Interview with Agata Twardoch, author of “Architektki”

Agata Towardoch (Photo: Atelier Krijak)

There are many beautiful jobs in A: cleaning lady, akucharka. Why are you trying to become an architect? – Agata Towardoch recalls the words of one of the lecturers. But the problem is much broader. We talk with a professor at the Silesian University of Technology in the Department of Urban and Spatial Planning about the male world of architecture and whether women will design better cities. Her book “Architektki” will be published on May 18.

This book is made of anger Agata Towardoch says of “architects”. – The anger was not on anyone in particular, but on the world, social relations, and how we are treated, because of course this does not affect me alone. Many students, PhD students, and fellow architects tell me the same thing. I noticed a problem with the system and it annoyed me– He explains. As soon as the anger surfaced, it did not disappear. Hardoch didn’t want to be suppressed or ignored, because that would be frustrating. The only way that gave her a sense of agency and hope for change was to describe the problem.

Each year, architecture schools in Poland graduate more girls than boys – by 30 percent. at Warsaw University of Technology to nearly 60 percent at Białystok University of Technology, according to Bal Architektek, an initiative that addresses the topic of women in architecture. Despite this feature, the most famous architects are men. They appear in the industrial media quite often and often receive prestigious awards. According to Agata Twardoch, by 2020, the winners of the most important architectural award – the Pritzker Prize – were only three women: Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima and Carme Begem Barcelo, the last two of whom were members of two and three people. difference.

Sexism in the architecture industry is not new, it exists and is systemic – explains the professor, who invited 24 women of the most prominent architects in the world to the pages of her book, and gave them 19 interviews. They include Diane Davis of Harvard University, Carolina Boczek, who co-managed the Only If award-winning New York design studio, Ewa Kuriowicz, Marta Sokolska-Wrojska of WXCA, president of the Warsaw chapter of SARP, and Ekim Tan, founder of Play the City. advisory.

Agata Towardoch (Photo: Atelier Krijak)

Even they, despite their title and in their positions, are still sometimes presented at conferences as “Mrs. Agatka”, while the “Professor” addresses her before her. However, Agata Towardoch’s cup of bitterness was added by comment from a reviewer, an esteemed professor, in her qualifying thesis.. – In the place where I wrote about adapting a historic building into apartments, I noticed a contradiction that I described in the following words: “As an architect, I feel sorry for the building which has lost its historic character because balconies have been added, but as an urban planner, I am glad that there will be more apartments in Town centre “. The reviewer added, “As a woman, I fear that the balcony will be cleaned.”This is a level of discussion we should not allow ourselves to have. What’s worse, I know this professor doesn’t want to be mean, he thought it was a good joke – says the author of the book “Architektek”.

“Architect” paves the way for the prestige of the profession

The status of women in the world of architecture is well illustrated by language. – Bal Architektek suggested that the SARP name be replaced by the Association of Polish Architects and Architects. Several articles appeared on this subject in the industrial press, and the discussion in which took place was an expression of sacred indignation, as if we wanted to spoil something, almost sloppy. – says Towardoch.

Language constitutes consciousness, and this is undeniable – says the professor. – The problem is that the feminists that we have in the Polish professions are interested in the less well-known professions, that is, to put it bluntly, they are concerned with low wages. We easily pass through our mouths “kindergarten teacher”, “cleaner”, “teacher”, but when it comes to, for example, “professor” or “architect”, that is, classes that are considered outstanding, they arouse resistance. “It seems stupid,” he says, but this is a naive argument, because we know that language changes and in five years what today seems strange will seem normal – explain. Towardoch points out that some women also break from feminine forms. The worst thing is that they often subconsciously think that it will reduce their value.

Agata Towardoch (Photo: Atelier Krijak)

Do women design differently?

The subtitle of Agata Towardoch’s latest book is: Do Women Design Better Cities? – Opinions are divided as to whether there is a “female” architecture, because it all depends on a particular woman. However, it is certain that we have different experiences and different social roles, and this results not only from our lives, but from the entire cultural narrative, how women are thought and talked about and what their role was in the past. A thousand years – The professor explains. – Statistically, we are more empathetic and can listen better, and this can also translate to better architecture and urban planning. But since it’s just a cultural issue, it will change over time – Towardoch confirms. He says that in architects, you can see that they are not shy about being more careful and that when their idea doesn’t work in the face of reality, they often have no problem adjusting or adapting it to relevant requirements. – On the other hand, in the male image there is a conviction about his own infallibility, so the man often insists, adopting the attitude “I know and I know better” – The author of “Architektek” adds.

Does this mean that cities designed by women can be friendlier to residents? Research topics that architectural professionals deal with show they have a great relationship with holism, understanding needs, including the elderly and the disabled, and with various diseases. Researchers are looking at different groups of people and accounts of different races. It’s hard to say, of course, that when a woman starts designing, she will immediately improve, because we know that there is a huge gap between what is designed and what is ultimately created and is influenced by many factors. – Explains Towardoch.

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Experience shows that urban planners focus on removing architectural barriers and more green space. – The fact that women design friendly architecture or urban planning is also due to the fact that 50 percent of the users of this space are specifically women, and when they are underestimated in the total number of designers, it turns out that the needs of this half of society are not taken into account . Although it should be noted that often not because men were malicious and did not want to be taken into account, they simply did not realize it at all – Explains the professor. – Such an example, although widely discussed, but not yet corrected, is the issue of toilets, that is, there are very few stitches in women’s toilets. In theory, if you calculate it, it’s supposed to be true, it’s the same. But if we are talking about small things where there is only one eye, this is always a problem, because men do not take into account the fact that we, women, take more time for our dressing and personal hygiene, and that we do not have fast. Urinal service, which is that we often go to the toilet with a child or a frightened person. It is difficult to recognize this view from the outside – says the engineer.

One of the book’s characters is Eva Keil, an urban planner from Vienna, who deals with gender mainstreaming. – In fact, already in the 1990s I began to adapt the city to the needs of people of different sexes – says Towardoch. – An interesting example is the research conducted there on the percentage of women and girls who use its parks and sports facilities. It turns out that very little. Targeted social research has shown that this is because women are afraid of their entry. The gardens are fenced and have one gate and there are groups of boys who whistle and sometimes meet them – The engineer says: – Now all architecture students and students are required to use a wheelchair or wear glasses that simulate a serious eye defect, but it is still difficult to empathize with optics of a different sex.

Change in the foundations

Ewa Kuriovich, architect and academic lecturer, narrates in Towardoch’s book, as she once heard from her mother-in-law, Alina Kuriovich: “I could not work as an architect, but I will help you until you can.” Although she graduated in 1952, when she stayed with three children to support, she could not imagine working in this profession. Meanwhile, she knew her daughter-in-law would be just as difficult after a few decades. The profession of an architect remains a profession that cannot be reconciled with private life due to the time spent at work – more than 40 full-time hours per week.

However, changes are already looming. I noticed in the students something that was unimaginable when I graduated in the early 2000s: that they no longer wanted to work in a way that left no room for private life. You’re hearing more and more voices, from girls and boys alike, that life doesn’t have to be this way. You can also see that for the younger generation the equality issues are almost obvious, and they’ve been coded from the start – Agata Twardoch says and adds: – It is beautiful, although it is always a pity that it does not apply to the whole of society.

The book “Architektki. Will Women Design Better Cities?” Agata Twardoch will be published on May 18, 2022 by WAB Publishing House

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