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Women in Architecture: Sophia Hayden Bennett

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting a master of technical design and someone who played a critical role in advancing the field for women, Sophia Hayden Bennett. While her builds were limited, Hayden’s talent and enthusiasm led her to achievements few people had reached at the time. Learn more about her impressive life and accomplishments below: 

The Life of Sophia Bennett 

Sophia Hayden Bennett was born in Santiago, Chile, on October 17, 1868. Hayden’s mother was of Peruvian descent, while her father was originally from the northeast United States. She spent her childhood in Chile but later moved to Boston to live with her grandparents and attend high school. In high school, she found her love for architecture, which emboldened her to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1886. 

Sophia Hayden Bennett, MIT Thesis, 1890, Courtesy of Rotch Library, MIT

Hayden was the first woman admitted to the MIT bachelor’s program in architecture and one of only a few women attending the school at the time. She became the first woman to graduate with a degree in the program four years later, in 1890. Throughout her time at MIT, Hayden’s classes ranged from niche drawing topics to construction and business courses, and she exuberantly mastered each subject, steering her to her final thesis, a design for a Museum of Fine Arts. 

Notable Works and Achievements 

Following her graduation from MIT, Hayden continued her passion for technical drawing as a teacher of mechanical drafting at a school in Boston. However, in February 1891, the World’s Columbian Exposition announced their competition for a design of the Woman’s Building, an exhibition hall for the 1893 Chicago exposition, and Hayden saw an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. 

The Woman’s Building designed by Hayden at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1983

Entries for the contest were limited to only designs made by women, and advertisements specified that each entrant must have professional architecture training. In the end, only twelve total entrants submitted designs, all under the age of twenty-five. Hayden’s design was eventually chosen as the winning design by a jury, which included Daniel Burnham. Along with being appointed as the building’s architect, she received a $1,000 prize. 

The winning design featured an Italian Renaissance classicism style, similar to the characteristics Hayden employed in her MIT thesis. The rectangular, two-story building utilized a wood structure and featured a central portico bordered by two symmetrical wings. At its interior, a central rotunda acted as the heart of the building, with rooms featuring exhibits of works by women across the world surrounding it. 

The interior of the Woman’s Building, 1893

Following the construction of the building, both Hayden and her design received public acclaim. Even with its praise, the commission – which was Hayden’s first – ended up being her last. However, she continued lending her design and drawing skills elsewhere, none of which became constructed. 

While Hayden’s physical contributions to the architectural world were limited, her expertise in technical drawing and passion for expanding opportunities for women in her field helped shape a storied legacy of her own.

Scottsdale Public Art: Windows to the West

As part of our ongoing public art series, we’ve been exploring exceptional creations to be found across Scottsdale, from the unique Water to Water, to the latest installation, Pinball Wizard. Today however, the spotlight is on Windows to the West, Scottsdale’s first public art installation and one that still inspires the city today after more than 50 years in the city. 

In June 1970, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded the City of Scottsdale a $20,000 matching grant to commission its own notable work of art by an American sculptor. The NEA program, Works of Arts in Public Places, would go on to fund more than 700 works of public art across the country, and Scottsdale was the first small city they approached at the time. 

Two years later, in February 1972, the City of Scottsdale finished raising their $20,000 of the matching grant, and the Scottsdale Fine Arts Commision chose acclaimed sculptor Louise Nevelson to create the first work of public art for the city. Nevelson, who is regarded as one of the best sculptors of the 20th century, completed the expressionist sculpture out of monochromatic corten steel designed to patina with time. Its abstract structure and shapes resemble some of her other iconic creations. 

Louise Nevelson, the creator of Window to the West, Gazing at her other artwork, 1978, Courtesy of Dixie Guerrero, ©Pedro E. Guerrero Archives

Although the sculpture was originally titled Atmosphere and Environments XVIII, thanks to its westward placement after its completion, it quickly became known as Windows to the West. Since its dedication in 1973, the sculpture has remained a treasured landmark of Scottsdale and continues to showcase how far the city’s appreciation for art has come.

