Women In Architecture Celebrated During Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Despina Stratigakos among group of activists leading effort to write women architects into history

Despina Stratigakos (second from right) in discussion with other panelists at the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon: Women in Architecture event at the Guggenheim, on October 15. 

By Lisa Gagnon

Published October 16, 2015

Elsa Gidoni (1899-1978) was a Jewish architect who, fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany, helped contribute to the rise of the International Style, first in Tel Aviv, and then in the United States. As of last week, she had one article in the German Wikipedia that consisted of an eight-sentence biography, a list of 10 works, 4 literature citations, two web links, and two references. In contrast, Frank Lloyd Wright’s page has 18 subheadings, almost 40 listed works, links to 11 related articles, and 86 references.

Wikipedia is heralded as the world's largest source of free knowledge, yet gaps in this 'knowledge' persist, especially regarding the coverage of women in architecture.

In response, a group of architects, professors and activists, including the School of Architecture and Planning's Despina Stratigakos, recently gathered at one of Wright’s most famous buildings for the 3rd Wikipedia Edit-a-thon: Women in Architecture #guggathon at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Their goal was to celebrate women like Gidoni and enhance articles related to women in architecture on Wikipedia.

Elsa Gidoni lived and worked in Tel Aviv until moving to New York in 1938. In the United States her first job was as an assistant designer on Norman Bel Geddes's General Motors' Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair. She later worked in the architectural firm of Kahn & Jacobs. 

The Edit-a-thon was held in conjunction with Archtober and the New York Archives Week, as well as the unveiling of the Pioneering Women of 20th Century American Architecture project compiled by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. The project is a peer-reviewed, juried collection of biographical profiles of historically significant women architects, designers, critics, curators and policymakers born before 1940 who contributed to the American built environment. The featured profiles were completed through primary and secondary research by scholars and experts on American architectural history.

Stratigakos, associate professor and interim chair of architecture, presented her own profile on Elsa Gidoni as part of a panel discussion. Her presentation considered both why the contributions of women in American architecture have been overlooked and how documenting their histories can support new approaches to architectural history and change the conversation about American architecture.

Following the panel, participants in over a dozen cities around the world created and edited hundreds of Wikipedia articles on women in architecture, with the support of ArchiteXX, the founders of WikiD: Women Wikipedia Design, the international education and advocacy program working to increase the number of Wikipedia articles on women in architecture and the built environment. The New York City meetup alone created 17 new articles and improved 36 more.

Stratigakos has published widely on issues of diversity in architecture, including the award-winning A Women’s Berlin: Building the Modern City (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). Her forthcoming book, Where Are the Women Architects?, will be released in spring 2016 by Princeton University Press.

To see more, follow #guggathon #WomenInArchitecture on Twitter.