Feminism is back. Indeed, we might argue that it was never gone, but that during the 1990s, its centre of debate — at least in the Global North — merely shifted from the street to the academy, giving the impression of a relative silence. Over the last decade or so, we have witnessed a return to a more vocal, politically motivated and activist feminist movement that seeks to reconnect to a past that predates the term ‘postfeminism’. Utilizing new tools and strategies for communication, women from all over the world and from different social and cultural backgrounds continue to strive for equal rights in the face of continuing discrimination, sexism, and misogyny. From internet forums and social media platforms they have moved back out into public space — into streets, squares, town halls, museums, and auditoria. Since the early 2010s, several authors have begun to question whether this reinvigoration of feminism and its associated phenomena constitute a new, ‘fourth wave’ (Baumgardner 2011; Munro 2013; Chamberlain 2017; Rivers 2017; Shiva and Kharazmi 2019). While the movement’s reliance on digital technology for discussion and activism is a common denominator that runs through all those accounts — with #MeToo, ‘Hermana. Yo sí te creo’, and Everyday Sexism perhaps its most visible expression — other defining aspects include the commitment to a ‘diversity of purpose’, which recognises intersectionality as a key issue, and the questioning of established sex/gender systems, heterosexism, and binary gender norms.
These developments have not bypassed the architectural discipline and profession, which still grapple with persistent mechanisms of exclusion, discrimination, and harassment, as well as poor working conditions and career prospects for women, Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC), LGBTIQ+, and disabled people across the sector. This has led to an explosion of initiatives, many of them led by young practitioners, either still in or just out of education. As in the wider feminist movement, many of these groups organise and exchange knowledge online. In addition to demanding structural transformations in practice and formal education in order to become more equitable and inclusive, calls to reform architectural pedagogy have become a key concern, resulting in numerous activist forms of teaching, collective reading groups, and openly shared syllabi and literature lists. Yet, with few exceptions (e.g. Rendell 2018), explicit discussion of, and critical reflection about, fourth wave feminism in academic debate both within and beyond architecture has largely remained absent, which may have to do with the contested nature of the concept of historical waves itself. This is especially true in the architectural humanities, the history of architecture in particular. At the same time, there is a steadily growing body of scholarship that seeks to revisit and historicise feminist — along with other forms of — activism post-1968 (Robbins 2018; Harris and Froud 2015; Radical Pedagogies 2015). It is against this backdrop, and with the knowledge that past feminist waves have stimulated particular themes and forms of scholarly enquiry in architecture (Rendell 2012), that this Special Collection asks how the current fourth wave of feminism might inform architectural historiography in the present.
Background to This Collection: The Legacy of Second and Third Wave Feminism
Feminist architectural historiography emerged in parallel with the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe (1949) had a huge impact, laying the foundations of the sex-gender dualism around which feminist thinking evolved. In the following decades, a complex understanding of gender as culturally constructed and performed was produced in several fields, such as social science and humanities, which settled the concept of gender as a ‘useful category for historical analysis’ (Scott 1986; Butler 1990). Thus, the entry of gender as an analytical category for architectural history was crucial and presented a number of complexities and resulted in a wide range of positions.
