Women in Architecture association in Portugal: women builders, thinkers and inhabitants of territories

Women in Architecture association in Portugal: women builders, thinkers and inhabitants of territories

Articolo di Lia Gil Antunes (Associação Mulheres na Arquitectura (MA) / Women in Architecture association, Lisbon – Portugal)

Women have always been compromised with the construction of better ways of inhabiting the world. Involved in struggles for pleasant neighborhoods and decent homes for everyone – and, ultimately, for planet earth’s care. Women occupy private spaces since ever but also public and community spaces – although with different uses and permanence with respect to men. And they also draw and construct them.

Women have a voice; however, they are not heard or considered, represented or referenced – in public administrations, urban planning, in professions related to the built environment or simply as citizens. Despite hiding in the discourse of (a false) neutrality, architectural field is also a mirror reflecting social, cultural, political and professional gender inequalities – it became obvious to see with feminist glasses (and, once used, they are impossible to remove). Understanding architecture and urbanism with gender mainstreaming demands a consequent development.

In Portugal, due to the invisibility of women and in response to evident decades of silence and erasure, Mulheres na Arquitecturai (MA) association was born on 16th June 2017 by the union of nine womenii from different areas, within the architecture and urban actions. It privileges the interweaving of disciplines related to physical and social spaces, from architecture (landscape, interior design), to urbanism, sociology, anthropology, geography, design or engineering. The aims of the collective are reflection, research, communication, training and dissemination within the scope of gender equity in the various practices involved in making architecture, city and territory. Among other national networks, MA integrates Plataforma Portuguesa para os Direitos da Mulheresiii, Rede DLBC Lisboa (Desenvolvimento Local de Base Comunitária)iv and consolidates essential partnerships also outside Portugalv.

The cross between research/practice/activism is taking place within broad thematic and methodological frameworks, which are necessarily interlinked, ramified and extended to other emerging themes. In its first years, MA are focusing in two main issues: (i) women’s history and conditions in architectural professions, and (ii) feminist strategies to build and to think about territories, cities, public and private spaces.

Other stories: history and conditions of women in the architectural profession

In Portugal, only in the 1940s of the twentieth century female architects entered in the profession, with the graduation of female pioneers Maria José Brito Estanco (1905-1999) and Maria José Marques da Silva (1914-1994). Two contemporary women architects with different life paths, who opened the doors of an exclusively masculine world for too long and with profound consequences in the profession. Between 1950-60s, period during the dictatorship, Portuguese female architects would be redirected to education or remain in the profession in partnerships, especially in their husband’s shadow. Such reality would condition female architects’ individualization and representativeness. The 1974’s Carnation Revolution brought some achievements to them, as the right to vote without any restrictions or discrimination. Coinciding with the arrival of democracy in the country, there was an evident increase in the professionalization of women (Pedrosa, 2010), also in architecture. Despite the increasing presence of women in the professions related to the built environment, at the end of the twentieth century and even more in the first decades of the twenty-first century, they remain out of public recognition, prizes, top positions and architectural design teaching.

Towards such conjuncture and the existence of forces seeking to maintain unbalanced power relations, MA aims to fill the gap in the history of Portuguese architecture through the historical and disciplinary revalidation of the role and contributions of women in the fields related to architecture. Writing this (other) history means highlight protagonists’ names and works, creating (collective and individual) biographiesvi, and revealing strategies of resistance and empowerment. Building references as well as fluid and broader disciplinary identities will create new expectations for younger generations of (female and male) architects. Although there is an increase in the feminization of the profession, old practices are still present. Gender equality achievement must be transmitted and worked out in educational institutions and female architects must also unite in order to challenge the lack of visibility of their work.

With the support of Portuguese Architects’ Association, Gender Equality Commission (CIG) and Presidency of the Portuguese Republic, MA organized monthly discussion events entitled Arquitectas: Modo(s) de (Re)Existirvii, between September 2017 and March 2018 at São Luiz Theater in Lisbon. Each session was dedicated to a theme, commented and reflected by a group of invited Portuguese female architects and moderated by a MA’s member. Diverse edges of architectural professions were considered, from different meanings of the profession to architectural design and works, research and teaching, expanding practices and politics. A special session “Women | Architecture | Re:evolution” with Rosa T. Sheng closed the panel. Finally, the reflection and evaluation of these moments were registered in a homonymous publication (Antunes, Lages, & Pedrosa, 2018)viii. With Lisbon Roca Gallery’s support, similar events continued in 2018-2019: Espaço para Arquitetasix provides time and space for presentations of architectural designs and works made by women. The aim is to hear and to give space and prominence to women, in their individual trajectories and collective struggles, contributing to the construction of historical memory and a more egalitarian future. In addition to questioning the dominant discourse and culture, the visibility of other realities is conquered – normally not named, not recognized – by giving them the deserved place. So, they can finally exist.