Today, due to renovations on the Scottsdale Civic Center where the Windows to the West lived, the sculpture is in storage until the construction is finished in 2023. When it returns, art enthusiasts can expect the beloved sculpture to find its new home closer to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, but with the same western spirit as before.

Architecture as Subject in Art

If you look closely, architecture and its influence are in almost everything, from the clothes someone is wearing on the street to the more obvious building they may be walking past. We’ve previously touched on the inherent connections that architecture and fashion share, but arguably even more significant is architecture’s relationship with fine art. Today, we’re exploring how some artists have adopted architecture as a subject in their art throughout history. 

In Western art it wasn’t until the 16th century that architectural paintings popularized across Europe as an independent genre. The genre encouraged artists to use architecture as the predominant subject in the painting by using both exterior and interior views. Before then, architecture was mainly used as a background, providing balance for the rest of the painting. 

The genre centralized in Flanders and the Netherlands with artists like Hans Vredeman de Vries, and it became a staple of the Dutch Golden Age art. Vredeman de Vries’ Fountain in the Courtyard of a Palace is one of the earliest architectural paintings, leaving a great influence on the art and architecture of Europe for decades. The painting displays grand Corinthian columns lining a stretched arcade. The arcade leads to a lavish courtyard in the background and, in the foreground, a fountain. 

Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David, 1784

In 1784, French painter Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii became a triumph among the public and remains renowned today. The large painting depicts a Roman legend of a dispute between two cities. In the foreground, six life-size figures pose like actors on a stage, each displaying a different character. The geometry and depth of the setting’s architecture become emphasized due to David’s use of harsh, slanted light throughout the space. 

Café Terrace at Night, Vincnet van Gogh, 1888

Vincent van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night is another acclaimed architectural painting. Van Gogh completed the oil painting in 1888 in Arles, France. The setting exhibits a brightly lit terrace of a coffee house under a night sky. To the right, a tree’s branches slightly come into view above a lighted store underneath, and in the background, a shaded church tower ascends above the city.

Like fashion, the connection between art and architecture is innate. Artists may find inspiration from the unique architecture around them, while architects may discover influence from a specific style of architecture in painting. And for decades to come, these collaborations will continue to happen, expanding and advancing the art and architectural world.

Women of the Bauhaus

In “The Other Art History: The Forgotten Women of Bauhaus,” an in-depth piece that was published on July 13, 2018 on Artspace by Jillian Billard, we have the opportunity to understand the enormous impact a group of women visionaries had in shaping the Bauhaus.

We learn from Billard that the Bauhaus was dedicated to “interdisciplinary innovation” by combining design and craft through a new model of fostering community as the basis for learning instead of traditional teacher-student interactions. And with this new model as a defining principle, the Bauhaus community was ripe for welcoming and supporting women artists.

As Billard explains, Walter Gropius, who founded the Bauhaus School of Design in Weimar, Germany in 1919, stipulated that the school would be open to “any person of good repute, regardless of age or sex.” So while women were allowed to study at the school, they were directed into practices commonly regarded as “women’s work” –– textiles and weaving — while their male counterparts were encouraged to be architects, sculptors, and painters.

Photo of Alexa von Porewski, Lena Amsel, Rut Landshoff, unknown by Bauhaus photographers Umbo and Paul Citroen), before 1929. Berlinische Galerie, Photographic Collection.

Billard reminds us that the artists most closely associated with the Bauhaus were men, including Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. At the same time, history has treated the women in the movement as the counterparts of these great artists. In the past ten years, as many have revisited the Bauhaus participants in a more accurate art historical context, we have had the opportunity to celebrate the incredible women artists and the contributions they made. 

In “The Women of the Bauhaus,” an extensive thesis presented by Corinne Julius in Blueprint on September 3, 2019, we learn of the rise to prominence of Gunta Stölzl, only one of six students certified as a Master weaver. As head of the department from 1929 to 1931, she ushered in the transition from individual pictorial weaving to modern industrial designs, while also implementing the study of mathematics. Her bold artistic experiments include creating the mercerised cotton and Eisengarn fabric for Breuer’s tubular-steel chairs while leading joint projects with the Polytex Textile Company.

