Yes, She Can! Making female architects more visible. 11th November 2017

Last Saturday, November the 11th, we celebrated our first YES, SHE CAN! event for families at the AA. We are incredibly grateful to all the families who attended and to our inspiring speakers. They shared their knowledge and gave us a fabulous hint of their interesting work in architecture. Children aged 7 to 16, learnt that being an architect enables you to develop a wide and diverse array of activities.

Architecture is a complex and rich discipline and not always the general public have been informed about it ( I would say that we have neglected the communication with society during decades). Architecture is a humanist career that prepares the student not just to design buildings but to aim for changing and improve our cities for the better. With this new format, children and young people understood that female architects are involved in all sort of processes and they discovered that we are able to develop all kind of interesting professional roles!

Hopefully, this is just the first of many Yes, She Can! to happen.

Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido.

Please find below a summary of our day.

We are calling all budding architects, designers, artists, and writers! Come along to the next Little Architect Family Workshop – Yes, she can! – part of AA XX 100, celebrating 100 years of women in the Architectural Association. Boys and girls aged 7-16 are invited to hear from and get creative with female architects working in the profession: Cristina Garcia (Principal, KPF), Samantha Lee (Artist), Samantha Hardingham (AA Interim Director), Caroline Rabourdin ( AA tutor), Manijeh Verghese ( AA Public Programme Curator), Dolores Victoria Ruiz ( AA Little Architect director) after listening to their brief Keynote presentations, we will draw buildings, write stories and make a group collage. These women will share their different approaches to architecture and will offer a positive role model to your children. Places are free, but limited, book now at can’t wait to see you there! with all our drawings together. It is a great opportunity to offer new female role models to your children! 



Our speakers have been: 

Samantha Hardingham (AA Dip 1993) is an architectural writer, editor and curator. Her most recent and celebrated work is the award-winning, two-volume anthology Cedric Price Works 1952-2003, published by the AA/CCA in October 2016. She also wrote the famous book, London: A Guide to recent Architecture in 1997 amongst many others. Samantha has a wide-ranging knowledge and understanding of the AA having been a design studio tutor across all undergraduate years at the AA since 2008, as well as chair of the AA’s Undergraduate Management Committee since 2015 and member of the Senior Management Team. As Interim School Director she looks forward to leading the AA in this very special year as the school celebrates a centenary of women at the AA, with the culmination of the AA XX 100 project.

Manijeh Verghese is a tutor, editor, designer and curator interested in the different forms of architectural practice, and the communication of architecture through various formats. She graduated from the AA with Honours and previously did a degree in architecture and mathematics at Wellesley College, Massachusetts. In addition to teaching Diploma 12, she is the Head of Lectures & Curator of the AA Public Programme, editor of the website AA Conversations, and a seminar leader for the Architectural Professional Practice for Fifth Year Part 2 course. Since 2015, she has been teaching a postgraduate design studio at Oxford Brookes University. From 2012 to 2015 she was a design tutor of AA Intermediate Unit 11. She has worked for numerous architecture practices including John Pawson and Foster + Partners, and has contributed to design publications such as Disegno and Icon.

Cristina Garcia. is Design Principal in KPF, an international architecture office, she obtained her architectural diploma from the ETSA Barcelona. She has more than 24 years of experience designing complex office, masterplanning, residential, and education projects across the UK, Europe and Asia. She consistently delivers buildings that take advantage of their climatic location as she advocates for sustainable design. Just to name a few of her projects, in Moscow, she was responsible for revitalising the south bank of the Moskva River, in Delhi, she is in charge of a project that will combine an airport and commercial facilities to form the main gateway to India and in Amsterdam,she designed the Campus for the Amsterdam University of Applied Science, which allowed the relocation of almost all of the university’s institutes to the city centre.

