Nature and Geometry: River Run and Beverly Willis’s Classicism With a Twist

As part of an ongoing effort to digitize records representing Beverly Willis’s significant works and projects, I’ve been highlighting some of her work in posts here. In November 2019 I wrote a post about her firm’s work in developing a program called “CARLA” or Computerized Approach to Residential Land Analysis and its use in a land development project (Pacific Point Condominiums). This week I’ll be looking at a smaller scale, but no less stunning, project: the River Run Residence. The house itself is beautiful, but I wanted to examine how it embodies Willis’s approach to design. When looking at a final product (a building facade, polished interiors) it can be easy to forget just how many choices went into creating something cohesive. Yet looking at design records can tease out some of the labor and give perspective on the process of designing and building that’s often obscured or mystified in the way we talk about and look at architecture. While this post won’t go deeply into the design process, it will touch on a few of the generative ideas and organizing principles behind the final building.

Section, River Run Residence, 1983. From the Beverly Willis Architectural Collection, Ms1992-019, Special Collections, University Libraries, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

The axis of Beverly Willis’s design philosophy hews to that line between formal and informal: the formal geometries of classicism and the informal rusticity of regionalism. Willis believes that at its core, design is about the investigation of the symbolic content of forms/shapes, and the manipulation of images (for more on this, see Invisible Images). When thinking about design, it can be a long and iterative process of drafting, layering, modeling – leaving aside sourcing materials and overseeing construction – this amounts to creating and blending images to form novel yet coherent aesthetics.

The Willis-designed Palladian villa cum rustic ranch in Napa Valley, called River Run, is emblematic of this mode of design thinking. The balance of the colonnaded portico, dramatic windows, grand approach mixed with the redwood shingle siding – classicism inflected by the vernacular – are all the more impressive given River Run’s relaxed atmosphere as a retreat. This is an interesting example of how works are often colored by different influences that are channeled through a designer. “While she abided by general principles of symmetry and proportion, the local shingle style — with its spreading roof, plentiful windows, and use of natural colors and regional materials — was also a powerful influence” (58-59). Willis seems to view it as a process of simplification – synthesis and streamlining. “Although the house is quite large, it displays a consistent economy of lines and means. It draws from the vocabulary of classicism, but there’s nothing complicated about it” (Willis qtd in Nelson 60). The nature and geometry mentioned in the title – and, indeed, Willis’s philosophy in general – refer to some of the central tenets of classicism and classical philosophy – that there are natural ideals that humans gravitate toward, that shapes and forms reveal a hidden geometry.

Further reading

  • Nelson, Christina. “Modern Retreats.” Home. 1986: 58-61.
  • Nelson, Christina. “Powder Room Poise.” Home. August 1986: 70-74.
  • Willis, Beverly. Invisible Images: The Silent Language of Architecture. National Building Museum, 1997.

Introducing CARLA: Pioneering Technology in Urban Planning

The Beverly Willis Architectural Collection, open for research at Special Collections and University Archives, holds many treasures: sumptuous drawings, correspondence, and photographic materials documenting the work of one of America’s great twentieth century designers. One such project we’ll be highlighting here shows Willis and Associates, Inc.’s, (WAI’s) work on an early land analysis program called CARLA. CARLA, or Computerized Approach to Residential Land Analysis, was a program developed by the firm in the 1970s that was on the vanguard of employing computing applications in site development.

The programs aim was to reduce construction costs by instrumentalizing and automating much of the initial planning process and environmental impact research. To this end, the firm enlisted the skills of a young urban design grad student, Jochen Eigen, to study and model the architectural planning process. His work aggregated and analyzed data on the proposed project’s user needs and the site’s zoning and topography (via a client-submitted map), which was then correlated with an internally developed database that contained information on thousands of residential sites and floor layouts – planners would iterate through the process repeatedly to determine ideal land allocations for building.

CARLA001

At the time of CARLA’s advent, land analysis was a fairly lengthy ordeal. It would take companies 4-6 months using traditional methods before they would be able to properly estimate financial cost and environmental impact. Implementing and using this new tool reduced that timeline to about three weeks. The process would result in a site perspective, analysis of soil and natural drainage patterns, areas of a plot suitable for development and areas in need of cut and fill. The program allowed easy comparison of design solutions and their respective costs.

While CARLA was specifically geared toward site analysis, it is still ancestrally linked to modern computer aided design programs. Its primary function was to optimize land use by determining the best planning unit, its placement on a parcel, the cost of doing cut and fills, etc., and these are all necessary design considerations that are layered into modern CAD/BIM software (the BIM stands for Building Information Modeling). The program turned a time-consuming, bespoke research process into something comparatively data-driven and efficient, enabling Willis’s firm to maintain its competitive edge during the recession of the 1970s. At the time of its implementation, its aim was to get more contracts for lucrative housing developments, while it also addressed another fundamental need, namely, environmental considerations in urban design.