One important project that the first generation of feminist architects and historians of architecture pursued was to include the contribution of women within or alongside the canonical histories of architecture (men writing about male architects’ great buildings). This so-called ‘herstory’ approach sought to uncover and document the lives and work of a first generation of female architects who received formal training in the discipline. Often referred to as ‘pioneers’, these mostly privileged women were able to challenge the gender norms and expectations of their respective societal contexts and earn a degree. The first wave of ‘herstory’ mainly emerged out of English-speaking countries; that is, the United States (Cole 1973; Torre 1977; Wright 1977) and the United Kingdom (Walker 1984, 1989). Over the course of the following decades, scholars from Canada (Adams and Tancred 2000) and Australia (Willis and Browyn 2001) followed a similar path, critically assessing, however, the work of their predecessors. A common criticism was the victimisation that had underpinned those first studies (Adams and Tancred 2000: 11). The recovery of the biographies of ‘pioneer women’ often also entailed an analysis of the mechanisms of discrimination and exclusion these women suffered, rendering them as problematic and as a minority (Willis 1998: 57). Those conditions provided explanations for the small number of women architects and their limited contributions to the discipline. The search for female ‘pioneers’ also achieved success in uncovering the biographies and practice of the first generation of women architects during the early modernist period — a line of research that prevails until today. In this case, it is mainly the female companions or relatives of leading figures of the modernist movement (Espegel 2006, 2017) who have been the subject of numerous studies. Examples include, among others, the monographs on Lilly Reich (McQuaid 1996), Charlotte Perriand (Vedrenne 2005; Barsac 2014) and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy (Heynen 2019). These are crucial studies, but, at the same time, they also exemplify how the patriarchal hetero-normative system works, since women are presented as victims of the society, as Julie Willis, Annmarie Adams, and Peta Tancred denounced, and as dependents of male (genius) modern architects.
The second important approach that scholars of the first generation pursued was to develop feminist critiques of the built environment. Thus, the recovery of historical evidence about women was accompanied by a ‘concomitant deconstruction of the discourses and practices of canonical art history itself’ (Pollock 1988: 55). In this sense, a reconsideration of the contribution of women without formal architectural education to the production of the built environment became a line of research undertaken to dismantle the dominant association of architecture and the built environment with masculinity. Among the milestone publications in this group is The Grand Domestic Revolution (Hayden 1981), which, in presenting the proposals and speculative designs of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century material feminists, showcased how women sought to exert influence over the design of their environment long before the graduation of the first female architect. This line of research found resonances in the scathing criticism of modern planning developed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Jacobs 1961). As such, architectural historians, practitioners, and urban planners began to debate the segregation and inequalities that the modern functionalist legacy had generated in many Western cities (Hayden 1980). This subsequently paved the way for a large quantity of critical analyses of the sexist dimension of urban planning and design that exposed how the latter (literally) cemented gender roles and aided their reproduction — in other words, how the man-made environment served the patriarchal system (Moser 1993; Fainstein and Servon 2005; Sánchez de Madariaga and Roberts 2013).
At the same time as these two main lines of research were developed, other critiques within feminist theory and activism began to emerge. The category ‘woman’ was questioned (Radical-Lesbians 1970; Wittig 1980) and the concepts of difference (Lorde, 1984) and intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) appeared as key categories for gender studies. Likewise, feminist political texts, such us The Sexual Contract (Pateman 1988) and The Disorder of Women (Pateman 1989), highlighted the burden that the separation between public and private sphere imposed on women, and how this hindered their emancipation. A growing body of work began to address, in addition to gender, other axes of oppression such as class, age, ethnicity, and sexuality that destabilized the sex/gender dualism and fixed gender categories (Rubin 1984). Thus, the notions of universal womanhood and collective identity that defined second wave feminism were increasingly questioned over the course of the 1980s under the influence of postcolonial, poststructuralist/Deconstructivist, and postmodern theory. Consequently, feminism’s third wave was defined by the destabilisation of concepts like body/embodiment, sexuality, and heteronormativity.
The traditional thinking that placed women in the private sphere and men in the public sphere gave rise to diverse reflections in architectural history in which the dualism of private/public (domestic/urban) persisted as the dominant historiographical approach in relevant works. Linked to Jane Jacobs’ and Dolores Hayden’s ideas, some feminists focused their attention on questions of social justice and the structural discrimination and stigmatization experienced by many residents of deprived neighbourhoods. They denounced the diverse and intersecting vectors of discrimination that architects and urban planners, as designers of public space, have inflicted upon women and racialised communities (Weisman 1992; Anthony 2001). Other texts interrogated the multiple relationships among politics, taste, and housing design (Sparke 1995), and between private space and architecture, proposing critical rereadings of the fin-de-siècle concept of domesticity as well as new explorations of the gendered contradictions caused by modern housing as the ‘proper’ place for women (Friedman 1998; Martin and Sparke 2003; Heynen and Baydar 2005; Sugg Ryan 2018). At the same time, drawing from the insights of third wave feminism and queer theory’s critique of binary and heteronormative definitions of gender (Fausto-Sterling 2000), other discourses shifted the focus of feminist architectural history to explore relations between sexuality and space (Colomina 1992). Around the mid-1990s, in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the resulting politicization of lesbian and gay architects, the concept of ‘queer space’ emerged across a range of interdisciplinary works that were often produced at the intersection of art and architecture (Reed 1996; Sanders 1996; Urbach 1996; Betsky 1995; Robbins 1994).