Other Look at the Territory: The Feminist Perspective Applied to Different Scales

The beginning of the 21st century has witnessed the advance of the neoliberal discourse based on systems of domination: the combination between capitalism, colonialism, and (hetero) patriarchy (Santos, 2018). The unbalanced relations of power determine and extend themselves, consequently, to the configuration of spaces. Cities and urban spaces also create inequities in access to resources, services and the full enjoyment of social, economic, and cultural rights – the gender issue is transversal to all of them. Looking at the territory with feminist intersectional lensesx deconstructs what is offered as natural and unavoidable: the invisibility of part of the population (according to gender, race, country of origin, age, physical capacity, among other identity axes) is a consequence of how current social structure is internalized and how the domination and privileges system is normalized. Feminist urbanism argues space is not politically neutral but configured from values and norms of society that establish limits (social and spatial) and that its physical form contributes to the perpetuation of privileges (Sánchez de Madariaga, 2004). It also means to break with space normality, insofar as it is destined to a “standard person” – which corresponds to a white man, approximately 1.70m of height, worker, heterosexual, middle class, and consumer.

MA’s approaches are based on research and production of feminist discourses and actions on architecture and urbanism: it means to rethink collectively private and public spaces and to achieve other ways of thinking and making city, based on co-creation and co-design. Such strategies are linked both to the micro-scale (everyday routines, places and memories) and to wider territory’s macro-scales, based on complicity, commitment and collaboration. Feminist intersectional spatial strategies work around two main ideas: (i) the inclusion of daily life needs and care and non-paid work routinesxi in urban planning; and (ii) the visibility of real urban experiences and needs of the diversity of girls and women alikexii. (Muxí Martinez, Casanovas, Ciocoletto, & Gutiérrez Valdivia, 2011) In this sense, the main methodological tool is the transformative community participation (decision making, advisory, and executive) with a gender focus. The engagement of girls and women, as accumulators of knowledge about each territory, must be present throughout all phases of the project – from urban analysis and diagnosis to the design of proposals; from the evaluation of each stage of the process to final result and subsequent monitorization. Empowering women to make public decisions will strengthen self-esteem (individual and collective), commitments and co-responsibility.

Concerning urban planning with gender mainstreaming, a complex mesh of urban variables must be emphasized: among others, (i) the access and permanence in the public space, (ii) mobility, and (iii) violence against girls and women alike, and the feeling of safety in the public spaces. Women and men live differently urban spaces, they make different uses of public space (often related to gender roles and stereotypes) and their permanence is also uneven. Public and collective spaces, equipment and services must be complex and flexible in functions, uses and schedules for different people, so that everyone feels welcome. Regarding mobility, there are significant gender inequalities. The democratic level of a territory can be measured by the level of freedom of movement of the population at its different territorial scales. The urban mesh, and its multiple polarities, and mobility and transports network can contribute to, or hinder, the reconciliation of different responsibilities and daily routines. In fact, women have a more conditionalized mobility that limits both their opportunities to enjoy public goods and spaces, and the possibilities to participate in the labor market and in the public life in general. (Monteiro & Ferreira, 2016a)

Gender violence is a reality common to girls and women, with different forms and intensities in different physical and social spaces – in domestic, private, or public spaces. It conditions female freedom and self-determination and contributes to the perception of insecurity and fear of women, based on the consciousness of the sexualized body. (Monteiro & Ferreira, 2016b) The continuous exposure to these experiences has implications in the female urban experience; it influences the way they move, inlight of women’s perceptions of safety, and of how they adapt to the fear they have accumulated throughout life. When a girl rethinks her urban path because of feelings of insecurity, it is a limitation of human rights conditioning the right to the city, which therefore affects life’s quality and the possibility of fulfilling personal projects. A safe urban environment should be characterized by (i) being visible (by seeing and being seen); (ii) watched (informally, with access to assistance and with the presence of diverse people and local shops); (iii) equipped (planning and maintenance of the site); (iv) signalized (to know the location and the route); (v) vital (community participation); and (vi) communitarian (to hear and to be heard). (Paquin, 2002) Such phenomena require careful attention and problematization, avoiding security solutions and self and collective surveillances that undermining women’s autonomyxiii.

Inequality and privileged conditions are translated also into territories and to rethink cities for everyone and for daily life implies altering radically the way of making collective urban spaces, incorporating subjects hitherto absent in the urban project. In Portugal is essential to delineate alternative education perspectives and policies in urban planning with a gender focus, applied both to large urban agglomerations and to peripheral territories. MA have been defining some action guidelines, such as (i) a debate called Mulheres, raparigas e o direito ao espaço público em LX’xiv with Lisbon City Council candidacies, (ii) workshops and a summer school about women, gender and citiesxv, and (iii) an educational and architectural project called Um Género de Escola!xvi.

