The spaces are gendered in the very construct of them, with set beliefs and ideas of what they convey and the kind of essence they provide to its inhabitant. They assign roles and define personalities in the way they are designed. And the problem is—within the larger framework of all that humanity is capable of constructing from imaginative illusions of seeming reality to real spaces of cognitive dimensions, there is rooted unconscious domination.
The domination tends to be unconscious because it is constantly neutralized by various social constructs and their underneath notions by different approaches. In the reciprocal construction of identity and space within the domain of architecture, there are embedded foundations that constitute dynamic though normalized meaning systems.
From experience to memory, all that the human brain consists of has something to do with space and its surroundings. Surroundings control how people perform and they reflect actions and choices they would make. (Oh well on that note, the brain is a space too which controls all the activities of the human body.) There are already multiple established claims with a similar idea, such as – ‘Spaces make people perform”, “Spaces create an identity”, “ Humans behave according to their environment’ and so forth. This relation between the construction of identity and space has been validated multiple times but it doesn’t come to an end there.
Architecture seems to have a language of its own, where drawings become the medium of communication and lines within them define spaces. But when reading between the lines, these are not entirely the lines of definition but the lines of limitation. Lines through the lens of perspective (drawings) ascribe circumscribed and isolated meanings that filter the complexities of Architecture. Alberti would disagree, and argue how this perspective changed Architecture as parallel lines and points give depth to the sense of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Except that mirrors a significant question- whether spaces are entirely marginal, and if all margins are physical?
Through architectural dimensions, we design and arrange spaces which tend to not only create the identity and make humans perform but also delineate the normalcy they carry. As Henry Urbach in Closets, Clothes and disClosure outlines the two meanings of the word—“Closets”, one as the space of storage and the other as the space of identity. He elucidates on the fact that both these closets rearticulate identity including that of their own. That is he brings to light the spatial division between the closet and that of the room. The arrangements of lines by their very nature provide a room the luxury to be in front, whereas the closet is concealed.
Henry names this division as the spaces of storage and the spaces of display be it of clothes or identities and very carefully draws an analogy between these two taxonomized spaces with two forms of gender identities that is Homosexuality and Heterosexuality. The former becomes the closet, something to be stored and concealed whereas the latter becomes the sphere of the display.
As a closet store things to make the room looks clean, the idea of homosexuality grants heterosexuality its normalcy that it pertains. Homosexuality like any closet doesn’t only hides the very nature of being of its elements but also itself in the display of Heterosexuality. The word ‘closets’ and the kind of storage it contains the ‘clothes’ leads to the idea of hiding and disclosing identities. The physical closet in its description with evolution reflects its arrangement that lacks any anterior space. It limits even gaze through the unavailability of windows, restricts the accessibility through its door. Coming out of the closet and displaying the self becomes difficult within the normalcy of heterosexuality.
Something similar is with the case of public restrooms and their access to the trans/queer community. The division of public restrooms is generally based on the preferred notion of normalized heterosexuality. With no separate division or labeled “others” / “disabled” cabins, the otherness of homosexuality becomes evident enough. Though these restrooms are constructed for public usage, it disregards a whole community and hence addresses them as others, determining them with the so-called “abnormality”.
And thus, constant construction of spaces based on the normalized preference of heterosexuality neutralizes the problems of social otherness. It becomes important to interact and design inclusively with and for all communities to abolish the constant effect of such normalized domination.
As the queer space is certainly space where one hides and stores their identity but also construct themselves by returning to their own body. These are in that regard, the spaces of storage of identities, concealed-closed in darkness yet secure. It’s the phenomenology of the certain elements which become private to the body and their arrangement in the larger social dilemmas.
To elaborate, mirrors by their nature reflect the identity, the truth of one but something that doesn’t exist in reality, the reality of ordered structure. These ordered structures impose and control the identities of appearance, movement, choices, and desire whereas queer spaces break these boundaries by their fluidity and individuality. These spaces are not necessarily constructed, instead are something that is implied. This distinction is the distinction of sex from gender. The queer spaces are not meant purposely unlike other architectural building blocks, but are free and are made out of desire, for identity and equity.
With an understanding of how architecture can create a social impact, many architects and designers are contributing in possible ways to the LGBTQIA+ community. Some are mentioned below:
1. Jane Greenwood
Co-founder of the ‘Organization of Lesbian + Gay Architects and Designers’, Greenwood is the principal architect at Kostow Greenwood Architects in New York City. The New York Business Journal named her as one of ‘Out’ magazine’s 100 most influential LGBTQIA+ people and a “woman of influence” in 2017.
2. Gauthier Destenay
Working as an associate architect at Belgian firm A3 Architecture since 2013, Destenay is also the husband of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel. He became the first union head to marry a same-sex partner. Gauthier’s firm works on both private and public projects to design for a sustainable environment.
3. Tom Guy
The founder of Guy Piper Architects in Loddon, Tom also founded the business and social group ‘Architecture LGBT+’ and ‘National Student Pride’ which supports students in the UK to reveal their identity.
4. Nate Berkus
After his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Berkus became a household name. He is a Chicago-based designer who married fellow designer Jeremiah Brent and became the first same-sex couple to marry at the New York Public Library. The couple advocates and supports pro-LGBTQIA+ initiatives.
5. Ben Campkin
Ben opens up discussions on how architects can play a pivotal role in creating queer-friendly spaces. He is also the director of UCL’s Urban Library and founded UCL’s cross-faculty LGBT and queer research network.
In order to not only neutralize but diminish the nature of this domination, it becomes important to design spaces with gender inclusively to interact and work with the larger community, and to provide space to display those stored identities with the larger impact that architecture is capable of constructing socially as a process and a product
1) Urbach, H. 1996. Closets, Clothes, Disclosure. Assemblage, (30), 63-73. doi:10.2307/3171458
2) Mehra, P., 2021. LGBTQ Community: 7 Architects who raise the pride and design flag high. [online] Architectural Digest India. Available at: <https://www.architecturaldigest.in/content/lgbtq-community-architects-designers-forward-cause/>