Overall structures vs. The patterns details

October 8, 2013


How can an architectural education that continues to define professional expertise in relation to the history of white, heterosexual, Euro-American male consciousness prepare students to function as effective professionals in pluralistic communities? How will students be sensitized to ”difference” when they are encouraged to suppress their own gender, race and class identities in the process of becoming ”professional”? (Leslie Kanes Weisman, in Lori A. Brown, p. 1)

Everything starts with the education. That is where our foundation and understanding of architecture starts to evolve – a very subjective foundation, formed by our experiences, teachers and professors. But today we also get influences from all over the world and the architectural education does today maybe not form our values as much as it used too. The values is underlined by blogs, magazines, discussions and daily newspapers.

The problem is just that the picture doesn’t change. The women are not there either.

In Browns introduction, she introduces that only 13,3 percent of the members in the American Institute of Architects are women. The Swedish Architectural Magazine ”Arkitekten” wrote that already in 2010,  51 percent of the members of the Swedish Association of Architects is women which can bee seen as a representation of the composition of the Swedish architects in general.

So the women are there. At least in Sweden. Somewhere. But why do I see them so unfrequently?

The question relates to the binary connection path of the specific genders.
Women = sensitive = detail = group oriented = less visible = less important
Man = logical = structure = individual = more visibile = more important

When I read the examples that Brown discusses in her introduction, my reaction was that all the strategies she brings up, are strategies implied in a very small scale. Exhibitions, infills, small scale urban projects. I lacked strategies implied in a bigger scale: Where is the city plan, the culture house or the apartment block that was designed with a building process based on a feminist strategy?

The more I analyze my reaction, the more I realize and see that I’m also an product of this binary thinking. Unconsciously, I see the built architecture, the structural and big scale architecture as more important than the performances, infills and details presented. I am a product of the world that favors one thing over another. I am a product of the world that sets the male norm in an advantage position.

How do we get to a point where this pattern dissolves?

Because of the fact that I see a lack of strategies implied in i a bigger scale, a part of me wants to see more women to take on the tasks in the bigger scale, just for the sake of breaking this binary pattern connected to gender.

On the other hand, one could also argue that it might be impossible to do that in a feminist way: because if we do, we play by the game and then it’s impossible to change the rules. I can truly understand why the feminist strategies are mostly implied in the smaller scale: because that is the scale that allows freedom, the scale of explorations, the scale where the male power structure is not as strong.

How should I position myself within our contemporary architecture scene? Where can my actions and thoughts really help to dissolve this pattern? This is questions I struggle with every day.

I think the way to go is collaborative work with non hierarchical structures. I dont think that the future lies in the solo male genius, even though it is the solo male genius that gets most of the attention. But if we continue help each other, encourage and let our visions of the future architecture scene lead us, soon the details will start to play an important part even seen as a big structure. We all have different opportunities and interests to change. Let’s create a new pattern together, both from the outskirts and right from the structures inner core, we need both.

Matilda Schuman

Referring to: Introduction of „Feminist Practices – Interdisciplinary Approaches to Woman in Architecture“, by Lori A. Brown, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011, pp. 1-12


3 Responses to “Overall structures vs. The patterns details”

  1. malinahlgrenbergman Says:

    You say that it’s with education that our understanding of architecture starts to evolve. I’m not sure I entirely agree with this.

    When we start architecture school, we’ve all spent at least two decades existing in and around architecture, accumulating experiences which must somehow influence our practice?

    For example, a childhood spent in a million program area might give different perspectives on urban planning, compared to one spent in the inner city.

    / Malin Ahlgren Bergma

    • Matilda Schuman Says:

      I totally agree with you, of course we have a lot of experiences from our childhood and our lives before architecture school! That also something that I think influence, and SHOULD influence our practive.

      But in my experience, I think it’s very few of us who think of this in with an analyze in mind or with an critical eye, before we get tools to reflect on this – tools that we get in school. So one could maybe say that in some way our understanding of our past gets affected by which tools we develop in school. At least this is my personal experience. How I think of my architectural experiences before I started to study architecture differs from what I know can read from the past.

      /Matilda Schuman

  2. gerdholgersson Says:

    I struggle often too with these questions, without great success, but I believe something important is not to let the insight of structural injustices and patterns paralyze, which can be the case especially when working withing a “creative field” such us design or architecture. When the good and the bad is already known to start with the lust to create may disappear. The will to do good can only be a starting point and has to be interpreted and adapted to one’s personal interest.

    The second reflection that came to my mind is concerned with your discussion on whether there are any such things as female or male architecture or working methods, and if there is a point in working “as a man” if you are a woman (or the other way around), just in order to blurr the line a bit, or if its a better idea to simply reject this “male architecture”. I think your conclusion – about not focusing on the immediate results or but instead trying to create alliances with common interests – is valid.

    Even if its hard to think outside of the old dichotomies, l believe we have to be careful and open-minded not to routine cathegorize. Maybe there can be a point in being a genius sometimes, who knows? Perhaps the future lies in a separatist group of women scy scraping architects, laughting at there own jokes in hidden high quarter.
    /Gerd Holgersson

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