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Writing Her Own Archive
What constitutes an architectural archive? Is it a repository of production, of design, filled with plans, sketches on napkins, and correspondence between hero figures – useful and rich, yet often reinforcing canonisation by its very nature? Or can the practice of archival research, as exploration of a corpus, half sorted and inviting close inspection with the promise of discovery, help ‘to difference the canon’ (Pollock 1999)? Can it serve to make marginal architectural actors visible; those never called ‘architects’, who nevertheless had a lot to say about built spaces? I propose to think of the archive as a method as well as a site; a tool to lend credence to voices often unheard.
What will shift, if we begin to regard documentary writings – such as travelogues, journalism, domestic manuals, or political pamphlets – as archival depositories of architectural experience and critique? This talk explores a series of texts written by European women between c. 1750 and 1850 as architectural archives. It blows the dust of long-winded apologies for writing and publishing at all, it opens boxes of surprising views on new and old, iconic and unknown buildings and sites, and begins to catalogue women’s architectural agency in an epoch when there wasn’t meant to be any. In the process, it shelves (for a while at least) the concept of the archival hero, the genius architect whose estate sat at the centre of many architectural collections; placing centre stage (for a while at least) the (female) user and observer of the built.