We’ve written several posts in this blog about people and collections related to the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA). It is one of our major collection areas, after all. But I’ve realized we haven’t actually covered how and why this massive collection came together here at Virginia Tech.
For this we can thank Milka Bliznakov (1927-2010), the founder of the IAWA. In 1974, Dr. Bliznakov joined the Virginia Tech faculty as a professor emerita of Architecture and Urban Studies. At this time she had already established herself as an international authority on Russian Constructivism and the Avant-garde, and was co-founder of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture, just three years after receiving her PhD in architectural history from Columbia University in 1971.
But getting to that point had not been easy. Born and raised in Bulgaria under Soviet control, she managed to escape in 1959 by bribing someone to smuggle her aboard a Mediterranean cruise boat. She arrived in France with no money or identification and only the clothes she was wearing, and managed to support herself by crocheting items to sell. In 1961 she arrived in the United States and began studying to become an architect.
After nearly a decade of teaching and studying architecture at Virginia Tech, Bliznakov began to turn her focus to women architects themselves. In the United States and many other countries around the world, architecture was still a very male-dominated profession, and very little of women’s contributions to the field had been documented. The idea to create an archive of women architects was inspired by some of Bliznakov’s female students, who had been asking her why, in their five years of architecture study, they had never been exposed to the work of women architects.
In 1985 Bliznakov founded the IAWA, and worked tirelessly over the next decade to research and collect the architectural drawings and papers of women around the world. Today the IAWA collection features the work of hundreds of women and continues to grow. You can browse our IAWA collections here. At her retirement in 1998, the annual Milka Bliznakov Prize was established in her honor, to recognize and promote research that uses the collection to advance knowledge of women’s contributions to architecture and related design fields. The records and projects of past award winners are available as an IAWA collection. Dr. Bliznakov passed away in 2010, but her passion for architecture and the work of women architects will live on for many years to come.