Dr. Caroline Rabourdin, is a French architect, essayist and academic living in London.Her current research includes spatial theory, geometry, phenomenology, spatial literature and comparative literature as creative practices. She graduated from the INSA in Strasbourg (1999), holds a Master in architectural design with distinction from the Bartlett, UCL and a PhD from University of the Arts London, UAL for her thesis ‘Le Sens de la Translation: Essays on the Bilingual Body’. She currently teaches at the AA School of Architecture in History and Theory,  Media Studies, and for the MA in History and Critical Thinking. She initiated and is the director of the AA Visiting School PARIS, titled Architecture & Ecriture, which celebrates writing as a critical and creative practice.

Samantha Lee is a Canadian-born, Korean architect and artist based in London. She graduated from the Architectural Association in 2012 and co-founded digital arts practice UniversalAssemblyUnit in 2013. She is currently completing a MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Arts. Her practice encompasses light installations, 3D scanning, and moving imagery to explore virtual environments and spatialize the digital image. She’s interested in the omnipresence of technology and the consequences that has on our understanding of both human and non-human identities

Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido (Lola), has been the author and director of Little Architect, the Architectural Association’s programme for UK primary schools, since 2013. She obtained her architectural diploma from the ETSA Sevilla and her Master in Art and History in Jaén University. Lola was director of her own architectural office Semisótano Arquitectos based in Andalusia, Spain and has over 16 years’ experience in designing private and public projects. She is also co-founder of the Spanish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN) and a new collaborative office called ANDA. Her practise is winner of several national and international awards. Her work involves communities in the design process and places emphasis on a responsible and sustainable approach to the environment. She created Little Architect with the aim of changing the way in which architects communicate with society, especially in culturally deprived sectors, and to improve the understanding of contemporary architecture for the good of our future cities and the wider architectural profession.


Little Architect, invited to participate in the International Conference AAXX100

Ruth Asawa, whose commitment to art education and the improvement of the school curriculum, has clearly influenced my work, was a Japanese American art and education activist devoting many years of her life to create and consolidate an intertwined relationship between artists and primary schools through her successful Alvarado Art Workshop in San Francisco. Asawa, who studied at the Black Mountain College, knew that artists are key figures for schools and I firmly believe that architects, more specifically female architects, should go to schools too. WHY? Because after many years, more than twelve, practising architecture in my own office, I realized that a real dialogue towards better design of cities, can´t happen if the counterpart has no knowledge about the main points of the conversation. In my view, it is our duty as architects to offer knowledge about architecture and cities, to establish bridges of profound communication with society and to make visible and tangible our role as women in architecture.

Little Architect is an educational program introducing school children to the topic of architecture. We are part of the Architectural Association Visiting School and have been offering our lessons in London primary schools since 2013. The goal of our work is to educate school children, aged four to eleven, in the observation, understanding and questioning of their own built environment. Our aim is to create a proactive and committed relationship between citizens and the city. I will show how Little Architect uses architecture as a tool to transform and enrich children´s understanding of their habitat. The chosen context for these lessons, state schools, offers a wide and diverse spectrum of children, enabling the programme to bring new role models into the classroom, unmasking a male based curriculum, while fostering a creative way of thinking. Little Architect teaches children to think about architecture, not to make architecture, to empower children in having firm attitudes towards a local and global sustainable development, very much in line with the Unesco objectives for 2030.

Little Architect, was originally sketched out by Mark Cousins in 2011, but the strict rules of children safety made it impossible to be developed. In 2010, I came to live in London and after spending a couple of years researching and testing a methodology to incorporate architecture in the UK school curriculum, I offered my experiences to the AA. Natasha Sandmeier in the first instance, but primarily Christopher Pierce´s, director of the AA Visiting School, rapidly saw the educational strengths of this project and gave the green light to the programme which has so far reached nearly 5,000 children.

The beginning of the negative female stereotypes starts as far as Pandora and Eva, which means a quasi-eternal “guilty” portrait of women. After generations of women fighting for equality we still find behaviors, songs´ lyrics, adverts, movies or music videos, giving us a distorted image of women, shaping and perpetuating the “white male hero”, so when we, female architects, visit the primary school classroom we are not just teaching about architecture and the city, we are making various feminist statements.

