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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.100 Santiago dic. 2018 

Works & projects

Possible roles of women architects in the materialization of architecture in Chile

Romy Hecht1 

1 Profesora Titular, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


Despite having re-emerged strongly in 2018, the debate on the role of women in society is not new. Neither is in architecture. Based on a research work conducted 18 years ago, the following text reflects on the invisibility of women in ARQ’s history and, from there, on the way we understand the discipline and the profession.

Keywords: woman; profession; visibility; feminism; #MeToo

In the year 2000, before the #MeToo era and the so-called fourth-wave feminism, one of my jobs was to work in ARQ’s editorial production. Although a woman directed the journal - Montserrat Palmer - it had scarcely published buildings by Chilean women architects.13 In parallel, after five years of being an assistant and three more years collaborating in various classes, I had finally achieved my first independent course at the School of Architecture of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, the third year Research Studio, an optional studio. Its main goal was (and still is) to develop a controlled disciplinary research exercise, where the work is intended to acquire a collective dimension (usually by addressing a common topic developed from exemplary cases) while taking part in a collaborative research effort focused on Chilean architecture, urban planning, and landscape.

Revista Auca 6-7 (ago.1966)

Figure 1 Jaime Besa, Hilda Carmona Low. Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas, Campus San Joaquín UC, Santiago, 1961. Captions only mention Besa as the author. 

Eduardo Waissbluth

Figure 2 Abraham Schapira, Raquel Eskenazi, León Messina. Edificio Ultramar, Viña del Mar, 1965 

Patricia Silva

Figure 3 Santiago Aguirre, Inés Frey. Edificio Pecchi, Concepción, 1944. 

At that time I already had an incipient - and precarious - interest in landscape studies, but I resisted delving into them because of the prejudice concerning its supposed connotation as an area of knowledge of plants and flowers and, therefore, belonging to the female field. In the same terms, I was disturbed by the fact that, when going through publications aimed at reviewing the causes - i.e. characters and buildings - behind the materialization of architecture in Chile, the presence of women architects appeared as diminished, even when at first glance the access to professional studies already approached a ratio of 1:1 between men and women.

Without going any further, in what constitutes in my opinion the most comprehensive review on national architectural production written so far, at least between 1925 and 1965, Humberto Eliash and Manuel Moreno only name seven practicing women professionals: Inés Frey Bruggemann, Montserrat Palmer Trias, Yolanda Schwartz Apfel, Angela Schweitzer Lopetegui, Margarita Pisano Fisher, Iris Valenzuela Alarcón and Ana María Barrenechea.14 Against this background, I suggested a studio that systematically studied and unveiled the work of a group of women during the above-indicated period of time. This, from the belief - or stubbornness - that such production had somewhat contributed to the development of modern architecture in Chile, thus responding to the demands of urban transformation based on new architectural-institutional / housing / recreational parameters and experiments.

Arturo Lyon

Figure 4 Gabriela González, Edmundo Buddemberg. Escuela de Medicina de la Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, 1946.  

Camila Martin

Figure 5 Luz Sobrino. Edificio San Martín 728, Concepción, 1966.  

Ariel Chiang

Figure 6 Yolanda Schwartz. Anteproyecto Concurso. Remodelación Bellavista (mención honrosa), Valparaíso, 1969. 

Ronald Ruiz

Figure 7 Hugo Gaggero, Margarita Pisano. Casa Gaggero Pisano, Santiago, 1962.  

With the purpose of ordering and limiting the work, I established three constraints as a starting point for background search: first, to use the book Arquitectura y modernidad en Chile 1925/1965: una realidad múltiple (1989) as a source on the different moments that characterized the implementation of modern architecture in our country; second, to reduce the selection of possible case studies to the same period of time proposed by Eliash and Moreno; and, third, to limit the field of study to those women graduated from the Universidad de Chile and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, considering that they already provided 89 and 18 names respectively.

Although gender issues were not part of my repertoire back then, I must admit that it was not easy to approach the studio, as there was a certain initial reluctance from the students to develop the exercise, given the difficulty of acknowledging any female leader among Chilean architects. And, objectively speaking, it was a valid concern facing the inability to establish whether women were capable of producing a work that allows any of them to become a sort of ‘master’ for its peers, who, undoubtedly, need certain accessible and measurable parameters to develop a profession based on the intuition of design, and that is taught by attributing to that act the same degree of relevance - even when whoever has established a professional practice knows how many other tools are needed in order to survive in the field. To vindicate the female genre within a ‘Star System’ based on what was defined by consensus as good architecture could not be further from my initial statement - to identify, objectively, possible roles of women architects by recognizing a work that had persisted in time. In other words, my question was, simply and paraphrasing Eliash and Moreno, whether Chilean architecture between 1925 and 1965 had actually constituted a ‘multiple reality’ in terms of those who built that modernity.

