Inside the Czechoslovak Embassy (1970-78) in Berlin. Interior by Věra and Vladimír Machonin (1970-1978).
A 1957 office building in Belgrade by Milica Šterić (1957).

Women and architecture

The absolute majority of 20th-century architecture and design practitioners were men. But in movements such as Polish modernism, American Art Deco, Czechoslovak brutalism and Italian radical design, women were important.

The Czechoslovak Embassy in Berlin is one of several great embassy buildings constructed by Czechoslovakia from the 1950s to the 1970s. This brutalist structure was designed by the prolific architect couple Věra and Vladimír Machonin, who were behind some of the most impressive examples of Czech 20th century architecture.

Behind the raw facade of the embassy lie splendid interiors with unique furniture by Věra Machonin and a chandelier by René Roubíček. The office building by the Serbian architect Milica Šterić on Carice Milice Street shows inspiration from international-style architecture made of light steel and glass facades. Šterić, who worked at the Energoprojekt building institute where she headed the architecture department, is responsible for massive projects around Serbia, including housing schemes and large power plants, and worked in Zambia, Kuwait and Nigeria.

Two important pioneers of the modern movement in Poland, Stanislaw and Barbara Brukalscy, built their own house in Warsaw (1927-1928) as an ode to radical constructivist forms. The interiors, however, were redesigned during the 1940s and softened by a bamboo handrail and a traditional stove cladded with ceramic. This style followed their project for a lounge room conceived for the Polish pavilion at the 1937 World Expo in Paris.

The Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles was designed by John and Donald Parkinson’s busy architectural office in 1929. Great attention was paid to the decoration of the spectacular Art Deco interiors. Several designers worked on them, including the American interior designers Eleanor Lemaire and Jock Peters, who took care of dozens of customised details. One of the most surprising can be found in the ground-floor sportswear department. The interiors were restored recently, and its premises now host a private law school.

One of Italy’s early female designers is Nanda Vigo. Born in 1936, Vigo founded her studio in Milan in 1959, after studying at the Lausanne Polytechnic and spending some time in San Francisco. Upon her return, she made friends with an older generation of architects, most notably Gio Ponti, and became close to leaders of the avant-garde. Vigo designed several mesmerizing, art-filled residential interiors during the 1970s, for instance Casa Museo Remo Brindisi in Lido di Spina (north of Ravenna), built in 1973 and now open in its original form as an art gallery.