Fowl Bodies of Architecture

October 15, 2013

chicken farms

I revisited ‘Bad Press’ by Elizabeth Diller after reading what I thought to be a totally unrelated article by Andrea Gaynor, entitled ‘Fowls and the Contested Productive Spaces of Australian Suburbia, 1890-1990’. 

However, when read parallel the two articles are interchangeable in commentary, theme and critique, albeit told through different material assemblages.

Below is an ecofeminist literary collage of the two articles. It makes for an interesting parallel comparison. Original text is crossed out like this while the new text [is added like this].

At the end of the nineteenth century, the body [chickens] began to be understood as a mechanical component of industrial productivity, an extension of the factory apparatus. Scientific management, or Taylorism, sought to rationalise and standardise the motions of this body [chickens], harnessing its [their] dynamic energy and converting it to efficient labor power. According to Anson Rabinbach, “the dynamic language of energy [food] was central to many utopian social and political ideologies of the early twentieth century…these movements viewed the body [chickens] both as a productive force and as a political instrument whose energies could be subjected to scientifically designed systems of organisation…It was not long before the practice of engineering bodies [chickens] for the factory was introduced into the office, the school, and the hospital. (Diller, 1996, p.77)

Over the course of the twentieth century, fowls [housewives] were progressively deprived of their economic, cultural and spatial niche in Australian residential suburbs and the egg and poultry meat [nutritional] requirements were instead produced by birds housed in [factory labourers in] large-scale peri-urban or rural commercial batteries and barns [factories]. This reconfiguration dramatically altered the experience of fowls as a species [eating home meals] in Australia and impacted on suburban ecologies. It resulted primarily from the pursuit of class-based visions of ideal cities and home environments and the embodiment of these visions in local by-laws [modern ideologies], but also involved shifts in the economic organisation of households and the egg [food and packaging] industry . (Gaynor, 2012, p.205)

…’farms’ [modern kitchens] with their neat and orderly arrangement of sheds [appliance and decoration] (especially when viewed from the air) were promoted as the ‘modern’ way to produce eggs [prepare meals]. Such operations reduced human labour but relied more heavily on imported and processed foodstuffs, entailed a greater need to transport inputs and products, and provided the fowls [family members] with environments and diets that were almost certainly less varied that those found in backyards. (Gaynor, 2012, p.208)

The drive for efficiency, however, did not fulfil its liberating promise. Efficiency was often takes as an objective in itself. Ironically, it condemned the housewife [chicken] to an increased workload as the expectations and standards of cleanliness in the home [factory farm] rose to compulsive levels. (Diller, 1996, p.80)

Ideas about appropriate housing in the domestic context were also changing; in the 1950’s, for example, Your Garden magazine informed readers that ‘to keep [fowls] [prepare meals] in the modern way – you must have an ultra-modern fowlhouse [kitchen and food system]. Small scale backyard battery cages [Pre-cooked foods] were promoted as one of the two types of ‘ultra modern fowlhouse’ [time-savers for housewives], being [making] ‘not only a machine in which to keep fowls [difference in time and effort required in the preparation], but… a machine [meal] which practically takes care of them [cooks itself]’. (Gaynor, 2012, p.209)

– Jordan Lane


Elizabeth Diller, ‘Bad Press’ in Francesca Hughes, ed. The Architect Reconstructing her Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996, pp. 74-95.

Andrea Gaynor, ‘Fowls and the Contested Productive Spaces of Australian Suburbia, 1890-1990’ in Peter Atkins. 2012. Animal cities. Farnham [u.a.]: Ashgate. pp. 205-219.

Image sources: (right to left)


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