Architecture through the window of Gender, Pink or Blue?

“Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught” By Leslie Feinberg

Gender is a subject mostly defined by the society, where we were born into. Therefore, gender roles were also created by the notion that society adapted to age. The women are the kitchen Queens and the Men are the Bread Earners. 

As society developed and the notions changed, which was again a struggle of many years by women to be recognised equally. The spaces also evolved according to the notions of Gender for Society. The spatial standards adapted and evolved as Gender roles evolved over the years. 

Most women were expected to be homemakers and idealised to mostly be doing household work, the spaces in a home were greatly designed according to the norms of the society then(Borden, 2000). Back then, a woman was expected to take care of the kitchen. Therefore the anthropometrics followed for kitchen designing were based on women and designed according to their needs. 

And on the contrary, the institutions were mostly designed according to the needs of men. The facilities included were according to the needs of a man, including the spatial need for a washroom. Realizing the need for washrooms in public places for women did not occur until the 1800s.

The first idea of civilized washrooms didn’t exist until 1851 when a plumber in London came up with the idea of retiring rooms, adjusted to the physical differences between men and women.

Very interestingly, the way society has defined gender by colour, like blue defines a Boy and pink defines a girl, In the same way, gender has also taken over the arrangement and Design of spaces.

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Interiors in Subtle Pink and Florals, Girly Bedroom_©

The Liberating Power of Spaces

Spaces can communicate greatly with a person’s emotions and also give them a sense of being. A person’s feelings are greatly intertwined in the space they experience.

Space has the power to make a person feel empowered or powerless and is responsible for any type of sentiment that might arise while experiencing that space. An example can be a dark, narrow dead-end street, where a criminal can feel powerful and take advantage of the space. While the Victim, or any normal transiting person through that space, would feel uncomfortable and unsafe. 

In the same way, as the norms of society have put men on a pedestal and not cared about women much, it has always been likely for a woman to feel uncomfortable in most public spaces. Public spaces have slowly now been adaptive to women’s needs and started making Women comfortable and empowered. But, for these changes to arrive in space arrangement and planning, understanding the sentiments was a long ride. 

For Instance, Breastfeeding in public has always remained a Social stigma for ages now. And this, in some sense, has created a sense of uncomfortableness for a woman. But, the idea of spaces like a feeding Room or a Baby Care room has liberated a woman from feeling uncomfortable and being stared at in open Public spaces. 

Spaces possess the liberating power for a person’s emotions and expressions into their engulfment. Therefore for a Society, expression through space can affect it much and be responsible for a lot of changes occurring, acceptance coming to light and vice versa. 

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Baby Care Room, at Bangalore Airport_©

Evolution of Spaces 

Through centuries as women and men had defined roles set by society, architecture resulted in adjusting to such perceptions. A woman even in domestic architecture, like a home of her own, was set with roles and the spaces developed around it. A woman was envisioned as a cook to be in the kitchen; therefore the anthropometrics of a kitchen developed so. 

Sometimes, gendered spaces are also a necessity for accepting the very different physical needs of a woman to a man. These differences are to be accepted, and the requirements of these spaces are to be adhered to seriously. The more the acceptance of the different needs set in during the presence of both genders in the shared spaces, the better design will evolve considering both the genders equally and spaces perfectly blending to the needs of both genders. Segregation of spaces according to the needs of both genders has also been responsible for the segregation of spaces and shaped architectural identity

Some spatial arrangement has been defined by the physical differential needs of both genders, but some spaces have been defined by the role society decided for each of the two genders. The societal definition of spaces can and should be altered, as neutral spaces could be accepted, adopting those roles equally. Like a toilet, a kitchen is not a spatial necessity according to physical needs. The kitchen possesses no physical barrier to its usage as a space and could be designed considering both genders (Borden, 2000). 

Like the evolution of the Public Toilet, Since society earlier was not accommodating and accepting of women’s appearance outside in public spaces, therefore, there was also no acceptance of spaces adapted to their physical needs. However, with time these spaces evolved. One such space of necessity was the public toilet (Penner, 2005). Public spaces, like worship spaces of any religion, can also be defined by society and be gender-specific.

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Showing different men and women praying areas at the Western Wall in Jerusalem_©,_seen_from_walkway_to_the_Dome_of_the_Rock.jpg

The evolution of public spaces has come a long way, but more is needed for both genders to accommodate each other and upgrade the sense of acceptance for the opposite genders.  

Public Spaces Vs The Public Spaces 

Gendered Architecture: A Comparative Analysis of Public Spaces4
The WEIU’s created a new city map for women_© Oxford University Press (Deutsch, 2000)

To make public spaces what they have evolved today into, the tassel was long. Women in 1800 started the battle for equal rights and equal importance in spaces. Be it spaces of work or any institution of leisure. 

Women were placed in class and prohibited from areas presumed to be male-dominated. Also, were expected not to trespass the borders to enter the male section. 

However, gradually women were expected to play feminine roles and were allowed to do such jobs, which were termed as best-suited jobs for a female, like that of a hairdresser or working at a cloth store. Around the world, numerous organizations were founded by women who advocate for equality and support other women.

Boston’s Women’s Educational and Industrial Union also had a significant impact. Additionally, the impact was on spaces designed to accommodate women (Deutsch, 2000).

It was not only in the West but also the scenario changed in countries like India. The purdah system, the treatment of men as superior beings and women being inferiors and timid changed. 

Witnessing the changes through the years passed, spatial arrangements have transitioned to accommodating women. Many Public spaces have now become very accommodating to both genders, such as malls, Airports, spaces of entertainment etc. But still, there have been cultural and religious influences on the spatial arrangement, therefore many spaces around the world even now need an understanding of inclusivity and acceptance. This might take a few more mountains to be crossed and barriers to be broken, yet it’s not impossibly unachievable. Hope can stand for such choices to be made in future. Architects and planners can be the torch barrier to initiating such inclusive spaces and making people experience shared spaces.

Creating gender-neutral spaces should be encouraged more, for spaces which are dictated by society and can be visualised as gender-neutral. 

But spaces whose demands are related to the physical existence of both genders, in such, gendered defined spaces shall be appreciated. 

And the responsibility lies on Architects and planners to be mindful of it, creating better spaces and treating both genders with equity. 

Reference List:

  1. Borden, J. R. A. B. P. (2000) Gender Space Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Introduction. New York and London: Routledge.
  2. Cecilia Juanita, F. K. (2021) “Gendered Spaces in the Public Sphere: A Micro Study of Bangalore’s Malls, Airport, Railways, and Educational Institutes,” Journal of International Women’s Studies, 22(6).
  3. Deutsch, S. (2000) Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  4. Penner, B. (2005) “Researching Female Public Toilets: Gendered Spaces, Disciplinary Limits,” Journal of International Women’s Studies, 6(2).
  5. Spain, D. (1993) “Gendered Spaces and Women’s Status,” Sociological Theory, 11(2), pp. 137–151.

Nabaneeta is a Researcher in the field of Building Adaptation to climate change, working on assessment of carbon footprint and carbon emissions. A highly motivated individual to express and create consciousness amongst everyone for climate change. A dedicated individual to express the urgency. She is also a very enthusiastic individual to grow and learn and incorporate different ideas on a variety of subjects.