On 23 September, the international conference Women, Design & Heritage took place at the Art & History Museum in Brussels. This symposium was the capstone of the Wiki Women Design project.
Through a series of thematic lectures, national and international researchers, experts and designers took the audience on a diverse reflection on women, design heritage and historiography. In conversation with each other and the audience, the speakers exchanged ideas about the future steps needed to advance research on women and design and to make a concerted effort to bridge the gender gap in the heritage field.
Jane Hall kicked off the day as keynote speaker. Jane is a British architect, researcher and member of the architecture, design and art collective ASSEMBLE. During her lecture, Jane prompted reflection on the work of women architects online. As archives become online and new forms of knowledge emerge in digital space, Jane's lecture explored the tension between conducting research and this new, virtual space.
The common thread throughout the first lecture session was women in history, heritage collections and design professions. The focus was on the methodologies and strategies that can be used to make space for women in history, heritage collections and design professions. This session was introduced and moderated by Prof Hilde Heynen, professor of architectural theory and history at KU Leuven.
In this first session, Florencia Fernandez Cardoso (KU Leuven) presented her research on the extent to which female architects are mentioned in architecture books. This research firstly points out the important role women have played within the modern architectural heritage. Secondly, it illustrates the lack of documentation on these figures. Finally, it suggests a method to evaluate the representation of women architects and to find solutions for their under-representation.
In the second lecture of the series, Jannetje in 't Veld and Toon Koehorst of Koehorst in 't Veld (Koehorst in 't Veld, NL) presented their research and preparations for their exhibition on Nelly and Theo van Doesburg at the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. They discussed how Nelly was a key figure in the development of De Stijl and Theo's reputation.
The lectures of the second series on feminist, decolonial and queer approaches to history and heritage, chaired by Prof. Lara Schrijver (UAntwerpen), were a reflection on the strategies that can be deployed to rewrite the western histories that fill most history books today and that shape our general understanding of what design, fashion and architecture are.
Elke Krasny (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, AT) discussed the emergence of the modern museum as a construction of the age of the Anthropocene. The modern cultural institution of the national museum, the institution of citizenship par excellence, and the geological age of the Anthropocene start at about the same time. Elke Krasny examines how the museum created a social space related to the idea of exclusive citizenship within the context of colonial and patriarchal domination over nature and culture.
Angela Jansen (Research Collective for Decoloniality & Fashion, NL) discussed how erasure is detrimental to a more diverse future of fashion. She considered how the erasure of alternative histories is one of the key mechanisms of modernity, and how this has (had) an impact on contemporary fashion aesthetics and practice. While the contemporary fashion world focuses on the future and on developing a modern fashion aesthetic, it destroys the possibility of diversity in the future of fashion.
As the third lecture of the second session, Prof Dirk van den Heuvel (Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam & TU Delft, NL) focused on the issues surrounding the representation of marginalised and oppressed voices from the LGBTQ community in the Dutch National Collection of Architecture and Urbanism at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. The lecture explored how to present silenced voices and allow them to speak again.
The central idea in the third lecture session, chaired by Setareh Noorani (Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, NL) was that the under-representation of women in design archives and collections is one of the main reasons why many women have remained invisible. Museum and archive collections should be more inclusive to ensure greater preservation of primary research material on women and other groups that are underrepresented today.
During the third and final session, the project partners presented the results of their research and projects in the framework of Wiki Women Design. They focused not only on the written Wikipedia articles include and important (re)discovered Belgian female designers and new research the project has inspired, but also the awareness the project has brought to a wider audience and the positive impact this has had on the design sector.
Sam Donvil (meemoo, BE) discussed how institutions and organisations can use Wikimedia projects to address the gender gap. Fredie Floré (KU Leuven) traced the female pioneers of Belgian interior architecture and Terry Scott (Design Museum Brussels) introduced participants to Italian designer Carla Scolari. Hilde Heynen (KU Leuven) explained the "Leaky Pipeline" in Flanders' architectural landscape; a phenomenon whereby women are less and less represented in further stages of a career in architectural practice. Véronique Boone (ULB) presented the research she did in the context of the Wiki Women Design writing session during the Semaine d'innovation pédagogique, as well as her exploration of modernist architect Eliane Havenith. Subsequently, Marjan Sterckx (UGent) discussed female designers in the belle époque, after which Karolien De Clippel (Modemuseum Hasselt) explained women in Belgian fashion. Marie Becuwe (Design Museum Gent) presented the focus on women in the research and collection of Design Museum Gent and Elke Couchez (UHasselt) went in search of people who are on the "periphery" of the design profession.
As an evening programme of the Wiki Women Design symposium Women, Design and Heritage, a debate evening took place on the same day in partnership with MAD, Home of Creators in Brussels. Architects, researchers and policy makers discussed the role of women in contemporary architectural practice. An Fonteyne (noAarchitects), Kelly Hendriks (B-ILD), Hilde Heynen (KU Leuven), Anne Malliet (Vlaams Bouwmeester), Sarah Poot (poot architectuur), and Caroline Voet (Voet architectuur) made up the panel, and the moderator was Fredie Floré (KU Leuven).
During the debate, the panel of women discussed why the representation of women in the field is so important, and how the presence of women in both architectural history and contemporary architectural practice is necessary for future generations. In dialogue with each other and the audience, they discussed finding your place as a woman in the field and the challenges this brings, feminism in architecture, role models and key figures, entrepreneurship and creativity.