BUILT BY WOMEN
Women's architecture has been an unsigned art - recorded in invisible ink. Architecture, our most visible three-dimensional art, is in some ways anonymous but equal for both sexes. All the same, traces of women's work had scarcely made it to the printed page a decade or so ago.Skip to next paragraph
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It took a ''Built by Women'' tour to introduce to many people the still walkable curves of the streets designed by Lady Deborah Moody for a Brooklyn village, done in 1656. (For her pains, Lady Moody won the label ''dangerous woman.'' It didn't help that she refused to have her children baptized before they reached the age of reason, one might add.)
The work of other, less socially strident designers who through the centuries would not be slotted into a ''woman's place'' - the hearth and the interior - have also been walked into consciousness or written into new histories and exhibitions lately, such as Susana Torre's landmark ''Women in Architecture,'' a book and show.
One of the agents most zealous in dogging this past and promoting the future of women architects is now celebrating its 10th anniversary with a tour of another sort. The New York-based Alliance of Women in Architecture (AWA) has mounted the work of 60 or so women architects on yellow boards as a traveling exhibition.
The show stops at Columbia University Feb. 15-26; the New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury, Long Island, in March; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, April 8-22, plus intermediate locations (schedule available from Nancy Vigneau, 140-50 Burden Crescent, Briarwood, N.Y. 11435), and at the headquarters of the American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C., next January.
Impromptu and sometimes oblique, the boards glut the eye and mind with a wealth of work that ranges from the detailing of a stairwell to notes on the Women's School of Planning and Architecture; from a top-of-the-heap academic post held by a woman to the drafting of ''an architectural costume ball.''
It shows women in corporate niches (Lenore M. Lucey at ABC) and housing administration (Lynda Simmons at Phipps Garden), women doing Victorian porch additions, and women doing Bell Labs.
Trends that define architecture also define this curatorial catchall of a show - and define women in the field. Women alone, paralleling smaller firms everywhere, have mixed jobs: Megan Lawrence in partnership with her husband has designed everything from offices and residences to a blimp hangar in New Jersey to mark the spot where the Hindenberg went down.
Unquestionably, in the show and in the field, such husband-wife teams fare better for women. A joint practice allows the luxury of child-rearing without permanent retirement. An architect for 20 years, Barbara Neski maintained her skills at home and returned to a shared practice.
She, like most women architects, recalls a decade of change for the good. ''It used to be that clients would discuss everything about the house with my husband,'' the architect recalls. ''Then it came time for the kitchen and they talked to me.'' Now clients and construction crews respond to her professionally.