This summer, Special Collections will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the International Archives of Women in Architecture (IAWA), a joint initiative by the Virginia Tech University Libraries and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies to document the global contributions of women to the built environment.
To commemorate this anniversary, the IAWA has partnered with the International Union of Women Architects ( UIFA) to host the 18th International Congress in Washington, D.C. and Blacksburg, Virginia. This event will bring professional architects from around the world to the Virginia Tech campus for a week of research presentations, collaboration, and networking. In the months leading up to the congress, we’ve been working with members of the IAWA advisory board to research and prepare exhibit materials that capture the depth, breadth, and uniqueness of the IAWA holdings. It has been an amazing opportunity to connect with the real-world community represented in the collections.
Formally established in the summer of 1985, the IAWA began with the work of one tireless educator and architectural historian. In 1983, Dr. Milka Bliznakov wrote over 1,000 letters to women architects around the world, hoping to learn how they planned to preserve their legacies. Dr. Bliznakov was inspired in part by conversations with her students, who asked why they never studied or read about the work of women architects. Dr. Bliznakov saw the consequences of leaving preservation to chance when the accomplishments of her own colleagues were marginalized or lost to history. She was determined to “correct the omission of women from architectural history,” ensuring that “future generations, simply because of a lack of information [cannot] say women architects never did anything.” 
Since that first summer, the IAWA has grown to document the legacies and experiences of more than 400 women in architecture and design. In Special Collections, we collect, preserve, and provide access to approximately 2000 cubic feet of IAWA materials which include personal correspondence, detailed architectural models, exhibit panels, artifacts, and visual materials capturing every step of the design process.
The women represented in the collections lived, taught, and practiced in more than thirty countries across five continents. Drawing upon their rich and varied experiences, the IAWA collections contribute to a broad understanding of what it means to be a “woman in architecture.” For example, a visitor to Special Collections could learn about:
- Some of the women who apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright
- The first woman to serve as dean of an American school of architecture
- The young architecture student who fled the Nazis to became an American film star
- The mother and daughter who helped rebuild Berlin after World War II.
- The South African landscape architect who practiced and taught on three continents
- The architectural historian who lobbied Mattel to create an architect Barbie and inspired international efforts to fill Wikipedia with articles on women architects
- The collective of men and women who hosted a rogue exhibition on women in architecture across the street from a joint meeting of the American Institute of Architects and the International Union of Architects
- The AIA Fellow who, when asked by a prospective male employer if she cried on the job, responded, “I don’t, but I’ve made a few contractors cry.”
Many of the women whose records we maintain were trailblazers and pioneers. Their stories also speak to universal experiences, whether the woman worked in partnership with her spouse, managed her own firm, or deferred her career to support her family. Perhaps the most exciting part of working with the IAWA collections is that – much like the global community of women architects – they are always growing. We look forward to sharing some of these stories with UIFA delegates from around the world this summer.