Julius describes Marianne Brandt as a brilliant metalwork artist who joined the Bauhaus as a workshop assistant and eventually took over as acting director in 1928 from László Moholy-Nagy. As both artist and administrator, Brandt helped solidify the role of industrial design 

Wera Meyer-Waldeck entered the Bauhaus in 1927, studying with Marcel Breuer in the carpentry workshop making furniture. Over the next several years, she studied in the construction and architecture departments, and went on to establish a distinguished career with a focus on sustainable housing.

And the list goes on. As we shared in Female Weavers and the Bauhaus, virtually every aspect of the Bauhaus and its artistic practices has been informed by a group of women with talent, vision and unapologetic courage. They, along with their male counterparts, continue to inspire the timelessness of Modernist thinking-and-doing. And in every part of our holistic design thinking at Optima, we celebrate their contributions.

Wera Meyer-Waldeck in the carpentry workshop at Bauhaus Dessau in 1930, photographed by Gertrud Arndt. Credit: VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019 / Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin

For further reading on 45 luminary women of the Bauhaus, Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective, written by Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler and published in 2019 by Bloomsbury Publishing, is an excellent resource, along with A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists (Taschen, 2019), written by Patrick Rössler.

Arcosanti: Creating a City

Known for his unique approach to architecture, Paolo Soleri brought the philosophy of arcology to numerous of Arizona’s most stunning environments. In Cosanti, he welcomed his otherworldly construction elements to the surroundings of Scottsdale. Today, we’re spotlighting another of the architect’s treasures, which embraces all of Soleri’s design principles on a much grander scale, Arcosanti

Inception of Arcosanti

Following the completion of his first build, Cosanti, Soleri began to explore more behind the meaning of arcology – a word he coined himself to label if design philosophy. What he began to discover was just how significant ecologically sound human habitats were to the ideology. 

In 1970, following the release of his book Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, in which he detailed the concept of cities embodying the fusion of architecture and ecology, Soleri began developing his own planned city, Cosanti. The project – found roughly 70 miles North of Scottsdale – was built to exhibit how urban environments can be elevated while minimizing negative impacts on the surroundings. 

Arcosanti’s ceramics apse, one of two that reside in the planned city

Arcosanti is built on 25 acres of a 6.25 square mile property, and though originally planned to house 5,000 people, the community is home to a population that varies from 100 to 150 throughout the year. Because the planned city is ever-changing, construction and development continue today due to the many students and volunteers who call it home. 

Architecture

The magnificent community currently consists of 13 major structures, ranging in size and purpose and featuring diverse design features unique to the town. One particular feature is the site-cast tilt-up concrete panels used to support various buildings, expressing similar patterns to the earth around them, some even cast in embedded art. 

Other attentive design features include the southward orientation of most buildings designed to capture the most natural light and an apse – similar to Cosanti’s – built to house the community’s bronze bell-casting space. 

The city also features essential builds intentionally placed to help the community thrive, including two barrel vaults, apartment residences, an outdoor amphitheater, a community swimming pool, an office complex and a lush greenhouse. 

Arcosanti’s two barrel vaults with art embedded concrete walls

Today, Arcosanti continues to fulfill Soleri’s vision as an educational center for upcoming architects and philosophers. Scholars from across the world choose the community to attend advanced workshops and classes on everything from experimental design to architectural agriculture.  

Nearly 40,000 tourists visit the unique community annually to witness Soleri’s philosophy of arcology in person. Visitors can take guided tours through the sweeping campus or stay overnight in one of its lavish guest accommodations. To plan your trip to the historic community, or learn more about its events and programming, visit Arcosanti’s website here.

