The Female Form

Posted on November 24, 2010


Is there such a thing as feminine architecture? Or architectural gender at all?

For 99% of our history buildings have been designed and built by men. Only very recently, relatively speaking, have women been able to enter the fray. It’s perhaps natural that in the beginning they had to emulate men in order to gain the first tentative position of equal standing. The unfortunate thing is that, with that approach, you get yet more men, they just happen to be women. There is a famous picture of Denise Scott Brown, standing on an empty lot with her own critical project, Las Vegas, stretching out behind her. Her pose, hands on hips, legs shoulder width apart, feels rather forced. This squaring off of the human body presents the straight lines and sharp angles of the masculine form. No doubt in 70’s America, despite her skills and intelligence, Brown would have to have been forceful in life to hold her ground but it begs the question, does this approach still deny feminism access to the industry. Onwards to 1980’s Britain and Margaret Thatcher is prime minister, what an achievement, but is there something missing? Has something been sacrificed in order to play the part? Zaha Hadid is one of the most famous architects in the world and although it’s a stock topic for most interviewers, do we really regard her a women? Naturally, this is not to criticise the women who forged the way, it is merely a retrospective observation concerning how those first steps may have influenced where we now stand.

Denise Scott Brown

I’m interested to know how this translates into architecture. I feel that any review mentioning ‘soft lines’ is probably too literal and missing the point. The first image that google has to offer on the subject is of Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower in Chicago, presumably because it was both designed by a women and features ‘soft lines’, perhaps it is a case of literal physical interpretation. It’s possible of course that feminine/masculine architecture is independent of the architect’s gender. It may be that the whole concept simply doesn’t exist, I can see Zaha’s spectacular style falling in to support of this argument. But is it possible that we haven’t seen a true example of feminine architecture yet, or that we have but we are unable to recognise it?

The Aqua Tower, Chicago – Jeanne Gang
Posted in: Architecture