Reviewed June 2020
Janine Henri, Architecture and Design Librarian
UCLA Arts Library
The IAWA Biographical Database is a free website that provides biographical information about women architects and designers. It includes (but is not limited to) women whose collections are maintained by the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) at Virginia Tech. The purpose of the Archive is “to document the history of women's contributions to the built environment” and the IAWA Biographical Database is presumably an outgrowth of this documentation. An online form facilitates submission of new entries, and contact information lists the IAWA Archivist.
At first glance, the database seems very intuitive: it enables full text keyword searching and browsing by last name or region. Keywords can search entire records or specific fields such as occupation, education, projects, or specialties. The Last Name browse option is an alphabetical listing, reached via letters of the Roman alphabet. The Region listing features drop down menu options to select a Country or to choose a State (after selecting a country).
Results are easy to interpret, and are organized under separate tabbed sections for Bio, Employment, Recognitions, Education, Licenses/Affiliations, and Publications. Information in each section displays under headings such as Occupation, Date of Birth, Date of Death, Specialties, Employer, etc. The amount of information provided in each entry varies widely; the database is evidently still a work in progress.
Cursory exploration quickly reveals oddities in geographic entries and inconsistencies in data entry. For instance, the country name drop down menu starts with a listing of numbers and includes an entry for ‘delete.’ One country is listed as ‘Sri’ (there is no ‘Lanka’ or ‘Sri Lanka’) but selecting it retrieves zero hits. This is disappointing since one would have expected that Minnette de Silva would be included. This reviewer did locate an entry that included ‘Sri Lanka’ on its biographical page, but entered as a City rather than a Country. The drop down menu options to ‘Choose a State’ for countries other than the United States, Canada, or Australia seem to include arbitrary subdivisions such as “City of London” (United Kingdom) and “Black Forest” (Germany). Most countries do not list State equivalents.
A disconcerting discovery was that keyword searching may not retrieve all instances of a word. Notably, ‘Hadid’ results in zero hits when searching ‘Entire Record’ although an entry is retrieved under ‘Search by Last Name’ or when selecting the ‘Name’ search limit. Another surprise was the presence of an entry for a male architect; compare Enrique Vivoni Farage with the information in the Archivo de Arquitectura y Construcción de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.
Navigation could easily be improved by adding search and browse options to Search Results pages. Documentation such as FAQs or scope notes would be helpful, especially since limiters (such as ‘Project’) do not correspond to field names in entries. Highlighting keywords in search results would also be a welcome enhancement. A listing of ‘Occupation’ terms or an option to browse the occupations list would also be beneficial and would showcase scope. Diacritics display and sorting order also need attention (‘López’ currently sorts before ‘Lagerborg-Stenius’). Considering the international scope, ability to search or display non-Roman scripts may increase in importance as the content expands. Lastly, an option to display entries chronologically would also improve usability.
As of July 7, 2020, 2,452 entries appear in the database. This compares to about 450 collections in the IAWA and 1,340 entries in the Dynamic National Archive. Thus, the number of entries (and growth potential) is the current strength of this database, making it an important resource for anyone seeking information about women architects.