Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Building Barriers: Images of Women in Canada's Architectural Press, 1924-73 (Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada)

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Building Barriers: Images of Women in Canada's Architectural Press, 1924-73 (Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada)

Article excerpt

Ebba Nilsson always wanted to be an architect.(f.2) Growing up in Waterville, Quebec, she watched with interest as her father David Nilsson, a Swedish immigrant, worked as a carpenter on the town's Congregational Church, constructed cottages in nearby North Hatley, and built a number of barns in the Eastern Townships region. Upon graduation from the Waterville Model School, Ebba went off to Philadelphia to study architecture for three years, working as a mother's helper and tutoring young children to support her studies. When Ebba returned to Waterville in 1932, however, she began a long career in teaching, rather than architecture. She was ten years too early; it was not until 1942 that a woman first registered in Quebec as a professional architect.(f.3)

We know little about the emergence of women architects in Canada, relative to women architects in the United States and Britain, or of the contributions of non-registered women to the profession of architecture.(f.4) Those pioneering women who first registered in various provincial associations are relatively well documented and major Canadian buildings designed by women have been duly noted. But we know next to nothing about the hundreds of women like Ebba Nilsson who presumably obtained a considerable amount of knowledge and expertise in architecture but never practised. Their names and stories are absent from the historical record because their contributions to architecture were made entirely from outside the boundaries of professional organizations; they studied, worked, wrote, and thought about Canadian architecture, as it were, from the periphery.

This article is part of a larger, interdisciplinary investigation which is an attempt to understand the historical and contemporary situations of women architects in Canada since 1920. Drawing from the research methods of both architectural history and sociology, this collaborative, feminist approach, we believe, will result in a fuller understanding of gender as a category of analysis in the study of both environments and professions, allowing us to uncover the roles of women in the construction of our built environment and to understand why these roles are mitigated by the exit of so many Canadian women architects each year. By this process, we also hope to contribute to the growing scholarship defining feminist analyses of all architecture, regardless of the gender of its designer.(f.5)

Within this framework, this article explores how the major professional magazine in Canada, the Journal of he Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), represented women in visual images (photographs, advertisements, drawings) from 1924 to 1973.(f.6) On behalf of the male-dominated profession which it represented for more than five decades, images published in this influential journal acted as non-verbal statements of how the profession in Canada perceived women

during a period which saw tumultuous changes in the way architecture was practised, the development of Modernism in Canadian architecture, and the slow acceptance in this country of women as professional architects. The limited aims here are to show how images published in the journal served to reinforce the exclusivity of the architectural profession in three distinct ways.(f.7) The journal, through its various representations of women, marginalized their contribution to the design process by focusing on their association with housing and interiors; advertisements in the journal identified women users with particular spaces and specific building components, emphasizing their regulation of building details, rather than its overall production; finally, the journal subtly projected an image of the Modern architect in Canada which was quintessentially masculine.

Women on the Margins

Had Ebba Nilsson been either British or American, she may have continued her interests in building into architectural practice, rather than teaching in a girls' school. …

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