The first such development WAI used the software for were condominiums commissioned by the Alpha Land Company, to be located on a sloping 9-acre beachfront property. In her book Invisible Images, Willis writes about the beginning of her work on the Pacific Point Condominiums, and the inadequacy of available tools for assessing cost and estimating damage to existing ecosystems. Early iterations of mapping and topographical analysis programs were created by the government during World War II and later adapted for use by oil companies for industrial use; by 1971, the Kansas Geological Survey department at the University of Kansas had developed a mapping and contour program called SURFACE II. This program would form the backbone of Eigen’s/WAI’s land analysis software. Willis recalls,

With these tools I carefully planned stepped terraces on the bluff side of the site downward toward the ocean and designed a bridgelike entry to the three-story building’s mid-section. My design used diagonally placed interior walls that slice through the apartment facades, elongating one side like a fan. These subtle diagonal wall planes direct the eye to a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.

PacPt_reduced

PacPt001
Top: presentation drawing for Pacific Point Condominiums; bottom: photograph of development, found in Invisible Images

The history of CARLA’s development is further documented here. Some of the firm’s internal documentation of the software’s development is available in the Beverly Willis Architectural Collection and will soon be digitized and made available online as part of the library’s new digital platform.

Denim Day: A Triumphant Return

My job here at Virginia Tech is Community Collections Archivist & Inclusion and Diversity Coordinator for the University Libraries. I forgive you if you got lost in all that. Essentially, the part of my job that is archival in nature is to engage with traditionally marginalized communities around their histories. I help them preserve and make available documentary evidence of their existence so that history will better reflect the full human experience. This post is about a project that fell squarely within that scope – and helped me really see what doing this work can mean.

Nancy Kelly smiling
Nancy Kelly, “The Instigator”

About a year ago, I got a request for a meeting with Nancy Kelly, a lesbian alumna who wanted the university to acknowledge the early history of the Gay Rights Movement at Virginia Tech. At the time, I assumed this would be a fairly standard discussion with a potential donor about materials they had and whether Special Collections would be interested in adding them to our collections. I was wrong. Nancy, certainly had some wonderful documents and we talked about the donation process. But, Nancy had a vision. She wanted us to document her experience as a lesbian at Tech during the birth of the publicly visible LGBTQ+ community here. And, she wanted it done on video. And, she wanted us to document the experiences of all of her friends and fellow alumni from that same time period. And she wanted the university as a whole to celebrate the events of 40 years ago and publicly display support for the LGBTQ+ community here. This seemed an impossible dream at the time.

Having some familiarity with the events of January 1979 from the coverage in the Collegiate Times, I wasn’t about to say no. It’s a fascinating exploration of late-1970s attitudes toward gay and lesbian people. At the time, I had no idea how I would make a video oral history project a reality. I had no personal experience as an oral history interviewer. I also knew we had limited storage space and that video files are huge! Still, this was a project with potential, so I said yes. No conditions. No mentioning all the potential issues. I just said yes. Luckily, the university made Kaltura available institution-wide for video hosting about the time I needed to put the interviews online.

What happened over the next year was a mixture of serendipity and perseverance. Working with Jessica Taylor, Assistant Professor of Oral and Public History, and Luis Garay Director of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, we held an oral history workshop in late November specifically targeted to the LGBTQ+ community and preservation of its history.

Oral History Workshop banner ad

At that workshop, I found out that Joe Forte, Shelving Supervisor with the University Libraries (and an amazing DJ for Stacks on Stacks, the University Libraries Radio Show), and Slade Lellock, PhD candidate in Sociology, were very interested in recording some interviews. I also met Adri Ridings, a student who was similarly interested in helping to document LGBTQ+ history.

From there, we began recording interviews with alumni who hadn’t engaged with the university in 40 years. It was emotional. It was cathartic. It was a labor of love for everyone involved. Nancy did the work to engage them and tell them we could be trusted. Without her, there would be no interviews because these alumni had no reason to trust someone from Virginia Tech to care about their experiences and sharing them honestly.

While I worked with the alumni to preserve their stories, Luis Garay, from the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Latanya Walker, Director of Alumni Relations for Diversity and Inclusion, Mark Weber, from the Ex Lapide Alumni Society, students from Hokie Pride, the LGBT Faculty and Staff Caucus, and more were all working on putting together an amazing schedule of events for a 40th anniversary commemoration of Denim Day combined with Pride Week and Queer in Appalachia, an annual event celebrating what it is to be queer here in appalachia.

Pride Week 2019 calendar

Meanwhile, we were busily recording and transcribing as fast as possible to get as many interviews online as we could before Pride Week and the planned #VTDenimDayDoOver. I worked with our media folks to create a cool promo/intro video (linked below – click on the picture) for the collection.

Screenshot of a video player showing the starting shot from the Denim Day 2019 promo/intro video.

As the Denim Day events grew near and we had recorded almost all the scheduled interviews with the alumni from 40 years before, I worked with Susanna Rinehart, Chair of Theatre and Cinema in the School of Performing Arts on content for Jeans Noticeably Absent: The Story of Denim Day 1979 which combined theatre students reading newspaper articles and letters reacting to Denim Day with clips from the oral histories.

