Robert A.M. Stern on Women in Architecture


In recent days, a short clip of Yale architecture dean (and, yes, Bush library architect) Robert Stern has been making the twitter and email rounds. In the video, the dean first mumbles a bit, as if the question, “Why are there so few women architects?”, is too big to answer. In mere milliseconds, without stopping to consider his own suitability to answer the question, he plods on. The vid landed in almost no time in the Archinect news, and then on Susan Surface’s Yale blog, where you can catch a spirited discussion responding to Stern and to the general problem of male domination in the profession. It’s not always an enlightened discussion but interesting nonetheless. (NB: Thinking about the upcoming panel on blogging in architecture–plug!–I wonder how much the so-called democracy of the web is only a means of reproducing the power structure already embodied in the thoughts emitted by Mr Stern. It’s amazing how many respondents actually stop to ponder the thesis itself that Stern lobs that childbearing and architecture don’t mix).

In any case, assuming that Stern didn’t have much more to say on the matter after the director decided to cut, it’s a notable clip because of how an elder statesMAN of the profession employs nature (childbearing) to explain and coat social relations (sexism, favoritism, etc), and not to mention, a looong history of male domination. Without going into it much more for now, let’s start the day with a bit of a reflection on male domination from Pierre Bourdieu, shall we? Although I think he reduces the domestic sphere too much, note Bourdieu’s emphasis on schools as sites of reproduction of what then goes on in “private worlds.”

The basis for the perpetuation of this relationship of domination does not really reside (or at least not principally) in one of the more visible places in which it is exercised – in other words, within the domestic sphere, on which some feminist debate has concentrated its attention – but in locations such as the school, or the state, which function as places for the elaboration and imposition of principles of domination which go on to be exercised even within the most private of worlds. Recognition of this fact opens up a huge field of action for feminist struggles, which are thus called upon to take an original and decisive place within political struggles against all forms of domination.

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