Methodologically, 27 architects were first identified from the original list of 107 women, considering whether their biographical or documentary background was accessible.15 Then, the students Fabiola Carreño, Ariel Chiang, Gonzalo Claro Riesco, Carolina Contreras, Arturo Lyon Gottlieb, Camila Martin, Ismael Rengifo Streeter, Pablo Ropert, Daniel Rosenberg, Ronald Ruiz, Patricia Silva, Macarena Vergara, Eduardo Waissbluth and Angélica Zabala Núñez selected from that initial group those professionals with more than two built works and devoted themselves to establish a professional-biographical account of them - including education, influences, travels, publications, works, and projects; placing them within the historical context of Chilean modern architecture development and thus, in turn, in a larger context.16

As a result of a task that ultimately became extremely enthusiastic, it was possible to identify Raquel Eskenazi Rodrich, working within the Schapira- Eskenazi-Messina office, as a key agent in the definition of a modern coastline in Viña del Mar and in incorporating the balcony as an intermediate space in the district of Providencia. Margarita Pisano Fisher, who together with Hugo Gaggero built a local version of the ‘Wrightian’ proposal in the house in Pedro de Valdivia Norte. Inés Frey Bruggemann (acting independently or with her husband, Santiago Aguirre) and her modern interior designs in two houses in Santiago, or the new structural architectures in Concepción after the 1939 earthquake. Luz Sobrino Sánz, operating in that same city, with an operation of infilling the urban grid through over 80 buildings. The scope of formalization of modern social postulates in the design of Inés de Suárez Park, by Ana María Barrenechea and team; the technological innovation of the School of Medicine at the Universidad de Concepción by Gabriela González de Groote and Edmundo Buddemberg; and the experimentation with the language of metabolism in the competitions of the late 60s developed by Yolanda Schwartz Apfel. Or the role of the latter in the furniture-structure symbiosis at her home in the district of La Reina. Victoria Maier Mayer’s late transfer of modern ideas to the local scene, two decades after her trip to Vienna in 1930. Or the possibilities of understanding the landscape project as a synthesis of urbanization processes and natural systems in the proposals of Hilda Carmona Low and Jaime Besa for the Faculty of Engineering in San Joaquín and two developments in the district of Vitacura, both in Santiago.

It seems to me that this brief description is an actual evidence of the roles played by Barrenechea, Carmona, Frey, González, Maier, Pisano, Schapira, Schwartz and Sobrino in building modern architecture in Chile, characterizing areas of professional expertise that until now are characteristic of the discipline: teaching or research activities and public positions - although scarcely within the head ones - together with a practice in the private sphere, most of the time within a non-autonomous system, that is, associated to a relative or as part of a larger team.

Eighteen years after the completion of the research studio, and faced with the self-imposed exercise of reviewing the first 99 issues of ARQ with the same criteria used in 2000, I believe that you - male or female reader - would be surprised. While it seems that the new century has brought with it new possibilities regarding the necessary recognition of female participation in the professional sphere, my review shows quite the opposite. If we exclude the publication of final degree projects and/or studio results, works outside Chile, participation in montages and/or ephemeral exhibitions, essays, interviews and/or critical analyzes (and works by the former editor of the magazine until 2010), it is only possible to identify seven names with more than two different works built locally.17

The first reference under these parameters appears in 1994 with Paulina Courard, who through the proposal of parks and urban walks developed within the office Teodoro Fernández Arquitectos, has become a silent agent in the construction of landscape architecture in Chile18. Something similar happens with Myriam Beach in the work developed with her husband Alberto Montealegre; however, their contributions to the debate on the role of landscape projects are synthetically captured in a single 1996 issue19, analogous to that of Margarita Murtinho and María José Castillo in the experiments on housing developed at the beginning of the 1990s with Francisco Vergara20. These are followed by Antonia Lehmann Scasi-Buffa, the only one to receive along with her husband, Luis Izquierdo Wachholtz, the National Architecture Award and who has been exceptionally recognized as an operative individual within an over 30-years joint practice thanks to the construction of multiple institutional and housing buildings, in addition to a hundred single-family houses21. Cecilia Puga Larrain, on the other hand, is reflected in her persistent ability to reveal the solidness of structures and materials in buildings as part of an unusual practice, at least according to ARQ standards: mostly working independently or, sometimes, leading teams.22 Finally emerges Piera Sartori del Campo, who along with her husband Mario Carreño Zunino has developed over the last decade a consistent practice, linking location, budget, and construction of a continuous relationship between interior and exterior space.23 Interestingly enough, Sartori has not needed an action re-affirmative of her role, undoubtedly due to the renowned performance in the field of design that both had during their time in Lo Contador.