Overall, this experience has been amazing and triumphant. We gathered great oral histories and engaged the community. Nancy and her fellow alumni were celebrated by the university that had once ostracized them and called them an embarrassment. We were in the VT News, and the Roanoke Times. We were on the home page of the university – for 2 days running so far!!!! (see picture below)

Screenshot of the vt.edu homepage featuring the VT News article.

We had the main university Twitter account tweeting about us.

Screenshot of Tweet featuring a short video of the VT Denim Day Do Over event.

We had departments from across the university sending out messages of support even though they couldn’t attend our coordinated commemoration photo.

Screenshot of a tweet from the VT Department of Dairy Science.
Screenshot of a tweet from VT Rec Sports.

We also got more members of the community to sit down and record their own stories for our collection.

There’s still a ton of work to do to process the material we’ve gathered related to these efforts. There’s also a ton of work needed to engage the parts of the community not represented by the story of Denim Day: those members who aren’t white, cisgender, gay, or lesbian. Hopefully, the work we’ve done here will be a step toward showing that we care enough to do this work honestly and with respect.

To see the collection we built about Denim Day (in progress) and our broader documentation of LGBTQ+ history at Virginia Tech visit here and here.

Trajectories of an Architects Design Sensibilities: From Student to Practitioner

Model of architectural design project.
AustellungsbauVariabelTransportabel, Architectural model, 1962

The beginning of the fall semester and the nearly overnight return to a bustling and lively campus provides a good opportunity to reflect on the essential thing that we do, which is to educate. Student works are common discoveries in the collections that form the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) and can tell us either about an architects own practice or their methods of classroom instruction. This post will focus on the former, with an eye to the role that archival collections can play in examining design sensibilities within the context of a developing architectural practice.

Drawing showing elevation and site plan sketches.
Concept drawing, Bahamas Nursing School, c. 1985.

One of the most profound ways to understand the progression of the aesthetic sensibilities of a creative professional is to examine their works (including inspirational materials, writing, and sketches) across their career. Looking at materials that span yearsor even decadesoffers a glimpse into how their style evolved, was refined, stayed constant, or in some cases shifted radically. With architects it is possible to trace the development not only of their design considerations, but also the changes in drawing techniques, enhanced observational skills, and a deeper understanding of spaces. It is often possible to see how they refine and expand their understanding of the outer world, visual culture, and the impact of spaces on the people who inhabit them.

Photograph of architectural model.
AustellungsbauVariabelTransportabel, Architectural model, 1962

The Exhibition HallVariableTransportable project was completed by Dorothee Stelzer King while she was an architecture student at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Berlin, Germany. Completed the same year that she received her degree, the project was based on a first-year design exercise involving the enlargement of a simple shape to create a complex design without adding extra material to the final structure.

Document outlining requirements and development of the project.
Description and requirements of the award-winning portable exhibition hall project.

 

Drawing showing interlocking shapes.
Concept drawing showing how a basic triangle is repeated and extended to create interlocking stars and circular forms that in turn interlock to create flexible, modular shapes.

 

Elevations, site plans, and details.
Elevations, site plans, and detail drawings for AustellungsbauVariabelTransportabel.

Ms2013-023, Dorothee Stelzer King, Folder 3Ms2013-023, Dorothee Stelzer King, Folder 3

The Dorothee Stelzer King collection also contains works that the architect completed at various points during her professional career, allowing researchers to study the progression of her designs over time. The series of concept drawings and plans for the Bahamas Nursing School in Nassau, Bahamas, shows Kings attention to understanding how educational spaces and their inhabitants interact. While the drawings show a move away from the more experimental design work seen in Exhibition HallVariableTransportable, they showcase a greater understanding of the practical nature of educational facilities and the importance of proper acoustics, seating, structural elements, and paths of movement through interior spaces.

 

Site plan drawing.
Location plan, Bahamas Nursing School, April 16, 1985.

 

Construction photos.
Construction photographs showing exterior and interior spaces, including structural elements, of the Bahamas Nursing School project.

Ms2013_023_B001_F020toF024_002_BahamasNursing_Scrap_120Ms2013_023_B001_F020toF024_002_BahamasNursing_Scrap_118

Many other student and professional design projects and records can be accessed in the Special Collections Reading Room at Virginia Tech. The finding aid for the Dorothee Stelzer King Architectural Collection can be viewed online at Virginia Heritage. The collection is currently being digitized with funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and will be available in full through the Virginia Tech digital library.

History Is Not a Meritocracy: A Deep Dive Into Confronting Gaps on Wikipedia

In honor of next week’s Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

History is not a simple meritocracy.[1] So goes the opening salvo of Despina Stratigakos Unforgetting Women Architects, an essay on writing women practitioners back into the historical record. Weve touched on this topic in previous blog posts about the history of women in architecture and the importance of making their work visible, especially online. Yet in advance of the Women in Architecture and the Arts Wikipedia edit-a-thon next Wednesday March 28th, it seemed an opportune time to take another look at the troubling lack of female representation on Wikipedia and within the architectural profession.

