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Fall 1995  No. 7

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A Decade of Commitment

The IAWA Board Members Assess the Past and the Future

The International Archive of Women in Architecture celebrates ten years of collaboration, support, and generous donations by its friends and members. Love for knowledge, curiosity for yet unchartered grounds, need for diverse professional models, contemporary tendencies for inclusion and wider horizons, all have been motivating forces sustaining IAWA's growth. Collecting architectural documents and information about women's achievements has been and still is the indispensable foundation of the Archive. On the basis of its collections, the IAWA generates a variety of activities: research, exhibitions, seminars, and symposiums. Three symposiums under the title "The Invisible Partner" were organized. The first, in 1985, took place in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies in conjunction with an exhibition of the "Pioneering Women Architects from Finland". In 1986, the symposium was linked to the exhibition "About the History of Women Architects and Designers of the Twentieth Century" prepared by the German section of the International Union of Women Architects. This exhibition is now in the IAWA collection. The exhibition, "Women Architecture in Austria, 1900-1987", was on display during the 1988 symposium and is also housed in the IAWA.

Meanwhile, women architects have emerged from obscurity, made substantial contribution to the profession and gained confidence and recognition. It is appropriate, therefore, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the IAWA with another symposium under the heading "Designing for Cultural Diversity" (Designing for a Pluralistic Society). In comparison with literary works which are carefully preserved in libraries and art works preserved in museums and private collections, few architectural works have endured the test of time. Usually, buildings are destroyed - either by natural disasters, or by wars and fires, or mostly to make way for new structures. Even when preserved buildings are often modified beyond recognition. Thus, the original drawings are the only document of the designers' actual intentions. The IAWA has been used by researchers and by museum curators as architectural exhibitions become recently an important aspect of the contemporary cultural scene. Many institutions around the world began to follow the IAWA example - to collect and preserve architectural documents. Contemporary computer technology allow us to connect all this holdings in a world-web of information. It is about time to look back and trace the path of women into the design professions. A preliminary survey indicates a shift from conformity to the design principles imposed by the dominant culture to new explorations in search of pluralistic paradigms. Of course, at the end of this millennium Western cultures have arrived again at a point of re-assessment, verification of existing values, and preparation for change. Our pluralistic society asserts the recognition of diverse needs and values and demands a multitude of design responses. The pioneering women architects had to imitate even the drawing technique of their male colleagues. The Austrian architect, Edith Lassmann, for example, won the annouomour competition for the Kaprun dam in the late 1940s because the all male jury assumed that the crisp-line drawing were produced by a man's hand. She was pressed to decline the award and when she refused, she was subjected to numerous hostile experiences and resentment. Half a century later, the opportunities for self-expression have increased, yet few women are compelled to assert their personality. Still, some feminine values have been incorporated in our culture. Environmental and ecological concerns, designing with "mother nature" rather than "raping its resources" are traits historically associated with women, as are expressive, emotionall intense designs. A gentler approach, as opposed to the patriarch strong control, has become acceptable in architectural judgment. Regional, ethnic and sexual values have enriched our world view and helped overcome preconceptions and prejudice. The future looks brighter for those who are not reluctant to handle diversity.

Milka Bliznakov
Founder of the IAWA

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Developing the IAWA Database

In the Spring of 1983, Milka Bliznakov came to me with the idea of creating an archive of the work of women architects. She had just returned from a conference in Europe and was very concerned about information she had gathered while on her trip. She had learned from various sources that the collections of work of older women architects were being destroyed, with no thought to their historical value.

Since I was the Architecture Librarian, in charge of the Architecture Branch Library of VPI & SU, I was interested in hearing of the problem. I suggested to her that the Special Collections Department in the University's Newman Library might be able to handle such an archive. We began to work together to excite interest on the part of the University Libraries' administration, and I commenced the formidable task of creating a database of women architects worldwide who could be possible contributors to what became known as the International Archive of Women in Architecture. Eventually, the database was transferred to Special Collections and greatly expanded.

