Feminism has had a long and profound impact on the evolution of architecture and urban planning. Architecture is a subject that must be understood in the context of its society, economy, culture, consumption, representation, interpretation, academic disciplines, interest groups, users, and so much more. Understanding architecture about gender necessitates an urgent contextualization in light of massive and quick transformations in theoretical, historical, and critical discussions, notably addressing feminism. 

In current history, there has been a significant shift in thinking about gender, feminism, space, and architecture, and it has become essential to situate current debates within an intellectual history, allowing for some understanding of the foundation and evolution of these modern concepts. Today, many would argue, and rightly so, that the situation for women in many professions, including architecture, has to be improved. Education has, in fact, broadened and varied, and has become less sexist. The appearance of very few female architect icons, on the other hand, demonstrates that the profession has managed to maintain its misogynistic image. Statistics just serve to reinforce the idea.

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Library of Birmingham by Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architecten_©Christian Richters

Feminine Freedom in History

The Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries offered us the notion of logic and reason, as well as stimuli to confront the orthodox dogmas of Neo-Catholicism. The Industrial Revolution (from 1700 A.D. onwards) significantly altered social structures, and capital became more visible, as in the communist manifesto of 1948, which discusses the consequences of replacing human labour with machines. It asserted that “the more modern industry develops, the more men’s labour is supplanted by that of women”. In 1848 A.D, Karl Marx established Marxism, a socioeconomic theory emphasising equality for everyone through a classless, stateless social structure. 

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The Broad, Los Angeles, by Liz Diller_©Phaidon

Throughout the 1950s, the expansion of department shops throughout England and France made women participants of the urban environment, as highlighted by Theresa McBride in 1976, where women were to be seen in public on their own was ethically and socially acceptable. Tracing a chronology of women’s empowerment, Mary L Page was the first woman to get a degree in architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S., in 1873. Louise Blanchard Bethune became the first American woman architect in 1888. Eileen Gray is widely regarded as one of the most significant designers of the contemporary era. Gray’s furniture served as an influence for many Art-Deco and Bauhaus architects and designers. Zaha Hadid was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture’s top prize (2004). Her parametric designs are used in a variety of sectors, including architecture and urban planning, as well as product and furniture design. 

In theory and practice, in the modern era, the idea of spatial separation between home and work was related to the traditional sexual division of men and women, and their role in life. Modernism emerged from 1910 A.D. onwards.

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Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan_©Zaha Hadid Architects

Modernity was founded on the principles of logic, transparency, release from social restraints, and equality of class, culture, and gender, and an immovable concept that regulates everything in reality. These ideals were adopted in their broadest meaning. It was this sense of universality that set it apart from tradition. It refused to accept superstitious dogmas of the past and sought to reshape society’s socioeconomic and political structures. Gerrit Rietveld, Le Corbusier, Mies Van de Rohe, Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Adolf Loos are regarded as modernism’s forefathers. Despite hopes for better gender equality in modernism, there are hardly any female modernist architects whose works have been properly recorded or even taught in history classes. 

The Present Predicament and its Conclusion

Arts and Architecture have long been at the forefront of socio-spatial conflicts in cities, communities, including equity, access, representation, and expression. Feminist spatial practices provide significant contributions to new kinds of action. They help broaden conversations, engage materialisms, reform pedagogies, and project alternatives. Feminist Futures of Spatial Practice is a book that investigates feminist practises’ practical instruments and theoretical aspects, and their temporalities, emergence, histories, occurrences, durations and futures. 

Writers Theatre, Glencoe, Illinois_©Studio Gang

In the previous few decades, women architects have been responsible for a massive and diverse body of work. It is worthy of further attention. In architecture, modernity has been a male construct defined by terms like heroic, violent, and savage. Although the movement was intended to be equal for both men and women, it was founded on chauvinistic beliefs of masculine superiority and feminine subordination. It is not surprising that these beliefs have been so ingrained in a professional culture that women architects today fail to perceive the prejudices that may exist in the existing system. We have reached a point where women are choosing out of professional areas, despite the fact that gender intake in architecture schools is equal. Perhaps it is time for architecture to adopt a new culture focused on empathy, cooperation, negotiation, emotion, and experience. Architecture shall have a brighter future when it harmonises with these ideologies.

References:

  1. ThoughtCo. [Online] 21 Famous Woman Architects. Available at https://www.thoughtco.com/
  2. Riddhima Mehrotra [Online] Feminism in architecture. Available at https://issuu.com/ 
Author

A recent architecture grad student who believes design and research play a creative role in shaping society while providing advanced solutions. Her curiosity has drawn her passion into understanding the psychology of architecture with human behaviour and art. She relishes reading, discovering, and craves to learn more each day.

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