When we talk about representation of women on Wikipedia, we actually talk about two distinct, yet intimately connected, issues. One issue is a gender asymmetry in the sites content, the other is an asymmetry in the sites contributors.[2][3][4] Myriad and complex factors contribute to both. Wikipedias structure and ideology, the fact that many of its veteran editors are white and male, the perceived lack of importance and cultural relevance of issues significant to women implicit in Wikipedias criteria for notability,[5] sometimes ruthlessly enforced by the sites self-appointed gatekeepers; these and other factors[6] cause significant lacunae and stark attrition among female editors (who account for 13% of contributors)[7][8] in an encyclopedia that purports to be the sum of all human knowledge.

In fact, some quick research demonstrates the widened scope of notability criteria where men and mens interests are concerned. As a much-circulated New York Times article from 2011 points out[9], and indeed accounts from (sometimes expert) women contributors writing about women[10], there can be a lot of pushback on articles addressing womens interests: nitpicking about sourcing and whether an articles subject is notable enough to warrant inclusion on the site; indeed, articles on women are often flagged as not even adhering to Wikipedias neutrality guidelines. Yet there are lengthy articles and sub-articles about video games, video game characters, male-dominated television shows, and, of course, biographical articles on men in many fields that are often published without challenge.[11] To this point, a research article addressing gender bias in Wikipedias content has found that women on Wikipedia are, on the whole, more notable than their male counterparts, indicating that one must reach a higher threshold of accomplishment as a woman in order to be deemed important enough to merit an article – a threshold that the article characterizes as the glass ceiling effect.[12] Also of note, the article presents evidence that certain topics are overstated in womens biographies and tend to receive more attention than their work, i.e., their personal relationships and family status.[13]

Wikipedia culture is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a microcosm of culture writ large and its participatory homogeneity mirrors that of other kinds of open online forums that depend on user-generated content. The way the site reproduces bias, however, may be exacerbated by its claim to neutrality that is meant to bolster its reliability and credibility. This principle, when coupled with a lack of diversity in its user base, is problematic in that neutrality then comes to be synonymous with a white male point of view. This likely explains much of the resistance and flags that women encounter when they attempt to publish pages about other women.[14] They claim that women should write their gender out of their entries;[15] this may very well be because male editors have become accustomed to perceiving their own form of gendered analysis as the default – it is not, however, neutral.

Many scholars and practitioners (Susana Torre, Denise Scott Brown, Ellen Perry Berkeley, Dolores Hayden, Despina Stratigakos, Lori Brown, and Gabrielle Esperdy, to name but a few) have worked to challenge and dismantle pernicious myths about the architectural profession.[16] Institutions like the International Archive of Women in Architecture and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation have made the collection of women architects papers a top priority and have helped to recover a cultural past and properly historicize the conditions of womens professional exclusion.[17] Additionally, in recent years scholars, information specialists, and architects have worked to ensure greater representation in online environments – enhancing discoverability of otherwise underappreciated or forgotten historical figures.[18][19][20] Unfortunately there isnt space here to fully unpack all of these womens various contributions to the field and its literature. Please join us next Wednesday in the Multipurpose Room at Newman Library to engage with their analysis more fully and to rewrite digital history! RSVP for the Women in Architecture Edit-a-thon here.

References

1. Despina Stratigakos, Unforgetting Women Architects: From the Pritzker to Wikipedia, Places Journal, April 2016. Accessed 21 Mar 2018. https://doi.org/10.22269/130603

2. Cohen, Noam. Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedias Contributor List. The New York Times, 30 January 2011. Accessed 21 March 2018.

3. Gardner, Sue. Nine Reasons Women Dont Edit Wikipedia (In Their Own Words), Sue Gardners Blog, 19 February 2011. Accessed 21 Mar 2018.

4. Wagner, Claudia, et al. “Women through the Glass Ceiling: Gender Asymmetries in Wikipedia.” EPJ Data Science, vol. 5, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1-24.

5. Davidge, Tania. “How to be ‘notable.'”Parlour: Women, Equity, Architecture website, 24 April 2015. Accessed 22 March 2018.

6. Gardner, 2011.

7. Cohen, 2011.

8. Bear, Julia B., and Benjamin Collier. “Where are the Women in Wikipedia? Understanding the Different Psychological Experiences of Men and Women in Wikipedia.” Sex Roles, vol. 74, no. 5, 2016, pp. 254-265.

9. Cohen, 2011.

10. Vigor, Emily. Down the Rabbit Hole: (Miss)adventures in Wikipedia. Environmental Design blog, UC Berkeley, 3 April 2015. Accessed 21 March 2018.

