Issue 10
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 28, 2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 13, 2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 6, 2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
April 29, 2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
BOOK REVIEW
04.01.2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture

A new book compiles an archive of work by Minerva Parker Nichols, the first American woman to practice architecture independently.

Interior of Adelaide and John Baker’s home (1926–27) designed by Minerva Parker Nichols
Inside Adelaide and John Baker’s home (1926–27), designed by Minerva Parker Nichols. (Courtesy Yale University Press)


Minerva Parker Nichols: The Search for a Forgotten Architect
(Yale University Press) is about absence as much as it is about the presence of its protagonist. Organized by the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, the 336-page book of essays and photographs is forensic, collecting things that are ineffable: demolished structures, gaps in a fragmented archive, and a figure missing from the architectural canon.

Slightly older than the much more celebrated architect and engineer Julia Morgan, the first female architect licensed in California, Nichols (1862–1949) is considered the first American woman to establish her own independent architecture practice—a feat accomplished without generational wealth or the financial support of a husband in 1888, a time when professional paths for women were narrow. Although Nichols later married Reverend William Ichabod Nichols, the book opens with a note explaining the editorial decision to refer to the architect as “Minerva” rather than to define her by her married name (moving forward, I’ll do the same), and for clarity: 53 of the 81 known projects she worked on were commissioned before her marriage.

This produces an immediate familiarity, albeit one not without discomfort. It’s laughable to imagine a history of Minerva’s contemporaries—men such as architect Frank Furness (later a favorite of Robert Venturi) or Warren Powers Laird, architect and dean of the School of Fine Arts of the University of Pennsylvania—discussed as “Frank” or “Warren.” Yet as names go, hers is fitting, shared with the Roman goddess of handicrafts, the professions, justice, and wisdom.

When Minerva hung out her own proverbial shingle, at 26, she already had a decade of experience. She worked steadily, designing nearly 80 known projects—primarily residential—across her career. In the book, a photograph of her Philadelphia office, circa 1891, shows the architect bent over a drafting board. It serves as a frontispiece for “The Elusive Archive,” a foreword by architectural historian Despina Stratigakos. Best known for her 2016 provocation Where Are the Women Architects?, Stratigakos’s question gets only a partial answer from this image.

There’s evidence of productivity, for sure. Visible are sketches tacked to floral-patterned wallpaper and rolled drawings tilt against a curtained window frame. Propped up on the table is an elevation drawing of the Queen Isabella Association Pavilion at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition). Minerva’s Spanish Colonial design for the suffragette organization, which she began in 1890, would have been her most public and prestigious commission at the time, but it was never constructed.

And yet, the sepia-toned composition, taken from the pages of Home Maker magazine, also evokes absence. Our heroine sits on the far left side of the image—a youthful long braid runs between her hunched shoulders, and her face is turned from our view. This is a portrait of an interior, not of an architect.

Although she would go on to design the Women’s Reception Rooms for the Chicago World’s Fair and New Century Clubs in Philadelphia and Wilmington, other women’s buildings aligned with the suffrage movement, the bulk of Minerva’s known work consists of handsome middle- and upper-class homes in and around Philadelphia. Her Colonial Revival and Queen Anne designs feature an array of stylistic gestures and domestic flourishes: dormers and turrets, wraparound porches, and Palladian windows. They’re more pragmatic than flashy, perhaps a function of her Unitarian beliefs. Style aside, her oeuvre reflects the growing agency of women as clients, users, and experts of architecture.

Black and white portrait of Minerva Parker Nichols in 1893
Minerva Parker Nichols, in 1893. (Courtesy Yale University Press)


The book stems from a 2023 exhibition, also organized by the University of Pennsylvania’s Architectural Archives, and includes a robust catalogue raisonné by curator and collections manager William Whitaker. It also contains a visual portfolio by architectural photographer Elizabeth Felicella, who documented Minerva’s remaining buildings between 2019 and 2022. The book’s team submitted 248 images of Minerva’s work, comprising 32 sites, to the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), a program managed by the National Park Service that houses its collection at the Library of Congress. These sections not only redress historical gaps, but also record and preserve the work for future generations.

An extensive biography by Margaret (Molly) Lester and a collection of the architect’s writings for the Woman’s Journal and Housekeeper’s Weekly bookend the archive and portfolio. The book’s final section includes the essay “Women as Architects” (1896), penned by Minerva for the General Federation of Women’s Clubs’ Third Biennial, in which she appraises her contemporary profession and approvingly notes that women were now “practicing in almost every state in the Union.” She concludes with a call for solidarity: “So much work must be done to convert the crude material of mind and matter into beauty of form and spirit, that we are all co-laborers and not competitors.”

