The Design Observer Group

Posted 09.14.12

Sandra Vivanco

Latin America: A New Generation of Women Architects

Clockwise from top left, works by Tatiano Bilbao, Rozana Montiel, Sandra Vivanco and Nora Enriquez.

A new generation of Latin American women designers has emerged in the past couple of decades. The work of several exemplary firms has been curated by architect Nora Enriquez for an exhibition, Space Through Gender, now on view in San Francisco and, in an abbreviated version, in the accompanying slideshow. The practices and projects span two continents and several countries. From Mexico there are architects Tatiana Bilbao, Fernanda Canales, Frida Escobedo LopezRozana Montiel and Enriquez herself, who practices in San Francisco. From Chile there is Rocio Romero, now based in St. Louis, and from Argentina Galia Solomonoff, who works and teaches in New York City. Catalina Patiño and Viviana Peña, of the collective Ctrl G, and Ana Elvira Velez, all practice in Medellín. Colombia. Carla Juacaba is based in Brazil, and Perú is represented by the work of my Bay Area firm, A+D: Architecture + Design


To a large extent this latest generation is empowered by rising prosperity and new stability. After the difficult decades of the 1970s and '80s — when the region struggled with weak democracies and the after-effects of dictatorships, with financial uncertainty, drug trafficking and civil wars, and with the exodus of intellectuals and artists — the countries of Central and South America are enjoying greater security and significant investments of both foreign capital and domestic resources. And the need to reconstruct national images, to rebuild cultural identities to reflect the greater freedom and affluence, has prompted new interest in architecture and urban design and the reinvigoration of civic space.

Yet women architects in Latin America — as in North America — continue to confront gender-based inequities. Partly this seems due to entrenched cultural attitudes, and partly to the traditional connections between architecture, engineering and capital, which can make it difficult to progress to a less patriarchal culture of building and design. In my native Perú, to note just one example, women make up more than 50 percent of the classes in architecture schools but only 25 percent of registered architects; and only about three percent of firm principals are women. [1]

As Nora Enriquez puts it, in her introduction to the exhibition: "Recognition of women’s impact on the world of design has been slow.... In Latin America, the first generation of influential women in architecture is just beginning to emerge." Space Through Gender spotlights some of this vital new work, and it also spurs us to revisit a perennial question: Does gender matter in the design of buildings and landscapes?