11. Ibid.

12. Wagner et al., 2016.

13. Ibid.

14. Vigor, 2015.

15. Gardner, 2011.

16. Torre, Susana, 1944, and Architectural League of New York. Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective : A Publication and Exhibition Organized by the Architectural League of New York through its Archive of Women in Architecture. Whitney Library of Design, New York, 1977. Scott Brown, Denise. Having words. Vol. 4;4.;. London: Architectural Association, 2009. Berkeley, Ellen P., and Matilda McQuaid. Architecture: A Place for Women. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington [D.C.], 1989. Hayden, Dolores. “What would a Non-Sexist City be Like? Speculations on Housing, Urban Design, and Human Work.” Signs, vol. 5, no. 3, 1980, pp. S170-S187. Stratigakos, Despina. Where are the Women Architects?. Princeton University Press, in association with Places Journal, Princeton, 2016. Brown, Lori A. Feminist Practices: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture. Ashgate, Burlington, VT; Farnham, Surrey, 2011. Esperdy, Gabrielle. The Incredible True Adventures of the Architectress in America, Places Journal, September 2012. Accessed 22 Mar 2018. https://doi.org/10.22269/120910

17. Torre, 1977.

18. Moritz, Cyndi. Project Aims to Raise Profile of Women Architects on Wikipedia. Syracuse University News, 1 June 2015. Accessed 21 March 2018.

19. “The Year Five Campaign.” Art + Feminism. Accessed 22 March 2018.

20. “Welcome to Parlour.” Archiparlour. Accessed 22 March 2018.

The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement

Have you ever thought about the history of LGBTQ rights in the United States? Did you learn about historic figures and events in the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement in elementary school? middle school? high school? college? Did you ever learn about these important figures and events in US History? For the majority of people, the answers will be “no”. It’s a sad reality that this topic isn’t covered in most schools and that most students will not be exposed to this history unless they choose a course of study in college that requires a course about LGBTQ people.

As part of our efforts to collect and highlight archival material about the LGBTQ+ community, our partnership with the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at Virginia Tech, and in support of LGBTQ+ History Month (October), we arranged to host an exhibit from the ONE Archives Foundation highlighting archival material from the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California (USC) Libraries. The exhibit is titled The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement.

Photograph of a directional sign reading "The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement exhibit begins here"
The start of the “The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement” exhibit on display at Virginia Tech. The exhibit is on display from right to left due to the normal traffic patterns in this part of the library, so a sign noting the start of the exhibit is helpful.

The exhibit consists of 39 panels that are 24 x 36 inches. We had them printed on adhesive vinyl and put them up in the hallway outside the library’s new digital humanities classroom. The exhibit includes information on early “gayborhoods” in the 1940s, the Lavender Scare during 1950s McCarthyism, the Stonewall Riots in the 1960s, the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the push for marriage equality in the 1990s and 2000s, and more.

We first posted the exhibit during LGBTQ+ History Month and invited attendees at our LGBTQ+ History at Virginia Tech archival exhibit to take a look after viewing documents from local LGBTQ+ history. Since then, many people have stopped to read through the exhibit panels.

In November, Aline Souza, a graduate student in Creative Technologies and Architecture, took some time to look through the exhibit. After reading through the panels, she said “I like the exhibit because it gives me a chance of a transformative experience on my way to class. I find it unique because it combines good graphics and colors with information about things that happened that I’d never know about.”

The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement exhibit was put up on on October 16, 2017 and will be on display through December 21, 2017 on the first floor of Newman Library (from the cafe, head up the ramp and turn right at the bathrooms). If you’re on campus, take a moment to stop by Newman Library and take a look.

Building the Builders: Egalitarian Pedagogy and Sustainable Design

When taking part in Frank Lloyd Wrights preeminent architectural school known as the Taliesin Fellowship, Lois Gottlieb came to understand architecture as a kind of Lebensphilosophie, in that she came to consider it a mode of living that touched on and derived inspiration from all aspects of life. Hence the title of her account of her apprenticeship A Way of Life, which deftly highlights the interplay of the rarefied and the mundane, the interdependence of humans and their natural surroundings, and the fluidity between the concreteness of day-to-day living and abstract worldview. Furthermore, it presents art as an act of cultivation and sustained effort, rather than a quasi-mysterious realization of personal genius.Gottlieb005

It’s of note that Wrights teaching style deviated significantly from the norms of his time and tended to subvert the traditional master-apprentice relationship. His radically egalitarian approach to pedagogy came to inform Gottliebs own teaching style and her outlook on the ways humans shape and control the environment. Her first major publication, the book Environment and Design in Housing, first workshopped as a series of lectures at UC – Riverside, articulates the effects of design on both the micro- and macro-scale, i.e., the way the [physical] environment we each create for ourselves and our families does affect every part of our lives [1] and the implications of poor design in terms of ecological sustainability and financial cost. In her view, humans have an unrivaled capacity to adapt the environment to their needs – a capacity that is problematic at scale and exacts high tolls, both from the land itself and from people affected by landslides or other natural disasters (see picture below). In light of these concerns, she advocates a more thoughtful approach based on client needs and leveraging the natural assets of building sites rather than the one-size-fits-all attitude of traditional design. (As a side note, Julius Shulman, famed architectural photographer, worked with Gottlieb on this book as photography consultant. The work itself features many of his gorgeous black-and-white photographs, prints of which are available for viewing as part of Gottliebs architectural collection here at Virginia Tech. Two copies of Environment and Design in Housing are also available for research as part of Special Collections selection of rare books – the captions and broader expositions provide invaluable context for the photographs.)

Gottlieb008
Gottlieb’s caption: “The result! The gadgets in the kitchen no longer matter.”[2][3] Photographer: Julius Shulman.
 