Robert E. Stephenson
Associate Professor Emeritus

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IAWA Mission

When we initially created the IAWA, many criticized us often for different reasons. Some felt it was wrong to favor women by creating a special archive for housing their work. Some women have expressed the view that if their work was good enough their contributions would be preserved without being specifically designated as the work of women, and therefore, they would not contribute.

Whatever one's position on this argument, the fact remains that a large body of work associated with the history of architecture, particularly the modern movement, is being lost or destroyed. We know that many of the contributions to our profession were made by women whose work has not been acknowledged. The initial purpose of the IAWA was to preserve this work so that scholars will have an opportunity to evaluate the contributions of these many "silent partners" so as to better understand the evolution and history of ideas that has brought us to our current state.

We need the help of all concerned to preserve the work of the women who have been pioneers of the profession. If we fail to act, the opportunity will be lost.

Charles W. Steger, FAIA
Vice President, Development and University Relations

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An Anniversary Tribute to the IAWA

At the tenth anniversary of the founding of the International Archive of Women Architects, I must express my appreciation to Milka Bliznakov, who was responsible for its inception and to Charles Steger, who as the then Dean of Architecture, supported her initiative. I also should thank both of them for asking me to be a founding member of the Board.

Studying architecture in the 1940s and teaching in the 1950s, I had encountered the usual prejudices against women which pertained at the time - and was sensitive to the greater difficulties that must have been encountered by a previous generation. However, it was only in 1983, when I organized a celebration of early women architects at University of Toronto, that I fully realized the paucity of the record. (This exercise also heightened my personal acknowledgment of a debt to these women.) Consequently, the proposal to establish the IAWA had a particular significance to me - because of my frustrating experience in searching for material on the "pioneers" in Canada.

It is unfortunate that, notwithstanding the plethora of print today, the emphasis is overwhelmingly on a "star" system - though it must be acknowledged that throughout history there have been many women and men who have made an important contribution to society which never was recognized. An institution such as the IAWA begins to redress this inequity (and inaccurate history) by preserving and making available to scholars a record of fact and performance-from which they may deduce whatever they see fit. And notwithstanding the advantages of wider dissemination of information through electronic media, additional insights and knowledge may be gleaned from the subtleties of the original drawing.

On this occasion, I pay tribute to Milka Bliznakov who as selflessly devoted enormous time and energy to a valuable cause. May the IAWA grow and prosper in archival collection and in the hard copy of the record, besides via the electronic information networks!

Blanche Lemco van Ginkel

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A History Preserved

In 1930, H. May Steinmesch, first president of the Association for Women in Architecture, discovered as she prepared for the annual convention that she had at hand only minutes from the Minneapolis meeting in 1923 and San Francisco in 1924. She noted sadly in a letter now preserved in the IAWA that "the loss of much important data is a source of concern and certainly should be avoided or shortly we will have no records." The same issues were discussed at meetings year after year, resolved and discussed again. The initiation ritual, for example, was a contentious matter and was revised at every convention. Steinmesch requested that a history be written and records kept. Early members of the Association searched their memories and diaries in order to document the group's founding and from then on its papers were kept.

One such document reveals that in 1915 four young women in the School of Architecture at Washington University, St. Louis, organized "La Confrerie Alongiv" (Vignola backwards) in order to encourage each other and initiate contact with women architecture students elsewhere. In 1921 the Confrerie sent letters to other schools and in 1922 there were additional chapters at the Universities of Minnesota, Texas and California, Berkeley. The organization called itself Alpha Alpha Gamma, from the first letters in the Greek phrase meaning "advancement of architecture among women." In 1934, alumnae of the undergraduate charters formed the professional Association for Women in Architecture

In its first ten years the Association grew from an architectural club to a professional organization geared to promote contact among women in architectural fields and to help one another in the job search. In 1928 a member wrote:

Much is being done in Texas to advance women in Architecture; at least we Alpha Alpha Gammas who are leaving school and are looking for jobs are finding them. We are being put on a par with men under the same circumstances, and we know that this is in part, at least, due to our affiliation with our national organization.

