UB architects help write history of under-recognized female architects

Two UB architects are part of a national effort to revive the legacy of prominent female architects. Their stories are among 50 being published by the Beveral Willis Architecture Foundation at https://pioneeringwomen.bwaf.org/ .

by Brenna Zanghi

Published January 17, 2018

Buffalo architect Louise Blanchard Bethune was the first female member, and later, fellow, of the American Institute of Architects; her legacy of built works totals nearly 150 across the country. Elsa Mandelstamm Gidoni, a Jewish architect who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, helped bring European modernism to the United states as well as Palestine.  

These powerful yet largely unknown stories of prominent female architects are among 50 being documented to ensure their names - and contributions - are not lost to time. 

Led by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the collection of historical narratives is being penned by a cadre of authors that includes two UB architects - Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie. The work recently came to life in the form of the "Pioneering Women of American Architecture" website.

Elsa Mandelstamm Gidoni

The effort is co-directed by Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner of Columbia University and focuses on fifty prominent women in architecture, generally born before 1940, with works completed between 1880 and 1980. The fifty women were chosen by a jury of three members; Ford Peatross, Sarah Whiting, and Gwendolyn Wright. 

The profiles of each woman will chronicle their contributions to the history of American architecture and the field overall, and celebrate how they challenged the gender stereotypes and social conventions of their time. 

More than two dozen profiles are already live. Upon their completion, all 50 profiles will be published in a book.

Stratigakos, who wrote the profile on Elsa Mandelstamm Gidoni, is associate professor of architectural history in the School of Architecture and Planning and a trustee of the Beverly Willis foundation. McAlonie, a practicing architect, is director of capital planning for UB and a widely recognized expert on Louise Blanchard Bethune.

The Beverly Willis Foundation was founded in 2002 by architect Beverly Willis herself, who—when she began practicing in the 1950s—believed herself to be the only woman interested in architecture due to a lack of documentation of other women in the field. 

Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs firm, circa 1891. Courtesy of Nancy Herlan