Design and Gender Norms

A notable feature of this book is its emphasis on practice and its demystification of architectural knowledge. While much of Gottlieb’s approach is informed by cultivating self-knowledge and considering the dwelling as a vehicle for personal expression, it tends to balance this view with injunctions to draw on the specialized knowledge of experts – lending itself to a kind of tempered humanism and recognition of personal limitations. This methodology, I think, can also be traced to Gottliebs time spent at Taliesin, which, for the time, was certainly unique in its combination of self-reliance and communal dependencies.

A different, but related, novelty of the schools social structure was its disregard for gender norms. It is generally recognized these days that, historically, there have been gender-inflected labor divisions in both the public and domestic sphere. At Taliesin, these traditional divisions were not enforced – men would often perform tasks like preparing dinner while women would thresh wheat. Homemaking was not the strictly circumscribed domain of women, nor was outdoor labor the exclusive domain of men. While her works primary focus isnt on cultural assumptions regarding women, Gottlieb clearly has thoughts on the connections between gender and under-recognized labor. On the subject of domesticity, design, and value, she offers the following observations:

Another attitude toward the occupation of homemaking is that it is nothing or of little importance. An answer to the typical question What does Jane Doe do? is Oh, nothing, or She doesnt work, she is just a housewife. Yet this housewife is supposed to do most of the buying for the family, keep them all in good physical condition, keep them attractively housed and clothed, see to it that the children are educated, and so on and on.

In other situations any of these tasks is considered a field of specialized knowledge…But the homemaker is supposed to have absorbed and be all these things at once, a sort of twentieth-century version of the Renaissance man (without any of the credit for doing so, presumably).[4]

 

It’s clear that Environment and Design in Housing is at least partially intended to serve as a practical resource for homemakers. It’s also clear that the book is meant to bring analysis to typically underserved segments of society and to address real (if hidden) needs.

Gottlieb010
Gottlieb-designed home – a great example of California Mid-Century Modern architecture. Photographer: Morley Baer.

References

1. Lois Davidson Gottlieb, Environment and Design in Housing (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 1.

2. Gottlieb, 5.

3. Lois Davidson Gottlieb Architectural Collection, Ms1997-003, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

4. Gottlieb, 231.

Oh, it is a Long Story


Marie-Louise Laleyan once wrote in an article for the “Daily Pacific Builders”Women in Constructionissue of an exchange she had with her father during the opening reception for a public housing project for which she had been the architect. She recounted that upon seeing their nametags a group of happy attendees approached them exclaiming, Here is the architect and promptly shook her fathers hand:

They are congratulating me because of my daughter! He was almost in tears.
Well no. They think you are the architect.
Why would they think that? he wanted to know.
Oh, it is a long story. I may even write a book about it. Lets go home.

And it is that long story, nestled here into a fond anecdote, that defines a great deal of Laleyans work within the broader architectural profession.

img001
Daily Pacific Builder, Friday, October 31, 1986

img002
Daily Pacific Builder, Friday,October 31, 1986.

I have been encounteringin part through happenstance, but also likely in part because of the particular architectural collections with which I have been most involved as of latean abundance of materials related to the status and (often) undervaluation of the contributions of women in many professional fields. Apart from archival records, I recently listened to a 2016 episode of the podcast 99% Invisible that showcased the near erasure of photographer Lucia Moholy from the history of the Bauhausan institution that owed its reputation at least in part to her astounding (unpaid and uncredited) documentation. Recent books, such as Where are the Women Architects, and excellent articles such as the 2012 piece “The Incredible True Adventures of the Architectress in America,” which appeared in the journal Places, have refocused my attention on how that long story that Marie-Louise Laleyan mentioned fits into an ongoing conversation. A call to examine the current state of the architectural fieldof nearly any fieldalso encourages reflection on how past decades of womens experiences and actions can inform a conversation going forward.

Laleyan had what is likely a common experience for women entering the American architectural scene in the mid-1960s, which is to say that she was often told that firms did not hire women. She noted in an interview years later that, My reaction of how stupid has not changed in 22 years! To say she defied the barriers to entry is an understatement. She went on, after working her way up in several firms, to found Laleyan Associates, Architects. Her project records, held by the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA), reveal a lot about the constant need to assert her authority as an architect.

 

For instance, filed into the general correspondence associated with any project, we find glimmers of the difficulty Laleyan sometimes faced in being taken seriously or authoritatively. Between the contracts, bid documents, cost estimates, schedules of work, invoices, field reports, change orders, specifications, revised plans, and the general back and forth between architects, owners, and contractors, are observations about undercutting. When viewed en masse, these suggest a challenge to the expertise of a woman working in a male-dominated field.

In some of the following examples, Laleyan has to remind contractors and owners of her professional role in a project, ask that they do not undermine her, and note the outright disrespect of her knowledge and expertise.

L1008
In the last section Laleyan notes her encounter with a sub-contractor during an inspection. He, among other challenges, asserts that she doesnt know what she is talking about. Laleyan goes on to record that this is a repeated challenge and that she will not tolerate such interactions.

