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Campaigners nominate leading women for RIBA Royal Gold Medal

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Amanda Levete and Kate Macintosh are among nominees for the 2020 RIBA Royal Gold Medal put forward thanks to a campaign to raise awareness of women in architecture

Part W, an action group of women working across architecture, design, infrastructure and construction campaigning for gender parity in the built environment, is encouraging people to nominate women to receive the award ahead of the deadline for submissions later this month.

Since its inception in 1848, only one woman has received the Gold Medal in her own right – the late Zaha Hadid in 2016.

So far the nominations being progressed, of which Part W is aware, are: 2018 Jane Drew Prize-winner Amanda Levete by Weston Williamson founder Chris Williamson; Kate Macintosh by Tibbalds director Hilary Satchwell; Denise Scott Brown by architect Sarah Wigglesworth; and Eva Jiřičná by former AJ editor Christine Murray.

Also put forward are Sharon Egretta Sutton, the first African American woman in the USA to become a full professor of architecture, who was nominated by RIBA Council member Yẹmí Àlàdérun; Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, nominated by Harriet Harriss, who is due to take up her new role as dean of the School of Architecture at the Pratt Institute later this month; and Yasmeen Lari, nominated by Alisha Morenike, co-founder of Black Females in Architecture.

As well as campaigning for nominations, Part W has created an alternative Royal Gold Medal list to highlight the unrecognised women since 1848 who made an important contribution to architecture. It is seeking help in filling in gaps, particularly for the 19th century (see below).

Eva Jiricna

Eva Jiřičná who was nominated for the Royal Gold Medal by former AJ editor Christine Murray

Source: Theodore Wood

Eva Jiřičná who was nominated for the Royal Gold Medal by former AJ editor Christine Murray

Group founder Zoë Berman, of Studio Berman, said: ‘Looking back through history, revealing the many incredible women who have been overlooked, is an immensely important step in raising awareness about the contribution that has been made to architecture by women. That women have been cut out of awards systems and overlooked is a form of erasure.

‘Looking forward, we want to make change – to see women being properly recognised, included and their efforts given respect and value, equally and fairly. Calling for people to take the time and make the effort to nominate, is, we believe, a positive way of generating debate around this issue.’

A RIBA spokesperson said: ’We are not able to share any details about Royal Gold Medal 2020 submissions at this stage, not least because nominations are still open.

‘We are keen that nominations recognise a diverse pool of distinguished talent and urge people to make their submissions by the end of the month.’

Harriss, a Part W member, is nominating Matrix, founded in 1980, in part because it was one of the first architecture groups in the UK to explicitly call themselves feminist. She said: ‘They were willing to make a claim for feminism’s ability to make a contribution to spatial design and they did that knowing it would isolate them, and they had a backlash.’

Harriss said that the Gold Medal ‘overemphasises the “primacy of the individual”’. Matrix took a collaborative approach that included the community they were serving. ‘They wanted to demonstrate that really significant works of architecture could be more efficiently produced if it was done collaboratively and co-operatively without a hierarchical structure,’ she said.

She added that Matrix designed for people not being represented by the profession: women, and particularly mothers, and disabled people, as evidenced in their work on projects such as nurseries and women’s centres.

The latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, released last month includes the lives of leading figures among the first generation of women to practise as architects in Britain. They include women who became architects in the 1920s and 1930s following the shift from pupillage to training in schools of architecture after the First World War.

Curator Elizabeth Darling, reader in architectural history at Oxford Brookes University, says in the introduction that the women’s ‘feminism underpinned a concern to improve society through architecture’.

The new additions include (Edith) Gillian Cooke, who was among the first intake of women to the Architectural Association School in 1917 and helped set up RIBA’s Women’s Committee in 1932.

(Rose) Elisabeth Benjamin was one of the few women members of the Modern Architectural Research (MARS) Group, while Irene Turberville Barclay became the first woman to qualify as a chartered surveyor with the Surveyors’ Institution.

Darling said the newly-researched lives ‘contribute to the process of reiterating how long women have been active and influential as practitioners of architecture’.

Part W: alternative Gold Medal list (a work in progress)

Part w alternative riba royal gold medal

Part w alternative riba royal gold medal

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