Following her 22 years experience and Ph.D. in Turkish architecture, she set sail for MIT: for our collective and peaceful future, we should recognize equal and inclusive nature of architecture…
Could you tell me/us about your background, your current scientific research studies in (the US) architecture, and why have you decided to study on this topic?
Obtained my Bachelor, Master and Ph.D. degree in architecture at Istanbul Technical University, I am currently scholar on women and politics of gender (in postwar architecture history); and have been conducting my advanced academic research studies in the US.
I began to examine this research topic during my advanced academic research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture Program that took two years; and more specifically, studied on “educational and professional career of pioneering Turkish and Turkish-American women architects of the postwar generation in the US” based on my archival research, first-hand information and visual materials, etc.
Before my scholarly research studies in the US, I conducted my professional practice, worked as a general publishing coordinator and taught advanced design studio, various courses on history, theory and discourse on the 20th century modern and contemporary architecture in Istanbul.
With this background and experiences, I completed the first Ph.D. dissertation in its field: Based on my dissertation research studies and academic appointments at Harvard and Columbia universities.
I studied on theoretical analyses and historical examinaton of Tekeli-Sisa architecture partnership’s practice (1954-present) with a special focus on changing profiles of the large-scale clients in the private sector (Ekincioglu, 2011).
Why have I decided to study on women and gender politics in architecture, and in particular why Turkish women architects’ “untold” career stories in the US after all of those experiences?
First of all, as a graduate of Erenkoy Girls High School founded in Istanbul in order to educate modern women of Turkey, and one of the oldest surviving girls’ high schools in the country since 1911, “equity and gender politics” have been always among my focal points in my life with my deep interest in critical and analytical thinking.
Following my Ph.D. dissertation research studies at Harvard (2006-2007) and Columbia universities (2008-2009), I deeply began to think a. masculine character of power networks between academia and the architecture profession; and b. its influences on invisibility of women architects and scholars’ accomplishments, struggles and challenges within this problematic picture during my studies in Turkey.
Without a doubt, this problem is deeply rooted in architecture history, and highly conventional mindset to construct collective memory in (Turkish) architecture, etc.
Critical architecture history and historiography are still based on “heroic male” narratives, and mostly are shaped by masculine power networks.
Not surprisingly, today, most women architects have been still struggling with gender equity in academia and profession; are less likely to be promoted to top positions, have to challenge equal pay for comparable positions with their male colleagues; their professional capacity and fields are mostly limited to interior or house design, decoration, small-scale projects, they have been still challenging to work at the construction sites, large-scale, technical, high-rise and commercial building projects, etc.
Within this picture, their success stories, struggles and challenges are mostly invisible in architecture history and historiography. Our collective memory in architecture is usually based on heroic male figures.
Following my Ph.D. dissertation research experiences in the US, in Turkey, “invisibility” of Turkish women architects’ international endevaour (as one of the significant attack on politic of gender in the field) has become one of my essential scholarly concerns:
Academia, critical architecture history and the architecture profession should be more open to recognize success by women architects (and scholars) in the national and international context for more equal, inclusive and diverse architecture and its positive contribution to the built environment as well as to the society at large.
Gender equity provides more creative motivation, productivity and peaceful life environments for everyone…
What would you like to say about the gap in your scholarly research field in architecture, and what is its importance for the society at large?
Even though Turkish (women) architects began to take their places within the international scene since the 1940s, and the influences of globalization on Turkish architecture is one of the noteworthy discussion topics in academia as well as education, most of scholary (research) studies on Turkish (women) architects are still limited to the republican women in the 1930s; and only a few of them underlines 2-3 pioneering women architects in the 1950s.
Secondly, those studies usually analyze and discuss the career history of Turkish women architects with their housing projects, domestic architecture, interior design, etc. which are usually acceptable architectural projects and practice for women (Dostoglu & Erkaslan, 2013; Kılınç, 2010, Baydar 2007; 2002).