L1002In reference to a letter from a contractor, Laleyan notes in section A that I do not challenge contractors. I administer the construction contract as required by my agreement and later notes occasionally contractors have disagreed with my interpretation of the contract documents, but you are the first who has challenged persistently my authority to interpret those documents and my right to make decisions, based on those interpretations.

L1005The notes in the last section recount Laleyan’s experience ofbeing yelled at in front of a job superintendent, workers, and others. She goes on to mention that while she did not respond on grounds of professional behavior, she will not tolerate a project development supervisor undermining her authority with the contractor.

L1023Laleyan notes that she would appreciate it if her designs were followed and not improved upon by the contractor.

Many more records can be found in the Marie-Louise Laleyan Architectural Collection.

Beyond Laleyans success as an architect and owner of her own firm, she had a prominent role in professional organizations and helped to begin actively addressing the challenges that she and other women were facing. She tackled barriers to entry, noting that when she had studied in Bulgaria half of the architectural students were women. She went on to co-found the Organization of Women Architects in 1972, and against the background of 1970s feminist initiatives she contributed a great deal to the conversations and actions that were taking place to encourage a sense of equity within the profession. Apart from participating in organizations that helped to support and encourage other women in the field, Laleyan worked in high-level roles in the American Institute of Architects (AIA), which had a high barrier to participation for professional women. She co-authored the 1975 AIA Affirmative Action Plan and co-chaired the AIA Task Force on Women in Architecture, among other roles. The studies and action plans outlined as part of the AIA initiative helped to move the inclusion of women in the professional activities of the field forward, but as Laleyan noted in her 1980s article for Daily Pacific Builder, the arguments about the success of the Affirmative Action Plan still go on. Its arguable that the core of those recommendations and the issues they address are still relevant today, and are applicable in many fields where women still represent a minority of participants. Still, the increased awareness and forthright conversation about barriers, as well as the existence of toolkits and resources to support women entering the field, likely owe their existence to earlier initiatives such as these.

Looking through a historical lens at Marie-Louise Laleyans work provides a microcosm of the experiences of many women architects working at the time (certainly the papers in many of the IAWA Collections attest to similar experiences). But such bridges to the past that examine issues of gender equity, professional practice, and labor issues almost demand to be viewed along a continuum and alongside the work of women in related fields. As Laleyan stated practically with regard to the 1970s AIA Affirmative Action Plan, What has been achieved in the last ten years is more than I expected. The rest is up to the next generation.

L1009
One of many drawings related to the numerous public housing remodeling projects that Laleyan completed during her lengthy career.

The OWA still works on behalf of the vision the group outlined in the 1970s. Visit the website for history, newsletters, and current initiatives and projects. Papers from the IAWA Collection are available to view in person in the Virginia Tech Special Collections reading room.

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Addressing Architecture’s “Woman Question” Then and Now

Forty years ago the book Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective took shape under the editorial hand of Susana Torre. While the work arose out of an exhibition meant to expose the undervalued contributions of women to the built environment, it evolved into a discursive response to a series of dogged and complex questions concerning the roles of women in society, the exclusions of educational and professional culture, and the ideological underpinnings of tradition. (Torres papers are held by the International Archive of Women in Architecture here at Virginia Tech and the collection contains a wealth of research material related to her work on this exhibition and book project.)

Yet after two-fifths of a century have passed, a few questions linger: Have women made appreciable gains within the profession? Did Women in American Architectures 1977 publication herald a sea change in the attitudes of practitioners and architectural culture writ large? The answer may effectively be found in a book published just last year called Where Are the Women Architects? by Despina Stratigakos: while significant advances have been made, yes, equity (in pay, recognition, representation, etc.) has yet to be achieved. Indeed, in an interview with The Architectural League just four years ago, Torre commented that she had hoped sexism in the field would have become an artifact of the past: I would have hoped that by now this topic would have become entirely passe…that it would be a quaint reminder of another time.

In certain respects, women are still battling a culture that lionizes the exceptional one: a culture that valorizes individualism–the lone genius–while erasing female collaboration and one that lauds exceptional women to justify the marginalization of other women architects (paraphrase of Torres words). The lone genius archetype is partially a product of the narrative structure of many architectural histories (I’m looking at you, monograph). Stratigakos re-examines this emphasis on stardom and its underlying assumption “that the best architecture is created by mavericks.” Alongside assumptions that persist in mainstream treatment of architecture, Stratigakos looks at the bare fact that young women still confront woefully high professional attrition rates and a lack of visibility in educational curricula, the analog historical record, in online content, and among online content creators.

Digitization and Representation: Strategies For Winning Over Hearts and Minds?

Part and parcel of rectifying gender imbalance involves the activist approach of consciousness-raising, which partially entails the documentation and recovery of a cultural past that is often unrecognized or invalidated in historical works. The IAWA, founded in 1985, was itself borne out of Milka Bliznakovs frustration that the historical record for architecture remained so lopsided: as many women grew old or died, evidence of their work was quietly being relegated to the ash heap of history. In some ways the digital era has presented new challenges regarding historical incompleteness.

