Strewn with laptops, books and no-frills amuse-bouches, the back room of the Center for Architecture hardly looks like the site of a revolution.
But when “Women. Wikipedia. Design. #wikiD,” a writing workshop, took over the space one sunny Thursday afternoon last March, a prolonged insurgency was precisely what it was staging. The weapon: Wikipedia. The target: gender parity in the architectural record.
The Wikipedia edit-a-thon was the third annual event of its kind. Organized by the New York–based women’s architecture group ArchiteXX, the workshop brought architectural professionals together for a crash course in Wikipedia literacy, encouraging participants to expand the encyclopedia’s coverage of women in architecture.
Architizer sat down with architect Lori Brown, the ArchiteXX co-founder spearheading the #wikiD initiative. Brown is an active Wikipedia contributor herself, integrating her writing with her ArchiteXX advocacy and her academic post as professor at Syracuse University’s School of Architecture.
Lucy Wang: What are the biggest challenges of writing for Wikipedia?
Lori Brown: It’s a time-consuming process that requires specialized knowledge of the site, and people cannot donate hours and hours of time. But when they do, it’s quite empowering to be in a room together working on this. There’s an energy where people consult with one another. It’s critical that we come together every so often to do this.
How does the #wikiD event feed into the missions and values of ArchiteXX?
ArchiteXX is focused on being a bridge between the academy and practice. We feel that there’s a really underserved community between these two. We’re trying to create networks for younger women especially. All of our programming is focused on raising awareness to the roles women occupy in architecture. Student populations are split close to 50-50 between genders in the U.S., but there’s still a real lack of women being promoted in the public eye.
We’re trying to publicize and promote more women, and clearly, then, the #wikiD project is a critical part of that. Not only is there less content on women architects and designers on Wikipedia, but there are fewer women writers and editors. With the #wikiD project, we hope to increase content and educate up-and-coming women writers.
So there is a focus on writing with women in addition to writing women into history?
Absolutely. When we were first getting to know some of the Wikipedians in New York City, we realized that they were aware of this disparity in our community. We’re working with them to cultivate new writers who will return. The goal is that these events create an interest and help foster ongoing writing throughout the year.
How have ArchiteXX’s Wikipedia write-a-thons grown from the inaugural events in 2015 until now?
The first year of #wikiD was 2015. For it, we put together a how-to guide that was very down-and-dirty, very fast. We emailed everyone we knew in our different networks to see if people would be willing to either host writing events or write some women in. We were so encouraged by the publicity it received and the positive feedback that we thought we would keep going. As a result of that, two groups reached out to us, n-ails in Berlin and Parlour in Melbourne [Australia].
The three groups co-applied for a Wikimedia grant to create a three-city endeavor that kick-started a series of workshops as well as a set of Wikipedia guidelines to help architects and designers more easily write entries. In New York City, the grant also led to an event called “Women in Architecture @ Guggenheim,” which coincided with Archtober 2015. It was amazing that a one-day global effort could increase women’s content in architecture and design by that much.
What people or topics were you surprised to see unrepresented or underrepresented on Wikipedia?
I was shocked by the number of women that we’ve all heard of that we’d assume would have Wikipedia pages but don’t. For me, the surprise was that there were so many women in the middle tier of practice without a Wikipedia presence. Shelley McNamara was recently announced as the new curator for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale [along with her Grafton Architects co-director Yvonne Farrell].
Her Wikipedia page has questions about her notability. Wikipedia editors are saying that she does not meet Wikipedia’s notability guidelines. It’s just astounding. It’s things like this that continue to perpetuate the difficulty of women’s representation on Wikipedia.
What’s in the future for #wikiD? What do you hope to see for women in architecture, as reflected by Wikipedia?
The goal is that there will be parity, that we will have equal numbers of women architects represented as men. I am committed to keep doing this until that is the case.