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Time for a change of perspective. Stories of Polish women architects in a book by Magdalena and Maria Jelenski

Dobrawa Bies
14 of July '21

School of Form graduate Maria Jeleńska, together with her architect mother Magdalena Jeleńska, decided to address the situation of women architects in Poland. Based on fifteen interviews with selected female architects, they created a book entitled. "Changing Perspectives. Stories of Polish Women Architects," which can help spread knowledge about architecture and encourage people to break down barriers in the profession. Maria is the author of illustrations and graphic design and typesetting, and Magdalena is responsible for all texts.

The book "Changing Perspectives. Stories of Polish Architects", authored by Maria and Magdalena Jeleńska, presents the biographies, professional path and achievements of selected ten Polish female architects, they are: Monika Arczynska, Anna Paszkowska-Grudziąż, Marlena Happach, Ewa Kurylowicz, Joanna Malecka, Natalia Paszkowska, Marta Sekulska-Wronska, Jola Starzak, Anna Fedorowicz-Tomaszewska and Aleksandra Wasilkowska.

Książka
o polskich architektkach

The book "Changing Perspectives. Stories of Polish Women Architects".

© Maria Jeleńska, Magdalena Jeleńska

The world of architecture is very close to me, thanks to my architect mother. I watched her work with great curiosity. I also enjoyed listening to the stories she told about the achievements of great female architects. I was intrigued by the fact that the vast majority of them were men. I decided to find an answer to the question of what the situation is for women in Polish architecture. Despite the fact that there are more female architecture graduates, after graduation they are less professionally involved than their male colleagues. They are less likely to set up their own studios and less likely to hold senior positions," says Maria Jeleńska.

polish female architects

Therefore, Maria decided to deepen this issue by creating a book project. "Changing Perspectives. Stories of Polish Women Architects" was created as a thesis at the School of Form. Her design supervisor was Honza Zamojski, and her humanities supervisor was Pawel Starzec.

 Zmiana perspektywy,
spis treści

The book presents the stories of ten Polish women architects

© Maria Jeleńska, Magdalena Jeleńska

On the basis of fifteen interviews conducted with some of the most talented, original and hardworking female architects in Poland, my mother and I created a book. I am the author of the graphic design, illustrations and typesetting of the text, while my mother is the author of the texts. We hope that the book will not only contribute to spreading knowledge about architecture, but will also encourage women to become more professionally active and break down barriers in the architectural profession as well," adds Maria Jeleńska.

Currently, the authors are in the process of creating additional five chapters to be dedicated to: Marlena Wolnik, Maria Saloni-Sadowska, Magdalena Federowicz-Boule, Dorota Sibińska and Magdalena Staniszkis. Maria hopes the book will appear in print at the end of this year.

 Rozdział
o Joannie Małeckiej

chapter on Joanna Malecka

© Maria Jeleńska, Magdalena Jeleńska

Dobrawa Bies: The book "Changing Perspectives" touches on a very important topic regarding the situation of women architects in Poland. Despite the percentage of female graduates being higher than that of female architecture graduates, women still face barriers in their professional lives. Why is this the case?

Maria Jeleńska: There are many factors that contribute to fewer women succeeding in architecture. Our female interviewees point out that they have succeeded. They emphasize that this happened due to their persistence, hard work and belief in their abilities. Despite the fact that they have managed to break through the glass ceilings in this profession, they point out the reasons why it can be harder for women to realize their dreams. One of them is the lack of systemic support from the state during the difficult period of motherhood.

Ilustracja
z rozdziału poświęconego Marcie Sękulskiej-Wrońskiej

An illustration from the chapter dedicated to Marta Sekulska-Wronska

© Maria Jeleńska

Some of our female interviewees emphasize that despite many changes, the patriarchal culture is still pervasive. In their opinion, this applies to the situation in Poland, as well as in the world. It manifests itself, for example, in the biased way in which girls are raised, which influences their lack of self-confidence and belief in their abilities. Unequal opportunities also appear, unfortunately, at many subsequent career stages. Women's salaries are still lower, and the lack of programmatic business preparation by universities makes it even more difficult for women to stand on their own two feet and open their own proprietary studios. In addition to this, many women choose, or are forced, to seek stability in their lives. Irregular working hours and lack of a fixed salary are common realities of working in architectural offices. Hence, many female architects choose to work in an office.

