These architects would be lost to history if exhibits like the “Early Women of Modern Architecture in Maryland” didn’t exist.
Researchers Jillian Storms, AIA, senior architectural historian Anne E. Bruder, and professor Isabelle Gournay presented the works of 12 women architects from the 20th century in the auditorium of the Architecture Building Feb. 17.
These women, who worked in Maryland and D.C. areas, overcame sexism and managed to make careers in architecture, which was a male-dominated field at the time. In addition to designing buildings, some of them are also wives and mothers.
Because they faced discrimination, some women architects only used their initials to avoid being identified as female, the panelists said.
Storms, Bruder, and Gournay also fielded various questions from the audience.
Ian Sloan, a senior criminology and criminal justice double major who’s also getting a women’s studies certificate, asked what can be done to progress the knowledge of these women. He even had his own solution:—children’s books.
“I had no idea about anything going on when it came to the impact that women have made in architecture and design,” he said. “I think it’s very important that the youth are educated on the women that have made an impact in architecture in the past as well as know that there are more women that can be significant in the present.”
Sloan felt particularly impacted by Chloethiel Woodard Smith, the architect of a building in Rockville, the Chestnut Lodge Research and Therapy Center for Children, which was recently demolished.
“That was an uneasy feeling for me because I was wondering ‘Why?’” Sloan said. “But it was nice to know that it’s a past historical design that can be looked at in the present.”
Other questions included why the AIA is so slow in recognizing the accomplishments of women architects, and why there isn’t much information on minority architects.
Storms acknowledged the lack of the presence of minorities in architecture and expressed interest in looking into an exhibit exclusively for minority architects.
Nicole Akpedeye, an architecture graduate student, said she found the panel very informative.
“There was lots of things I didn’t know, especially about the women that actually practiced here in Maryland and the rich history of the work they did here,” she said. “It was really nice to see how they progressed from what they did in school to what they did with their career as architects.”
Across the hall from the auditorium sits Kibel Gallery, where the exhibit is currently being housed until May 30.
“It’s nice to see what these women looked like, know about their history, and see their work, some of which has been demolished unfortunately, because they weren’t as recognized as some of their male counterparts during the same time period,” Akpedeye said.
Bruder said the significance of these women’s work was being able to understand that women were active in architecture in the past.
“It wasn’t just a man’s world,” she emphasized. And it still isn’t.
The exhibit was researched and designed all by women. Sadie Dempsey, designer of the exhibit and Associate AIA, said she really wanted to capture the elegance of the women architects.
Storms, the curator of the exhibit, said she is proud of how it turned out.
“It’s not just knowing and learning about these women architects, but that we, as a group of women, made it happen,” she said.
Two of the architects featured in the exhibit, Helen Staley and Shirley Kennard, are still alive and came to the exhibit opening in June 2015 at the AIA Maryland Gallery.
Biographies of all the women featured in the exhibit can be found on their website.
Featured Photo Credit: Anne E. Bruder, Senior Architectural Historian at the Maryland State Highway Administration during the “Ms. Mod” discussion in the architecture building. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Rosie Kean is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.