It is true that every publication has an editorial bias, specifically in the case of a journal that has sought to position itself as ‘the’ organism of dissemination of Chilean architecture. Through the publishing of a certain range of ideological debates associated, for example, with class inequality in urban distribution, gentrification, and housing policies, over the last years ARQ has tried to redefine architectural practice. It has also sought to influence a redistribution of design’s influence over education by discussing, for example, the social responsibilities of Chilean professionals and by proposing an alignment of practice with new technologies.

Without necessarily falling into the easy way out (such as an eventual quota of pages according to gender), I look forward to the possibility of making an approach to a group scarcely represented in the hundred published issues. If we go back to my students’ issues in the year 2000, perhaps one could reflect not so much on the causes behind invisibility, but rather on the consequences of a silent participation in the materialization of Chilean architecture.24 Such absence has triggered, for instance, prejudices within the female genre itself, convinced at times that leadership can only be found in the management of professional offices, in the production of the domestic sphere or in the so-called landscape work (without going any further, consider the early opinion of this author). And if we assess our own evolution and actions within the local context, we will undoubtedly find painful discriminatory experiences caused by those who are unable to handle their hypothetical power or respect those who have not been praised as gurus by their peers. Perhaps, then, one of the following hundred issues of the magazine could risk producing high-level critique on the work of women architects, regardless of their professional links, and thus open a discussion on the interest of the work that’s done and its contribution, modest but real, to the transformation of Chilean architecture.

ARQ 45 (July, 2000): 17-20

Figure 8 Edificio Manantiales. Luis Izquierdo, Antonia Lehmann, José Domingo Peñafiel, Raimundo Lira, 1999. 

ARQ 70 (December, 2008): 50-55

Figure 9 Galería Patricia Ready. Luis Izquierdo, Antonia Lehmann, Mirene Elton, Mauricio Léniz, 2008. 

ARQ 61 (December, 2005): 68-73

Figure 10 Edificio Plaza Pedro Montt. Cecilia Puga, 2005. 

ARQ 95 (April, 2017): 118-125

Figure 11 Gimnasio Municipal de Salamanca. Mario Carreño, Piera Sartori, 2016. 

ARQ 54 (July, 2003): 34-35

Figure 12 Sala de degustación. Paulina Courard, 2002. 

ARQ 28 (December, 1994): 32-33

Figure 13 Casas Museo de Lo Matta (Concurso, primer premio). Luis Izquierdo, Antonia Lehmann, 1994. 

ARQ 34 (December, 1996): 36-38

Figure 14 Tres parques. Alberto Montealegre, Myriam Beach, 1995. 

ARQ 26 (May, 1994): 11-15; ARQ 34 (December, 1996): 44-45

Figure 15 Parque Inés de Suárez. Teodoro Fernández, Paulina Courard, 1993. 

ARQ 42 (July, 1999): 39-40

Figure 16 Edificio Loft Plaza Brasil. Francisco Vergara, María José Castillo, Margarita Murtinho, 1997 / Edificio Plaza Yungay. Francisco Vergara, María José Castillo, Margarita Murtinho, 1999. 


BERKELEY, Ellen Perry; MCQUAID, Matilda (eds.), Architecture: A Place for Women. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989. [ Links ]

ELIASH, Humberto; MORENO, Manuel. Arquitectura y Modernidad en Chile 1925/1965: una Realidad Múltiple. Santiago, Ediciones Universidad Católica de Chile, 1989. [ Links ]

KLIMPEL, Felicitas. La Mujer Chilena (el Aporte Femenino al Progreso de Chile) 1910-1960. Santiago, Editorial Andrés Bello, 1962. [ Links ]

* Romy Hecht

Architect and Master in Architecture, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 1998; PhD in History and Theory of Architecture, Princeton University, 2009. Has been a researcher at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. (2015, 2017-2018) and visiting professor at Harvard University (2012), Universidad Nacional de Rosario (2016) and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Lima (2017). Her essays have been published in Retorno al Paisaje (Evren, Spain, 2008) and Arquitectura en el Chile del siglo XX: Iniciando el nuevo siglo 1890-1930 (Ediciones ARQ, Chile, 2016) and in the journals New Architecture (China), Harvard Design Magazine (USA), Studies in the Histories of Gardens and Designed Landscapes (UK) and ARQ, Revista CA, Revista 180 y Trace (Chile). With Danilo Martic, translated John B. Jackson’s The Necessity for Ruins and other Essays (Ediciones ARQ, 2012). She is co-founder of the website LOFscapes ( and the NGO Cultura de Paisaje en Chile ( She is currently a researcher in Fondecyt Project 1160277 and Tenure Professor at the School of Architecture UC.

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