Overview over the Contributions to This Collection
This Special Collection explores the impact of current feminist activism and discourse on architectural historiography. It also offers a critical assessment of the legacy of second and third wave feminisms, and asks for the ongoing relevance of their concerns and methodologies. With its five contributions, this collection cannot, and does not, claim to offer an overview over how feminism’s fourth wave manifests in the writing of architectural history in the present. Much like other scholars before us, we struggle ‘to document the contemporary of activism as it unfolds’, to capture a complex and diverse movement in its state of flux and ongoing evolution (Chamberlain 2017: 14). And yet, as editors of this collection, we do feel the need to respond to this present moment, embracing rather than denying its uncertain, unfinished, and open-ended character. This being said, each article reflects key concerns within fourth wave feminism. Taken together, they provide an imprint, however imperfect, of current feminist debates on architectural historical scholarship.
Lori Brown and Karen Burns’ article ‘Telling Transnational Histories of Women in Architecture, 1960–2015’ offers a meta-reflection on the process of researching, writing and editing their forthcoming Bloomsbury Global Encyclopaedia of Women in Architecture. On the basis of this extensive work — truly global in scope and intersectional in its approach, assembling well above 1,000 entries — the authors raise critical questions regarding geography, gender and feminist histories, the geopolitics of representation, and architectural knowledge production, as well as ‘the recent biographic turn’ in architecture. Brown and Burns not only emphasise how scholarly work on the Encyclopaedia was driven by a politics that challenges especially white feminists from the Global North to acquire ‘transnational literacy’ (Spivak 1993: 269); they also stress the potential of such global endeavours to ‘question the periodisation, geography, and analytic terms used to frame histories of women’s struggles in the discipline of architecture’ by illuminating ‘divergences, differences, and contests between women, feminism, and women’s rights.’ Their article highlights an important paradox which projects like the Encyclopaedia both seek to address and counteract: while the careers of women architects in the postwar era were defined by transnational mobility, reflecting the profession’s increasing globalisation more broadly, there remains significant unevenness in terms of the visibility of women from the Global South and the former socialist world in architectural histories. If, in the 1980s, historians like Judith Allen spoke of general ‘silences’ in the evidence — archival records, in particular — that scholarship urgently needed to address, it seems as though the proliferation of archives of women architects in the northern hemisphere, and easier access to these collections through digital means, is not matched elsewhere (Allen 1986; Hunter 2017). Brown and Burns’ work participates in current efforts to work from difference and establish new assemblages that connect the local and the global by employing collective, distributed, and networked modes of knowledge production. As mentioned above, the emergence of fourth wave feminism is frequently connected to the digital age, its tools of communication and online platforms for social organising, and the authors stress how these tools have facilitated the collaborative production process by which work is distributed among area editors who are well connected to local authors.
