Trajectories of an Architect’s Design Sensibilities: From Student to Practitioner

Model of architectural design project.
Austellungsbau—Variabel—Transportabel, Architectural model, 1962

The beginning of the fall semester and the nearly overnight return to a bustling and lively campus provides a good opportunity to reflect on the essential thing that we do, which is to educate. Student works are common discoveries in the collections that form the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) and can tell us either about an architect’s own practice or their methods of classroom instruction. This post will focus on the former, with an eye to the role that archival collections can play in examining design sensibilities within the context of a developing architectural practice.

Drawing showing elevation and site plan sketches.
Concept drawing, Bahamas Nursing School, c. 1985.

One of the most profound ways to understand the progression of the aesthetic sensibilities of a creative professional is to examine their works (including inspirational materials, writing, and sketches) across their career. Looking at materials that span years—or even decades—offers a glimpse into how their style evolved, was refined, stayed constant, or in some cases shifted radically. With architects it is possible to trace the development not only of their design considerations, but also the changes in drawing techniques, enhanced observational skills, and a deeper understanding of spaces. It is often possible to see how they refine and expand their understanding of the outer world, visual culture, and the impact of spaces on the people who inhabit them.

Photograph of architectural model.
Austellungsbau—Variabel—Transportabel, Architectural model, 1962

The Exhibition Hall—Variable—Transportable project was completed by Dorothee Stelzer King while she was an architecture student at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Berlin, Germany. Completed the same year that she received her degree, the project was based on a first-year design exercise involving the enlargement of a simple shape to create a complex design without adding extra material to the final structure.

Document outlining requirements and development of the project.
Description and requirements of the award-winning portable exhibition hall project.

 

Drawing showing interlocking shapes.
Concept drawing showing how a basic triangle is repeated and extended to create interlocking stars and circular forms that in turn interlock to create flexible, modular shapes.

 

Elevations, site plans, and details.
Elevations, site plans, and detail drawings for Austellungsbau—Variabel—Transportabel.

Ms2013-023, Dorothee Stelzer King, Folder 3Ms2013-023, Dorothee Stelzer King, Folder 3

The Dorothee Stelzer King collection also contains works that the architect completed at various points during her professional career, allowing researchers to study the progression of her designs over time. The series of concept drawings and plans for the Bahamas Nursing School in Nassau, Bahamas, shows King’s attention to understanding how educational spaces and their inhabitants interact. While the drawings show a move away from the more experimental design work seen in Exhibition Hall—Variable—Transportable, they showcase a greater understanding of the practical nature of educational facilities and the importance of proper acoustics, seating, structural elements, and paths of movement through interior spaces.

 

Site plan drawing.
Location plan, Bahamas Nursing School, April 16, 1985.

 

Construction photos.
Construction photographs showing exterior and interior spaces, including structural elements, of the Bahamas Nursing School project.

Ms2013_023_B001_F020toF024_002_BahamasNursing_Scrap_120Ms2013_023_B001_F020toF024_002_BahamasNursing_Scrap_118

Many other student and professional design projects and records can be accessed in the Special Collections Reading Room at Virginia Tech. The finding aid for the Dorothee Stelzer King Architectural Collection can be viewed online at Virginia Heritage. The collection is currently being digitized with funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and will be available in full through the Virginia Tech digital library.

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The Role of Design in Cultivating and Enhancing Spiritual Connection

“In the arts, one may find peace and contentment, for we may use our ability to transform our inner energy in a satisfying manner.”
—Melita Rodeck, AIA

Elevation drawing
Melita Rodeck, Consolata Missions Seminary, 1959.

Architect Melita Rodeck established the Regina Institute of Sacred Art in the late 1950s—shortly after forming her own architectural firm—with the purpose of bringing together design professions to help establish a set of standards for the quality of sacred art. A large part of the organizational mission involved “educat[ing] parishioners about the psychological need and emotional impact of good design.” The institute also helped parishes to realize the significance of these ideas by participating in their efforts to redesign and redecorate religious spaces. (IAWA newsletter, no. 8, Fall 1996)

Ms1992_028_F002_001_HolyComfort_Dr_001
Melita Rodeck’s proposed sanctuary design for the Holy Comforter Church includes clean lines and minimal forms for the space and the furnishings that are both beautiful and functional.

