D. Fairchild Ruggles

Professor of art, architecture and landscape history
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Editor’s note: After publishing a number of the lists of favorite books on architecture and the built environment, we received a note from Professor D. (Dede) Fairchild Ruggles pointing out the absence of books written by women in the lists. She commented that the lists imply that women have not written any interesting books on architecture and the built environment. The lists obviously express the choices of their individual authors and do not make claims of universalism. Still, Dede’s comments do point out the fact that the lists published so far do not fully cover the considerable diversity and richness of contemporary architectural writing, particularly in relation to gender.

Consequently we asked Dede, who herself is an accomplished author, if she would share with us a booklist that presents her selection of the writings of prominent women authors on architecture and the built environment, and also asked her if she would provide a short introduction to the list that addresses the issue of gender and the practice of writing on architecture and the built environment. In response, she developed the list and introductory comments provided below.

With Dede’s list, our endeavor on favorite booklists begins to feature a richer and more diverse selection of writings on architecture and the built environment. We very much thank her for that.



Gender is often treated as an intervention in a practice of architectural history and theory that is already in place, already gendered as male, and on which it therefore has a marginal impact. This notion of limited intervention is not a description of how things actually are, but rather a byproduct of the continuing blindness to gender as a significant force in the making of the built environment and writing about it. However, since Joan Scott’s famous “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis” first appeared in 1986, it is no longer tenable to assert or imply through omission that gender doesn’t matter. Gender is an important aspect of how we think and write about architecture. Just as it affects the space that we write about, it has a formative effect on the writers themselves. Among other things, gender awareness teaches us to be cognizant of how we construct lists and canons that, although written with innocent intentions, serve to exclude not only women but also non-Europeans and others characterized by religious, ethnic, class, or sexual difference, the canon both creating the category of difference and then using it to justify exclusion. Awareness is key here. The incomplete list of key authors below who wrote classic texts and/or changed what we know about the built environment is a modest intervention that places women back into the conversation about favorite writers about architecture.


Wilhelmina Jashemski, Gardens of Pompeii (published in two volumes in 1979 and 1993)

This archaeological work on the gardens of Pompeii literally created a new field of study. Instead of seeing Roman (and all other) gardens entirely through the lens of literature, Wilhelmina Jashemski has allowed us to view them as archaeologically knowable entities, thus giving us a better understanding of their forms and materials.


Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History, 1996, and other books

Dolores Hayden draws important, ground-breaking connections between politics, urban space, gender, and ethnicity. Her work has provided us with a richer understanding of how Americans of diverse backgrounds have shaped their landscapes, towns, and buildings.


Denise Scott Brown, Learning from Las Vegas (co-authored with Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour), 1977

This book became an instant classic, stimulating architects and historians to think about registers of design that are typically ignored by architects as tasteless and yet are encountered constantly in the everyday landscape: billboards, signs, motels, parking lots, and casinos. It demands that architects “learn from the existing landscape” and “gain insight from the commonplace.”


Gwendolyn Wright, Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago, 1873-1913, 1980, and other books

Gwendolyn Wright writes about urbanism, the role of history in architectural design schools, and architectural history, especially the history of domestic housing. Housing — and there are far more ordinary homes built than grand museums, palaces, and public buildings — is a virtually ignored field, but it is an architectural arena in which the impact of women consumers and non-professional builders becomes most visible.


Alice Friedman, Women and the Making of the Modern House, 1998, and other books

Alice Friedman is a pioneer in writing about gender in European and American architecture. In Women and the Making of the Modern House Friedman investigates the role that women architectural patrons have taken on in transforming domestic architectural design. She examines a number of iconic houses of the twentieth century, and creates detailed portraits of these houses as well as of the people who commissioned, designed, and lived in them through examining personal letters, diaries, office records, photo albums, and interviews.


Labelle Prussin, African Nomadic Architecture: Space, Place and Gender, 1995, and other books

Labelle Prussin is a leading historian of African architecture. In African Nomadic Architecture she extensively explores the technologies, styles, designs, as well as the symbolic and ritual meanings of the tent and related vernacular architecture in various African cultures.


Dana Arnold, Reading Architectural History, 2002

This edited collection has in a short space of time gained fundamental importance. The essays examine the historiographic and socio/cultural implications of the mapping of British architectural history with particular reference to eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain. They consider a range of writings from biographical and social histories to visual surveys and guidebooks. The book has become an essential reference on methods and critical approaches to architectural history, and also the kind of evidence used in its formation.

Other women scholars who have made an impact on my own work in Islamic architecture and landscape history include Janet Abu-Lughod, whose many publications include Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious (1971); Nurhan Atasoy, whose Garden for the Sultan (2002) opened up the topic of Ottoman gardens; Catherine Asher, author of Architecture of Mughal India (1992), which is now the definitive source in that area; Naomi Miller, the historian of French and Italian Renaissance architecture as well as built garden elements such as fountains; and Ann Bermingham whose Landscape and Ideology (1986) illuminated the intimate yet masked connection between landscape and politics.


July 1, 2014