By 1934 Illinois, Michigan and Cornell had chapters of Alpha Alpha Gamma. Alumnae groups existed in Minneapolis/St. Paul, California and St. Louis. Yearly meetings were held and the early interest in ritual trustingly organized around Ruskin's Seven Lamps gave way to activities which promoted women's work: mounting exhibitions, offering scholarships, counseling in career and job placement, lobbying for environmental responsibility and good architecture, and encouraging "appreciation of the value of women in Architecture." Today the AWA exists only through its active Los Angeles chapter.

May Steinmesch insisted on preserving the Association's records; thus we are able to reconstruct its first years. The International Archive of Women in Architecture is devoted to collecting, preserving and making available personal and institutional histories, and to this end appropriately holds Records, 1928-1992, of the Association for Women in Architecture.

Annette Burr
Head Librarian, Art and Architecture Library, Virginia Tech

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Reminiscences of the IAWA

As the American Institute of Architects began research in 1984 to prepare for an exhibit to celebrate the centennial of the 1888 election of the first woman member of the AIA, Louise Blanchard Bethune of Buffalo, New York, we were faced with a formidable research task. First, we had to determine if Bethune was indeed the first woman member of the AIA, then put together a collection of data that would make an exhibit and a celebration of 100 years of women in architecture possible. There was little published material we could draw upon, and we could locate no existing collection that documented women in American architecture.

With funds from the AIA College of Fellows, Matilda McQuaid, a graduate student in architecture at the University of Virginia, began the task of putting together a collection at the AIA. Working first with AIA membership records she traced women members, insofar as that was possible - a great many members used only initials, or had names that are not gender specific. We were able to come up with a list, and began to collect data from other AIA Archives sources, and to search for data from published sources. When money ran out and McQuaid had not yet completed her project, Mrs. Jefferson Patterson provided funds to allow her to continue work. Ultimately at least three other COF funded interns worked with the project, as did a number of volunteers. We developed a questionnaire and began a data query of women in architecture about whom mention appeared in newspapers, serials or publications we read. Referrals from friends and respondents also played a prominent part of our collecting.

Early in our effort I had a call from Milka Bliznakov at VPI saying that VPI's International Archive of Women in Architecture was trying to do something similar, and we needed to coordinate our efforts. After a bit of conversation it was clear that we were doing things that were warm and mutually supportive. Eventually I allowed Milka to talk me into serving on the IAWA Board, a decision that I have never regretted.

The AIA Archive of Women in Architecture was the basic source for mounting the exhibit That "Exceptional One" which traveled for several years before coming to rest in the IAWA collection in Blacksburg. The AIA Archive was also the inspiration for the publication Architecture: A Place For Women, by Ellen Perry Berkeley and Matilda McQuaid, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1989. Today the AIA Archive contains data on some 4,000 women in architecture and some 100 organizations of women design professionals. The AIA collection was visited last year by scholars, students and writers from Finland, England, and Switzerland in addition to users from the United States. All are routinely referred to the IAWA, as are schools that send either the individual students or entire classes to work on projects involving women in architecture.

I am proud of the IAWA on its 10th anniversary and most humble to have been able to play a small part of its success. I wish it expanded horizons and enlarged collections in the next decade.

Tony P. Wrenn Hon. AIA, CA
Archivist, American Institute of Architects
Washingtion D.C., USA

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A Look Back at the 10th Anniversary of the IAWA

When Milka Bliznakov contacted me ten years ago, inviting me to become a member of the Board of Directors of the International Archives of Women Architects, I was speechless.

What a marvelously simple and compelling idea that was: to bring together the works of the women Architects from all over the world under one roof, to be accessible for anyone interested in seeing them.

