relationships. Being an architect means being aware of one’s responsibility towards the contemporary world. But this doesn’t only mean solving the more or less passing problems of the day, it also means giving dignity to human beings. In this sense, good architecture has no past, present, or future. It’s a condensed essence of humans and space.”
In her view, curbing speculation is the answer to climate change. “An architect who is behind speculation is to some extent its accomplice. We need to be sensitive to sustainability, to the most suitable materials and experimentation, but like everyone, architects need to be guided by their common sense, even if this involves more effort. You can’t expect to have everything easily and right away: you need effort and a dialogue with nature, the sun, and the wind.” In other words, you need to step beyond your individuality and feel part of a whole.
“A good school building must be able to interpret the very essence of teaching, taking on the task of transmitting the meaning of education today but also over the next ten years.” According to Dorte Kristensen, this is the ideal relationship between architecture and education. This outlook can be seen in Lumion High School in Amsterdam, for example, a project that involved the restoration, adaptive reuse, and expansion of the MTS secondary school, designed in 1973 by architect BJ Ingwersen. “A perfect example of the architect’s job of interpreting the needs of the present day and projecting them into the future.” In redesigning the spaces, Kristensen pondered the potential needs of tomorrow starting with those of today. The result is large, bright, colorful, and comfortable spaces that are varied and never repetitive. The heart of the project is the immense new atrium created at the intersection of the old and new, with the interiors, designed by her firm Atelier PRO, an attempt to provide a personalized experience of the school for all students.
This school has almost created a new village, taking advantage of architecture’s ability to establish a virtuous relationship with the surrounding environment. The Lumijoki school in Finland, designed by Virve Väisänen and her studio Luo architects, is a sustainable, contemporary structure that’s almost entirely made of wood, and is in harmony with both nature and its surrounding urban context. Underlying the project are the traditions of this Scandinavian country, reflected in the use of hygroscopic materials and wood panels, as well as optimal climatic comfort. It’s fulcrum is, however, the covered central courtyard. Construction methods, approach, materials, and architecture that respect the surroundings are all integral parts of an educational message to be transmitted to students. And this is also the place, it should be underlined, where we need to start promoting gender equality.
Il contributo delle donne nell’architettura contemporanea. Progetti per l'educazione e la cultura nel mondo
Date: 8 marzo-30 marzo
Studi partecipanti alla mostra:
Australia: Kennedy Nolan;
Emirati Arabi Uniti: Dabbagh Architects;
Finlandia: Luo architects;
Giappone: Tezuka Architects;
Messico: Tatiana Bilbao Estudio;
Paesi Bassi: Atelier PRO architects;
Perù: Llosa Cortegana Arquitectos;
Spagna: Estudio Carme Pinós;
Stati Uniti d'America: Deborah Berke Partners;
Sud Africa: Lemon Pebble Architects and Urban Designers;
Svizzera: dl-a, designlab-architecture sa;
Turchia: Uygur Architects