The women seated in the New York townhouse’s basement theater that winter afternoon of 1983 were craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Donald Trump’s reactions to my presentation. The gathering’s purpose was to interest potential donors in financing the partial renovation of an original Columbia University building for the Department of Art History and Archaeology’s facilities that I had designed. Knowing that most of the wealthy women there had an interest (and some of them even a degree) in art history, I included in my presentation a discussion about the proportional system that had structured the building’s design and of my intent to continue using it to make the new intervention relate to the old. I noticed approving nods but no reaction on the part of The Donald, the only man I remember in the audience – or at least the only man that seemed to matter to the female audience. When I finished, there was a moment of silence. The women were clearly waiting for Trump to say something first – with one exception. When he opened his mouth, it was to enquire about some technical details of the air conditioning system. Those were fresh in my mind, as I had had a meeting with the engineers the day before, and was able to answer at length. I thought he would be impressed by the fact that I had managed to design the new system to reduce energy consumption and to be able to reopen the top floor skylights that had been blocked by the old one. But this elicited no response whatsoever. When I realized that no further questions would be asked I could not believe the air conditioning was all he was interested in. Until it hit me that it had been a trick question, asked to embarrass, in front of that influential audience, the young woman architect he was certain would not know how to reply. I was furious; he seemed disappointed. The elderly woman in the back, the only one that had shown a clear lack of interest in Trump’s opinion, was staring at me with focused, intelligent eyes, and an impish smile. She looked amused by the trumping of Trump. I later learned that she was Miriam Wallach, the heir of a printing paper empire, and that she and her husband Ira, both major Columbia University donors, ended up funding the entire project.
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