Xx Voto

ANY 4, Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-Up Work , January/February 1994.

ANY 4, Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-Up Work, January/February 1994.


March 20th 2018

“Dear ANY #4,

Forgive me for not writing sooner. It has been decades now, and I’d like to place you into context, but as you may know, we architects still tend to stay very late at work these days, and it’s a challenge to find a quiet conference room to write. So here I am after today’s site visit to a mis-poured stair on level 62, canopy redesign meeting, and a number of rather hasty submittal returns. I’ve had my Pad Thai delivered to my desk (please excuse the honesty of young architect’s domestic sphere here) and am ready to “historically describe” your contributions. I expect you are not too surprised by my delay since, as you made evident, and I am here to report, there has been so much work done but still far more that must come.”

In the early 1990s, a deluge of texts examined and tested the relationships that gender and sexuality had to architecture. The movement built on adopted conceptual schemas from postmodernist and post-structuralist French theorists of the 1970s. Helene Cixous explored the relationship between sexuality and language, Luce Irigaray made the inherent masculine philosophies in our language visible, and Julia Kristeva used physchoanaltics to explore the individual and the body.

Gender studies formalized in the 1970s, emerging from women’s studies and feminism to give space in the academy for writing and thinking on the subject and set the stage for a pluralistic feminisms to emerge.1 Early texts ranged from liberal to radical, from a focus on equal representation in the discipline—as in the 1976 “Architecture and Urban Planning” by Dolores Hayden and Gwendolyn Wright—to demands to topple the patriarchy—as in Shulamith Firestone’s 1970 book The Dialectics of Sex. Interdisciplinary applications of these new feminist ideas questioned grand narratives and forged new paths of inquiry. Although not yet architectural, an early example of this future thinking is the 1984 “A Cyborg Manifesto” by Donna Haraway, a posthumanist metaphor that reconceived of the decorporealized self through the emergence of a newly connected digital realm. Architecture beyond built work emphasized the contribution that architectural thought can contribute to culture at large.

New emphasis on works of architecture included writing and language in the early ’90s (particularly academics the northeast architecture schools), which put philosophy from Derrida, Deleuze, and Guattari into dialogue in search of meaning between space and semiotics. Projects like Sexuality and Space by Beatriz Colomina deployed feminist interpretive techniques to reread the masters, introduced a new intersection with feminist thought, and laid to foundations for collectives including Assemblage and ANY Magazine to continue the inquiry.

ANY #4’s “Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-up Work” amplified the many voices within architecture, philosophy, classics and gender studies and edified post-structuralist, postmodern, and deconstructivist feminist thought in the architecture academy. The issue contained a correspondence between contributor and editor, included a set of critical essays, displayed exemplars of work in architecture and the feminine, and documented a resulting symposium dialogue “In Any Event” at DIA on November 20, 1993. As a platform for displaying substantive work being done on the issue, guest editor Jennifer Bloomer described the issues as more of a “bag that conforms to the contents” of what is within it than a proscriptive collection. This loose conceptual framework resists categorization in favor for each piece’s subjectivity individually.2 Jennifer Bloomer explored the metaphors and metonymy at play in gender and architecture. With language as a loose scheme, her intent to overcome the simplifications, gut associations, and continual metaphorizing within the field goes directly to the overarching action items presented within the magazine and the conference. In a presentation, she described the issue’s intent to give a platform to the wide range of paradigms of working within architecture and the feminine.

Perched courageously in the front of the issue, the series of letters between editor, guest editor, and contributor reveal a dialogue on the discipline’s discomfort with the topic. This correspondence offered readers a generous look at the messy business of championing a topic historically ignored, but it also embraces the difficulties (and elusion) of articulating a grand narrative regarding the conceptual curation being done. As noted by Cynthia Davidson in her Letter to the Reader:

“Why is the idea of the feminine problematic for architecture? What is it about a discussion of the feminine in architecture that for many women still feels like a ghettoization of a cultural issue? Where does the feminine find its site?”

What can ultimately be gleaned from a brief encounter with a journal from 1994 on architecture and the feminine? The project requires a rigor of inquiry and critique akin to that given to the radius of the nosing of the stair, which will keep those in the future from tripping. One must study the difference between painted aluminum and plate bronze as well as the substantive differences in chora by Grosz and by Eisenman. For a practitioner such as myself, it is a reminder to specify all of the above in my practice daily, and to continue to educate myself in all available work. It is a reminder to study the work of Claire Robinson, Michelle Kaufmann, Durham Crout, and Liquid, Inc.; to read and discuss George Hersey, Diana Argest, Elizabeth Grosz, Ann Bergren, and Jennifer Bloomer. The details and complexities of each work are best explored in their original production. To reiterate the action items set forth by Ann Bergren, ANY #4: “Mop-up Work” is a reminder to practitioners of the polyvalence of feminisms at work.

“Anyone who wants to begin this discovery—a discovery as difficult as resisting the force of reality as we have known it—should return to Sheila’s and Frano’s bridges and to your [Jennifer Bloomer] Tabbles of Bower, studying every detail for insight into the principles of an architecture not ‘beyond’ or ‘outside’ the feminine but rather ‘beside’ it, the para-feminine architecture that all three of you have already built.”3

1 For a more comprehensive survey of shifts in the discourse around feminism and architecture, see Jane Rendell, “Tendencies and Trajectories: Feminist Approaches in Architecture,”in The SAGE Handbook of Architectural Theory, edited by C. Greig Crysler, Stephen Cairns & Hilde Heynen (Sage, 2012), 85-97..

2 Sherry Ahrentzen speaks to the implications of the conceptual clarity of collections at the time, see Sherry Ahrentzen, “The Space between the Studs: Feminism and Architecture” Signs, Vol. 29 No. 1 (Autumn 2003): 179-206.

3 Ann Bergren, “Dear Jennifer” ANY #4 - Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-Up Work (January/February 1994).

Xx Voto is a licensed architect with a demonstrated history of work in all phases of NYC large-scale mixed-use design and construction. She holds a B.Arch from Cornell University.