Thirdly, their scholarly focal point is mostly the national context. Such an effort is important but can’t be enough to comprehend the potential, capacity and contributions of women architects from Turkey in the 21st century.
If Turkish women architects began to challenge convential gender politics and the pressure of the nation-state ideology on their career since the 1940s, I think that we have to recognize this historical fact in academia, and to tell their “untold” but inspiring stories to architectural and scholarly community as well as to the society.
Why, in particular, Turkish women architects in the US as a research subject?
With a new geo-political order and the rising influence of the US in the global world after the WWII, cross-cultural exchange between postwar Turkish and American architecture has gained an important momentum since that historical time period.
Needless to say that the US has been one of the significant leaders in the global world of architecture with its modern history of architecture profession, pioneering and oldest schools of architecture, creative and innovative techniques in architectural (design) practice, opportunities in architecture business, etc.
With its highly multicultural and international architectural community including a lot of succesful immigrant, foreign-born as well as national architects, it has a highly competitive but productive and creative atmosphere.
In this respect, even though it has been one of the leading international destinations for Turkish architects since the postwar period, scholarly studies on Turkish architects within this historical time is usually limited to the arrival of International Style from the US in Turkey with heroic male design practitioners in architecture; except of a very few scholarly, in-depth, analytical advanced research studies. (Kaçel, 2009).
I think that it is time to uncover “hidden” and “silent” stories of Turkish women architects beyond national context (as of 2020); and the US can be seen one of the remarkable start points for this endevaour. I hope we can read more career stories of Turkish (women) architects in other countries in the near future. (and, of course, on Turkish women in other fields…)
Could you share with us your significant findings and their importance for us?
According to my findings during my advanced scientific research project at MIT, Celile Berk Butka (1915-1984) (2), the first woman engineer-architect graduated from Istanbul Technical University (1942) conducted her master thesis at the MIT-School of Architecture and Planning (1946-1947), and then, her professional career in the US (1959-1972) as her detailed CV at the American Institute of Architects reveals her inspiring story.
Ayla Karacabey Chatfield (1939-2012), a graduate of the American College for Girls with Honors in Istanbul (1954) received her Bachelor of Science degree in Art History at Vassar College (1956); then, her Master of Architecture in Urban Design degree at the Harvard University-Graduate School of Design (1960), and worked on architectural and urban design projects in the US, Europe and Turkey.
Reyhan Tansal Larimer (1940-present), a graduate of the North Carolina State University, School of Design with a Bachelor of Architecture (1966) worked at Louis Kahn office (1966-1974), David Wisdom and Associates (until 1981), Venturi Scott Brown (until 1983), continued her career at the University of Pennsylvania as the owner’s representative in the planning department for 15 years, and has been working on new and restoration projects at the medical facilities of Yale University since 2000. (According to information on her in 2016).
I am also the first scholar to study on the first woman architect from the Princeton University-School of Architecture (1970), Aliye Pekin Celik (1945-present), a graduate of the Middle East Technical University, and two early women architects from the same program, Marlene Jacknis and Carol Case Gaasch (Class of 1971).
As they shared with me, there is no research on their career in architecture; and it can be easily assumed that my scholarly research studies have opened up a new chapter in the history of the Princeton University-School of Architecture, one of the pioneering schools of architecture in the world as well.
This also show how “international scholars” can uncover cross-cultural dialogues in architecture history, and contribute not only to architecture history of their native country.
Among those women architects from Turkey, Nuray Anahtar can be seen as a profile in young generation: Following her Bachelor degree in Architecture from the State Academy of Architecture and Engineering, Faculty of Architecture in Ankara (1980) and her Master in Science degree in Architecture from the Middle East Technical University, Faculty of Architecture (1984), she transferred her professional practice experience and skills to the US with her architect spouse (1985) and still active in her professional life in the country.