Perhaps more significantly, one can look at Rodeck’s work with religious architectural spaces within the context of a much longer history dealing with what sacred art, architecture, and design should be expected to accomplish. Of particular relevance is the history of Catholic artistic engagement, with its strong implications that a sense of sacred beauty was essential to the message of eternal life and divine bliss. (Saward, John. “The Poverty of the Church and the Beauty of the Liturgy.The Institute for Sacred Architecture 31 (Spring 2017).) This same notion is supported in the work of the Second Vatican Council, which dealt at length with religious art in the 1963 Sacrosanctum Concilium. Among the many doctrinal concepts outlined in this document were notions such as “of their nature the arts are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands.” The document further directed that such arts should “seek for noble beauty rather than sumptuous display.” (“Chapter VII: Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings.” In Sacrosanctum Concilium. Second Vatican Council, 1963.)

Church
Melita Rodeck, Church Interior, Conceptual sketch

The Sacrosanctum Concilium further specifies that art can and should be reflective of the times and acknowledges that all manners of artistic styles have been embraced throughout the history of the Catholic church. This bears heavily on Rodeck’s approach to architectural design in these spaces, which is extensively modernist in its execution and carefully uses light, form, color, and scale to shape the experience within the space.

Ms1992_028_F002_018_ArchbishopChapel_Dr_001

This reflects a modernist sensibility of human-space interactions, moving away from a dependence on highly narrative interpretations of religious interiors in favor of evoking emotional responses to elements of the built environment. This approach also reflects a concern with religious harmony, and a tendency to encourage slightly decentralized expressions of devotion through the acts of meditation and contemplation, which are not necessarily rooted in any particular religious tradition. This is the emotional impact of good design that Rodeck spoke about—it has the power to elicit a palpable and immersive connection, to invite parishioners to examine their own relationships with the mysterious, the sacred, the divine, and the spiritual.

Ms1992_028_F002_021_ArchbishopChapel_Dr_001

In The Role of Religious Art Over 50 Years: An Assessment, James Hadley concludes that “the power of religious arts of the past 50 years has been their capacity to invite us to gaze more intently into the fragment, the incomplete reality we feel has seized us, and there begin to perceive the possibility of human psycho-spiritual and physical wholeness restored in the divine.” (Hadley, James. Faith & Form: The Interfaith Journal on Religion, Art, and Architecture 50, no. 3 (September 1, 2017).) This sentiment is certainly reflected in Rodeck’s approach to creating spaces that are beautiful and minimal, that in their simplicity encourage meditation, connection, and reflection, and that are capable of stirring profoundly complex experiences.

 

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Materials from the Melita Rodeck Architectural Collection can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room at the Virginia Tech Libraries.

The Art and Travels of Sigrid Rupp

When she wasn’t designing offices for Silicon Valley giants like Apple and IBM, Sigrid Rupp was busy traveling around the world, writing and sketching the scenes that caught her eye. From 1966 to 2003, she visited over 30 countries, traveling extensively throughout North America, Europe, and East Asia. With an eye for design in environments both natural and built, she meticulously documented her many travels in photographs, diaries and sketchbooks. Maybe a little different from the typical contents in our many collections that form the International Archive of Women in Architecture, but I think they help show who Sigrid Rupp was- always curious, always creating.

ms1997_006_rupptraveldiary_mexico1998
Sigrid Rupp sketching the view from an overlook in Guanjuato, Mexico.

Rupp developed her fascination with architecture and the built environment as a child growing up in post-war Germany in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Much of Europe was in the process of rebuilding from the devastation of World War II, and Rupp got to witness first-hand how modern architecture and urban planning could transform communities. At age 10 she moved with her family to California, and at 17 she enrolled at UC Berkeley to study architecture. In 1976, 5 years after receiving her architectural license, she founded her own firm, SLR Architects, in the San Francisco bay area, where she served as president until she closed the office in 1998.

ms1997_006_rupptraveldiary_alaska_2002
An excerpt from one of Rupp’s travel diaries, complete with a view out her tent on a lake in Alaska in 2002.

