• 20 February 2018

In the most recent issue of PMC Notes Elizabeth Darling (Oxford Brookes University) and Lynne Walker (Institute of Historical Research, University of London) reported on their co-organised conference AAXX100: AA Women and Architecture in Context, 1917-2017 which took place in November 2017 at the AA School of Architecture and the Paul Mellon Centre. You can now read this report below.

This international conference took place as part of the AA XX 100 project that celebrates the centenary of women’s admission to the AA School of Architecture. To date it has produced an oral history project, exhibition, book, and many other related events. The aim of the conference, developed in collaboration with the PMC, was to bring together historians, students, architects, and other practitioners to evaluate histories of women in architecture in the twentieth century, problematise contemporary architectural issues and practice, and look to the future.

The conference opened with a keynote discussion between Samantha Hardingham (the AA’s Acting Director) and Sadie Morgan. The discussion of Morgan’s career and role as a member of the National Infrastructure Committee introduced at the outset core themes of women’s agency and collaboration that would be highlighted and explored in subsequent sessions. Serendipitously, Morgan’s practice, dRMM, had that week won the RIBA Stirling Prize for its Hastings Pier regeneration, which was seen to expand what architecture could be and to redefine the role of the architect. This mapped onto another dominant theme running across the conference—that of challenging conventional modes of professional practice.

Stirling Prize 2017 awarded to dRMM for Hastings Pier regeneration.

Stirling Prize 2017 awarded to dRMM for Hastings Pier regeneration, Stirling Prize 2017 awarded to dRMM for Hastings Pier regeneration.

Thus histories of the recent past demonstrated the continuous presence of feminism in architecture. This thread ran from the Open Design Office in the US in the 1970s to the radical architectural production discussed by the keynote panel, which included members from the co-operative practices Matrix and muf, as well as Parlour, the twenty-first-century Australian platform that offers a transnational model for change and support for architecture informed by feminist theory. An analysis of intersectionality highlighted the complexities of identities around gender, race, and class, and moved the discussion towards future strategies for inclusivity and diversity. These strategies included the documentation of women’s practice (for example through the recently commissioned Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960–2015), and initiatives such as Built by Us that support BAME students into the construction industry or, as in the case of the Swedish group MYCKET, develop participatory modes of design with diverse communities.

Conference papers also drew attention to little-known practitioners and discussed the nature of architectural education, while a keynote panel interrogated issues of commemoration, reclamation, and revision in historical practice. The atmosphere was one of collegiate and constructive debate, and delegates departed with a sense of progress having been made and of the future looking decidedly positive.

Book: Elizabeth Darling and Lynne Walker, eds., AA Women in Architecture, 1917–2017 (London: AA Publications, 2017)

You can now watch proceedings from the conference for free online here.