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The Smithsons: true partners in practice and in life


Peter Smithson, who died last week, will be remembered as a theorist and an architect of extraordinary vision.

And as a man who was both willing and able to share his professional life - and, crucially, his reputation - with his equally talented wife.To dwell on the Smithsons' domestic arrangements seems, at one level, to trivialise the significance of their (particularly serious) body of work.Yet the apparently seamless coexistence of the Smithsons'professional and private partnerships remains a rarity, and an important example to those who are preoccupied with the continuing shortage of women within the profession.

Since architects spend their 'pairing off 'years cooped up in architecture departments, and since they tend to be obsessive about architecture and oblivious to anything else, the chances of them marrying each other are high.This means that a reasonable percentage of the 'missing'- women who study architecture but never make it to Part 3 - are likely to be married to an architect themselves.Like the Smithsons, who met as students at the same school of architecture, they set out as equals, with similar ambitions and concerns.But while the Smithsons'working relationship survived fame, parenthood and the advent of old age, most rapidly descend - or develop? - into more differentiated roles.

For women (and men) who seek to resist the trend, role models are thin on the ground.The most celebrated husband-and-wife teams suffer from the general belief that the woman's role is predominantly supportive.

Even Denise Scott Brown has been forced into producing essays and lectures decrying the myth that her major contribution to the hugely influential Venturi Scott Brown oeuvre is her outstanding administrative skills.As far as I know, nobody ever said such a thing about Alison Smithson.They wouldn't dare. In terms of the gender debate, Alison's ultimate achievement was not simply to operate as an architect in a maledominated profession, but to reconcile the roles of successful architect and architect's wife.The flip side, of course, is that Peter Smithson was willing to be an architect's husband as well as an architect himself.

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