From the early seventies, many women architects of my generation had made profound contributions to the advancement of women in the profession in a variety of forums such as, exhibitions, books and task forces. Statistics pointing to the dismal representation of women in the professional among the decision making groups as well as among the top ranks in Academia could hold an ephemeral interest of public and media.

And here we have Milka Bliznakov establishing an Archive which implicitly acknowledges the importance and uniqueness of the work for posterity.

Every year when the Board met, quantum leaps were made in the gathering of the collection, the organization of the Archive, and the IAWA newsletter. The unwavering support given by Charles Steger and more recently of Pat Edwards - the Deans of the School of Architecture - has always been generous and timely. For me it has always been a pleasure to come to Blacksburg and witness things that have been accomplished and meet with the distinguished Board members and members of the faculty and staff.

This year, I decided that time was ripe for me to make my own contribution to the Archive for two reasons: First, to demonstrate my complete trust in the work we have done in ten years and second, I was tired of tugging around my work of thirty years, after having moved residence and office twice in three years.

It was, however, easier said than done. The acute anguish during months of going through papers and projects became a physical ill, a depression that always accompany loss and separation. And I was deliberately separating myself from my work-or so it felt at the time.

For these reasons the process was slow, and I was able to afford the time because I had taken a sabbatical leave from my university to do it. I took the time to savor my precious victory over the paper battle for my tenure, re-read articles and essays I had written, some gone unpublished. I re-examined the documentation gathered in support of the women's cause, posters of exhibits we mounted, and re-lived my trips abroad and the lectures I gave. Without exception, every project, those which were built and those which remained on paper, I mustered undying affection for each and every one of them.

When my husband and I drove down to Virginia with our 4x4 full of boxes and file drawers, I had had enough time to say good-bye and was already in good spirits. It was only after we left the work in the Special Collections of the University Library that I became truly glad to have taken such a step. My contentment was further confirmed when we were given a demonstration of how to gain an access to the collection after it had been processed over "interner." Given an address to enter, it was possible to scan the architect's work we wanted to see and even get pictures of the buildings with the possibility of getting a copy directly from the screen or call the Archive-and for a small fee-get an excellent photo reproduction of the material desired.

Whether justified or not, I had inevitably gone through a process of mourning but in the end, I went through a realization, that while my work is not physically with me, it is still accessible to me, as I can borrow any part of it at any time. Most importantly, it would continue to live on and hopefully be useful to others.

It is indeed very comforting to know that I no longer need to have anxiety over the carrying and caring for my work, as it is in the hands of experts who are doing a better job that I would probably do on my own.

M. Rosaria Piomelli-Ambrosi
Professor and Former Dean
City University of New York and City College

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Research Uncovers Rich Legacy

Serving as a member of the Advisory Board of the International Archive of Women in Architecture coincides well with my personal and professional interest outside my job as a city planner for the City of San Francisco: researching the contributions of women to the field of architecture in the San Francisco Bay area and discovering their career path.

Not surprisingly, my interest was stirred by the example of two women, historian Sarah Holmes Boutelle and architect Helga Schmidt-Thomsen. I first met Sarah in 1975 in Saratoga, California where she was conducting a weekend program on Julia Morgan and leading a walking tour to her buildings. At that time, Sarah was in the middle of an extensive search for Morgan's buildings as well as the history of her life and work. This culminated in the publication of her landmark book "Julia Morgan, Architect" in 1988. Actually, Sarah's continued research and lecturing about different aspects of Morgan's life and architecture is an inspiration to me to continue my research and to persist even when it seems slow and tedious because presently I can only spend little time on the research on account of my full-time employment.

