Gender, professionalization and the built environment

Related Staff: Eunice Seng
Department: Architecture
Research Centre: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative
Active Dates: 2018-ongoing
Funding Body: HKU Global Partnership Fund

Abstract

From the first cohort of Bachelor of Architecture graduates at HKU in 1955 to the present, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of women in the student population – from 5% to about 50%. In the last three decades, there have also been a visible increase of women in higher-level positions in public agencies, corporate architectural practices and directing independent practices. Despite this and the high proportion of female architectural students in the universities in Hong Kong and Singapore – the two most advanced postcolonial cities in Asia – there has been no historical account of the practices or contribution of women architects during the period of post-war modernization, industrialization and professionalization in these cities.

Gender studies, transcultural and transnational studies on post-industrialized labor and professional networks is gathering momentum in recent years, evidenced by the increasing number of conferences and multi-disciplinary workshops on gender; and identified by the United Nations as one of its key sustainable development goals. Yet the knowledge and understanding of the role of women in architecture is still surprisingly lacking in architectural education, and historical and contemporary discourses in the discipline. Academic and professional publications on architecture and the built environment continue to overlook the contribution of women architects.

In North America and Europe, increasing efforts have been made by scholars and professionals to provide parity in the discipline, in terms of rights and equality in representation. In the last few years, “Women in Architecture” is a key theme in conferences in cities outside of the usual advanced urban centers, including Colombia, Istanbul, Nagpur, St. Louis and Turin. Between 2015 and 2017, With Dr Chee Lilian, we convened a panel on Domesticity in Asia: Translations between Housing, Domesticity and Asia” at the Society of Architectural Historians annual conference (published in 2017 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Architecture). I participated in an international workshop on “Situating Domesticities” in NUS which Dr Chee co-convened, and organized a multi-disciplinary panel on “Women and Architecture: Conversations on the Discipline” for the Singapore Institute of Architects, which she chaired. In 2018, I was invited to be a contributing author to The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopaedia of Women in Architecture, 1960-2015 (forthcoming 2021). Through these cross-disciplinary, multi-locational activities, we have begun to build initial networks and highlight the urgency of creating a knowledge base revolving around the role of women in architecture, within the Asian context.

Objectives

  • Gender equality
    The project aims to address the knowledge gap of women in architecture and their contribution to the built environment, to acknowledge their contribution and representation in political, economic decision-making processes and urban development. It shall analyze the historical context of women architects and the built environment to understand the present conditions of professional expertise, creative production and labor relations.
  • Transcultural knowledge exchange
    The workshop-based symposium aims to initiate cross-disciplinary analyses and lateral conversations to inaugurate new area of knowledge and research project to build up collaborative institutional and individual expertise on the subject, including constructing a preliminary knowledge database and bibliography for research and teaching. The project emphasizes the significance of situating knowledge of a specific geography/location in relation to another (Singapore) with different yet shared regional, colonial and postcolonial histories to understand transcultural issues of gender, professionalism, creative production of the built environment.
  • Strategic partnership
    The research project aims to initiate disciplinary and cross-disciplinary dialogue and research momentum on gender equality. They will contribute to emerging work by HKU researchers at the Women’s Studies Research Centre; and expand the Faculty’s research collaboration, exchanges and teaching initiatives with our strategic partners in architecture, urbanism, the humanities, sustainable high density cities and architectural conservation; and through strategic partnerships between research universities.

Output

  • Eunice Seng and Shirley Surya. “Conversations on Women, Architecture and the City.” M+ and the University of Hong Kong. Nov. 23, 2019. Miller Theatre, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong. This symposium is part of M+ Matters, which is a series of public talks exploring key issues with critical players in the fields of visual art, design, architecture and the moving image.
    Website: https://www.westkowloon.hk/en/mplus/whats-on-51/conversations-on-women-architecture-and-the-city

Anticipated Impact

  • Internationalization through expertise building and networking
    By initiating the conversations on gender, professionalization and the built environment with our strategic partners, HKU can begin to acquire expert status to actively participate in international platforms on gender equality that directly aligns with UN SDG goals gender equality, quality education and sustainable cities and communities.
  • Interdisciplinarity and Innovation in education
    The subject matter cuts vertically and laterally across disciplines, professions, institutions and time. It will establish new dialogues between the university and the profession, and challenge conventions in architectural education – curricular pedagogies and methods of analysis.
  • Enhance methods on gender equality and women’s empowerment
UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG
FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE