Monday, January 7, 2008

Femaled Architecture?

Even though Chicago's skyline is a haven for pointy buildings and sharp lines that seem to shoot straight for the stars, the general feel I get when looking at the continuous lines of buildings is one of curvaceous fluidity.
Seeing as my father is an architect I have had the good fortune of being exposed to an architecturally informed discourse. A city is not simply an inanimate cluster of mortar- and wood-based structures but rather a living organism in a state of constant reinvention. I believe that.
And Chicago is one such city.
I was talking to my father today about the concept of fluidity and how he perceives it in the realm of architecture. I also asked him about 'femaled architecture,' as I termed it, and if there is such a thing. In his typically clear and to-the-point fashion he intimated that generally fluidity of rendering is a beautiful, feminine contribution provided by either female architects or architects at large who are in tune with femininity-informed instincts.
A good architect, after all, says my father, is one who is in tune with his/her instincts as well as the client's vision for a particular blueprint and structure. A good architect can walk that fine line where the perfect balance of form and content is to be found.
Our discussion today was prompted by a NY Times feature on a well-known female Chicago architect by the name of Marion Mahony. Mahony was licensed in 1908 and she is the first female architect to have received the license to produce architectural work. Naturally, I was interested in discussing the piece in greater detail and that we did.

The article says:

'...architectural historians who acknowledge Mahony have tended to focus on her relationships with men and on her physical appearance, often in unflattering terms. (She was frequently described as homely, though Brendan Gill, in “Many Masks,” his 1987 biography of Wright, called her a “gaunt, beaky beauty.”)

That Mahony spent her most productive years in Australia, where she and her husband designed a plan for the new city of Canberra in 1911, has also lowered her profile in the United States. But “the Australians take Mahony as seriously as we take Frank Lloyd Wright,” said David Van Zanten, a professor of art history at Northwestern University.'

That females have a different take on architectural delivery is a beautiful thing that needs to be embraced, seems to be the message of the Times piece as well as my father's interpretation. And this is not an essentialist take on gender and performativity. Of course, not. It is rather a beautifully aware and informed story of a talented female architect, whose talent was nourished by Wright himself and which talent is admired and carefully interpreted by other, more modern architects.
And as my father noted today, aesthetically pleasing structures need to feature natural, unaffected fluidity.
And I much enjoyed that.
I also think it was the very modus operandi that Mahony espoused in a time frame when female architects were not visible.

Read more here.

graphs per ny times


EvaDress said...

Had I known you were bound for Chicago, I would have recommended you look at the Lakeshore East development-Jeanne Gang's design she calls 'Aqua' is very sensual-she is a small-firm owner just five years older than me. I tell my peers that only a woman could come up with this curvacious design bound for the Chicago skyline by 2009 take a look!

Liam said...

i'm going to chicago friday. any architectural suggestions or any other advice, for that matter?

lately i've been considering grad school for architecture, but i have yet to look into how acceptance into that sort of program operates. i would assume i'd need some sort of visually artistic portfolio, but taking some art classes would be nice anyway. :)

B.R. said...

Xan: Thanks for the link. The structure looks amazing. Fluid, indeed.
I will try to feature some of the jpegs that the link contains.

Liam: Chicago is a very diverse city, I find. Even if you end up spending most of the time in the downtown area you will be satisfied. Every time I'm in the city, I make it a point to walk downtown tracing the contours of the building. They seem to tell a wonderful, visual story. The lines are interwoven in a fanstastic way.
Don't leave the place before trying downtown Vietnamese food.
Also Chicago seems to have an 'Inbiss' culture as well. I enjoyed the little cafes and brunch places right downtown as well. You are bound to run into them if you're by, say, the Sheraton on Lakeview.
Check out the museum, too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this: "Even though Chicago's skyline is a haven for pointy buildings and sharp lines that seem to shoot straight for the stars, the general feel I get when looking at the continuous lines of buildings is one of curvaceous fluidity."
Amen to that! Thanks, Brikena. It's the sentence of the day.

Anonymous said...

Bri, wouldn't it be an essentialist thing to say that fluidity is to be found in the 'turf' of femininity.
it does ooze some essentialism to me..... che ne pensi?

B.R. said...

Dave: The idea is not to equate fluidity with femininity. The idea is to play with conventional perceptions and usages of gendered terms to make points that can be easily decoded. Therein lies the irony, peut-être?