Perhaps you’ve heard of Ray Eames and Denise Scott Brown, but how about Natalie Griffin de Blois, Mary Jane Colter, or Isabel Roberts? All are architects born before 1940 and pioneering women in their field—De Blois was a senior designer at SOM; Colter’s structures grace the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona; and Roberts was one of two women at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park, Illinois studio. But unfortunately, none are household names taught in architecture school.
Today, the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation has launched a website, designed by Los Angeles–based Yay Brigade, that it hopes will disrupt the overlooked history of women in architecture like the aforementioned. “Pioneering Women of American Architecture” will profile 50 accomplished architects and designers (the launch includes a first tranche of 24), detailing their lives, education, and accolades as well as the projects they built—often without the proper credit. When documenting a previously unwritten part of history, the field opens to new diversity in points of view about buildings, cities, and society. “What we’re working for is a culture of change—a mental state that will allow equality in the achievement of women,” says the foundation’s executive director, Cynthia Phifer Kracauer. A hopeful, she admits, but achievable goal. “I think you can be very serious about your scholarship and be entertaining and have a design impact.”
The foundation and its new informational site, edited by co-directors Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner, is inspired by architect Beverly Willis. She began working in the 1950s and, at the time, thought herself to be the only woman interested in the career path due to a lack of documentation of others of her sex in the field. So why has time forgotten these women? “Because men write the history books,” says Kracauer. “But there’s a great rebalancing taking place now.”
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