I read an article from the Guardian the other day regarding women and architecture, and some interesting things jumped out at me, regarding sexual dimorphism, which I would like to share with you in this article.
First, I need to get a slight rant off my chest: the article from the Guardian is titled “If women built cities, what would our urban landscape look like?” (Rustin, 2014), which was 29 paragraphs long, but only the last 11 paragraphs were actually about the subject of what a woman-built city would look like. The proceeding 18 paragraphs were all about how architecture is a male-dominated industry.
Of course it’s a male-dominated industry, it involves math, provides little social interaction, and demands tangible results! I resent being misled by the headline, and being forced to skim 18 paragraphs of imagined Feminist grievances that have nothing to do with the stated subject of the article, but such is life.
Another issue I have is that the article should have been called “If women designed cities, what would our urban landscape look like?” not “If women built cities, what would our urban landscape look like?” The entire article is about architecture, not construction, and last time I checked, construction was an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry (OSHA), and Feminists don’t seem to mind that at all because construction is dangerous, dirty, and uncomfortable. Women would much rather sit in an air-conditioned office drawing plans, and have the men do all the hard work while they complain about how oppressed they are; if only it didn’t have to involve so much math.
Okay, rant over; now let’s talk about how cities work, and for the sake of argument let’s call them “male designed cities” because … they are. What are the most well-known structures associated with a city?
The reason is both simple and obvious: land is finite, while the sky is infinite. The entire purpose of a city is to pack in as much real estate as possible into as small a space as possible. The concept of building “up” instead of “out” makes perfect sense. A 2-story building and a 20-story building may be just as wide, and take up the same amount of space in the cityscape, and yet the 20-story building is going to be about 10 times more productive than the 2-story building. It will be able to house more people if the building contains apartments; more companies, if it is an office building; or whatever the building’s purpose is. The skyscraper is one of the miracles that make cities possible. If city buildings were restricted to only a couple of floors, the city would quickly run out of space. Land is finite and precious, while the sky is infinite and free.
Fiona Scott, one of the female architects interviewed in the article doesn’t seem to understand this, and notes “I don’t think there are many women who think, ‘Oh, my ideal project would be a massive tower’” (Rustin, 2014). What would an architect, any architect, have against towers? Is it because towers are long and stick straight up, and thus “trigger” her with phallic imagery? I can only speculate, as she doesn’t outright say as much, but it can be reasonably concluded that towers are considered masculine.
What would a female designed city look like then? What is the Feminist answer to these phallic patriarchal skyscrapers?
Parks … just … fucking parks.
Not JUST parks though, parks for women! Built by men, and maintained with the tax dollars and maintenance labor of men (as landscaping is another male dominated industry that Feminists don’t seem concerned with making more inclusive) (Women’s Bureau, 2009), but for the enjoyment of women.
Caroline Moser, another female architect that the author interviews, takes her on a tour of “what the gendered city looks like – and what we could expect to see more of, if planners and architects more routinely thought in these terms” (Rustin, 2014).
I think it’s best to let these two clucking hens take the reins, and walk us all through this Feminist urban utopia…
“…as we make our way through the ancient park past public tennis courts and a toddlers’ playground, towards a cafe popular with older people and mums. The women’s swimming pond nearby, she says, is evidence of the “recognition that women needed their own space”.
“Moser makes a distinction between practical gender needs, such as highchairs for infants or toilets, and strategic ones such as political representation, or women-only recreation facilities. She learned on the ground that “you had to clearly articulate the community role of women” – and stresses that the built environment means not simply buildings and public spaces, but also “the way people are in them”.
“This leafy and luxurious corner of London may seem remote from what we mostly mean by urban development. But mixed-use public spaces such as this, which offer resources to people of all ages and incomes – particularly women and children – are key to Moser’s conception of what a city should be” (Rustin, 2014).
Now let’s contrast skyscrapers to parks shall we? Skyscrapers are useful, but not only useful; they are wonderfully efficient, as they utilize the free sky rather than the scarce earth. They house families. They shelter businesses that provide jobs, goods, and services to people. They are self-sufficient, as the tenants of the buildings pay for all the upkeep, and even pay additional taxes into the city based on their productive work. Even putting aside the phallic imagery of skyscrapers, they are the perfect architectural symbol of masculinity.
What is a park? It’s pretty to look at, and can lift one’s spirit and mood if they’re tired of looking at stone and metal. However, these minimal benefits come at great cost. Parks cannot be built “up” like a skyscraper. By necessity, they take up valuable and finite earth, and worse, they produce absolutely nothing. Nobody lives in the parks except for the homeless and animals, neither of which contributes to the city in any positive way. No businesses operate in the park aside from the odd food cart or pan-handling musician. Compared to the massive economic output of the skyscrapers, the activity of the parks is too pathetic to even be considered. Parks are also a drain on taxpayers, as rather than maintain themselves as skyscrapers do, parks must be staffed and maintained at the expense of the city and its residents.
Another problem with parks is that they restrict available land from more productive uses. Does anyone remember “The Rent is Too Damn High” guy that looked like a black Colonel Sanders? His name was Jimmy McMillan, of the New York “Rent is Too Damn High Party” (Know Your Meme, 2014). Central Park, in the middle of Manhattan New York (containing some of the most expensive real estate in the United States), is a little less than 1.5 square miles, and has cost over $750 million to maintain and restore since 1980 (Central Park NYC, 2015). Think about all the apartments, office buildings, and other productive structures that could be built in place of that one park. Maybe the rent wouldn’t be so damn high?
Parks may be pretty to look at, but they’re unproductive money sinks that steal resources from productive projects, demand constant attention from others, and must be collectively maintained by the government and taxpayers because they can’t support themselves, in other words, the perfect architectural symbol of femininity.
Central Park NYC. (2015). Central Park Conservancy. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from Central Park NYC: http://www.centralparknyc.org/35th-anniversary.html
Know Your Meme. (2014). The Rent is Too Damn High / Jimmy McMillan. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from Know Your Meme: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/the-rent-is-too-damn-high-jimmy-mcmillan
OSHA. (n.d.). Women in Construction. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from US Department of Labor OSHA: https://www.osha.gov/doc/topics/women/
Rustin, S. (2014, December 5). If women built cities, what would our urban landscape look like? Retrieved June 14, 2015, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/dec/05/if-women-built-cities-what-would-our-urban-landscape-look-like
Women’s Bureau. (2009). Nontraditional Occupations For1 Women in 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from United States Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov/wb/factsheets/nontra2009_txt.htm