Throughout history women and their contribution have been largely ignored by writers, historians and filmmakers. As a sex our work has been kept hidden, so it is devalued. This is true in the worlds of art and science. Architecture is one of the only metiers that combines the two and women have had an impact there. Though you would never really know unless you dug deep. Director Joseph Hillel (Ordinaire ou super) dug deep and found women like Phyllis Lambert, Denise Scott Brown, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, and Blanche Lemko van Ginkel. This documentary attempts to right the wrong.
All these women have worked in Canada as architects of one sort or another. Each has made significant contributions to their line of work and the cities they worked in. Yet, for the most part, they remain unknown. Using interviews and archival footage Hillel allows the viewer to get to know each of these important architects and women.
Blanche Lemko married another architect named Sandy van Ginkel and they co-founded van Ginkel Associates in 1957. The firm was known as one which paid particular attention to circulation, the conservation of historical districts, answers to problems that were sustainable, and making environments that were pedestrian friendly.
Denise Scott Brown should be considered one of the more influential architects of our time. She was also married to an architect, Robert Venturi. In partnership with him, she designed and had built many building complexes and plans involving different cities and universities. Denise developed theories that helped shape and change architecture.
Most familiar of the four due to the fact that she lives in Montreal is Phyllis Lambert of the famous Bronfman family. Working as an architect since the 1950s, Phyllis is the founder of Montreal’s Canadian Center for Architecture. Besides working as an architect she is also an author, activist, curator, and critic. Earning a reputation for a fighter for conservation of old buildings and the retention of the character of different neighbourhoods. A woman who sees the value of heritage.
Finally, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, who was born in Germany and moved to Canada, has been working as a landscape architect for over 60 years. Her career was built upon her ability to create innovative landscapes. Always with an eye towards sustainability, socially consciousness, benefit to all ages, and pragmatism.
What I really enjoyed learning about them all is how before their times they were. Each, in their own way, were concerned with doing work that was sustainable and socially conscious before they were en vogue. Pioneers because they were women and avant garde as they were concerned about heritage, conservation and sustainability before these became the norm.
Another strength of the documentary is that it allows the women to tell their stories in their own words. No perspective is imposed by the director. All we learn about them and their careers comes from the interviews with the four women. Using archival footage to illustrate what they are talking about or to expand upon it.
All of the women have had an impact on cities as varied as Montreal, Philadelphia, Vancouver, and Toronto. All have tried to have a hand in making those cities somewhere people could enjoy and be proud of living. They all still contribute to their field either through their wealth of knowledge or by the fact that they are still working. Much of the history and future of these four cities rests within the minds and hands of these four very impressive women.