The dominance of particularly North American and British accounts within feminist scholarship in architecture, which Brown and Burns criticise, is also taken up by Rixt Hoekstra in her contribution ‘Second-Wave Feminism in Dutch Universities: Revisiting the Work of Feminist Scholars and Its Consequences for Dutch Architectural History’. Where the former suggest complementing, or counteracting, the dominance of biographies of (established/canonised) Western women architects with numerous biographical accounts that are grounded in their respective local, national, and wider global contexts, Hoekstra focuses on excavating one particular micro-historical episode, charting the emergence of feminist studies in architecture in the Netherlands through the lives and work of six key protagonists. She reveals local specificities regarding the different trajectories of second wave feminism as it entered Europe and the Dutch-speaking countries, shedding light, for example, on its delayed impact. Hoekstra situates the interdisciplinary research, writing, and exhibition work developed by art historians Wies van Moorsel (b. 1935), Ellen van Kessel (b. 1956), Marga Kuperus (b. 1953), and Heidi de Mare (b. 1956), the cultural anthropologist Irene Cieraad (b. 1952), as well as the architect Anna Vos (b. 1952) at the intersection of grassroots activism and academia in the gradual process of the institutionalisation of women’s and gender studies. Through a close study of published sources and archive documents, Hoekstra shows that these scholars developed two strands of investigation that remain relevant to this day: gendered analyses of privacy and domesticity and the ‘herstory’ mode of writing women into the canon of architectural history. Oral histories provide additional accounts that embody history. Hoekstra’s article thus speaks to the notion of feminist timekeeping and ‘affective temporality’, as developed by Prudence Chamberlain (2016, 2017) in her recent framing of fourth wave feminism. Drawing on both Sara Ahmed and Ann Cvetkovich, Chamberlain argues that ‘the present of feminism is irrevocably tied to the past that constitutes it, the future that sustains it, and this sense of hopefulness for its own demise’ (2016: 460). Yet, she continues, the ties that connect past and present cannot be grasped through causality, but rather through the ‘affective charge of investment’, so that ‘feminism creates a haptic temporality, with past, present and future all touching upon one another’ (Chamberlain 2016: 460). In the meetings and conversations among people who embody different ‘generations’ of feminists, this affective and haptic temporality becomes palpable.
Kirsty Volz’s contribution, ‘Reconsidering “Minor” Archives: The Case of Australian Architect Nell McCredie’, assumes the relevance of analysing the work of early women architects. However, her work reflects on the need for creating new frameworks to analyse the work of those women, even more when their professional careers were developed in non-canonical (or ‘major’) geographies. The case of Nell McCredie is an example of the difficulties in assessing the work of a female architect, one who worked in Australia in the 1920s and the 1930s and who designed houses in a suburban area of the peripheral city of Brisbane. McCredie’s work can be scarcely defined within traditional frameworks. Volz gets back to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s (1986) understanding of the ‘minor’, and, as such, she is committed to deconstruct dualist modern narratives that present a selection of buildings — designed by male privileged architects and described as ‘major’ or ‘great’ buildings — as ‘significant’ for architecture’s history, in opposition to all the rest of architectural works that are considered ‘insignificant’ in canonical narratives. In doing so, she discusses the approaches to ‘minor architectures’ previously offered by architecture theorists and historians such as Joan Ockman (1990; 1997), Jennifer Bloomer (1995), Hugh Crawford (2010), Karen Burns (2013), and Jill Stoner (2012), where the ‘minor’ is not presented as opposed to the ‘major’ but as intertwined with it. Volz’s text addresses the historiographical potential of shifting the discussion from a dichotomous relationship (major/minor dualism) to one of interdependence (major and minor). Thus, the ‘minor’ becomes a significant category for feminist architectural history that, following Stoner’s ideas, also enclosed a critique to the neoliberal system of which the architecture profession is currently a part.