New Book Release: Reflections on the Career of David Hovey Sr., FAIA

Hot off the press is the spectacular retrospective of the 40+ year career of David Hovey Sr., FAIA, Optima’s CEO and Founder. David Hovey Sr., released by Images Publishing, is a collector’s item that arrived on bookshelves in January 2022. The monograph opens with a beautiful introductory essay by the late luminary architect Helmut Jahn, who wrote about their decades-long friendship and Hovey’s “staggering” influence on architecture. Entitled “Living Beautifully,” Jahn explains:

“The best thing that can be said about the work of David Hovey Sr. in his chosen field of multi-family and single-family housing is that he builds unique and inventive dwellings for people to live beautifully. That he chooses to play not just the role of the architect but also that of developer, contractor, construction manager, sales and leasing agent, and building operator makes the achievement even more remarkable. As his own client and CEO of his company, Optima, Hovey demonstrates that it’s possible to successfully execute the very different skills of an architect and a developer by applying tremendous knowledge and tenacity and assuming great responsibility. Many who have tried to work as an architect-developer have failed because they did not find the right balance. David Hovey expanded the role of the architect to the level of a master building and in this, he is without equal in his generation.”

A sketch of Optima’s Sterling Ridge

In the words of friend and chronicler, Jahn talks about the arc of Hovey’s career:

“Hovey’s built work is a testament to constant refinement and improvement, each project a step along a path to take on new and bigger challenges, never being afraid of making a mistake by doing something new. The achievements of an architect become more evident with the passing of time. The good buildings become more important, the others will be forgotten.”

In Jahn’s reflections on Hovey’s deep understand of the complex issue of climate change, he shares his thoughts this way:

“David Hovey’s work should be recognized for more than its architectural design. This is particularly evident in his desert buildings where he addresses the important issue of climate change that challenges architecture today. Authorities measure energy consumption as the primary factor in building construction. Looking at energy efficiency alone is the wrong measure. We don’t have an energy problem, we have an emissions problem. Carbon dioxide is the principal culprit in climate change and the building industry contributes a considerable amount of it to the atmosphere.

Optima’s Biltmore Towers

“In Hovey’s buildings, there are strategies that address climate issues. This is demonstrated in the use of many prefabricated lightweight materials for load-bearing or non-load-bearing, enclosing parts. This extends to the use of recycled steel. Hovey regularly employs effective sun-shading devices. His strategies include LED lighting as well as energy-saving heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems. Sustainability is assured by design and not through additional equipment or devices, which don’t pay off over time. Here, the mind of the architect and developer in one person can best design and build buildings where nothing can be taken away to come closer to perfection. Only through knowledge, determination, and a deep sense of responsibility can these energy goals be achieved, as the buildings show.”

Stay tuned for other inspiring excerpts from David Hovey Sr., along with stunning images of completed structures and his extraordinary sketches. For those who wish to purchase the book, it is available through a number of booksellers online.

Exploring Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti

Scottsdale and its surroundings offer some of the country’s most historic art and architectural sites, including Taliesin West and its museum of contemporary art – SMoCA. Because of the popularity of these marquee locations, some of the area’s other unique contributions are often overlooked. Today, we’re spotlighting one of the community’s most ambitious architectural and design feats, Cosanti

Cosanti’s History

Found in Paradise Valley, Arizona, less than a 15-minute drive from Optima Kierland Apartments, Cosanti is a standout in its suburban neighborhood. The Gallery and design studio were designed and built by the Italian-American architect, urban designer and philosopher, Paolo Soleri. Soleri, who built the project in 1956, lived with his wife on the five-acre property only a few miles from Taliesin West, where he studied under renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright just ten years earlier. 

The interior of Cosanti’s Earth House where Soleri resided until 2013, Courtesy of Cosanti Originals

The structure’s name originates from Soleri’s Italian roots. Cosanti combines the two Italian words for ‘object’ and ‘before’, and the word itself means, ‘There are things more important than objects’ – a philosophy Soleri lived by. This attitude extends beyond the structure’s name and into its architecture, where he introduced his own philosophy of arcology. The term recognizes the importance between built and lived environments, similar to that of sustainable or regenerative design

Otherworldly Architecture

Cosanti’s otherworldly design elements easily separate it from its modern surroundings. Some of the build’s most alluring features are its outdoor studio, performance spaces, swimming pool, Soleri’s residence, and of course, his famous ‘Earth House’. 