MA wants to be a polyphonic space, putting together identities, memory, (individual and collective) history and diverse professional models related to the built environment. To bring concerns, experiences and realities of girls and women’s lives – professionals and citizensis essential for expanding practices and inclusive territories. Priority is given to co-sharing, co-creation, co-distribution, co-formulation of more empathic relationships with the environment, diverting from normalized values. The ambition is putting lives in the center of each project’s process: living the emotions from other places, to take care, to listen about what each woman feels in spaces they inhabit, to share experiences so often common. In other words, the construction of fairer and healthier territories for the people (human beings and nonhumans), and the elaboration of inclusive proposals, representative of cultural, social and political diversity.

i Women in Architecture.

ii MA’s Founders: Ana Catarino, Ana Jara, Joana Braga, Joana Pestana Lages, Lia Gil Antunes, Luísa Paiva, Patrícia Santos Pedrosa, Rita Ochoa e Sofia Castelo.

iii # Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights (PpDM) is an association with a social, cultural and feminist nature, whose members are NGO for the Rights of Women (http://plataformamulheres.org.pt/).

iv # Lisbon DLBC Network (Local Development with Comunnity Base) was created with the objective of implementing an innovative cogeneration model of the territory of the city of Lisbon through the implementation of local development plans (http://rededlbclisboa.pt/).

v # For instance, MA integrates the global campaign #TimeFor50 with Rebel Architette, Arquitectas Colombianas – Arquitectas.co, MoMoWo – Women’s Creativity Since the Modern Movement, ArchiteXX, Parlour: women, equity, architecture, VOW Voices of Women Architects, WPS Prague and Heminas: against all male panels and advocating for gender equality panels, jury members, lecturers, among others.

vi # The recently started research project w@arch.pt Women architects in Portugal: building visibility, 1942-1986 (coordinated by Patrícia Santos Pedrosa and Lia Gil Antunes as research fellow, CIEG-ISCSP) propose the identification of Portuguese female architects in architectural practices, research and teaching – who?, when?, and how? are the main questions. Financial support of FCT/MCTES through national funds and, when applicable, co-financed by the FEDER, under the new partnership agreement PT2020. More information at: http://cieg.iscsp.ulisboa.pt/investigacao/projetos/projetos-em-curso/item/536-warch-pt

vii # Female architects: Mode(s) of (Re)Exist.

viii # Book edited by Patrícia Santos Pedrosa, Joana Pestana Lages and Lia Gil Antunes, composed of articles written by: Célia Gomes, Cláudia Da Costa Santos, Filipa Roseta, Inês Moreira, Luz Valente-Pereira, Patrícia Santos Pedrosa, Paula Melâneo, Rita Ochoa, Rosa T. Sheng, Annelise Peezje, Lia Gil Antunes, Luísa Paiva, Patrícia Robalo and Sofia Castelo.

ix # Space for women architects. These events started in Roca Galleries of Madrid and Barcelona. See, for instance: https://www.roca.es/donde-encontrarnos/exposicion/ferias-y-eventos/eventos/espacios-arquitectas-bcn. In Lisbon, four sessions happened: (1) November 14, 2018, with Patrícia Santos Pedrosa, Paula Miranda, Célia Gomes and Helena Botelho; (2) December 12, 2018, with Martha Thorne, Malin Åberg-Wennerholm and Odile Decq; (3) February 7, 2019, with Patrícia Santos Pedrosa, Catarina Almada Negreiros and Rita Almada Negreiros; and (4) March 8, 2019, with Joana Pestana Lages and Leda Machado. See, for instance, the forth Portuguese event at: https://www.facebook.com/events/616749865456882/

x # The Intersectional Theory or Intersectionality of Feminisms examines how different biological, social, and cultural categories oppress and diminishes, at multiple levels and simultaneously, the diversity of women. The term “intersectionality” was developed in the context of political cases by the African American lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw: the concept emerges to evidence the obliteration of black women, considering that discrimination based on race and gender operates in mutually exclusive ways (Crenshaw, 1989).

xi # Reproductive and domestic sphere are not a biological capacity of women and they are essential for the maintenance of life; therefore, they must be shared, social considerer and publicly accountable, contributing to women’s self-determination.

xii # Going beyond the prevailing discourse on ‘equality’ focuses primarily on equality for middle-class white women and realizing that spaces are not lived in the same way by an elderly woman living alone, by a young student, by a mother, a migrant woman, etc.

