Speculative-Inspired Arts: Women in Architecture

This month in “Speculative-Inspired Arts”, we take a break from interviews to discuss applied arts—specifically architecture—and how women are pushing the concept of creativity in this male-dominated industry with designs that evoke the speculative elements we love.

Hygge by Kristie Wolfe on AirBnB
Hygge by Kristie Wolfe on AirBnB

Architecture lies at the intersection of art and science, as both are needed to produce an appealing and functional outcome. While construction projects are typically built with an eye toward practicality and cost efficiency, some lend themselves to more visionary themes, ones that evoke future worlds, fantastical realms, and even villainous lairs. Yet, if you scroll through the photos at those linked websites, you’ll notice that most of those structures have been designed by male architects (or at the most, architectural firms in which male partners greatly outnumber their female partners).

The pool of women architects is appallingly small, comprising as few as eighteen percent of those who are licensed. Those who do actively practice their craft must often contend with sexual discrimination and unequal pay. Such obstacles do not create conditions ideal for taking risks when it comes to design, yet some designers are managing to do just that. By establishing their own firms, developing their signature design styles, and securing clients who seek innovation, women architects are making waves in their field.

The late Dame Zaha Hadid is renowned in the world of architecture, and for good reason: she’s the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize. Much of her work is defined by neo-futurist elements: geometric shapes, unexpected curves, and sleek materials. While Ms. Hadid’s structures are not explicitly styled to evoke science fiction themes, it’s hard to deny their influence in the only private residence she designed: the “Spaceship House.”


The home, located in the Barvikha Forest just outside of Moscow, looks like an interstellar craft surfacing from the landscape around it. The lofty master bedroom takes the place of the captain’s bridge, giving the homeowner full command of the view surrounding the land-bound starship.

Odile Decq is known as a vocal advocate for gender equity within the architectural arts. The award-winning founder of Studio Odile Decq in Paris and the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture boasts an impressive portfolio of commercial and community design projects that include the beautifully unsettling Residence Saint-Ange in Seyssins, France. With stark materials, vaulted lines and an intimidating presence, the Residence Saint-Ange evokes a dark otherworld castle that is aglow from within. Another of Ms. Decq’s designs, the Phantom Restaurant in the famed Opera Garnier, features a striking white and red color palette, balconies and rails that flow like lush curtains, and details that seem designed to beckon Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opera ghost.

Photo by Junaid Qurashi
Photo by Junaid Qurashi

If you’re looking for a building explicitly designed with speculative fiction in mind, look no further than the home of designer Malika Junaid. Junaid, a founding partner of M-Designs Architects, took inspiration from her family’s love of science fiction and reinterpreted it into a futuristic-styled home. The “Star Trek” home features plenty of geek-culture references, such as a transporter-like elevator, a steel and glass observation deck, and a home theater replete with Star Wars imagery.

Of course, buildings don’t need to be grand and expensive in order to evoke a sense of otherworldliness. The tiny house movement is gaining in popularity, and they are the perfect size to conjure fairy tale vibes. In fact, builder Kristie Wolfe made it her mission to bring the quaintness of the Shire to our modern world. Wolfe designed a Hobbit-style underground hygge in 2015 and filled it with bespoke details fit for any Baggins. Unlike the private residences styled after starships, Wolfe’s Tolkienesque cottage can be rented out via AirBnB. Wolfe has also designed a tree house getaway in Hawaii and a tiny hotel in the shape of an Idaho potato, which may not be the stuff of dreams but is inarguably imaginative.

Just as writers may come across a sleek, modern metal tower or an ivy-covered gardening shed and imagine far-flung fictional worlds that might inhabit them, it’s reasonable that architects might find inspiration for their designs in the stories they love. A world that not only supports but encourages women builders and architects to design as they dream is one that will reap the benefits not just in functionality but in imagination and innovation, as well.

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