Unnoticed Women in the Promotion of Bay Region Architecture: Elisabeth Kendall Thompson and the Western Section of Architectural Record

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


In 1949, under Grace Morley’s directorship, the San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMA) mounted the traveling exhibition Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region, one of the episodes that best encapsulated the conflict of perceptions and interests between the country’s East and West Coasts in the postwar debates upon identity and autonomy. Contrary to prevailing assumptions that the show was a delayed reaction to the 1948 MoMA symposium organized by Philip Johnson to refute Lewis Mumford’s arguments over the existence of a “Bay Region Style”, it was the consequence of an effective regionalist agenda aiming to educate the public about the social, political, and ecological concerns of Northern California traditions.

This essay explores the crucial, yet overlooked role that women in architectural media, particularly Architectural Record’s Western editor Elisabeth Kendall Thompson (EKT), played in the conception, materialization, and publicity of this exhibition. In addition, it focuses on EKT’s agency in promoting the humanism of Bay Region architects within and beyond this landmark event. The EKT papers and SFMA’s archives provide evidence of her silent efforts to present the roots of a “Bay Region School” as interdependent with the region’s unique physical and cultural geography, and thus to offer new lens through which Eastern critics could re-evaluate modernist architecture in California vis-à-vis the mechanical and formalist criticism proposed by the MoMA in 1932.

Her training as an architect and a writer, as well as her connections to both Coasts’ professional, academic, and editorial circles were instrumental in the process of codification of Bay regionalism. As Architectural Record Western editor not only did EKT provide her journal with works and ideas she knew first-hand, but also, she was responsible for creating narratives that had the effect of establishing for San Francisco Bay a room in the pantheon of architectural history.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventSAH 2023 76th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE - Hôtel Bonaventure Montréal, Montreal, Canada
Duration: 12 Apr 202315 Apr 2023


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