Annmarie Adams and Peta Tancred
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000; 190 pp.
Reviewed by Emily Andreae
Graduate, Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design, 1999
University of Toronto
"[A woman's] intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision."
-- John Ruskin (Sesame and Lilies)
One would not expect Ruskin's perspective on the position and capacity of woman in the 1860s to so closely represent currently held attitudes towards a group of professional women. The persistence of this ideology at different levels continues to influence the careers of many women associated with the Canadian architectural profession as noted by Annmarie Adams and Peta Tancred in 'Designing Women': Gender and the Architectural Profession. Through historical and sociological research and analysis, Adams and Tancred piece together a retrospective view of how many Canadian women entering, existing in, and exiting the architectural profession -- past and present -- have faced their peers' reluctance to accept their qualifications and recognize their accomplishments. Far too little has been written to challenge Ruskin's views on a woman's capacity to design public spaces. Surprisingly, 'Designing Women' is the first book of its kind to address the history and working conditions of women in Canadian architecture.
Written by an architectural historian (Adams) and a sociologist (Tancred), the study is divided into sections that examine the social and political dynamics of gender relations in the architectural profession. The authors employ a qualitative methodology that includes case studies developed from interviews, and quantitative analyses of statistical and archival materials. This approach is applied to each area of investigation as a way of identifying the limitations and barriers the architectural profession in Canada, particularly in Ontario, maintains to keep women out or at least, as a recent  national survey indicates, "on the margins" of a male institution of "the old school" sort. Because 81 percent of the profession is male (p. 7), the possibility of not actually being able to participate in the profession despite their qualifications is a dominant issue for young women studying architecture. Compare this with their peers in other professions, who are mainly concerned with minimizing the possibility of reaching a glass ceiling. In fact, this text looks beyond its own borders to the lives and work of women in medicine, engineering, and law, to develop a framework that parallels existing investigations of women's professional work in these fields. To date, such considerations of women's work limited their research to the architectural profession. Usually women's contributions and their status were established by and positioned in relation to their male counterparts' and framed by an organizational structure similarly imposed through their longtime dominance of the profession. For example, previous comparisons have been made between men and women who have achieved and/or maintained registration, a necessary status required by the profession in order to practise legally as an architect, yet many men, and more women, have opted out of this process over the course of their working lives. Such analyses of participation are often compared provincially and nationally throughout North America and/or abroad. Rarely, as these writers note, do these examinations tackle questions of cultural, social, and political relations invested in practices of the architectural profession. Where, they imply, do issues of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability, and age enter into discussions of daily working conditions and professional advancement?
As suggested by the title, the text has dual intentions: to literally reflect the careers and lives of female designers, and to question how the diversity of constraints placed upon their careers has "designed" the position of women in the architectural profession in Canada. …