Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt/Main
30 September 2017 – 8 March 2018
It is a provocative title in German, not the equivalent of “architectress” but simply: Frau Architekt [Mrs architect]. This is perhaps how people spoke in the 1920s, but political correctness has now made feminine endings on descriptions of professions in the masculine form linguistically inadmissible. But the title is appropriate for an exhibition highlighting the significance of female architects in Germany “for over a century”.
For this alone, the initiative by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) and the curators, Mary Pepchinksi and Christina Budde, is not only to be commended but to be praised, for while research and exhibitions on women in art and design have long been an integral part of the cultural dialogue, if not the norm, the writing of architectural history has been largely unaffected. Certainly, some amazons or heroines – even the terms hint at a male view of recording history – are named again and again, Charlotte Perriand and Zaha Hadid, and Lux Guyer in Switzerland, but otherwise I would like to quote the pictorial joke in Simplicissimus at the beginning of the twentieth century concerning the “painting women”: “There are those who want to marry, and the others don’t have any talent either.”
It is DAM’s task to demonstrate that it is not like this for these women, and never was, without claiming completeness, as Christina Budde says, it is entirely conceivable that there will be a “Frau Architekt, part two” exhibition. So what is there to see at this show presenting architecture by women in Germany? Works and documents by the architects Elisabeth von Knobelsdorff and Therese Mogger who studied in the Imperial period, Frankfurt’s patron saint Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, and Lucy Hillebrand, who trained in Offenbach and worked locally at the same time, the Bauhaus architects, Lotte Stam-Beese and Lilly Reich, and exiles including Karola Bloch and Lotte Cohn. The fact that Gerdy Troost is also included as a counterpoint to these architects who are obligated to the modern age is notable as she expressly approved the completion of the “House of German Art” after the death of her husband at the hands of Hitler. It is also notable especially since Troost also provided designs for Hitler’s Berghof and, in the propaganda of the racist and deeply misogynistic Nazi regime, provided technocratic alibi functions for the crimes against humanity, alongside Hanna Reitsch and Leni Riefenstahl.
The German post-war period is appropriately represented by the GEDOK house in Stuttgart by Grit Bauer-Revellio, amongst others. It is just a pity that no space was made for Herta Maria Witzemann, working in the same place, with a chair in interior design at the academy there, even if there are certain arguments for it, in view of the unfortunate adaptation of the interior furnishings for the Kanzlerbungalow for Kurt Georg Kiesinger. It is also regrettable – not only for current reasons – that the female architects working in North Korea, who were sent there from East Berlin, are not given any consideration. The work by Alison Smithson for the furniture manufacturer Tecta in Lauenförde, an ensemble whose importance easily keeps pace with the Vitra show architecture and represents the later works of Alison and Peter Smithson, the founders of Brutalism, does not attract a mention, either, unfortunately.
Finally, it should be noted that the interior of the house in the DAM building on the first floor, the showroom of the belle étage as such, has been declared the “Frauenzimmer” [women’s room] by the curators and the exhibition architecture. Is the DAM suddenly developing some sort of irony, which can be presumed from the “Best of DAM Architectural Book Awards” exhibition’s “Bildungstapete” [educational wallpaper]? And what can be expected at the Brutalism exhibition that will open soon? Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier and Peter Smithson as cast busts, or perhaps concrete heads? One has to wonder.
But back to the current exhibition: there will be a prestigious launch on 29 September 2017 and supported by an extensive programme of events. So, do go, to the opening, and later on, too.