Rupp traveled and sketched extensively throughout her career, but after her retirement, she devoted more time to travels and to watercolor painting. Her watercolors of bay area landscapes were featured in several juried shows of the Pacific Art League of Palo Alto. She also began hosting a rotating art show at the Ravenswood Medical Clinic in East Palo Alto, where she had previously worked as project architect.

ms1997_006_ruppsketchbook_mexico_1998
Architectural details of La Paroquia in San Miguel Allende, Mexico
ms1997_006_rupp_travdiary_mongolia_2000_0728
Rupp’s sketch of a yurt during her visit to Mongolia in 2000

Rupp kept traveling and sketching until late 2003, when she was diagnosed with gastric cancer. After a six month battle, she passed away on May 27th, 2004, at age 61. In her obituary, her family writes that she was “was the life of the party at family functions where she told stories from her extensive travels and loved her champagne.” Though her adventures were cut short, her passion for seeing the world lives on in her travel diaries and sketchbooks, which can be seen in full in our reading room. The finding aid for the Sigrid Rupp Collection contains an extensive list of all the sketches, photographs and recollections from her travels. You can see a small sampling of items from her collection, including some of these drawings, on our IAWA digital collections site. Happy travels!

Exploring the Lived Experience of Women Architects

The International Archive of Women in Architecture is supported by approximately 300 rare books and published manuscripts written by or about women working in the built environment. Many of these authors have archival collections in the IAWA, including Anna Sokolina, Brinda Somaya, Cristina Grau Garcia, Carmen Espegel Alonso, Despina Stratigakos, Inge Horton, and Susana Torre.

Reflecting the broad interests and expertise of women architects around the world, these books discuss a range of topics. Texts on the Russian Avantgarde movement and Soviet civil planning are accompanied by analyses of the intersection between gender and architecture; Viennese garden design theory and fireplace innovations accompany contemporary criticism and Caribbean architecture textbooks. Biographies and anthologies complement conference proceedings and exhibition catalogs. 

Autobiographies often exist at the intersection of archives and literature. This blog will highlight a selection of autobiographies from the IAWA collections. Spanning three different eras of practice, these texts offer a glimpse into the private experiences and public struggles of early women in architecture. These books are available to view in the public reading room at Newman Library.

EnamoredWithPlace

Wendy Bertrand
Enamored with place: as woman + as architect (2012)
[
NA1997 .B48 2012]

Wendy Bertrand is a registered architect from California. A student of both the École des Beaux Arts (1964-65) and University of California, Berkeley, her extensive career has included major projects for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Forest Service. Her archival papers are maintained by the IAWA. An excerpt from the author’s page captures the book as follows:

“As a single mother, Wendy Bertrand accepted job security over the potential glamour, prestige, or celebrity of private practice, where architectural stars shine. She tells us how she pursued a career while continuing to value her perspective and insight as a woman, a mother, and someone who cares passionately about social equity. Her love of place infuses every aspect of her personal and professional life. She tells us of her adventures in travel, education, marriage, childbirth, motherhood, and work…. This is also a story about a woman coming into her own as she matures, enjoys the fiber arts, and embraces the elements of her life that have enduring value.” (Excerpted from
http://wendybertrand.com/enamored-with-place/)

AusMeinemLebenCover.jpg

Karola Bloch
Aus Meinem Leben (1981),
[CT3150 B5 A3 1981]

Karola Bloch (born Piotrowska, 1905) was a Polish-German architect who practiced in Austria, France, Czechoslovakia, the United States, and Germany. Her German-language autobiography is rich with unforgettable stories, including an eyewitness account of the October Revolution in Moscow, her tenure as a Soviet informant in Austria, a Nazi raid on her home in a Berlin artist’s colony, the loss of her immediate family in the Treblinka concentration camp, and anecdotes from her marriage to Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch. Karola Bloch was a founding member of the International Union of Women Architects, accompanied by several other women represented in the IAWA. Archival materials from her life are housed by the Ernst Bloch Archives in Ludwigshafen.

