Did Women Design or Build Before the Industrial Age?

Authored by: Shelley E. Roff

The Routledge Companion to Women in Architecture

Print publication date:  June  2021
Online publication date:  June  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367232344
eBook ISBN: 9780429278891
Adobe ISBN:


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Did women engage in the making of architecture before the nineteenth century? Although most professions requiring specialized knowledge were deemed socially unsuitable for women, women did play active roles in the built environment in Western Europe before the Industrial Age. Elite and bourgeois women influenced architectural design as patrons and advisors, and women of lesser means were on occasion employed in building-related crafts and construction labor. Women’s earliest activities as true designers and builders can be linked to the cultural phenomenon of the Renaissance. The rediscovery of antiquity was a catalyst that transformed the identity of the architect and opened the traditional building industry to those who were not master builders. Both men and women began to design and build as artist-architects and as amateurs. Yet these women engaged architecture mostly from the margins of the profession. Nineteenth-century industrialization brought a dynamic change in the nature of work and lifestyles, opening the door for greater numbers of women to work outside the home. The mechanization of the building industry and changing attitudes toward women’s education and work paved the path for women to move slowly from the margins toward the center of specialized knowledge in the craft and profession of architecture in the twentieth century.

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