‘We Will Not Stand Silent’: 150 Demonstrators Gather at the Venice Biennale To Demand Equity in Architecture

Odile Decq, Martha Thorne, Farshid Moussavi, Jeanne Gang, and others protested this morning to demand equal representation in the architectural profession.

Women Protest Venice Architecture Biennale
Demonstrators waved colorful fans while declaring, “Be a fan of Voices of Women” in a manifesto. Courtesy the author

At 11 a.m. today at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Odile Decq, Martha Thorne, and Farshid Moussavi stood on a bench by the leafy entrance to the Giardini and read a manifesto for women in architecture.

Positing themselves as “voices of women,” the trio spoke out about the fact that women are still a minority in the field of design. Decq and her colleagues also cited this year’s Biennale—titled FREESPACE and curated by Irish female architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara—as a “a crucial moment of awakening to promote equitable and respectful treatment of all members of the architectural community irrespective of gender, race, nationality, sexuality and religion.”

“We will not tolerate it. We will not stand silent,” Thorne read from a prepared statement.

At each emphatic moment of the brief speech, the trio waved foldable fans, eliciting cheers, applause, and further fan waving in the crowd.

Despite being without a microphone or amplification of any sort (the Biennale did not officially support the demonstration) the speech was not hard to miss. Dressed in her signature all-black attire and punk-ish looks, Decq took center stage on the bench.

News of the protest had spread through social media and word of mouth. In spite of the manifesto’s combative prose, the atmosphere in the approximately 150-strong crowd was jovial. Among the demonstrators was architect Jeanne Gang, founder of Chicago firm Studio Gang and a Biennale participant. “This is a very important show of solidarity,” she said speaking to Metropolis. “We have so many women architects in the same place, this is a gathering of energy. We need to use it to enforce non-discrimination on gender, sexuality, sexual preference, and race.”

Khenasi de Klerk, founder of Matri-Archi(tecture) was also in the crowd and one of the only people of color at Decq’s demonstration, a fact that underscored the need for more diversity in the profession. De Klerk, who is from South Africa, argued that the manifesto presented should further “feminist intersectionality in architecture.” She added, “The architecture industry remains dominated by white, hetero-male thought…We need a discussion on how to move forward on a conversation about equality.”

In the star-studded, predominantly female audience, Klerk was joined by the newly-named director of the Architectural Association in London, Eva Franch i Gilabert. “This event marks a tone for the Biennale,” she commented. “We must address the issues surrounding women in architecture and other forms of equity and equality.”

“This and the Biennale really pushes us to think about the toxic issues of labor as well as other figures who are not- and misrepresented,” Franch continued, going on to say how the the Biennale is a “space of reference and visibility,” something vital to illuminating the role of women in architecture.

Indeed for Decq, the protest was about women “not being invisible.”

“We want to make a statement to the world,” she told Metropolis prior to the demonstration. “We are from different generations, different professions in the architecture field, and we are all thinking that we have to stop discrimination and harassment.”

Decq also commented on the recent harassment allegations against Richard Meier, which surfaced in a New York Times report this March. “As soon as I heard about this article, I talked to the women in my office. We women know so many stories about male architects. He’s not the only one, you know? Definitely not.”

Yet, said Decq, “It’s thanks to [this recent news coverage] that we can discuss it. There are all of these existing [diversity-oriented] groups, but they are known by women and some architects. The great thing about Venice is it is so public and it is so big.”

Read the Manifesto, in its entirety, below.

Women Protest Venice Architecture Biennale
From left: Farshid Moussavi, Odile Decq, and Martha Thorne. Courtesy the author


We as Voices of Women are building conversations and taking actions to raise awareness to combat pervasive prejudices and disrespectful behavior that appears to be systemic in our culture and discipline. We are united in denouncing discrimination, harassment and aggressions against any member of our community. We will not tolerate it. We will not stand silent. Women are not a minority in the world but women are still a minority in the architecture’s field and we want that it could reflect better the world in which we live.

The Venice Biennale 2018 FREESPACE is a crucial moment of awakening to promote equitable and respectful treatment of all members of the architectural community irrespective of gender, race, nationality, sexuality and religion. We will join hands with co-workers, students, clients, collaborators, and our male colleagues to create a new path forward toward equitable work and educational environments that promote respectful discourse and open exchange of ideas.

Be a fan of Voices of Women. Make a Vow to uphold fairness, transparency, and collaboration in Architecture NOW.

Additional reporting by Anna Fixsen.

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