"De architectura, a review by Branka Petrovic from the Montreal Review of Books, Spring 2015 issue
In 2004, the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which has been in existence since 1979, was awarded to its first woman recipient, Zaha Hadid. In 2012, the jury awarded Wang Shu, leaving out his wife, Lu Wenyu, with whom he co-founded his practice. And in 2013, a petition started circulating requesting that Denise Scott Brown be acknowledged alongside her husband and partner of forty years, who was awarded the prize in 1991. We don’t have to go far back in history to notice that women architects were – are – often silenced.
Yet women, as Storming the Old Boys’ Citadel: Two Pioneer Women Architects of Nineteenth Century North America describes, have been practising architecture for decades. If women still struggle in “a profession that traditionally functioned more like a gentlemen’s club,” one can only imagine what it was like in the late 1800s – the period in which this story unfolds.
We’re introduced to the lives and work of two female architects working in the United States at that time: Louise Bethune, whose project includes the infamous Hotel Lafayette in Buffalo, New York (not to mention 120 new buildings and renovations), and Mother Joseph (born Esther Pariseau in Saint-Elzéar, Quebec), whose House of Providence (currently Providence Academy), was built in 1873 in Vancouver, Washington. Both were great feats for their time.
Yet despite these achievements, the two women remain “practically non-existent in the nation’s historical record.”
As authors Carla Blank and Tania Martin point out, part of the issue is that architecture was not always defined and legislated as it is today. Architecture programs were not found in Canadian universities until the late nineteenth century (1890 at the University of Toronto and 1896 at McGill). Prior to that, as with any old carpentry business, architecture was simply handed down through apprenticeship. In fact, architects had to knock down a few prejudices to detach themselves from their ancestral connotation (from the Greek word architekton, meaning a “master carpenter”).
For women, another obstacle was the “male-dominated for-profit business enterprise” that did not admit them into its university programs. It took World War II, and a reduced male population, for Harvard and Columbia to finally start admitting female students into their architecture programs in the 1940s. Montreal’s own McGill University started in 1939.
The book reads painlessly and does not restrict its scope to gender-related issues. Quite the contrary: amusing anecdotes abound. We learn that Louise Bethune once collaborated with famed inventor Nikola Tesla on the Cataract Power & Conduit Company’s terminal. And that in its worst years, the Hotel Lafayette – once the majestic stopover destination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt – turned into a quasi crack house under businessman Tran Dinh Truong’s care (or lack thereof) in the 1970s and 1980s.
In Storming the Old Boys’ Citadel we aren’t flooded with technical plans and ceaseless dates, as one might expect from a book on architectural history. Or if we are, we don’t notice them. Rather, we are invited to peek into the lives of the women who worked in this era, learning not only about the nooks and crannies of their buildings – as they transform from architectural marvels to decaying walls – but also about the history of their cities. We exit, at the very end, in the present, contemplating the restorations of recent years.
Books like this one are vital in highlighting what our history notes have left out. They remind us to redefine our views and question our records.
If we need to redefine the history of architecture today, let it include women."
Branka Petrovic works at the Canadian Center for Architecture and writes poetry.
Benjamin "Frankin may be the most unlikely contributor to this collection, but his presence is entirely appropriate, a metaphor for the entire book. 'Pow Wow' is big, diverse, messy, all over the place--just like American literature itself." David L. Ulin in the "Los Angeles Times"
"With help from writers such as Benjamin Franklin, Grace Paley and Wanda Coleman, novelist/poet/essayist Reed puts together a captivating, multifarious look at the American experience through its short fiction (a 'cousin' to his lauded poetry anthology, 'From Totems to Hip-Hop'). From the ins and outs of a young Latino's strugle in an Anglo-dominated Catholic school (Nash Candelaria's 'The Day the Cisco Kid Shot John Wayne') to Haight Street during the Summer of Love ('Wormwood' by Conyus), Reed's selections will draw readers into American cities, suburbs, prairies and mountains with vivid, precise, at times documentary description and bold, personal questions of American identity and purpose. At the same time, the overwhelming role of love,loss, and growth can render them almost allegorical; a perfect example is Wajahat Ali's 'Ramadan Blues,' in which a young boy is first introduced to the traditional holiday fast. The boy's fear and self-deprecation over his meager battle with hunger balance the personal detail and honesty of the autobiographical with the sweep of America's religious legacy. A 'gathering of voices from the different American tribes,' this high varied collection doesn't neglect imporant works from the likes of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, George S. Schuyler, Gertrude Stein and Mark Twain." Publishers Weekly, 3/30/2009
REDISCOVERING AMERICA revises what we commonly call history by highlighting and integrating the amazing cultural, political, and artistic contributions of women, African-and-Native Americans, immigrants, radicals, and others normally cast to the margins of history books.
Based on a popular course taught by Carla Blank at U.C. Berkeley, and sponsored by the prestigious Before Columbus Foundation, this multidisciplinary timeline features sidebars, quotes, mini-essays, and more than 100 photos that shed light on fascinating chapters in our nation’s history.
From "Library Journal" (9/15/2003):
"The Before Columbus Foundation, whose 50-plus members include Marie Anderson, Herbert Kohl, and Ishmael Reed, was founded 20 years ago to promote multicultural literature. Here it joins with the writer, artist, and Berkeley professor Blank, on whose course this book is based, to give evidence that American history, life, and culture have always been multicultural. Having published both a poetry and a fiction anthology, the foundation wanted to issue a factual account that addressed 'the need to give evenhanded recognition to the many differences in American experiences and viewpoints from year to year across time.' The text thus showcases Americans of color, women, immigrants, and others who shaped our country's history but have often been marginalized. Organized into chapters by decade, the various data are then arranged year by year in six major categories: arts and literature, politics and government, science and technology, business and industry, culture, and world events (focusing on only those events with significant impact upon the United States). Innovation is the main criterion for selecting entries. Was this a 'first'? Did it mark a significnt change in direction for the country? The contributors' essays are insightful views of the multicultural dynamics of each decade. Also included are at least 100 photogrpahs, a selected bibliography, and, most important, an index that makes the book an effective, valuable historical reference work. A worthwhile acquisition for academic, public, and high school libraries." Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College
Based on over thirty years of experiences teaching and directing young artists in public and private schools and after school programs, "Live On Stage! fulfills the guidelines of the National Standards for Arts Education. Statewide adoptions for middle-school use, by North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Idaho have occurred to date.