Cosanti’s earth-cast wind-bells produced of bronze and ceramics, Courtesy of Cosanti Originals

To create the Earth House, Soleri utilized an earth-casting technique, where his team formed dense mounds of earth and then covered them in concrete molds. After developing, the earth under each mold became excavated and concrete structures built partly underground appeared – a building method that allows the structure to utilize natural insulation from the earth. 

Soleri also used terraced landscaping, courtyards and garden paths to separate branches of the unique campus and further connected the environment to its natural surroundings using earth-cast wind-bells. 

Today, the Arizona Historic Site offers local residents and tourists free guided tours of the visionary structure and property. To explore the grounds and more of Cosanti yourself, visit their website here.

Remembering the 1922 Art Week in São Paulo

With Optima’s love for all things modern, we take great pleasure in diving into the history of modernism around the globe, including how the principles of modernism took hold in Brazil. And as luck would have it, the country is celebrating a huge milestone in February 2022 — the 100th anniversary of the Semana de Arte Moderna that runs from February 10 through 17 — so we are taking a closer look at this pivotal moment in time.

For the people of Brazil, 1922 was a landmark year. It marked a full century of independence from Portugal – and it was also the year that put Brazilian art on the international map, beginning with an idea emerged from a group of artists to host a week-long art celebration around modernism. Dubbed the Semana de Arte Moderna — this game-changing event took the form of exhibitions, lectures, poetry readings and musical performances that brought avant-garde works and ideas to the entire country.

Today, 100 years later, we look back at the Semana de Arte Moderna of 1922 and recognize it as a major turning point in the development of modern art. At the time, however, it was greeted with mockery, anger and fear. There were stories of horrified audiences throwing objects at performers on stage, and critics fuming with negative reviews of art, music and theater they didn’t understand.

Original poster for 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna, Wikipedia

Central to the works presented during the Semana de Arte Moderna was the theme of creating work that drew upon European influences but was uniquely Brazilian. This was a radical approach in 1922, since the European centers of art and culture had a tight grasp on what was considered “art,” and the idea that Brazilian artists had voices of their own was considered shocking. 

Following the Semana de Arte Moderna, the Brazilian Modernism movement blossomed. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, while much of the world was still in a state of flux about what exactly constituted ‘modern’ art, the country was leading the way into new styles of artistic expressions that were quickly embraced by Brazilians as a unique cultural identity. And with this new-found inspiration and energy, the modernist architecture movement took hold.

The painting A Negra by Tarsila do Amaral was part of an exhibition of her work at Semana de Arte Moderna. From Caixa Modernista, Edusp / Editoria UFMG / Imprensa Oficial, São Paulo, 2003.

In the 1950s Brazil decided to found Brasilia, a new capital city heralded as a great experiment in modernist architecture, to help develop Brazil’s interior. Led by the vision of Brazil’s most famous architect and designer,  Oscar Niemeyer, the country began to define itself by its modernist aesthetic, with buildings characterized by their use of concrete and free-flowing curves.

As we reconsider the impact the 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna had on the rise of modernist architecture around the globe, we can’t help but recognize how the forever modern principles we practice at Optima fit into a larger context. It is Optima’s pleasure and privilege to be such an esteemed and vital company.

The Intersection of Fashion and Architecture

Coco Chanel famously stated, “fashion is architecture, it’s a question of proportions.” While architecture can span hundreds of meters, fashion is typically crafted on a much smaller scale. Without question, however, both artful expressions involve a balance of creativity, functionality and innovation that often evolves with time. With our passion for architecture here at Optima, we’re exploring the inherent intersections between fashion and architecture, along with some talented creators who have discovered how to successfully cross the boundary that can separate the two.

An Affinity For Craftsmanship

The fields of architecture and fashion have been influenced by the same movements over time, including art, culture, economics, science and technology. And as various modernizations affecting form, materials, lighting and techniques for fabrication have changed our world, designers continue to adapt and innovate.