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Lois Gottlieb
A way of life : an apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright  (2001)
[NA737.W7 G67 2001]

Lois Gottlieb is a California architect specializing in residential design. This visual autobiography based on a traveling exhibit captures Gottlieb’s experiences in Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Taliesin Fellowship, where she served as an apprentice for eighteen months in 1948-1949. Gottlieb was profiled alongside IAWA members Jane Duncombe and Eleanore Pettersen in the 2009 documentary film “A Girl is a Fellow Here” – 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. Her archival papers are housed by the IAWA.

The Coade, Hard Facts…about Artificial Stone

Working with the History of Food & Drink Collection for the last few years has helped me build up an interest in advertising. Since 2011, we’ve been acquiring materials for our Culinary Pamphlet Collection, which contains hundreds of pamphlets, booklets, and cards/card sets. Much of the collection consists of small recipes books that consumers would either have sent away for or received free, full of recipes that use a product or products and aimed at encouraging future purchasing. In 2013, we started building the Culinary Ephemera Collection, which contains things like labels, broadsides, trade cards, puzzles, menus, and postcards. There are lots of great bites of culinary ephemera–just the kind of items you’ll find me blogging about on “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” It’s through food and food advertising history that I first got into trade cards, but that’s not the only place you’ll find them.

Which brings us to Coade’s Lithodipyra or Artificial Manufactory Trade Card:

Ms2015-045_tradeCard_jpg

This collection is among what we call our “1-folder collections.” The entire collection, in this case, consists of the single trade card, probably printed around 1784. But, there’s a great deal of history to even a single small piece of paper. (In other words, don’t let the size of a collection fool you!)

The image is believed to have been one carved above the door at the factory. The woman whose belt is labeled “Ignea Vis” (or, “Firey Force”) appears to be overpowering a winged figure, who has both a tail and a trumpet, but we have no other clue to who or what he represents. The text reads:
Coade’s Lithodipyra or Artificial Stone Manufactory For all kind of Statues, Capitals, Vases, Tombs, Coats of Arms & Architectural ornaments &c &c; particularly expressed in Catalogues, & Books of Prints of 800 Articles & upwards, Sold at ye Manufactory near Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall Lambeth, opposite Whitehall Stairs, London
The Latin above the three women reads, “nec edax abolere vestusas.” This is most likely the second half of the second of two lines from Ovid’s Metamorphosis: Iamque opus exegi, quod nec Iovis ira nec ignis/nec poterit ferrum nec edax abolere vetustas. Of, if you prefer: “And now my work is done, which neither the anger of Jupiter, nor fire,/nor sword, nor the gnawing tooth of time shall ever be able to destroy.” It seems an obvious advertising suggestion at the timelessness of the artificial stone manufactured by the company. Which brings us to Coade’s Lithodipyra or Artificial Stone Manufactory.

 

Coade’s was a company run by Eleanor Coade (1733-1821). Her first business was as a linen-draper, but she eventually shifted to making artificial stone, referred to as “Coade stone.” (Seeing a woman run any sort of business at time is only one of the reasons the trade card is such a stand-out item!) She ran the company from 1769 until her death in 1821, at which point her last business partner, William Croggon, continued the business until 1833. Coade produced stone for famous architects of the time, including John Nash. Nash’s works using the stone included the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace in the 1820s. Other sites using the stone were St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

 

You can see the finding aid for the collection online. It offers a little more context to the trade card (designed by sculptor John Bacon, who studied at the Royal Academy). A trade card often seems like a simple thing, without much to do, other than advertise a company–but that isn’t usually the case. There’s a great deal of thought as to what goes into the design, what effect it might have, and what its real intention is. Certainly, Bacon probably thinking of this as a work of art, nor was Coade expecting it to last 231 and find its way to our collections, but it really is a work of art and it still has value over two centuries later. What that value is…well, art is in the eye of the beholder, just like research value. It’s up to you and me to figure out what this small, but not insignificant collection can mean.

