Who should be viewed?

October 1, 2013


Leslie Kanes Weisman discusses in Women’s environmental rights:a manifesto how the architecture and built environment influence and reflect the situation of women, their status, roles in home and society, their rights of space and the spatial need. The writer appeals that women should act consciously and politically to get back their rights in space. As far as I am concerned, the most important issue in the area of gender and space is to survey the relations between male and female and the mass’s perceptions of space in gender perspective. Here are two stories.

1 A room with a view

In Edward Morgan Forster’s novel <A room with a view>, the writer narrated an important conversation between female leading role Lucy and the male leading role Cecil, in which they used different metaphors to describe the relationship between men and women. Cecil described that women themselves were sceneries and Lucy thought men were rooms which are fixed and inflexible. The windows and doors of the rooms are also framing the beautiful sceneries in order to immobilize the view. In that case, men could stay in their interior space to enjoy the view outside the room. Women seem doomed to be viewed and be a consumption of the men’s watching.

2 A transparent house

47279C_1                                                                                                      Farnsworth House, Illinois,1950

In 1950, Mies van der Rohe built his Farnsworth House in Illinois, USA. Farnsworth House was also described as “embodiment of a certain aesthetic culmination in Mies’s experiment with this building type” and ”is perhaps the fullest expression of modernist ideals.”  We could see inside the house directly and clearly without any barriers because the house is made of continuous glass walls and is totally transparent to people outside. Actually, the client of the house, Miss Farnsworth herself is a female single doctor and this house made her really uncomfortable and angry. Then, she accused of Mies for the house’s lack of privacy but finally she lost and moved out. The female client is hard to get along with, but comparatively, the male architect is far more arrogant and mightier. This is a definitely arrogant house, he is so stubborn that unwilling to add just a single piece of solid wall. Modern women is supposed to liberate their body under the banner of “liberate the spirit”, but they finally turn out to be the object for men’s viewing by the architect. They are placed in a desire of transparency and escape nowhere.

Jean Baudrillard , a French sociologist who wrote a famous book <The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures>, pointed out a truth sharply: “Women ‘consume themselves’ through sexual liberation, and sexual liberation ‘is consumed’ through women. ” This is not a game of words, but an accusation of the consumer society and the men control power regardless of the women’s need of the space.

In the two examples above, we could easily find out the relationship between man and woman in modern society is monodirectional and can’t be changed: man is watching woman. What’s more, the relationship is functioned and as a framework to limit women’s thoughts and rights through architecture and space: inside the room/outside the room; see through the window/ see through the walls. These spaces used in the role playing between men and women are functioned not only as barriers of the gender communication but also as power resulting to the inequality.

Boya Guo


1.Leslie Kanes Weisman, ‘Women’s Environmental Rights: A Manifesto’ in Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner, Iain Borden, eds,Gender Space Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, London: Routledge, 2000

2.The history of Farnsworth House http://www.farnsworthhouse.org/history.htm

3.The picture of Farnsworth Househttp://www.farnsworthhouse.org/photos.htm


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