Menna Agha’s contribution to this collection, titled ‘Emotional Capital and the Other Ontologies of the Architect’, tells the story of Nubian displacement villages in Egypt and their environments through the lens of oral testimonies about three Nubian women who are members of the author’s family, and who partook in the process of rebuilding their settlement villages between the 1960s and 1980s. In her account of placemaking, written from within the Nubian society where there is societal appreciation of emotional contributions, Agha thus challenges common Western understandings of architecture by positing emotional labour as a foundational framework for spatial production. She engages with recent feminist scholarship that has reconceptualised Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of capital to include ‘emotional capital’. On the basis of ancestral narratives obtained through encounters with her kin, she examines those actors in placemaking who are invisible to develop an expanded understanding of the figure of the architect. This leads her to an ‘other’ ontology of placemaking and placemakers — one that expands the possibilities of attribution, involvement, and performance in contemporary practice, and recognises the emotional labourer as an architect. Speaking not only to ecofeminist concerns which permeate fourth wave feminism through its story of resource exploitation and displacement, this article importantly also engages with what Ahmed has called ‘feminist ethics of otherness’ (1998: 63). Both in her fieldwork and its presentation in the article, Agha practices the kind of ‘specific engagement’ that avoids speaking for an-other, but instead proceeds through the translation of speech between individuals who recognise their differential positioning in the world (Ahmed 1998: 57, 63–64). Agha’s ethnographically informed architectural history of (re-)building communities within matripotent societies in mid- to late 20th-century southern Egypt therefore not only allows us to question gendered, taken for granted, notions of the architect as intellectual worker. It also presents us with a model for feminist scholarship — and activism — that builds on the notion of ‘strategic essentialism’, first proposed by Gayatri Spivak in the mid-1980s, and since developed by Ahmed and other intersectional and queer feminist thinkers of the fourth wave (Marinucci 2016; Ahmed 1998; Spivak 1996).
The inclusion in this collection of the last essay, ‘Queering California Modernism: Architectural Figurations and Media Exposure of Gay Domesticity in the Roosevelt Era’, by José Parra-Martínez, María-Elia Gutiérrez-Mozo, and Ana-Covadonga Gilsanz-Díaz, is rooted precisely in such an expanded understanding of strategic essentialism, as developed in Mimi Marinucci’s Feminism is Queer (2016: 144). Some readers may question why an issue on feminism and architectural historiography should contain an article that investigates three California modernist houses designed and built for wealthy, white, gay male patrons by two male architects at the end of the 1930s. Marinucci reminds us that there is an ‘implicit connection between queer theory and feminist theory’ — and to some degree also practice — only made more explicit through the term queer feminism (2016: 139). At the heart of this connection is a solidarity that is ‘born of a deep understanding that the oppression of women and the suppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender existence are deeply intertwined’. If, as Marinucci notes, queer feminism’s potential is to ‘direct increased attention toward sexuality in the context of feminist theory’, while, at the same time, giving ‘increased attention to gender in the context of queer theory’ (2016: 140), this becomes most palpable in the article’s critical analysis of the particular type of domesticity developed in the three modernist ‘bachelor’ houses along the intersection of sex/gender: on the one hand, the design of privacy to shield their clients’ intimate, sexual lives, coupled, on the other, with the houses’ great publicity and their owners’ public performance of masculinity as a screen to uphold the appearance of a normative heterosexuality during a period of intense homophobia. The article not only mobilises, and expands, historical and theoretical approaches championed by third wave feminist scholars such as Eve Sedgwick’s reading of the closet (1990), Beatriz Colomina’s work on privacy and publicity (1996), and Alice T. Friedman’s analyses of patronage (1998), but also brings these into productive conversation with the work of contemporary queer feminist scholars such as Ahmed (2006) and Katarina Bonnevier (2005). As editors of this collection, we recognise queer feminism as absolutely integral to this current fourth wave moment — just as critical debates concerning race, social class (including recognition of the increasingly global division of labour), and disability occupy a central place since the principle of intersectionality became key to feminist theory and practice today.
Many of these concerns are also reflected in the review article that accompanies this special collection. Andrea Merrett reviews Doris Cole’s pioneering book From Tipi to Skyscraper: A History of Women in Architecture (1973) and points out that it can be seen as a form of activism. Although Cole’s book was not polemical at the time, as a social history of women’s engagement with the built environment it challenged the canonical monographs that present the male architect as ‘genius’ — a male hero-figure considered the sole creator of his oeuvre. A leap to the present brings us to Ines Toscano’s review. She analyses three feminist websites as places of current activism: the Spanish-speaking blog Un día, Una arquitecta [One Day, One Female Architect] (Moisset 2015), the media contributions of the Portuguese-speaking group Arquitetas (in)visíveis [Invisible Female Architects] (Cascelli 2014), and the academic website Pioneer Women of American Architecture (McLeod and Rosner 2014). She discusses how the power of digitalization can break frontiers and globalize feminist activism. The third contribution explores recent research on queer feminism. Olivier Vallerand reviews Elizabeth Otto’s book Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics (2019), an engaging approach to this fundament pioneer school of art and architecture where spirituality, politics, gender, and sexuality are brought together in a completely new light to explore the political and social experiments and relationships obscured by traditional major narratives that centred they attention on the design and art output of the school.