In recent years, the internet has played a profound role in shaping cultural memory and, in some cases, reproducing bias–where ample content can be found and accessed so easily, many people erroneously believe that most information resources have been made available online and, following from this assumption, (mis-)perceive an absence of online content as a positive demonstration of triviality or non-existence. As Ricky Erway and Jennifer Schaffner noted in their digitization report Shifting Gears, in a world where it is increasingly felt that if its not online it doesnt exist, we need to make sure that our users are exposed to the wealth of information in special collections. The current CLIR grant-funded project to digitize the IAWA’s holdings is underway and one of its express goals is to combat the notion that women architects didn’t exist or didn’t contribute much to the built environment. For those of us working on the project, it’s our belief that the work of changing hearts and minds can begin with something as (seemingly) simple as visibility. Check back in another forty years.

 

 

Heros Welcome

A Souvenir Menu Recalls Earharts Triumphant Return to the U. S.

The recent reports about possible new evidence in the 80-year mystery of Amelia Earharts disappearance reminded me of a little item in our collections: a menu for a 1932 dinner honoring the pilot. Housed, perhaps incongruously, within our Aviation Pamphlets and Brochures Collection (Ms1994-015), this souvenir commemorates a milestone in aviation and womens history.

Cover of the Earhart Waldorf-Astoria dinner menu. Though Earhart did not take her husbands name after marriage and is invariably identified today by her maiden name, the press and others most often referred to her as Amelia Earhart Putnam or Mrs. Putnam during the years of her married life.

Though Amelia Earharts name endures, it may be difficult for us to imagine today the level of fame she attained through her derring-do. The word icon has perhaps been devalued through overuse in recent years, but Earharts solo crossing of the Atlantic made her a true icon and arguably the most famous woman of her time.

Even before Earhart undertook her solo transatlantic flight in 1932, she had gained fame through her feats: as the first woman to cross the Atlantic via airplane (1928), as the first woman to make a solo transcontinental roundtrip flight across the U. S. (1928), and as the record holder for the highest altitude attained in an autogyro (1931). Despite occasional criticisms leveled against her skills as a flyer, Earhart through her personality and her penchant for self-promotion put a face on womens advances in fields that previously had been reserved for men.

The menu includes a brief list of Earharts accomplishments to 1932.

Earhart departed Newfoundland on May 20, 1932 and landed in Ireland the following day, exactly five years after Charles Lindberghs historic solo flight across the Atlantic. While most know that Earhart was the first woman to make such a flight, few may remember that no pilot had successfully made a solo transatlantic flight in the five years after Lindbergh.

Within the menu is this photo of Earhart in Ireland. The caption celebrates her crossing of the Atlantic in 13 hours and 30 minutes, a new record for a transatlantic flight.

In the following weeks, Earhart toured Europe, receiving a number of honors and being feted by various dignitaries. After several weeks of enjoying her celebrity, Earhart embarked for home. Despite her accomplishment, transatlantic flight remained a dangerous undertaking reserved for pioneering daredevils. (The transatlantic passenger service established by Germanys Graf Zeppelin in 1928 averaged only about 20 flights per year for the next decade. Weather and distance would prevent the commercial viability of transatlantic passenger plane flights until the late 1930s.) The singularity of Earharts feat is underscored by the fact that she returned to the U. S. via cruise ship.

With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, Earhart had asked that her welcome home be an understated affair, but it was perhaps because of the desperate need for something to celebrate that the flyers request went unheeded. When the Ile de France arrived in New York on June 20, it was greeted by all the fanfare the city could muster, including a tickertape parade. Following a luncheon hosted by the Advertising Federation Convention and several rounds of interviews, the days activities concluded at the Waldorf-Astoria, where a full-course dinner was held in Earhart’s honor. Speakers included Charles Lawrence, president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America; Don Brown, president of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft; W. Irving Glover, second assistant postmaster of the United States; and Earhart herself. The speeches were broadcast nationwide via radio.

The menu for Earharts dinner.

Unfortunately, as far as I was able to determine (in an admittedly cursory search), Earharts words that night seem to have gone unrecorded. She reportedly recounted the experiences of her flight. Perhaps she also repeated some of the responses she had given earlier that day to critics who derided her flight as a non-event. In interviews, Earhart said that she regarded her flight as a personal mission, a justification. After she had flown across the Atlantic in 1928 as a passenger, one commentator downplayed the feat, likening her usefulness on the flight to a sack of potatoes.

In The Sound of Wings, biographer Mary S. Lovell writes of Earhart’s solo flight, [T]hough the flight in itself offered no particular breakthrough, the mere fact that there were pilots prepared to risk all to gain records encouraged manufacturers to further technological effort. In the public eye, too, the flight was a triumphant success at a time when newspapers carried daily reports of fatal air crashes. So her success encouraged confidence in aviation as a principle.

Despite her protestations to the contrary, Amelia Earhart had done much more than answer her critics, and the public responded in a big way, as evidenced in a little menu in our little collection.

In addition to the Earhart menu, the Aviation Pamphlets and Brochures Collection contains a number of interesting pieces relating to the first half century of aviation history. For a complete list, see the collection’s finding aid.