A new exhibition at the RIBA highlights the historically neglected role of women in architecture through the exploration of three pivotal projects.


Installation photography
Gareth Gardner

Performance photography
Heiko Prigge

Radical Rooms: Power of the plan (until 30 July) hones in on the plans of three residential buildings – Hardwick Hall (1590 – 1597) in Derbyshire commissioned by Bess of Hardwick, A la Ronde (1798) near Exmouth by Jane and Mary Parminter, and the Hopkins House (1976) by Patty and Michael Hopkins – and the role women played in their design and commissioning.


The projects are unpacked within an exhibition curated by RIBA Curator of Exhibitions Margaret Cubbage, and designed by architect Charles Holland and artist Di Mainstone. “The focus of the exhibition looks at the relationship between power and architecture, and focuses specifically on domestic spaces,” said Cubbage during a preview of the show. “In history, we looked at the organisation and hierarchy of space where houses were arranged to influence or control people living there based on their occupation, age and gender. The spotlight of the exhibition looks at the architectural plan.”

Holland’s exhibition design, influenced by the plan of the interconnected rooms of the Palladian house, sees small private viewing stations sectioned from the main exhibition space by curtains printed with brightly coloured interpretations of the three buildings’ structures, details and textures. Hidden behind the curtains are drawings, photographs and documents taken from the RIBA archive that reveal the overlooked role of women in the development of these projects, as well as other relevant studies, which disrupted the conventional idea of the architectural plan in the 16th, 18th and 20th centuries. Pieces of patterned carpet inlaid in the existing flooring reinforces the exhibition’s zones.

“Radical Rooms explores profound questions around the power structures that shape our houses and our home lives. It also reflects back on a history of houses through the RIBA archive,” said Holland. “A significant aspect of the three houses is that they had the profound influence of women sometimes as the client, the commissioner, designer – or sometimes all three. We were interested in those blurred boundaries between worlds but also the hidden history of that influence on the development of the architectural plan.”


The archive material is accompanied by three performances devised by Mainstone and projected onto the walls of the main exhibition area. Actors give voice to the four female protagonists – Bess of Hardwick, Jane and Mary Parminter, and Patty Hopkins – who are enveloped in avant-garde costumes sculpted from fabric and paper printed with patterns inspired by the buildings, and accompanied by different soundscapes.

Mainstone reimagines Bess of Hardwick as an MC performing “Elizabethan grime” in a ruff crafted of splayed architectural plans, while the societal inhibition of Jane and Mary Parminter is captured in a performance that positions the duo as “first-wave punk flaneurs”, and Patty Hopkins has lent her own voice to a minimalistic electronic soundscape.

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