Helga Schmidt-Thomsen is one of the three authors and initiators of an exhibit on "The History of Women Architects and Designers in the Twentieth Century". In 1987, I organized its showing in San Francisco under the sponsorship of the Organization of Women Architects and the AIA San Francisco Chapter. As we were admiring and discussing the rich architectural work of the European women architects, my American friends assumed that women practicing architecture during the first thirty years of this century was unique to Europe and that Julia Morgan was an exceptional example in California. This provoked my curiosity and I started my research on women architects in the San Francisco Bay area. Since then, I have found about 50 names of women architects practicing before 1945 and have continued to discover their life and work. Many more names of women graduates from the architecture program at the University of California in Berkeley will be added to the research project.

Helga, a close friend of mine since graduate school in Berlin, was able to attend the opening of her exhibit in San Francisco and deliver an insightful speech on couples in architecture. During her visit she told me about Professor Milka Bliznakov and her admirable efforts to establish an International Archive of Women in Architecture at Virginia Tech.

On the occasion of attending the 1988 conference of the International Union of Women Architects in Washington, a friend and I made a detour to Blacksburg and visited Milka and the Archives. Highly impressed with what I saw and heard in Blacksburg, I have since then been an enthusiastic supporter of the Archive. When I was asked to join the Advisory Board in 1989, I felt very honored. The many different activities as a board member include attending the annual meetings in Blacksburg, written and oral presentation at conferences and to women architect groups such as the Organization of Women Architects and California Women in Environmental Design, and soliciting women architects to donate their work to the IAWA.

One of my most favorite activities was conducting an oral history with architect Olive Chadeayne after she had donated her work to the IAWA. Liz O'Hara, associate director of the AIA San Francisco Chapter, and I very much enjoyed meeting this wonderful woman in her late eighties and listening to her clear recollections of her life and career. Due to a technical flaw, the tape did not turn out to be useful as an oral history and we painstakingly transcribed and edited the interview. It was published as an attractive brochure which complements Olive's archive. When we discussed her work using the accession list of the IAWA, Olive told us to our surprise that some of the drawings should be credited to architect, Lillian Rice for whom she worked at the time of Lillian's death in 1938. As a result, it is now known that the IAWA has not only the work of Olive Chadeayne, but also eighteen projects, designed by Lillian Rice, architect, with Olive Chadeayne, associate.

Through my involvement in the IAWA, my research has expanded and broadened. In addition to discovering the life and work of women architects at the beginning of this century, I am now contacting contemporary women architects who are retired or close to retirement. It is extremely important to me that we solicit the donation of their work records and document their professional and private life stories. This way it will be possible that primary or original source research can be conducted at the IAWA and the value and importance of the work of women architects and their contribution to the field of architecture be evaluated.

Inge Horton
City Planner, San Francisco

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Thoughts and Experiences of a Board Member

Since we started to collect information about the work of the pioneer-women-architects and designers in our country and elsewhere by the end of the seventies many changes have taken place in our profession and field of work.

The women's liberation movement has been a great support during those years, inspiring conferences, workshops, meetings and exhibitions. With an increasing acceptance for the presence of women in the many fields of political and professional work this movement lost its original power and importance. Growing chances and the diversity of working fields were splitting the interests and reduced them to individual motivation.

Young women-architects today in Germany feel quite well represented, gained a lot of self-confidence, are partly successfully working and don't see the need for further engagement or special investigation of their specific role. Only a small number is convinced that a special view on problems or a specific way of thinking might characterize their contribution.

Partly I feel proud that the development provides "normal conditions" meantime but only partly. I still expect that special contributions will be made by women in architecture, due to a different view of the world and of life.

My own work is first of all devoted to planning for children and housing, a sector of building-activities which does neither promise glamour nor attract the big investments. This work is based on the respect of people, in search of their needs and trying to find out, what kind of anthropological basis we share.

Concerning buildings for children I rely on natural material, basic colors and clear geometry. I try to evoke a child's consciousness of its own creativity, helping to make it competent, autonomous and acting with solidarity.

Congeniously thinking colleagues and supporting people I find among both, female and male planning partners.