xiii # In opposition to women’s safety as one of the key agenda point of current far-right parties across Europe, as protectors of women and children in the face of a perceived threat of sexual violence perpetrated by migrant men, predominantly of Muslim backgrounds.

xiv # Women, girls and the right to the public space in Lisbon. Because of municipal elections in Portugal, a debate (September 21, 2017, Casa do Brasil in Lisbon) underlined women and girls’ concrete problems in the city they inhabit, work, study, circulate or visit: from housing to education, from work to leisure, from safety in public space to the systemic problem sexual violence, public transport access to culture (event co-created by MA and Women Without Borders Portugal association). See, for instance, https://www.facebook.com/events/183769862164852/

xv # Workshops in Lisbon (March 24, 2018) and Setúbal (April 28, 2019), the first one opened only to women, the second to every person interested in the theme. Those events were structured by a conversation with evaluation of several spaces and paths of the daily life of each person and an exploratory march in the public space with a role-play system (living the city in the body of another woman). MA is currently preparing workshops about urbanism with gender perspective (oriented to municipal technicians, NGO members and universities, from six Portuguese cities, with the financial support of CIG) and also a Summer School called Cidade e Género: Perspectivas e estratégias/City and Gender: Perspectives and strategies (September 2019, Lisbon, organized by Ma and CIEG-ISCSP).

xvi # Gendered School, coordinated by Joana Pestana Lages, aims to deconstruct gender-based patterns from a space young people know well, the school. The learning of these themes is tested by their own experience, creating a facilitated empathic relationship. Starting from the schoolyard as the first central place of socialization, gender equality will be promoted, culminating in a co-designed and co-constructed physical intervention, and the elaboration of an intervention manual. Two pilot projects (Gil Vicente and Patrício Prazeres Schools, both in Lisbon) are funded by the BIP/ZIP program – Districts and Zones of Priority Intervention of the Municipality of Lisbon – for 12 months (beginning on September 25, 2018) (https://www.facebook.com/Um-G%C3%A9nero-de-Escola-421810571890681/).




Bibliographic references

Antunes, L. G., Lages, J. P., & Pedrosa, P. S. (Eds.). (2018). Arquitectas: Modo(s) de (R)existir. Reflexões a partir de um ciclo de conversas. Lisboa: Mulheres na Arquitectura.
Monteiro, R., & Ferreira, V. (Eds.). (2016a, June). LGE Local Gender Equality / Guia para a Integração a Nível Local da Perspetiva de Género na Mobilidade e Transportes. Retrieved from http://lge.ces.uc.pt/files/LGE_mobilidade_e_transportes_digital.pdf
Monteiro, R., & Ferreira, V. (Eds.). (2016b, June). LGE Local Gender Equality / Guia para a Integração a Nível Local da Perspetiva de Género na Segurança e Prevenção da Violênica no Espaço Público. CES – Centro de Estudo Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra.
Muxí Martinez, Z., Casanovas, R., Ciocoletto, M. F., & Gutiérrez Valdivia, B. (2011). ¿Qué aporta la perspectiva de género al urbanismo? Feminismo/s, Alicante: Centro de Estudios de La Mujer, (17), 105–129.
Paquin, S. (2002). Pour un environnement urbain sécuritaire: guide d’aménagement (A. Michaud, Ed.). Retrieved from http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/pls/portal/docs/page/femmes_ville_fr/media/documents/Guide_amenagement_environnement_urbain_securitaire.pdf
Pedrosa, P. S. (2010, March 18). Being a Female Architect in Portugal: A short Introduction to a Long Road. 234–240. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/949145/Being_a_female_architect_in_Portugal_a_short_introduction_to_a_long_ride?auto=download
Sánchez de Madariaga, I. (2004). Urbanismo con perspectiva de género. Retrieved from https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/libro?codigo=258897
Santos, B. S. (2018, September 14). Os três Ds de Boaventura: Descolonizar, Desmercantilizar e Democratizar [Vídeo Youtube]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MhE-OaBBss&t=2100s


Lia Gil Antunes (1988)

Lia is a woman, feminist, architect, researcher and activist. Graduated from the University of Coimbra with the master’s thesis Architecture: feminine noun. Contribution to a History of Women in Architecture (2012), exploring both the absence of women as well as feminist movements in the architecture. She worked in some architectural offices, namely Recetas Urbanas (Seville) and Formas Efémeras (Covilhã). Co-founder of Mulheres na Arquitectura association / MA (Women in Architecture in Portuguese), she is also developing her PhD thesis (University of Coimbra) on urbanism and feminist practices and she is a research fellow in the ongoing research project w@arch.pt – Women architects in Portugal: building visibility, 1942-1986. Main interests: Feminists and gender studies, participatory processes, Portuguese architecture, History and Theory. E-mail: liapantunes @ gmail.com