In response to Marta Rodriguez’s rebuttal to my review of the Parson’s conference, I believe even more strongly that to conflate Perriand’s career with Sejima’s does a disservice to women architects and to all architecture students, male and female.
Perriand was trained in the decorative arts and through the force of her talent and personality made a substantial impact on the discourse of modernism in all design professions, architecture among them. A more appropriate comparison, in my view, would be to Petra Blaisse, who very clearly and without ambiguity positions her work in relation to architecture with her practice Inside/Outside (of buildings). The danger in holding these women up as architects (and I think both might actually be insulted by the misnomer, such is the power and success their respective fields have acquired over the years thanks in part to their contributions), is that it encourages an image of creatively powerful women as accessories to architecture, not as architects. In the case of Sejima, trained from the beginning as an architect and following a fairly conventional path through apprenticeship and establishing her own architectural practice, she poses as an accessory to herself. She creates both the field and the object, the subject and the other—why on earth wouldn’t she be compared to LeCorbusier himself?
I would much rather see the career of a figure like Natalie de Blois, a tireless corporate soldier working nearly invisibly at SOM during the 50’s and 60’s, excavated and elevated by academic discourse. She is a true hero for every architect, male and female, who has toiled silently, problem solving, detailing and coordinating the intricate weave of creative and technical requirements that makes a building such an exquisitely intelligent endeavor—a one-off with massive social impact, as opposed to the mass-produced object, the social impact of which is entirely more intimate and individual.
As relates to architectural education, students must understand the value of building design to the field of architecture. It is striking that this last sentence needs to be written at all, but such is the state of architectural education that students might actually wonder if there is any creative content in the design of buildings anymore, or if buildings are simply BIM-generated backdrops for furniture, installation and products or at the opposing scale of “grands projets,” objects for cities. Buildings are an integrated web of technical systems, cultural imperatives and human habitation or, as one man famously said, “architecture is the mother art.” For women to settle for creative leadership in anything but the design of buildings is, in my view, a relinquishing of power at precisely the moment when women can bring special gifts to an embattled profession suffering from corporate agglomeration and social irrelevance.