In her book “Where Are the Women Architects?”, author Despina Stratigakos writes that “the number of women working as architects remains stubbornly low”. This underrepresentation of women architects and designers becomes visible when looking for them on the internet and especially on Wikipedia.
Many women architects simply do not have a Wikipedia page, or they have one that is too short compared to their male equivalent. Organizations like the women's architecture collective Part W work to increase the number of female architects listed on Wikipedia.
Founded by Zoë Berman in 2018, Part W is a collective of engaged women working in design education, architecture, planning, engineering, policy, infrastructure and sustainability. The collective pointed out that only 17 per cent of Wikipedia’s biographies are about women and this makes it harder for the general public to find information about female architects and designers.
Wikipedia is one of the first resources that the general public look at when searching for information. The fact that the work of female architects and designers is underrepresented, or simply can’t be found, is problematic on many levels.
It doesn’t offer younger generations female references in the fields of architecture and design and generates the feeling of a milieu that is not for women and in which women have only been relatively interested.
This has an influence on how young women, attracted by architecture and design, view their careers and potential. But it also has an impact on men's perception of the field, creating an unconscious gender bias about the profession.
The lack of biographies of women architects or designers on Wikipedia is related to the requirement to credit, through different types of references, what is stated in the article. When a biography is not on Wikipedia, it’s because resources are unabundant elsewhere on the internet, making it almost impossible to create one. It’s a vicious circle, difficult to break.
Women's work is often less well documented than their men’s counterparts. The further back in time you go, the more difficult it is to find evidence of women's architect. Their work was often attributed to men because of sex discrimination, which was often supported by the law (e.g., the Sex Disqualification Act of 1919).
A deep research and documentation work would be necessary and essential in order to diversify the topics of study and build a future of the profession based on gender equality.
In order to make the resources about women designers available on internet, we decided to share our research by creating the Wikipedia pages for three important women designers of the 20th century: Elizabeth Goldfinger, Lucia DeRespinis and Maria Pergay.
Designer, London, 1936, unlisted on Wikipedia.
Elizabeth Goldfinger is a furniture designer often overshadowed by her father Erno Goldfinger. Trained at Central Saint Martins, she is responsible for iconic furniture designs during the 1960s.
One of her most iconic pieces is the “Liz Box”, circa 1965, a laminated birch plywood low table/storage box constructed from six pieces using a slot-together technique, the top panel lifting up to reveal an open interior.
The slot-together technique allowed Elizabeth Goldfinger to build many flat pack designs. This is an extremely smart way to design furniture, not only because it’s easy to build at home, but because it allows to save space thus reducing transport-related pollution.
The box can be seen at 2 Willow Road, her father’s 1939 modernist house design in Hampstead.
Designer, NY, 1928, unlisted on Wikipedia.
“Once you are an Industrial Designer, the world is filled with questions of how and why and you will never be comfortable again. This profession seeks to make life better for humanity. Keep that in mind as you choose a path.” - Lucia DeRespinis.
Lucia DeRespinis has been an industrial designer for over fifty years. She attended Pratt Institute, studying under Rowena Reed Kostellow and Eva Zeisel, and graduated in 1952 from a class of all men, with the exception of one other woman. She built a career in the male-dominated design industry and worked as a senior designer at George Nelson Associates.
Lucia DeRespinis is still underrepresented in museums, but many of her designs are now icons and are still manufactured and sold worldwide. Her clock designs for George Nelson Associates were recently included in the Serious Play exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum and have been reissued by Vitra and are still available for purchase at MOMA.
She’s perhaps best known amongst graphic designers for the Dunkin’ Donuts logo. The logo’s vibrant pink and orange were inspired by her five-year-old daughter’s favorite colors, and the bubbly lettering was selected to suggest the appeal of a doughnut. The logo has represented the food-service chain for over twenty years.
Lucia DeRespinis was, until recently, a professor at Pratt, passing on her wisdom, teaching design thinking to a new generation of talents.
Designer, France, 1930, unlisted on Wikipedia.
Maria Pergay is one of the pioneers of stainless-steel objects and furniture. She made her name in the 60’s when she was approached by Uginox, a French stainless-steel company, to design small decorative objects. In return, Maria Pergay offered to design a collection of furniture showcased at the Maison Jardin gallery in 1968.
The collection included two of the most iconic metal furnishings of the 20th century: the Flying Carpet Daybed and the Ring Chair, the latter inspired by the spiraling form of an orange peel. “I was peeling an orange for my children, and thought how nice it looked,” Pergay told The New York Times.
During her career, she has been commissioned by the most prestigious names such as Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Fendi, Christian Dior, Jacques Heim and Salvador Dalí. Better known on the other side of the Atlantic where her work has been exhibited since 1971 after a first show curated by Air France, the New York gallery Demisch Danant hosted her first retrospective in 2006.