Female pioneers in the discipline of garden architecture in Norway

On the International Women’s Day, we highlight some of the first female garden architects in Norway. Digging into their contributions is not easy. While women did contribute to the discipline, many historians seem to have overlooked them. In this Norwegian article, we present four of the first female garden architects in Norway: Karen Reistad (1900-1994), Torgborg Zimmer (1911-2001), Else Collett (1905-1990) and Sigrid Jahnsen (1910-1982).

Sigrid Jahnsen (1910-1982), Else Collett (1905-1990), Torborg Zimmer (1911-2001), Karen Reistad (1900-1994)

In short, these four women in the field all had strong-willed and energetic personalities, otherwise they probably would not have been able to gain a foothold in a male-dominated profession, let alone collaborating/bargaining with the more male-dominated discipline of architecture. It seems that the first two female garden architects, Reistad and Zimmer, were ahead of their time and had to go abroad to be educated in garden architecture. It was not until the 1930s that Norway was ready to educate its first female garden architects. But it is striking that both women, Collett and Jahnsen, came from fairly wealthy families. Later in their careers, their contributions seem to have disappeared into other archives, and probably under other (male) names.

Since these early female garden architects were often educated or practiced abroad, an international approach is needed to better understand their work and contributions.
To further research this topic, the Historical Archive for Norwegian Landscape Architecture is now part of a Nordic research network that investigates “Where are the Women in Nordic Landscape Architecture?” The network is a collaboration between the University of Copenhagen, Stockholm University and NMBU Ås, and is supported by the Danish Independent Research Fund.

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