In summary, the collection highlights the potential of new strategies for documenting and researching the work of women architects, investigating the possibilities of digital tools and networked knowledge. Moreover, the collection considers histories of feminist architectural writing in relation to non-canonical geographies and takes a broader view to include LGBTIQ+ perspectives on the built environment. It offers diverse explorations of these key issues and presents necessary reflections to widen feminist enquiries within architectural discourse.
Further Discussion: Present and Future Directions
Feminism is back — still more remains to be said and done. In this last section of the editorial we thus want to sketch out a series of current and open routes of investigation that stretch from the place of feminism and gender in pedagogy and the academy to the ongoing project of building archives; the development of an expanded concept of practice; a further activation of the ‘margins’; critical attention to, as well as the de-centring of, historical constructions of subjectivity and the body entwined with normative conceptions of architecture, giving space to other forms of embodiment and the more than human; and the urgent need for speculative and performative histories that seek to intervene in the present and future.
Beginning with the place where debate appears to be most lively at the moment: In and outside of classrooms and studio spaces at architecture schools around the world, collectives of young female architects — often supported by their male peers — are not only asking questions about the silences, gaps, omissions, and blind spots in curricula, but also demanding a critical assessment and reorientation of architectural education, and by extension, architectural practice, towards more socially and environmentally sustainable, equitable, and inclusive futures. It is they who embody this current fourth wave, first and foremost, and who are at the forefront of driving change. As for the first of the two points above, sources such as the Encyclopedia introduced by Burns and Brown in this collection, but also surveys like the recently published Breaking Ground (Hall 2019), whose visual quality will appeal to wider audiences not least in practice, are important correctives here. As the architectural history survey continues to be the principal mode of instruction at the degree level — and which, for those who move into practice, presents the only point of contact with the past — the question remains how the extensive body of feminist scholarship can find its way into these introductory level courses, which are frequently pressed to convey knowledge of a vast number of buildings across ever-expanding geographies in an extremely short time. Here not only the question of the textbook, and with it the canon and women’s inclusion into both, comes up, but also how well-established, canonical examples can be critically reread, interrogating what is typically left out of the picture in established historiographies of ‘landmark’ buildings (Textbook Women 2019).
Beyond the academy, and mirroring the foundational role of technology in this current fourth wave, blogs, social media, and digital platforms that link collectives and individuals are a second key forum for debate. Their role in relation to existing historiography and the ongoing production of architectural history needs to be understood as both generative, in the sense that many projects are now ‘born digital’ (Hall 2020), as well as offering opportunities for a wider dissemination of knowledge beyond conventional media such as books, journals, and exhibitions. Many of the questions addressed by these networks, from the lack of representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour [BIPOC] (Blackfemarc 2019) to conditions of work and deep-rooted sexist bias in architectural culture, both inform and resonate with ongoing scholarly inquiry. For specific locally grounded projects such as ‘W@arch.pt’ (Pedrosa 2020) in Portugal and ‘MuWo’ in Spain (Pérez-Moreno 2020) that are often funded through grants in response to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 5 ‘Gender Equality’ in particular, these networks not only provide channels through which scholars can speak and collaborate with each other but also act as global amplifiers, transmitting the knowledge produced in these contexts to the traditional centres of discourse. It needs to be stressed here again, that, as in other areas of architectural historical scholarship, research in these different places follows its own rhythms. While the continued dominance and heightened visibility afforded to English-language scholarly output creates the impression — perhaps illusion — of a homogenous field marching in a similar direction, research in areas like Southern Europe tends to follow well-established lines of enquiry around female pioneers, for instance.