Anyhow: the special collection of the work of women architects doesn't loose its importance. It is a unique enterprise which one day will provide us with material for various special researches. I hope that the work which was started by Milka Bliznakov 10 years ago and supported by a number of sympathisants can successfully be carried on, - and never forget: it is a long lasting project with an open end!

Helga Schmidt-Thomsen

The International Union of Women Architects and Town Planners (UIFA) was established over thirty years ago and had its first congress in Paris, France, in 1963. The international exhibition of women's architectural work, prepared for this congress, because the tradition hallmark for all ten consecutive congresses held around the world; in Monaco in 1969, in Budapest, Romania in 1972, in Paris again in 1983, in Berlin in 1984, in Washington, D.C. in 1988, in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1991, and in Cape Town, South Africa in 1993. Until the International Archive of Women in Architecture became known to UIFA members, the exhibited projects were either returned to the authors or, usually discarded in the garbage cans by exhibition space cleaning crew eager to mount the next exhibition.

Now many women offer their exhibition panels to the IAWA. Others mail additional materials and spread the information. Ultimately, UIFA's sumptuous records and archives will also be deposited in the IAWA and preserved for posterity.

Solange d' Herbez de la Tour
President, UIFA

Initially, my efforts focused on identifying pioneer women architects in California and pursuing the donation of their collections to the IAWA. In that regard, I actively secured the collections of Wena Dows, Beverly Willis, the AWA and CARY, as well as collecting the resumes and other ducoments from a number of women. While in Blacksburg, I also worked on a development plan for the IAWA and an IAWA database. Now that I have returned to California, I have shifted my collection efforts to the underrepresented northwest and the mid-west.

It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve with the members of the IAWA board. Through the efforts of the members of the board, the University Administration, and the staffs of the library and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, the extraordinary vision of Dr. Bliznakov, an architect dedicated to collection and preserving the works of the pioneering generation of women architects, has become a reality. As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the IAWA, so should we all renew our commitment to the vision, and strengthen our resolve to continue the work.

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Board of Advisors

Donna Dunay, AIA.
Chair, IAWA
College of Architecture and Urban Studies
Cowgill Hall, Virginia Tech

Robert E. Stephenson
Secretary and Treasurer, IAWA
Associate Professor Emeritus
Virginia Tech

Stephen J. Zietz
Archivist, IAWA
Head of Special Collections
Newman Library, Virginia Tech


Milka Bliznakov
College of Architecture and Urban Studies
Cowgill Hall, Virginia Tech

Annette Burr
Head Librarian
Art and Architecture Library
Cowgill Hall, Virginia Tech

Joanne Eustis
University Librarian
Newman Library, Virginia Tech

Blanche Lemco van Ginkel
MCP, FRAIA, CIP, RCA, Professor Emeritus
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

Solange d'Herbez de la Tour
Hon. FAIA, DFAB, DFEB, President
L'Union Internationale des Femmes Architectes
Paris, France

Arlene Hopkins, AIA
Santa Monica, California, USA

Inge S. Horton, Dipl. Ing., MCP
City Planner
San Francisco, California

M. Rosaria Piomelli, AIA
Professor of Architecture
City College
New York, New York

Dipl.-Ing. Helga Schmidt-Thomsen
Berlin, Germany

Charles W. Steger, FAIA
Vice President for Development and University Relations
Burrus Hall, Virginia Tech

Susana Torre
Dept. of Architecture and Environmental Design
Parsons School of Design
New York, New York, U.S.A

Tony P. Wrenn
American Institute of Architects
Washington, D.C., USA

IAWA Newsletter is published by the International Archive of Women in Architecture. Requests to reproduce material in the newsletter, reader comments, and contributions should be addressed to IAWA Newsletter, University Libraries Special Collections Department, P.O. Box 90001, Blacksburg, Virginia 24062-9001, U.S.A. © 1995

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