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Sisters aren't doing it for themselves

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Cast your mind back 18 months, to October 1996, when an architectural award, the 'Jane Drew Prize', was proposed by the riba Women's Group. Financially backed by the Art Council, it was intended to highlight the success of women within architecture:

'In parallel with the 50:50 Seminar which focuses on encouraging women to chose architecture as a career, we have initiated a new award in architecture that will highlight the success of women within the profession.' (50:50 Press Release, 8 October 1996)

'The Arts Council is to back the new award proposed by the riba Women Architects Group to promote women in architecture.' (bd, 11 October 96)

Today, however, as we approach the announcement of the first-ever recipient, we notice that the fundamental aim of this new award has radically changed. From being an award for women, the remit of the selection criteria has shifted to acknowledge the diversified nature of contemporary architectural practice. The interest is in so-called 'freshness'. This appears to be about recognising the importance of collaboration in the field of architecture.

Quite what this means remains shrouded. When the question of collaboration was raised at the ica, of the short-listed contenders - artist, Martin Richman; collaborative architecture and art practice, Fat (Fashion, Architecture, Taste); landscape architect, Kathryn Gustafson; and consultant/facilitator/commissioner Jane Priestman - only Fat was able to respond. It seems that 'mum's the word'. When the organisers were questioned about their original intention, some stood dumb-struck. When asked whether it was an award to promote women within the profession, once again, surprised silence.

Far from specifically representing women's contribution to architecture, it appears that any Tom, Dick or Harriet will do. Indeed, any 'other' will do. We suggest that this muddled mess demonstrates the ineffectiveness of groups internal to the profession to challenge the status quo. That the title of the award is the Jane Drew prize seems sadly inconsequential. If Fat or Martin wins, then the issue of women will have been eradicated entirely. If Jane or Kathryn wins, it will stress that the role of women involved in architecture is not as architects, but as 'others'. It is good to see a profession looking backward to fruitful years of patriarchy to come.


London EC1

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