Among all of those women architects from Turkey, Meral Iskir’s career story indicates a very significant threshold within this context: As a graduate of Istanbul Technical University (1964), she came to the US with her architect spouse (1969), obtained her Master degree from at the Catholic University of America, School of Architecture and Planning as the first woman graduate of this program (1974), has been still conducting her professional career in the US since that time, co-founded SK+I architectural office with Sami Kokdil, her colleague in 1999 and was elevated to College of Fellows by the American Institute of Architects, as one of the rare women architects at that top award level in a highly competitive, white-Western-male dominated US architecture (2016).
Those women architects show us that it is possible to tear down gender politics and glass ceilings not only in Turkish but also in the highly competitive US architecture as well. In addition, their projects and buildings exemplify that women architects can work on various types of building typologies, and various fields in architecture through an alternative career path.
These examples should take their places in critical architecture history and historiography for the sake of more equal, diverse and inclusive (international and national) architecture, and the society. They are also noteworthy examples for the high professional and personal capacity of women, and more specifically women architects.
We should share those women’s stories with society instead of leaving this knowledge into the closed-sphere of academia in order to encourage other (and young) women in the field.
What were academic and architectural responses in the US to your scientific research project and findings? In addition to academia and profession in Turkish architecture, do you think that your findings can contribute to women & gender politics discussions in the US architecture as well?
Following my advanced scientific research project at MIT, I am so glad to talk for my presentations at the MIT-History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture Program (2016), the MIT-Women and Gender Studies Program (2017), made an appointment with the MIT President (2016), and received their supportive comments.
As one of the oldest and pioneering research-based universities, and the school of architecture in the world, there are highly critical discussions at MIT to recognize its diverse, multicultural and international scholarly and architectural community today.
Being invited as speaker by International Women in Architecture Symposium at Virginia Tech. (2017), City University of New York (2017), the 71st Society of Architecture Historians International Conference (2018), I was also awarded by their fellowship for my participation to their conference, invited by “Convergence”, a panel organized at Harvard University and by New England Turkish Student Association to make a presentation at the same university (2016).
In addition, I am thrilled to be an author of “Routledge Companion to Women in Architecture” edited by Dr. Anna Sokolina, and a contributor of the US and Turkey Chapter of “the Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960-2015” edited by Laurie Brown and Karen Burns. (Advisor of Turkey Chapter is Prof. Dr. Gulsun Saglamer, the first woman rector of Istanbul Technical University. She was also my architecture design studio -woman- professor at ITU).
With the support by the MIT-Archnet, I also created and developed a collection on pioneering Turkish women architects (its editing and uploading materials are in-progres). When I began to conduct this collection on Turkish women architects, as one of the significant feminist cases from the modern Middle East (2014), the MIT-Archnet did not have such a detailed collection on women architects.
I think that all of those invitations, conference, panel, publications, collection etc. can be regarded as an important step for the recognition of (the history of) Turkish women architects’ accomplishments and scholarly study on this subject in this country.
When such significant findings take their places in scholarly literature, core curriculum in architecture and stimulate fresh discussions in architecture and in society, we can make progress for the recognition of gender equity.
What are your suggestions to make positive changes in gender politics in architecture? In addition to scholarly context and publications, what can be the role of media (for general readers and audiences) to create public awareness of those issues?
“The core” of this issue lies within education in architecture. Core courses at the undergraduate level should include discussions on women, gender politics, and underrepresented communities, etc. in order to embrace multicultural and diverse characteristics of architecture.
Essential problem with gender gap, its politics and gender discrimination (in architecture) are deeply rooted in its history, in history writing practice and in how our collective memory has been constructed in the field. At that point, I think that inclusive and diverse historical documentation at schools of architecture and at professional organizations in architecture is highly vital to construct and recognize collective memory on women & gender in the field.
For instance, as Istanbul Technical University sent its written responses to MIT for my scholarly research on Celile Berk, they don’t know her career except of ITU; don’t know her master thesis at MIT; her professional career in the US in spite of “her” significance in the history of ITU.
