Reviewed June 2018
Pioneering Women of American Architecture
Anina E. Rossen, Independent Architectural Historian and Librarian
Pioneering Women of American Architecture is an amazing resource, and perhaps one of the only to feature information on the contribution of women to American architecture. This website offers a comprehensive view of twenty-four women who were major contributors to the field before 1940, a time at which the field of architecture was largely closed off to women. These women broke both gender and racial barriers to pursuing architecture as a profession. This online source featuring in-depth profiles is a project of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to advance “the knowledge and recognition of women’s contributions to architecture."
A jury of prominent architectural historians selected the women featured in this collection and the depth of research and evaluation that has culminated in this resource is evident. Pioneering Women of American Architecture includes women of diverse backgrounds and those whose names are both familiar and obscure, even within the field.
One’s interaction with the site begins with a brief introduction that establishes the context, provides background on the project, and the vision of the directors Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner. Three navigational options allow users to interact with the content by name in alphabetical order, by chronology (the years range from the birth of Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer in 1851 to the current day, with the most contemporary woman Susan Abel Maxman born in 1938), or through a pictorial view. These choices make the content accessible to a variety of potential users and available through different avenues of exploration. Users can find information on a specific architect or discover others through more general browsing capabilities. This three-prong access to the content is highly effective and engaging. The chronological view, in particular, provides an analysis of the women featured that would be beneficial to users. The site does not provide a search feature, which would be helpful in allowing users to search by keyword for terms such as those relating to architectural styles, firms, and locations of works.
The design of the site is bold and warm, yet clean and modern, in white, terracotta, beige, and black, which seems well suited to the barrier-breaking and progressive work of the women featured. Though there were numerous authors, the overall writing style is uniform and concise, packing in-depth historical research on the architects’ early lives and careers, into comprehensive, yet relatively brief essays. Each profile also contains an introductory overview that includes details about their careers, education, publications, and projects; bibliographical resources; and images of both the architect and their works. Many of the photographic portraits capture the pioneering spirit of the architects. Links to bibliographical resources and publications are provided when possible.
Access to this resource is open to all, making it a valuable tool for both education and research in the field of architectural history. Overall, the design and presentation of this resource are linear, easy to navigate, and suited for scholars, students, and those with a general interest. It serves as both a resource on these women as well as a bibliographical resource for this era. Only with significant effort could one create such a well-designed, comprehensive and fact-intensive, copiously footnoted, yet pleasantly readable view into the lives and careers of these extraordinary pioneering women.