Book Review: Breaking Ground—Architecture by Women

Breaking Ground: Architecture by Women
By Jane Hall (Phaidon, 2019)

A few years ago, the conversation about gender equity in architecture centered on the question: where are the women architects? Gradually, awareness has been building about the unconscious biases and organizational structures that make it particularly challenging for women to become established as architects. New aspects of the issue are beginning to come to light, including the question: what are women architects building?

This volume answers that question with a stunning selection of over 200 projects involving women architects, from historical to contemporary works. Each is accompanied by a concise biography that puts the work into context.

The book attempts to address several issues. It acknowledges the contribution of women working in partnerships—such as Denise Scott Brown of Venturi Scott Brown, Patty Hopkins of Hopkins Architects, and Lu Wenyu of Amateur Architecture Studio—in which authorship has usually been attributed to the male partner.
It also includes women who run practices to expand the idea of how architecture gets made. Women that bridge the gap between theory and practice—such as McGill-trained Amale Andraos, who co-founded
WORKac and is the dean at Columbia’s architecture school—are also included.

An insightful introductory essay acknowledges the book’s shortcomings. In particular, more work needs to be done to identify leading women architects in Africa, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. “This imbalance in representation only reinforces the notion that the acceptance of women in architectural practice is conditional on location and shaped by a colonial legacy,” observe Hall and collaborator Audrey Thomas-Hayes, both of Assemble Studio.

The Hadaway House in Whistler, B.C. (2013) is showcased as an example of work by Patricia Patkau and John Patkau in a new book on architecture by women.

Perhaps most impactfully, this book dispels the notion that projects by women have a particular aesthetic. There is no uniting thread of curved forms or soft lines through the projects chosen; the only commonality is the quality of the work presented. It makes this book deserving of a place on the coffee tables and bookshelves of many architects: men and women alike.