Based on such a problematic perspective, I have been currently conducting a new research on “diverse historical documentation practice at pioneering schools of architecture (in the US)”; and am very glad to be supported by the participation of archivists, librarians, curators at the Harvard University-Graduate School of Design; Architecture and Design Collections at the MIT Museum; the Yale University-School of Architecture; the Princeton University-School of Architecture; University of Michigan-Art, Architecture & Engineering Library; University of Rice; and the SCI-Arch-the Kappe Library, etc. According to their written responses to my research questions, there is a huge gap on women and gender in their historical documentation practice as of 2019 in spite of rising tension in the lack of inclusive, diverse and equal mindset in today’s US architecture.
At that point, with scholars in the field, I think that printed and electronic media for general audiences and readers have a very important responsibility: They are the most effective communication channels to disseminate our findings to the society in order to create public awareness on those issues. In this respect, thank you for giving me this opportunity to express those critical facts to your readers for more peaceful and equal architecture, society and future.
1. Academic sponsor of advanced scientific research project by Dr. Ekincioglu is MIT.
2. According to the following article by Prof. Dr. Gulsun Saglamer, Celile Berk is the first female graduate of Istanbul Technical University in “architecture”, see for its reference: Saglamer, Gulsun.
Women Academics in Science and Technology with Special Reference to Turkey, in Ambrosi L. (ed.), Trisorio-Liuzzi G. (ed.), Quagliariello R. (ed.), Santelli Beccegato L. (ed.), Di Benedetta C. (ed.), Losurdo F. (ed.), Women Status in the Mediterranean: Their Rights and Sustainable Development, Bari: CIHEAM, 2009, p. 59, http://womeninscience.rasit.org/files/Turkish_women_in_science_paper.pdf, accessed on February 10, 2020. According to the following information by Yekta Ozguven, “the first women engineer architects graduated from “Yuksek Muhendis Mektebi in 1942” (Records of Istanbul Technical University Presidency Archives Management) were Celile Berk and Fatma Karacik., see for its reference: Ozguven, Yekta.
The Beginning of Formal Architectural Education in Turkey and the Pioneer Turkish Women in Architectural Education, 1st International CIB Endorsed METU Postgraduate Conference Built Environment & Information Technologies, Ankara, 2006, http://www.irbnet.de/daten/iconda/06059008380.pdf, p. 132, accessed on February 10, 2020.
• Baydar, G., 2007, “Room for a Newlywed Woman, Making Sense of Gender in the Architectural Discourse of Early Republican Turkey.”, Journal of Architectural Education 60, pp. 3-11.
• Baydar, G., 2002, “Tenuous Boundaries: Women, Domesticity and Nationhood in 1930s Turkey.”, the Journal of Architecture 3, pp. 229-244.
• Dostoglu, N. T., and Erkaslan, O. E. (eds.), 2013, Leman Cevat Tomsu, Türk Mimarlığında Bir Öncü, 1913-1988, Mimarlığa Emek Verenler Dizisi, No: 6, Mimarlar Odası Yayınları, Ankara, Nisan, p. 87 (Eng. Dostoğlu, N. T., and Erkaslan, Ö. E. eds., 2013, Leman Cevat Tomsu, A Pioneer in Turkish Architecture, 1913-1988, Contributors to Architecture Series, No: 6, the Chamber of Architects of Turkey Publications, April, Ankara.).
• Ekincioglu, M., 2011, Tekeli-Sisa Architecture Practice from the 1960s to 2000 Construction of the Design Architect’s Professional Role in Modern Turkey, Ph.D. Dissertation, Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey.
• Kaçel, E., 2009, Intellectualism and Consumerism: Ideologies, Practices and Criticism of Common Sense Modernism in Postwar Turkey, Ph.D. Dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, USA.
• Kılınç, K., 2010, “Constructing Women for the Republic: The Spatial Politics of Gender, Class, and Domesticity in Ankara, 1928-1952.” Ph.D. Dissertation, State University of New York at Binghamton, Department of Art History.