It takes honesty - and a lot of rigorous research - to declare with a book that women have illuminated the history of design. Jane Hall, London-based architect at the head of the multi-disciplinary studio that won the Turner prize Assemble, she did it and with excellence, celebrating the more or less known icons and pioneers of the whole world, without omitting the most uncomfortable stories.
Woman made: Great Women designers (Phaidon, 2021) is a choral collection that combines graphics and precious texts in 200 testimonials (directed or screened by 'author) from 50 countries, which show how the history of female design exists strong and clear, and has always been. It is a book that does not limit itself to informing but wants to draw a guideline: from 1920 to today there are many women we know but just as many of whom we know little - or nothing - of, because they are 'forgotten' or even 'obscured'.
Jane Hall is an activist, in addition to being a trained professional , and with this volume she continues a speech that already a few years ago she had begun in the previous one: Breaking Ground: Architecture by Women (Phaidon, 2019). Her voice, determined and uncompromising her declares that design is not a sector for men only.
What conclusions did you come to after completing this book?
That there are so many women working in design and that most of them have been overlooked in favor of their male design partners. Women are far more instrumental in big changes in the way we live than they've been given credit - it's been fantastic to bring to the fore some intriguing biographies from around the world that may not have previously received the attention they deserved.
Is it still necessary to underline the importance of female presence in the sector in 2021?
There are very few publications dedicated to the work of women designers. Books that profess to tell the 'whole story' of design in the twentieth century tend to have an incredibly low percentage of women in attendance. So yes, it is necessary to promote women's work as it has historically been neglected and continues to be today.
What did you find out you didn't expect?
Most of the women designers started their careers as architects. Design is considered a spatial discipline, with objects considered within the larger context of the home. And then there are so many interesting connections between different female designers, particularly in relation to the men they have worked with, which in some cases lead to asking questions about real authorship.
You are an architect and a woman: do you feel welcomed by the sector?
I belong to a particular sector and to a generation that has educated more women in architecture than before me. Misogyny is quite prevalent, and for women there are very few role models occupying high-level positions. A radical change is needed that thinks intersectionally of a feminist approach to design and does not simply attempt to achieve equality of women and men in terms of numbers.
What are the main evolutions carried out by female designers?
There are extraordinary women's design groups and cooperatives who have centered a feminist design approach and changed the way people think about discrimination, such as MATRIX Design Cooperative which criticized and designed for the built environment in general. Although these issues are not specific to a female identity, it has required women to introduce them as themes into the world of design.
Why were there women who refused to be mentioned in the book?
The reason is only one: they didn't want to claim authorship of their product without including their design partner (always a man). This is a common aspect with my previous book Breaking Ground dedicated to women of architecture. With Woman Made , however, I have a strong solidarity with other past and present women designers.
What does it mean to the new generations?
I hope my work is constructive and helps regulate the canon we have become accustomed to, or at least allow us to rethink it. Women to date have learned that they are an exception in the world of design, which historically is simply not true. What would really help? That the most influential producers paid more attention to female designers; in particular, the numbers in the design are still too low.
An Italian designer of the heart?
Cini Boeri and Nanda Vigo, both passed away while I was conducting my research on the book. They have become my favorite designers featured on Woman Made. The first of their generation to train in Italy, they were also among the few to establish successful design practices that combined art and architecture. Their works are bold, full of humor and show a real interest and rigor in the application of materials.