Dwelling has been a playground--reimagined every decade, after every war and recession--for architects, critics, policymakers, and the like. In the past century, history has privileged designing the home for the single-family household, in turn invoking traditional gender roles and family structures. It became, and still is, a site of domestic labor and in the words of Leslie Weisman, a “carefully planned workshop,” where historically the woman has been the sole worker. The home holds dominant patriarchal ideologies about how people should live, who maintains the home, and the hierarchies within the family. Even when it’s not explicitly cited, feminist theory is implicated in the design of the home, and it is perhaps where feminism and architecture overlap the most. What follows is a small set of architects working to confront and redesign the political, economic, and social constructs reified in domestic space.
We can’t ignore the ever present housing crisis, questions of ownership, or the inexorable ways software has invaded our homes. All the variations of WeLives and Alexas aside, recent propositions seem more inclusive. The possible relationships between inhabitants have widened to include multigenerational, cooperative, and other combinations. We’ve featured some of these ideas in this edition of FWD/.
During a time where the current administration threatens to strictly define what genders are allowed to exist in the eyes of the government, it is even more pressing to reimagine and reconstruct our homes. Our contemporary moment calls for our immediate, intimate spaces to be a reflection of our identities and our ways of living.
WHAT WE'RE READING
“By ‘safe house,’ I do not mean a particular house or architectural style so much as a cluster of interrelated images, fantasies, ideals, and practices. What I am calling the safe house is simultaneously material and metaphorical, manifesting on the one side as a growing practice of architectural fortification and on the other as a cultural imaginary that reinvests the traditional image of the house with new meanings and implications.”
“If ‘the home’ is to become a metaphor for a society based on human equality, dwellings must support and symbolize the valuing of our human diversity and difference. Equality does not mean ‘sameness.’ The image of the cozy bungalow surrounded by shade trees and a white picket fence may be fulfilling for some, but not for all.”
“War takes place today without visible fighting. The battlefield of this new war is the domestic interior. The house is a military weapon, a mechanism within a war where the differences between defense and attack have become blurred.”
The chat is a space to contextualize our themes through discussions with designers directly tackling these issues. This edition features Brittany Utting, former fellow and current faculty at Taubman College at the University of Michigan. We talked to her about her fellowship project, 138 MODEL HOMES and its relations to domesticity.
FWD /: How did gender and feminist theory come in to your design for this project?
Brittany Utting: One of the thinkers I am most influenced by is Hannah Arendt, who wrote a book called The Human Condition. In the text, she defines the condition of work versus labor. Work produces a durable object that cannot be consumed; something permanent that belongs to a larger cultural identity, such as art or architecture. Labor, however, is the cyclical maintenance of the body through consumption: eating, clothing, bathing, and sheltering oneself. It is the endless reproduction of the human organism.
The labor of the household has traditionally been the exclusive burden of the woman because of the biological realities of child bearing. The relationship between the female body and domestic space is conditioned through this reality. She maintains the home, performing the often-invisible labor of caregiving rather than breadwinning. It is not just the home, but all spaces of labor that construct these roles defined through gender. This seemingly axiomatic condition is what I was most interested in questioning.
June Jordan, Skyrise for Harlem (1965)
June Jordan is best known as a writer, poet, and playwright, but she was also a self-educated architect. She spent hours pouring through architectural journals, and through a series of correspondences, built a relationship with Buckminster Fuller who she considered a mentor. In “Skyrise for Harlem” she worked in collaboration with Fuller on a project she describes as a chance to “design a three-dimensional, an enviable, exemplary life situation for Harlem’s residents who, otherwise, had to outmaneuver New York City’s Tactical Police Force, rats, a destructive and compulsory system of education,” stating that “too often, urban renewal meant Negro removal.” In this approach to urban renewal residents could stay in their homes while while new buildings were constructed over the existing ones. Jordan writes about “Skyrise for Harlem” in a 1965 Esquire article under her married name of Meyer, but is curiously uncredited on the project. Cheryl J. Fish attempts to trace the conceptualization of this project to Jordan and restore credit to her contributions in this 2007 article in Discourse.
Susanna Torre, House of Meanings (1970-72)
In this project Torre tackles the symbolic form of the home through a design that allows for growth and transformation. Instead of specificity she designs approximations, embodied in the idea of space as a matrix. The matrix is a rebuttal to the traditional rigid hierarchies of the home as a series of enclosed spaces. However, she simultaneously positions the matrix in opposition to the open plan where “power and submission often become the means to resolve priorities in competing uses.” Instead, her matrix attempts to establish both spatial continuity and hierarchy, while creating multifunctional spaces and a home that can adapt to the changing needs of its residents. Read more about the project in her essay “Space As Matrix” in Heresies 11, with more images on her website.
Anna Puigjaner, Kitchen Stories (2011-ongoing)
Collective living has been a point of focus in today’s global housing crisis as both the problem and a potential solution. Anna Puigjaner suggests a specific way of co-living. Coming off her recent research through the Harvard Wheelwright prize, Puigjaner advocates for the kitchenless home. The kitchen not only reinforces gender roles, but creates $48 billion worth of food waste, and 50% of our energy upkeeping these spaces. Her housing strategies, along with her practice MAIO Architects, center around the collective kitchen to reduce these problems and to create new types of socialization between the elderly and and the young. Read more about her project on the MAIO website.
Next edition, we are discussing wellness and all that sort of goop. It’s an understatement that our profession is overworked. What do you do to combat that? How do you practice self-care?
The Harvard GSD is hosting a Women In Design Convergence this weekend! Friday, November 2, and Saturday, November 3. We won't be there, but we look forward to following along via #WIDCONVERGENCE2018.
Thanks for reading! If you missed our first edition "Practicing Feminism" you can read it here, and all previous editions of FWD / will be linked on our website. As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts and welcome recommendations--holler at firstname.lastname@example.org.