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Jessica Varner Creates Exhibition of Women Yale School of Architecture Grads

by Mike Cummings, Yale News | Dec 10, 2021

Architect Constance Adams ’90 M.Arch. designed housing in Berlin and created urban plans in Tokyo. But she achieved her greatest acclaim conceiving habitats for space explorers.

Known as a “space architect,” Adams designed NASA’s TransHab, an inflatable, multi-level living quarters for astronauts on the International Space Station, and the BIO-Plex, a prototype self-sustaining home for Mars explorers.

The TransHab, which was never deployed due to budget restrictions, would have provided astronauts a place to exercise, relax, and dine separate from the space station’s scientific labs.

“You don’t want to be conducting lab experiments next to someone on a treadmill,” Adams, who died of cancer in 2018, told The New York Times in 2002. “Remember, in microgravity, sweat floats. It’s gross.”

The space architect’s extraordinary career is highlighted in “Room(s): Yale School of Architecture Graduate Women Alums 1942-,” an exhibit on view at Paul Rudolph Hall that celebrates the varied careers and significant, but often overlooked, achievements of women graduates of the Yale School of Architecture. Postponed for a year due to the pandemic, the show marks the recent 50th anniversary of coeducation at Yale College and the 150th anniversary of the university’s first women students, who studied at the Yale School of the Fine Arts (now the Yale School of Art) when it opened its doors in 1869.

The exhibit, on view through Dec. 10, features about 700 works from more than 500 alumnae, stretching back to the first women who studied in Yale’s Department of Architecture, which began admitting women in 1942 following a drop in enrollment due to World War II. (The School of Architecture became a distinct professional school in 1972.) Materials on display were drawn from institutional archives, personal records, conversations, emails, and work acquired through an open call to alums.

The show is arranged chronologically in three sections delineated by color: green, pink, and black. Materials representing individual alums line the walls and cover a tabletop in the middle (pink) section. There are drawings and renderings, as well as photographs of completed buildings. But the exhibit also demonstrates the many ways in which alums have left their mark outside of the architecture profession. They have become authors, artists, activists, engineers, lawyers, politicians, and inventors, as well as top-notch architects.

“The goal was to create a collective voice to show what it really meant to make room for women in the architectural profession, but also outside of it,” said Jessica Varner ’08 M.Arch. ’14 M.E.D., who curated the exhibit with support from curatorial assistants Mary Carole Overholt ’21 M.E.D. and Limy Fabiana Rocha ’20 M.Arch. “There is such a great variety in what women graduates chose to do, including a lot of excellent architecture.”  Read the full article  with photographs here

Jessica Varner joined SAH in 2015. She was a session chair at the 2017 SAH Annual International Conference. She has also served on the SAH Graduate Student Advisory Committee and participated in the SAH Data Project's student stakeholder meeting.


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