Buttresses to Broadway: When Lilia Skala Came to Blacksburg

On July 30, 2015, the Lyric Theatre presejted LiLiA!, a one-woman show performed by actress/playwright Libby Skala from the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles and the Arclight Theatre Off-Broadway to festivals in Seattle, London, Toronto, Vancouver, Edinburgh, Berlin, Dresden, and beyond. Reviewers have called it “absolutely dazzling… magical and alchemical,” a “unique and spellbinding production… at once appealing and a privilege to view,” and “a thoughtful piece of history – political, theatrical and personal.” Although the Lyric is no stranger to great performances, you might find yourself wondering how such a prestigious production came to tread the Blacksburg boards.

In 2003, Special Collections added a portfolio of architectural drawings by a woman named Lilia Skala to the International Archives of Women in Architecture. The collection (Ms2003-015) primarily comprises her work as a student of architecture at the University of Dresden from 1915 to 1920. Her student work includes architectural drawings, ink and charcoal sketches, and watercolor paintings. The collection also includes copies of her academic records, printed material about the architectural program at the University of Dresden at the turn of the century, articles by and about Lilia, and press material for LiLiA!

[Learn more about the Lila Sofer Skala Student Portfolio in Special Collections]

[Learn more about the donation, from Skala’s sons Peter and Martin]

Special Collections joined the cast in 2003, but the real story – Lilia’s story – begins much earlier.

In 1896, Lilia Sofer Skala was born in Vienna, Austria. Although she had an early passion for the performing arts, Lilia’s family wanted her to have a more “respectable” career. Having graduated Summa cum Laude with a degree in architecture from the University of Dresden, Lilia became the first woman member of the Austrian Association of Engineers and Architects. She practiced professionally in Vienna for a time and, with the encouragement of her husband, began performing with the Max Reinhardt Repertory Theatre. Lilia gained wide acclaim in Europe for her stage and screen roles, but continued to claim her title, Frau-Diplom Ingenieur.

When her Jewish husband was arrested in the wake of the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany –  Lilia secured his release from a Viennese prison and fled with her family to the United States. Her portfolio of student work was among the personal belongings with which she escaped. As a political refugee in New York, Lilia attended night school to learn English and worked in a Queens zipper factory for her first two years in America.

Lilia returned to the stage as a housekeeper in the 1941 Broadway production Letters to Lucerne. She continued to work steadily on and off Broadway, with occasional television roles. In 1963, Lilia earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress as Mother Maria opposite Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field. She later received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in 1977’s Roseland. An industrious performer, Lilia continued to work in film, television, and theatre throughout the 1980s. Among her many accolades was the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, which she received in 1981 for her role in Heartlands. Lilia’s final stage appearance was in Lorraine Hansberry’s Broadway show Les Blancs (1989), at the age of 94.

In December 1994, Lilia passed away from natural causes in her New York home. Her granddaughter, Elizabeth “Libby” Skala, is also an accomplished actress and playwright. She began developing LiLiA!, a one-woman show based on her grandmother’s phenomenal life, in 1995. Libby Skala was invited to perform this show during the 18th Congress of the International Union of Women Architects (UIFA), which was jointly hosted by the IAWA in July 2015. Her audience included Blacksburg locals and women architects from Argentina, Eastern Europe, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mongolia, Spain, and beyond. Many of the architects recounted that the performance was a highlight of the conference.

Special Collections currently has an exhibit on display featuring selections from Lilia’s portfolio and materials advertising the LiLiA! play.

Lilia Skala Portfolio Exhibit, July 2015
Lilia Skala Portfolio Exhibit, July 2015

More selections from the Skala Portfolio, Special Collections:

Celebrating 30 Years of the International Archives of Women in Architecture

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.” [1]

Two page donation request letter from Milka Bliznakov for the International Archives of Women in Architecture, July 1985
Copy of the first letter sent out on behalf of the IAWA, encouraging women to donate their records.

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:

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.