Where did all the Women go? A brief history of Architecture.

Before we get into stats and the modern-day reasons that women in architecture are less common and less likely to progress as far as their male colleagues, I would like to take things back a few years and look at the history (or seemingly lack thereof) of women in architecture. 


Societal expectations, beliefs and norms will always play a big part in any workplace, what goes on, on the outside world will often be reflected in an industry. A factor which (in most cases) will only affect female employee’s, is a much wider societal issue, sexism. Sexism and misogyny is still very prevalent in professional industries and with a bit of investigation it’s not hard to see why. As we saw last week, males are already more likely to be in the senior most roles of firms (see below) these ‘precedents’ can quite often create a system of male dominated firms and therefore industries, through a perpetuating cycle of never ending men. 

Image Data Source: “Parlour Census Report 2001–2016: Women In Architecture In Australia” (Matthewson, 2017)[3]

Female architects have always existed, I only know this after doing my research. 5 years of study and very little of it has involved learning about female architects and their work. So why is this? 

It may come as a surprise to some but the fact is, a lot of historical information and books are false. Whether its author bias or inaccurate information being past down, a lot of what we know about our past is a fragmented truth. Many historical facts and figures have been wiped from history for many questionable reasons, be it because they were of colour, female or homosexual. If you weren’t an educated white man you were at risk of becoming ‘obsolete’ in future retellings of significant stories. So, we know that female architects existed in history the problem is that they have been seriously lacking representation and recognition both in society and within the industry. 


Historically many famous female architects are remembered for their famous architect husbands, and very rarely given equal credit for their joint works. For instance, Aino and Alvar Aalto or Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin. Marion Mahony Griffin, or as you dear reader might know her as ‘Walter Burley Griffin’s wife’, did in fact exist before meeting her husband (just in case history books made that unclear). Before she was a wife she was already an architect. Marion was the first employee of Frank Lloyd Wright, her work with Wright is now described as giving “…considerable influence on the development of the Prairie style (which Wright was well known for), while her watercolour renderings soon became synonymous with Wright’s work”. However, like many women, she was not given recognition for either of her contributions to Wrights work (Rackard, 2019)[1].


Another well-known male architect, Le Corbusier, can attribute much of his work to other female scholars whom he worked along side, however he would have you believe otherwise. Architect Blanche Lemco van Ginkel was responsible for the roof top design at Unité in Marseilles, now an extremely recognisable structure (see below) however at the time Van Ginkel received no credit for her efforts from Corbusier (Southcott, 2020)[2]. Furthermore, Le Corbusier is a repeat offender when it comes to sexism in architecture. He was responsible for discrediting many other female architects work such as Eileen Gray’s holiday home E-1027, in which Le Corbusier even went so far as to break into and vandalise the building, an act of rebellion against women in architecture (see building below) [1].  


Distorting the past, affects the present.

The false idea that there is no precedent of women in architecture and that it’s traditionally a mans job ripples into more recent social beliefs and norms. Women therefore remain out numbered not just in the physical presence of men but in the amount of professionals that believe that architecture is a mans world. 


Creating awareness around this issue and acknowledging a history of great architects, both male and female, is a strong first step towards change. These issues require massive intervention throughout the industry, within companies, universities and society but educating people and normalising diversity in the profession is a good place to start as “…what goes on, on the outside world will often be reflected in the workplace”.









[1] Rackard, Nicky. 2019. “The 10 Most Overlooked Women In Architecture History”. Archdaily. https://www.archdaily.com/341730/the-10-most-overlooked-women-in-architecture-history.

[2] Southcott, Tanya. 2020. “The Invisibility Of Women – Parlour”. Parlour. https://archiparlour.org/the-invisibility-of-women/.

[3]Matthewson, Dr Gill. 2017. “Parlour Census Report 2001–2016: Women In Architecture In Australia”. Australian Institute of Architects.