To be sure, designers and architects treat their creations as works of art, translating their emotions and visions through various acts of color, line, shape and form. Taking advantage of technological innovation, visionaries in both fields continue to share extraordinary new creations with the world through their exploration of glossiness, transparency, texture, color and structure. And in the process, they reinforce the intrinsic linkages between fashion and architecture that delight, surprise and inspire. 

Various selections from Virgil Abloh’s first Off-White collection, 2014

Individuals Who Have Found Success Crossing Fields

Countless individuals have elegantly walked the line between fashion and architecture. Some creatives first find themselves constructing shelters made of steel and wood but eventually shift to materials like cotton and silk for contrasting yet similar purposes. 

Virgil Abloh, the late Director of Louis Vuitton and Founder and CEO of Off-White, didn’t always work from a sewing machine. Abloh, who studied civil engineering and later received a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, often took inspiration from his past experiences in architecture to propel his career in the fashion industry, using materials and structures uncommon to traditional fashion design. In fact, Abloh credited the inspiration for his acclaimed debut Off-White collection to Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and exhibited it with references to both Baroque and Bauhaus art. 

Louis Vuitton Icone Bag x Zaha Hadid, 2006

Zaha Hadid, one of the most influential and iconic architects in modern history, also successfully explored the dynamic relationship between architecture and fashion throughout her career. Known for her extensive use of curvature and emphasis on linework in architecture, Hadid brought her inspirations to the fashion world to design products that had not been explored before. Partnering with various luxurious fashion brands, including Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Lacoste, Hadid created ultra-modern bags, shoes and jewelry that fused signature elements of architecture and fashion. 

Today, countless fashion designers and architects continue to dismantle the boundaries between these disciplines with innovative constructions. Renowned fashion designer Iris van Herpen recently collaborated with Netherlands-based architecture firm Neutelings Riedijk Architects to transform the national research institute for biodiversity, Naturalis. Van Herpen was inspired by the museum’s collections, to replicate erosion patterns from the volcanic island of Lanzarote.

For decades, fashion designers and architects have crossed paths and shared similar inspirations within their designs – whether they know it or not. And for decades to come, these collaborations will continue to happen, expanding and advancing the fashion and architectural world.

Exploring the Scottsdale Arts District

Since the early 2000s, Optima has called Scottsdale home. The one-of-a-kind desert city offers a little bit of something for everyone. Golf lovers can enjoy the sprawling championship courses, foodies have access to some of the country’s finest dining and chic boutiques provide shoppers endless entertainment. We are proud of our contributions to this vibrant city with the amazing communities of Optima Camelview Village, Optima Sonoran Village and Optima Kierland, and equally proud to see the city continuing to expand its cultural offerings to residents and visitors alike. Today we’re exploring one of the city’s most treasured locations, the Scottsdale Arts District

The arts district consists of an entire neighborhood found in the heart of Downtown Scottsdale, running along Main Street for roughly six blocks. Celebrated art galleries sit next to amazing art installations. Around them, retailers, boutiques and acclaimed restaurants ensure that visitors to the district are fully immersed in the best of everything. 

Some of Scottsdale’s most cherished pieces of public art – like the commanding sculpture Jack Knife – reside in the district, along with a number of the city’s museums and cultural venues including Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts, the home of Knight Rise.

Throughout the year, the arts district embraces its warm surroundings and friendly culture with its weekly ArtWalk. Every Thursday from 7 PM – 9 PM, buildings lining Main Street open their doors to the individuals enjoying the Scottsdale ArtWalk. In addition to this weekly tradition, ArtWalk hosts a themed Gold Palette series event every few weeks to offer even more exciting entertainment and showcase only the best of the best works of art. Live music, complimentary food and wine tastings, and extended gallery hours are just some of the few extra features that come along with the special event. Upcoming Gold Palette events include Western Week on February 3 and Native Spirit on March 3.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art found in the Scottsdale Arts District, Courtesy of SMoCA

As we continue to develop our vibrant culture here in Scottsdale, particularly with the expansion of the Kierland community, we look forward to discovering new opportunities to enjoy the city’s rich cultural and entertainment programming, unique retail experiences and fantastic dining values, where there is truly something for everyone.

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