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Despina Stratigakos' "A Woman's Berlin" Wins 2009 German Academic Book Award

By Patricia Donovan

Release Date October 20, 2009

Despina Stratigakos, PhD, assistant professor of architecture in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and assistant professor of visual studies in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, has received the prestigious 2009 Book Prize from the DAAD (Deutscher Akadamischer Austausch Dienst/German Academic Exchange Service), a publicly funded independent organization of higher education institutions in Germany.

Stratigakos was honored for her 2008 book "A Woman's Berlin: Building the Modern City" (University of Minnesota Press), in which she examines the era between 1871 and 1918 when women took control of Berlin's spaces and laid the foundation for a novel experience of urban modernity.

The DAAD prize is presented for the outstanding book on German language, literature or cultural studies published during the preceding two years by a scholar working in a North American institution. It is awarded in alternate years for books in the German studies and humanities fields and in the history and social-science fields.

Stratigakos received the award this month in Washington, D.C., at the 2009 Conference of the German Studies Association (GSA), the international association of scholars in all fields of German studies, for her 2008 book, "A Woman's Berlin," which documents the dramatic and significant reconceptualization -- both physical and imaginary -- of urban space in one of the great European cities through the lens of women's experience and work.

In presenting the award, which carries a cash prize of $1,000, Celia Applegate, professor of history at University of Rochester and president of the association, said, "'A Woman's Berlin' impressed the jury with its meticulous research, its intelligent use of visual material, its path-breaking content, its elegant argumentation and its multidisciplinary methodology. And it is a joy to read. It represents the best in German studies, and is a book that the GSA can be proud to honor."

Women's Berlin - Book Cover

"A Woman's Berlin" documents the dramatic and significant reconceptualization -- both physical and imaginary -- of urban space in one of the great European cities through the lens of women's experience and work.

The book was cited by Applegate as "highly original and beautifully written," one that "enlightens, surprises, entertains and changes the way we think about its subject, by examining how, through the built environment, women architects, designers, patrons of the arts and social reformers 'remapped Berlin as the birthplace of a new female subject.'"

The book focuses on women's housing cooperatives, social clubs and buildings for political and social welfare organizations -- the urban spaces that Applegate says "reflected and helped to produce an emerging emancipated woman at the turn of the last century, functional spaces that served the professional, social and intellectual needs of this new woman."

She noted that their architecture also formed, in Stratigakos' reading, "a kind of symbolic coded language that challenged prevailing norms of proper, domestic femininity. Indeed, one of the surprises of the work is how radical and bold these building projects were."

In 2008 the book won the $1,000 Milka Bliznakov Prize awarded by the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA), College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Virginia Tech, and in 2007 Stratigakos received a $7,500 production and presentation grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts to prepare the book for publication.

A UB faculty member since 2007, Stratigakos is an architectural historian with an overarching interest in gender and modernity in European cities. She has also published on the public image of women architects, the gender politics of the Werkbund (the German Work Federation so important to the development of modern architecture and industrial design), connections between architectural and sexual discourses in Weimar Germany, and exiled Jewish women architects in the United States.

Stratigakos recently curated an exhibition on Mattel's "Architect Barbie" and is currently writing a book on the work of Gerdy Troost, Hitler's trusted artistic advisor and one of the most powerful architects of the Third Reich.

Stratigakos received her doctoral degree from Bryn Mawr College, and taught at Harvard University and the University of Michigan before joining the UB faculty.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.