Unfortunately, women themselves also often make it difficult for each other to achieve professional success. The queen bee phenomenon causes women who achieve professional success to make it difficult for other women to achieve similar success out of fear of losing their position. Despite the many adversities that stand in the paths of female architects, our interviewees conclude that change is a matter of time. This is evidenced by the increasing number of women who are breaking through barriers in the architecture profession. The most important thing is self-esteem, perseverance in pursuit of the goal, self-confidence and, of course, hard work.

Rozdział
o Natalii Paszkowskiej

Chapter on Natalia Paszkowska

© Maria Jeleńska, Magdalena Jeleńska

Dobrawa: "Changing Perspectives" is the result of a collaboration with your mother, Magdalena Jelenska, who is an architect. How did the work go, did you inspire each other?

Maria: From the very beginning, we were very keen that the texts harmonize with the graphic design of the book. Therefore, close cooperation was inevitable. Together we searched for the right form to present both the design issues and the matching text style. Since we have similar interests, with my mother being an architect herself and me, having just graduated from design school, it was easy for us to find a common language and quickly find the right solutions. Thanks to the complementing and interpenetration of our experiences in architecture, design, art history, we were constantly inspired by each other and had each other's backs.

 Rozdział
o Natalii Paszkowskiej

The authors wanted the texts to harmonize with the graphic design of the book. Excerpt from the chapter on Natalia Paszkowska

© Maria Jeleńska, Magdalena Jeleńska

Dobrawa: In the book you present the figures of the most famous Polish contemporary female architects. What was the basis of your choice and why such a decision?

Maria: I make no secret of the fact that the choice of the female architects we presented in the book was very difficult. After all, there are many great female architects in Poland that we wanted to write about (maybe there will be an opportunity to do so yet). Thanks to our mother's professional experience, we were able to create a list of inspiring women who managed to achieve professional success and break stereotypes. Each of them has different passions, and within the profession - different specializations. The female architects we featured are involved in temporary architecture, urban planning, sustainable architecture, designing for the youngest, designing public facilities, creating unique single-family homes or designing for people with disabilities, among others. What our interviewees have in common is that they are all professionals in their field, and they infect others with their passion. We also tried our best to present the biographies and achievements of female architects of different ages and from different parts of Poland.

Rozdział
o Monice Arczyńskiej Monika Arczyńska
w książce „Zmiana Perspektywy. Historie Polskich Architektek”

story by Monika Arczynska, excerpt from the book

© Maria Jeleńska, Magdalena Jeleńska

Dobrawa: The stories of female architects were written on the basis of interviews. Do you remember any particular one or any anecdotes?

Maria: All of our interviewees, when talking about their work, spoke de facto about their greatest passion - architecture. What I found fascinating was that even after a long day of work, their thoughts and attention still revolved around various architectural issues. One of the architects even said that she couldn't tear herself away from constantly thinking about the projects she had started or was planning. They all live architecture on a daily basis, but also during bicycle vacations with their children. Being an architect is a vocation for them. It's true that it's a difficult profession that requires many sacrifices, but when it becomes a passion, hard work is a pleasure, and successes are the consequence.

Biegnąca Anna
Paszkowska-Grudziąż Ilustracja z rozdziału
o Marlenie Happach

The author stresses that it is important to have courage and determination to pursue your dreams

© Maria Jeleńska

Dobrawa: The role and importance of women in architecture is finally changing, also thanks to projects such as yours. What would you wish for female students of design and architecture departments?

Maria: Self-confidence and determination and courage to pursue their dreams. In addition to this, I would wish every girl starting her architectural studies many wonderful projects and meeting people with whom to realize these projects. Also, that they would never run into people who would disparage them because of their gender. However, if that would unhappily happen, that they would have the courage to respond in kind and stand their ground.

Dobrawa: Thank you for the interview.

Read also about the BAL initiative of female architects by Barbara Nawrocka, Dominika Wilczynska and Dominika Janicka, addressing the topic of women in architecture. We would also like to remind you that last year's June Architecture & Business magazine was all about female architects. You can order it or download it for free at this link.

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