Part 7 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
Margaret Staal-Kropholler (1891-1966), like many of the first women in architecture, had no option to study in a formal setting. But she did have the good luck of having a brother in practice. Staal-Kropholler worked at her brother’s firm, Kropholler en Staal, while attending classes where she could gain admittance as a women: an Arts and Crafts school in Haarlem and evening classes in at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture. She gained a bigger profile in the firm after what must have been tense personal dynamics that led to the departure of her brother, Kropholler, from the firm, and her subsequent marriage to Staal. Working as a partner in the firm, Staal-Kropholler revealed the influence of Arts and Crafts training and thinking through her focus on designs for furniture and other decorative arts, as well as the approach she took to improving the domestic interior both in form and function. In 1913 she created the exhibition Het Huis 1913 for a women’s exhibition in Amsterdam, in which modern domestic amenities made housekeeping more efficient while reserved writing areas served the husband’s and wife’s assumed volunteerism. Echoing in her work for decades, such concerns were not as revolutionary as they might first seem, since her interest in keeping women from “degenerating into overworked, irritable aprons” was as much to save the nerves of husband and children as much as the wife. (It is notable, of course, that the traditional family is assumed in her work). Staal-Kropholler continued to express her ideas on the domestic realm in lectures, articles, and her built work, right through to her final project. Completed independently (as she worked alone after the death of Staal in 1940), the large complex of 170 units serving professional single women was designed and built between 1959-1963 in the Netherlands. Its strict modernism shows the variance of style that characterize the arc of her career. An early project in 1917, three “boerderettes” (small houses emulating traditional farm buildings) bore a strong vernacular expression that develoeed into the roots of the Amsterdam School; she embraced this local trend in the 1921 housing project in Holendrechtstraat, Amsterdam (above). Like much of her work in the many decades that she practiced, it shows the necessary dependence–if not, perhaps, preference–for group projects among early female practitioners clearing a professional path in a conservative country.