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UB architects help write history of women architects

In this 1905 photo of Buffalo's Lafayette Square, the Lafayette Hotel, designed by Louise Blanchard Bethune, is pictured on the right. Photo: Zina Bethune Archive on Louise Bethune, UB Archives


Published February 19, 2018

Louise Blanchard Bethune

Buffalo architect Louise Blanchard Bethune was the first female member and fellow of the American Institute of Architects; her legacy of built works totals nearly 150 across the country. Elsa Mandelstamm Gidoni, a Jewish architect who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, helped bring European modernism to the United States, as well as Palestine.   

These powerful, yet largely unknown stories of prominent female architects are among 50 being documented to ensure their names — and contributions — are not lost to time.

Elsa Mandelstamm Gidoni

Led by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the collection of historical narratives is being penned by a cadre of authors that includes two UB architects: Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie. The work recently came to life in the form of the Pioneering Women of American Architecture website.

The effort, co-directed by Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner of Columbia University, focuses on 50 prominent women in architecture, generally born before 1940, with works completed between 1880 and 1980. The women were chosen by a jury of three: Ford Peatross, Sarah Whiting and Gwendolyn Wright. 

The profiles of each woman will chronicle their contributions to the history of American architecture and the field overall, and celebrate how they challenged the gender stereotypes and social conventions of their time.  

Genia Averbuch, Elsa Gidoni, and Schomo Ginsburg, Café-Restaurant at the Levant Fair, Tel Aviv, Palestine, 1934. Library of Congress

More than two dozen profiles are already live. Upon their completion, all 50 profiles will be published in a book.

Stratigakos, who wrote the profile on Elsa Mandelstamm Gidoni, is associate professor of architectural history in the School of Architecture and Planning and a trustee of the Beverly Willis foundation. She recently was named interim vice provost for inclusive excellence. McAlonie, a practicing architect, is director of capital planning for UB and a widely recognized expert on Louise Blanchard Bethune.

The Beverly Willis Foundation was founded in 2002 by architect Beverly Willis, who — when she began practicing in the 1950s — believed she was the only woman interested in architecture due to a lack of documentation of other women in the field.