Biography continues to play a central role in many of these projects and their highly networked and distributed mode of scholarship. Yet, beyond merely increasing the visibility of women, BIPOC, and LGBTIQ+ architects, this new scholarship continues to challenge historiographical conventions around (single) authorship and disciplinary practice, championing alternative narratives that place their actors into expanded networks of influence, and that emphasise collective forms of work outside of the model of private practice (Bihlmaier, Frey, and Perotti 2017). This includes situated enquiries of the drastically different political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts that have created distinctive conditions for, and experiences of, practice for women in geographies such as Russia, Eastern Europe, and the wider socialist world (Pepchinski and Simon 2017), or the Iberian Peninsula under Salazar’s and Franco’s regimes (Pérez-Moreno and Pedrosa 2020). These enquiries challenge universal models of the ‘woman architect’ along with the universal notion of modernity. In addition to that, informed by the ongoing study of the profession in the 20th century (Darling and Walker 2017; Pepchinski et al. 2017; Stead 2014), scholars such as Isabelle Doucet and Meike Schalk are investigating how corporate and bureaucratic practices in the post-war era have often provided alternative avenues of work for the steadily growing number of women graduates in architecture. Seen together with the disheartening results of recent quantitative and qualitative social studies of women in the industry by the Architects’ Council of Europe (2018), The Architects’ Journal in the UK (Mark 2014; Tether 2020), or the Australian Parlour Project (2018), this work holds up a mirror to the profession, highlighting how, especially within private practice, inequality, discrimination, and precariousness persist, leading to the exclusion of women and others (Brown et al. 2016; Tauke, Smith and Davis 2015).
However, while certainly shocking and deeply embarrassing in today’s context, stories of exclusion and marginality (Siddiqi and Lee 2019) can also become productive sites for historical scholarship themselves — for example, by following the paths of figures who have either been cast out of mainstream practice or who deliberately chose to practice on the fringes or even outside of the profession. New work in women’s history and gender studies, particularly that of Black and queer scholars such as Saidiya Hartmann’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019) or Jack Halberstam’s work on failure (2011), may inspire scholarship on resistant, oppositional, and activist practices (Hochhäusl 2019). Included here is, of course, the entire — and still largely dormant — project of revisiting and historicising radical feminist practices since the 1970s in countries like the US, the UK, and beyond (Merrett 2020; Boys and Dwyer 2017). All of the above-mentioned approaches engage in the important work of expanding the archive of a feminist architectural historiography.
The work of dissecting normative constructs that are deeply entwined with architecture, which, in some ways, may be traced back to the critical reading groups of feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, the interrogation of the power-knowledge nexus, and its becoming material in architecture — or ‘knowing-making’ as Aimi Hamraie (2017) calls it — forms another incredibly rich and productive area of current interdisciplinary scholarship at the intersection of gender and queer studies, critical race theory, and disability studies. This entails the historical study of the production of modern subjectivities and bodies through architecture in dialogue with both the natural sciences (biology and medicine, in particular) and cultural representations — asking how the constructions of gender, sexuality, race, ability, etc. have been spatially and materially constituted (Davis 2019; Park 2018; Hamraie 2017; Preciado 2018; Preciado 2014). Revisiting these historical constructs in their profoundly intertwined relationship with architecture and the built environment, particularly from the perspective of contemporary non-normative, non-binary, trans and other identities and forms of embodiment, also encourages us to un-think and un-build these discriminatory, exclusionary, and literally disabling structures in the effort to build more inclusive and liveable futures for human and more-than-human relations (Halberstam 2018; Crawford 2015). This last point, perhaps more than any other, stresses that the work of feminist architectural history in the fourth wave, or whatever we may want to call this current moment, also has to be speculative — directed at a future that ultimately anticipates feminism’s own redundancy (Rendell 2018; Rendell 2012). For it is this ‘futurity’, to borrow from the queer scholar José Esteban Muñoz (2009), the hope for equality and justice for all, that connects feminism across all its waves.