Writing Women Architects into Wikipedia: A Global Call-to-Action

It’s a man’s world when it comes to architecture and design. This disparity is clearly reflected within one of most popular online encyclopedias, Wikipedia.

by Sydney Franklin, Goldring Arts Journalism Program

Sixteen percent of licensed architects in the United States are women, while 17 percent are firm principals or partners, according to a 2012 survey by the American Institute of Architects. But forty-nine percent of architecture students are women. In other words, it’s a man’s world when it comes to architecture and design. This disparity is clearly reflected within one of most popular online encyclopedias, Wikipedia.

ArchiteXX, an independent organization for women in architecture, is teaming up with the AIANY and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation for the NYC #WikiD Edit-a-thon where participants will write female architects and designers into Wikipedia this Sunday in honor of International Women’s Day.

Lori Brown, associate professor at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, is co-founder of ArchiteXX alongside Nina Freedman, who serves as director of projects for Shigeru Ban Architects. Their mission is to promote women in leadership, redefine success in the workplace and increase diversity.

Brown uses ArchiteXX and her role as a professor to expand awareness of gender and its impact on spatial relationships. She hopes to see Sunday’s event as a step toward bridging the gap between the number of male and female architects listed on Wikipedia.

“We need to diversify the website and create representation for the women in architecture, design and the arts too,” she said. “Wikipedia is the go-to for a quick reference and if you can’t find any women, then you’re only representing a portion of who is leading in our field.”

Brown was inspired to start the event after talking to a friend who was struggling last year to write women into a certain section of activism on the site, but received pushback from Wikipedia editing trolls. She was further motivated after rereading Despina Stratigakos’ essay, “Unforgetting Women Architects: From Pritzker to Wikipedia,” in Places. Stratigakos’ words are a call-to-action to write women architects into history books, read female theorists in curriculum and simply create public awareness.

In her essay, Stratigakos writes: “There is something very satisfying about writing a forgotten figure – a professional ancestor, maybe even a pioneer – into history. And as the long and rich history of women in architecture becomes more broadly known, it will become that much harder to ignore them, whether in the classroom, the museum, or on prize juries.”

Brown hopes #WikiD will become an annual event, with schools and professionals around the world collaborating to write women in design into Wikipedia. Syracuse University held an informal meeting to write women in on Monday in Slocum Hall. Brown is committed to helping the university and its students understand and adjust the imbalance. She said she acts as a watchdog within the faculty and the school to ensure enough women are hired as student coordinators within the studios or are included in the composition of review juries.

“It’s a constant thing to look for and hasn’t been as good as I would hope,” she said. “But it’s getting better.”

Within the Syracuse School of Architecture, there are 328 female undergraduates and 27 female graduates. Six women on faculty are tenured as opposed to 14 men out of the 40 full-time positions held. Brown thinks the #WikiD movement will not only bring public recognition to the gender gap in the profession, but spur schools to consciousness as well.

“We need to be more resilient and get more women published,” she said. “We’ll blast Wikipedia with an influx of information, as many names as we can.”

The #WikiD Edit-a-thon will be held at the Center for Architecture (AIANY) in New York City this Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Click here if you cannot attend but would still like to sign up to write someone onto Wikipedia. The profile sections will consist of standard Wikipedia entry material such as biography, early life, education, sample work, awards, exhibitions and references. Much of the information can be found through the Beverly Willis Architectural Foundation and the International Archive of Women in Architecture.