Learning is never an isolated process, it is contextual. Learning happens everywhere, through formal and informal education. In both types of education, we find the official, the hidden and the null curriculum.[1] The official curriculum in the UK is the one that Little Architect has carefully studied to incorporate architecture in the statutory learning hours but what we are doing from inside the education system is an attack to the hidden and the null curriculum. We do our approach from three angles: 1.Taken down stereotypes about contemporary architecture and modernity 2. Incorporating a positive, powerful and active female role into the children´s imagery 3. Re-training[2] the senses in order to grow children´s capabilities to observe and being curious, hence their critical thinking.

Maria Acaso, Spanish writer, art activist and professor, maintains that any act of teaching is a performance[3], we share her idea and we have designed the scrip like this:

 We go to teach to schools. In GOING, in moving ourselves towards children rather than expecting them to come to our place, we have made one of our fundamentals. We are setting horizontal relationships and generating in the children an unconscious feeling of self-steam. We are erasing hierarchies. Architect = Primary School teacher. We, female architects, become part of their daily environment thus we become familiar and trustful. Bruno Munari´[1]s called for demolishing the myth of the “star” artist, in our case we are demolishing the “star” architect.

At early ages children, usually don´t know the meaning of the word architecture and generally they confuse our discipline with archaeologists or builders. Showing that we, female architects, have: Designed architecture, controlled a building process, know about materials and construction systems, know about maths and structures, have convinced clients and politicians and ultimately make people lives´ happier: we are offering a brand-new female role model, strongly linked to concepts such as power, knowledge and care. We highlight the role of female architects bringing examples of their work and introducing a narrative to communicate their ideas to children: Alison Brooks, Sarah Wigglesworth, Benedetta Tagliabue, Anna Heringer, Marta Parra& Angela Muller or Zaha Hadid, Lina Bobardi, Gego…etc,

  1. A) Zaha: the super clever woman who lifted a building to run for longer.
  2. B) Benedetta: The caring architect that designed a new landscape for the neighbours. Architecture for the people.[2] “Rebuilding London” Mayor of London. The connectivity and the seeking for new audiences. 700 schools and school teachers.
  3. C) Dolores Victoria Ruiz (Little Architect figure in the class) Tangible, approachable, reachable

Neil Postman´s wrote a poetic definition of childrenChildren, are the living messages that we send to a time we will not see”[3]but it creates a gap too open between adults and children. We like to celebrate the creation of a team and to work for a better future together: Children and Adults.  Social empowerment needs to come together with teaching the tools to reach the ones in power. Some examples of our lessons fostering this empowerment are: Sending postcards to Boris Jonhson(Ex London mayor) sending proposals to improve the Caledonian Clock Tower to the Islington council or improvements in The Royal Dockyard in Chatham to the Heritage Lottery Fund. In less than 15 or 20 years these children will be in charge of London acting like doctors, school teachers, taxi drivers, architects, shop keepers, or maybe politicians and we, female architects, are empowering them to claim for better cities.

“Welcome to the AA, the greatest school of architecture on the planet! In words of Brett Stelee,  there is no other place like The AA, but regardless if his words were accurate or not, the AA is today an influencer, it is a reference in the architecture realm and as Marshall McLuhan stated: The medium is the message, and the message consist of an independent self-funded architectural school teaching architecture in deprived areas of London, this is the most significant aspect here, it is its replica capability, the legacy that it might leave in the educative sector and the position that we, female architects, will address as time passes.

Thank you very much. Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido founder and director of Little Architect AA Visiting School.

[1] Jackson, Life in Classrooms, 1968 ( p. 33-34)

[2] Re-training refers to older children attending the last courses in Key Stage Two ( Year 5 and 6) that learnt about their own senses in Nursery and Reception but due to the current use of mobile devices have been

[1] Bruno Munari, Design as Art. 1966

[2] Yona Friedman, Architecture with the people, by the people, for the people. MUSAC. 2011

[3] Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood. 1982

[1] Jackson, Life in Classrooms, 1968 ( p. 33-34)

[2] Re-training refers to older children attending the last courses in Key Stage Two ( Year 5 and 6) that learnt about their own senses in Nursery and Reception but due to the current use of mobile devices have been

[3] Maria Acaso, Pedagogias Invisibles, 2013