No stranger to the world of labor, Minerva’s writing resonates across centuries. She began working as a teenager to help support her twice-widowed mother and older sister. She studied at the Philadelphia Normal Art School, then enrolled in the Franklin Institute Drawing School, where she zeroed in on architecture, and apprenticed in Edwin W. Thorne’s small architecture office before venturing out on her own. Still, it’s necessary to acknowledge that the women addressed and fellow architects referenced, such as Louise Blanchard Bethune (who shares a distinction with Minerva as the first woman to run her own practice, though the book argues that Bethune operated the firm with her husband; other accounts vary), are all white, educated, and of a socioeconomic status necessary to reach professional standing.

Blue elevation drawing of architect Minerva Parker Nichols' New Century Club of Wilmington (1892–93)
An elevation drawing by Minerva Parker Nichols for the New Century Club of Wilmington (1892–93). (Courtesy Yale University Press)


Contributions by Lester and archivist Heather Isbell Schumacher emphasize the current need for an unflinching, intersectional reckoning that faithfully retells Minerva’s personal history while putting it in the context of the a country growing, colonizing, displacing, building, rebuilding, and extracting in the decades after the Civil War and Reconstruction. “We are once again living through a time of social change and upheaval,” Schumacher writes, “and the process of reexamining our past in order to build our future is challenging and often painful.”

Lester deftly condenses more than a decade of academic research in her biographical essay “Finding Minerva.” She paints a portrait of an ambitious designer aligned with the women’s rights movement, propelled by circumstance towards fiscal independence, and is careful to point out that Minerva’s success was earned within an unequal milieu.

In discussing the designer’s work for women’s clubs, Lester writes that Minerva worked “exclusively with white clients, both as individuals and as members of these segregated organizations.” And continues: “Given that her career coincided with the Jim Crow era’s constraints on space, education, capital, and property, this [clientele] is unsurprising. There is no evidence that this absence in Minerva’s portfolio was driven by explicit animus, nor is there any record of her acknowledging it or trying to correct for it. But the groundbreaking opportunities that she seized for herself and extended to many other women were not available to all women—and were entirely forbidden to some.”

The Wallace Munn residence (1890–91), designed by architect Minerva Parker Nichols
The Wallace Munn residence (1890–91), designed by Minerva Parker Nichols. (Courtesy Yale University Press)


One of Minerva’s most important projects was the New Century Club of Philadelphia, an organization established to support the “interests of working women.” She began working on it in 1891, the same year she got married. (Minerva continued to practice after she wed and had children, remaining engaged in architecture until her last project, in 1936, though the astounding pace of her production slowed as she took on tasks as wife, homemaker, and mother.)

Distinguished by a brick edifice punctuated by a pastiche of arched and bay windows, behind which civic and charitable causes were taken up in assembly rooms and parlors, the club stood at 124 South 12th Street in Philadelphia until 1973, when it was demolished due to dwindling membership. Before the wrecking ball, a series of black-and-white photographs were made by George A. Eisenman of the building and its interior, and submitted to HABS for posterity in lieu of restoration. (They can be viewed on the HABS website.) The National Historic Preservation Act was established in 1966 in the wake of the destruction of Penn Station in order to save buildings, but the Philadelphia Historical Commission considered the structure “obsolete,” allowing it to be razed.

Felicella, the contemporary photographer, used the images as inspiration for her documentation of Minerva’s work. Following the organization’s technical requirements, she used a large-format view camera (a 19th-century 8x10 Deardorff) and black-and-white negative film, which gives her compositions an atemporal quality countered only by a smattering of modern-day street signs, automobiles, and furnishings. Plate 9, a detail of a stair landing in Mary Potts House, completed in 1890, reveals a pair of built-in linen drawers dated only by a broken brass pull.

Felicella’s photographs depict both the massing and façades of Minerva’s structures and their interior intimacies, such as mute closet doors, glazed fireplace hearths, burnished handrails. Minerva herself discussed how female architects were well suited to this indoor landscape, writing that, “If home is a woman’s sphere, it must be admitted that she should build the home which she is to tend with such care.” But it could also be argued that interiors are not solely aligned with gender; they offer a place of expression for those marginalized in civic space.

That kind of expansive way of thinking permeates the book. The Search for a Forgotten Architect doesn’t wholly find and claim its subject—as if she were a suspect on the run, or a rare butterfly ready to be pinned. Instead, the book’s contributors suggest the many ways that one corrective begets another, leading to a long line of births and repopulations across time.



The book Minerva Parker Nichols: The Search for a Forgotten Architect will be the focus of the April 4 gathering of the New York Architecture + Design Book Club, a quarterly book subscription and event series organized by Untapped and the Brooklyn bookshop Head Hi. Book contributors Heather Isbell Schumacher, Bill Whitaker, Elizabeth Felicella, and Margaret (Molly) Lester, along with interior designer Loren Daye of the studio LoveIsEnough, will lead the program’s interactive discussion. Find out more and RSVP on the book club’s website.