LA Forum interviewed Lori Brown, co-founder of Architexx, a group dedicated to transforming the architecture profession for women. Lori is also co-organizer of the exhibit “Now What?! Advocacy Activism and Alliances in American Architecture Since 1968” (along with Andrea Merrett, Sarah Rafson and Roberta Washington). Now What?! is on view at WUHO in Hollywood through October 15th, with LA Forum as a co-sponsor of the traveling exhibition. Lori Brown is an architect, author and associate professor at Syracuse University. Brown’s work focuses particularly on the relationships between architecture and social justice issues, specifically, gender and its impact upon spatial relationships.
The Now What? exhibition not only looks back at the past 50 years of activism and change in the architecture and design professions, but it also suggests ways forward. How were you able to balance being, on one hand, an archival project, and on the other, a provocation for the future?
Now What?! was inspired by both our research on activist groups of the 70s, 80s, and 90s and recent alliance building efforts that have been taking place. Around the time we formed ArchiteXX, in 2012 or so, we noticed a spike in activism and interest among younger designers in regards to questions of gender in the profession. The problem was that few, if any of these young designers, were aware of any activist efforts that had happened decades ago. Becoming aware of the history of activism within the discipline also lets people know that they are not alone — earlier generations have been working to make architecture more diverse, more politically responsive and a more equitable profession. For example, finding out about the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture —an alternative institution that fused feminist principles and architectural curricula—was a complete shock. Or, that in 1975 women in the AIA had called out the systemic inequities they were experiencing in order to move the profession to become more equitable. We think that learning about these efforts from the past emboldens today’s initiatives.
You mentioned that the version of the exhibition in Los Angeles will have added material that wasn’t in the at Pratt Institute installation – can you give us a preview of what that additional content is?
We’ve picked up some new content from our programming in New York that will be on view here for the first time. That includes new videos from Housing Works History, a project by Gavin Browning and Laura Hanna, who interviewed the architects who worked with Act Up! Activists to develop housing for AIDS victims since 1990. We also included videos from the media archive of Sci-Arc, including two videos of panel discussions from 1976, one addressing “Minorities in Architecture,” and another on “Women in Architecture.” It’s amazing to look back on how much has changed, and yet how many issues remain the same. Those are just a couple of examples. Throughout the month, L.A. organizations will be meeting in the space, and helping contribute to the content, and we invite visitors to do so in the gallery as well. We look forward to adding more stories from L.A. as the exhibition travels!
What has surprised you most through the curatorial or collaborative process?
One of the most surprising realizations thus far through our collaboration, the exhibition’s content and its curation is how intertwined and interconnected movements are. Yet, when we first learn of a group or work on a particular issue, we typically learn about them as singular efforts, placing them essentially in silos. For example, profiling the feminist activists who were also involved in gay liberation movements of the 1970s, or the women of the National Organization of Minority Architects who claimed space for themselves in order to have a larger voice in the profession were happening simultaneously yet these histories are rarely discussed together as being a part of the broader political and cultural movement. We believe that through examining the intersectionality of these histories and struggles side-by-side allows for new insights and connections to be made and further fostered. Through these new readings of history, we hope the future of architecture will be a more equitable, diverse and engaged profession that builds upon all those that have been committed to this for decades.