Pioneers of Architecture Criticism: 5 Women Who Are Shaping the Built Environment Through Words

Playtime movie (Jaques Tati 1967) . Image via screenshot

Architecture criticism and journalism are often expected to announce “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in architecture and the built environment. Its purposes go however further than that. As Michael Sorkin put it, “seeing beyond the glittering novelty of form, it is criticism’s role to assess and promote the positive effects architecture can bring to society and the wider world”. In other words, by telling us what they are seeing, critics are also showing us where to look in order to identify and address the issues plaguing our built environment.

The field of architecture journalism has been led by female writers even in times when the pursuit of a career in architecture was discouraged and inaccessible for women. Ada Louise Huxtable established the profession of architecture journalism by holding the first full-time position of architecture critic at a general-interest American newspaper. In 1970, she also received the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Esther McCoy started her career as a draughtswoman at an architecture office, yet, because of her gender, she was discouraged from training as a professional architect despite her ambitions to study the field. Through her writings, she managed to bring attention to the overlooked architectural scene of the American West Coast and advocate for the values of regional Modernism.

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