The second Parlour Reading Room theme explores explores inclusivity and diversity within built environment professions, with readings by Denise Scott Brown, A. L. Hu, Marie-Louise Richards and Elsie Owusu. Supplementary materials invite you to delve deeper into the topic.

The thoughtful and considered Conversation with Kerstin Thompson and Marie-Louise Richards includes a discussion about roles of care in practice and the profession, and how this often falls to women. It’s essential work but is largely unpaid (by clients), invisible and under-appreciated.

As Marie-Louise Richards comments about her thoughts on reading Denise Scott Brown’s essay a few years ago –  “How have I never read this before? This is everything!”

Supplementary materials

  • Justine Clark, Sexism is still with usMAS Context, 2015.
    Approximate reading time: 10 mins
  • Khensani de Klerk, Dead Fish on the Beach, Matri-Arch, 2019.
    Approximate reading time: 15 mins
  • Despina Stratigakos, Why architects need feminism, Places Journal, September 2012.
    Approximate reading time: 15 mins

Notes for the book stack facilitator: Remind the group that this is an open and inclusive discussion that welcomes diverse opinions and perspectives, and is not a place for hostility or prejudice. 

Introductions – Book Stack facilitator to go first and pass around the group. Move through the questions as required, allowing other questions to arise naturally and allow everyone the opportunity to share.

  • In Denise Scott Brown’s Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture, she discusses architecture’s obsession with stardom and star-architects. Do you think that this kind of status affects inclusivity within the profession?
  • Do you feel that women and non-binary people in architecture have to become as “macho as the men” (Brown, 1989)  to survive in the discipline? Do you have any experiences of such behaviour being rewarded?
  • In their essay, A. L Hu propose the following questions to consider: 
    • What stereotypes about power do you believe when it comes to men, women, and other genders? 
    • Have you made assumptions about someone’s work ethic, personality, or politics based on what I perceived to be their age, gender, race or class? 
    • Do you listen to students, reports, consultants, and clients with the intent to understand, or to critique?
    • What would a conversation about inclusion beyond binaries—man/woman, supervisor/worker, professor/student—look like?
  • Marie-Louise Richards describes in her essay the experience of “lacking a sufficient or satisfactory vocabulary for addressing the effects” of race and architecture and the power of language to control and frame “ways in which we are able to speak and think within the current hegemony of whiteness” (Richards, p.40). Do you feel there are any intersectional vocabularies missing from your design/built environment profession?
  • Considering that “how we imagine spaces also depends on who is doing the imagining and what traditions, history, languages and mythologies they have inherited” (Richards, p 51). What spatial/design practices do you consider “normal and neutral, consider to be the universal” (Richard, p. 41)? How can you start to interrogate your own assumptions?

Our Reading Room conversationalists

Marie-Louise Richards

Marie-Louise Richards is an architect, lecturer and researcher at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. Her work explores invisibility as embodiment, a critical strategy and a spatial category through methods of architectural and artistic practice, curatorial practice, and writing. Recent work includes: Banana-Split: a (Black) Power Walk, short-film, part of Power Walk (Air) Mossutställningar/Public Art Agency Sweden (2020) Out of Line: Erasure and vulnerability as sites of subversion in, Archifutures: “Agency” Vol. 6 (2020), Hyper-visible Invisibility: Tracing the Politics, Poetics and Affects of the Unseen, in Field Journal: Becoming a Feminist Architect, Vol. 7(2017). She is part of the collaborative research project Spaces of Care, Disobedience and Desire: Tactics of Minority Space-Making with Natália Rebelo and Rado Ištok.

Kerstin Thompson

Kerstin Thompson is Principal of KTA and Adjunct Professor at RMIT and Monash Universities. A committed design educator she regularly lectures and runs studios at various schools across Australia and New Zealand.  In recognition of the work of her practice, contribution to the profession and its education, Kerstin was elevated to Life Fellow by the Australian Institute of Architects in 2017. She plays an active role in promoting quality design within the profession, and the wider community, through her position as Panel Member on the Office of the Victorian Government Architect’s Design Review Panel and Board Member for Melbourne Housing Expo, a research group led by The University of Melbourne. A passionate defender of civic space and advocate for extracting new life from our built heritage KTA’s redevelopment of the Broadmeadows Town Hall won the 2020 Victorian Architecture Medal. Current works focus on education and cultural programs and include a Gallery, Collection Store & Visitor facilities for the Bundanon Trust at Riversdale NSW and the Jewish Holocaust Centre.