Assemble have been commissioned by Phaidon to author the book Breaking Ground, which presents a visual survey of architecture designed by women since 1900 to the present day.
Featuring more than 200 individual buildings, the book includes the work of well-known pioneers such as Lina Bo Bardi, Alison Smithson, Jane Drew and Charlotte Perriand as well as contemporary architects including Elizabeth Diller, Jeanne Gang, Amanda Levete, Sandra Barclay and Carla Juaçaba among others. Despite the impressive nature of the work produced by the women architects that we do know about, however, the research showed that we shouldn’t simply trust the visibility of a few as an obvious signifier of progress.
The striking invisibility in a mainstream context of women working past and present across the African continent, and in Central and Southeast Asia particularly, made this book difficult to research. Such an imbalance in representation reinforces the notion that the acceptance of women in architectural practice is conditional on location and shaped by a colonial legacy.
What is at stake, then, is the issue of how easy it is for women to become lost in the various structures that govern how architecture is produced and then communicated. This book argues that we must find other forms of representation and other types of language with which to talk about becoming a woman in design, advancing the call for alternative approaches to architecture that seek out difference without negating the significance of the work of women involved in practices that do conform to the status quo.
Breaking Ground therefore takes inspiration from those such as the Sri Lankan Modernist, Minnette de Silva, who in self-defining as an ‘Asian Woman Architect’, focused attention on the intersection of her gender and geographic origins. Her approach is one that we must admire; at a time when the world is being torn apart by identity politics, the simple act of acknowledging women as authors of buildings, and the spaces in which they do this, is itself a necessary political act.