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ERC Advanced Grant for UCD project exploring impact of women and minorities on modern architecture

Posted 22 April, 2021

An architectural historian at University College Dublin has been awarded €2 million by the European Research Council (ERC) to explore how women and members of ethnic minorities have shaped modern architecture and design.

Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty, from the UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy and UCD Humanities Institute, is one of four researchers in Ireland to receive the prestigious funding, part of the ERC's 2020 Advanced Grants competition.

Her project ‘Expanding Agency: Women, Race and the Global Dissemination of Modern Architecture' aims to support a more diverse profession, and help build a more nuanced understanding of how architecture, interior decoration, and furnishing design are transformed by new ideas that emanate from a multiplicity of sources.

It will examine the role that women and members of ethnic minorities, primarily African-Americans, have played in transmitting modern architecture and design internationally between 1920 and 1970.

“Decade after decade, women and members of ethnic minorities studying architecture report that they never learned about the work of people like them when they were in architecture school,” Professor James-Chakraborty said.

“There is thankfully a tidal wave of scholars studying women architects right now but the challenge is to get new scholarship into the classroom and also to demonstrate the other ways in which women and ethnic minorities have contributed to creating the climate for the modern architecture that remains at the core of the curricula of most architecture schools.

She added: “I am also very proud that the EU will be funding the study of the architecture of the campuses of historically black colleges and universities. It is only by having an equitable architecture profession that we can all inhabit an equitable built environment.”

The Advanced Grant of €2,082,906 will be over five years, and will cover the employment of two postdoctoral researchers and two PhD students.

Commenting on the awarded funding, Director of UCD Humanities Institute, Professor Anne Fuchs said as Principal Investigator of the UCD Humanities Institute-funded project ‘Modern Architecture and Culture in the Mid 20-Century: From Exporting to Importing the New’ Professor James-Chakraborty had revolutionising the methodological frames through which modern architecture was understood.

“Her ERC project ‘Expanding Agency’ builds on this... [and] with its focus on female agency, this research sets an innovative agenda for years to come.”

Head of UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy, Associate Professor Emily Mark-Fitzgerald added: “This award not only recognises Professor James-Chakraborty’s international excellence as a scholar, but promises to be a ground-breaking project adding critically important perspectives on gender, race, and ethnicity to the field of architectural history.

“We are delighted as a school to be the home for these exciting forms of enquiry, energising our academic community and students.”

Principal of UCD College of Arts and Humanities, Professor Sarah Prescott said: "Professor James-Chakraborty's exceptional award is of major global significance for Arts and Humanities research and is testament to her world-leading scholarship.

“The inclusion of postdoctoral and PhD scholars as an integral part of the grant also supports early career humanities researchers in her field and further enriches this pioneering and important project."

Some €507m was awarded to 209 researchers across Europe as part of this final round of funding by the ERC under Horizon 2020.

“For this last ERC call under Horizon 2020, over 200 researchers will be funded to follow their scientific instinct and dreams,” said ERC President Professor Jean Pierre Bourguignon

“Still, the great increase in demand led to a very fierce competition – only 8% of candidates were successful.

“We look forward to seeing what major insights and breakthroughs will spring from this investment and trust. We are pleased with the continued positive trend for women researchers showing that ERC's sustained efforts on this matter pay off."

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Caroline Byrne, UCD Research and Innovation)