a woman's place - alejandro hincapie

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December 4, 2012 Alejandro Hincpie Rutgers University-Newark



Professor Doris Caoilo Art and Women Fall 2012

A Womans Place:A Brief Look at the Presence of Observable Femininity in the work of Contemporary Female Architects

In a letter to art patron Mabel Dodge, American painter Georgia OKeeffe wrote, I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.1 This notion that there intrinsically exist certain things to women that only they can discern is one supported by the extent to which female artists throughout history have commented on their femininity, womanhood, and gender issues in their work and in ways their male contemporaries did not. Indeed, the examples are extensive. At the height of the Renaissance, Italian painter Sofinisba Anguissola created a collection of portraiture that reveals an acute self-awareness of her unique position as a female artist at the time and also distinguishes her ability to connect with and stirringly capture her female subjects. Impressionist painters Marry Cassatt and Berthe Morisot created works both intimate and intuitive that commented on the female experience in the most nuanced of ways. Twentieth century artist Frida Kahlo produced an iconic body of work that starkly explored her being and physical form as a woman. Contemporary woman artists today from Faith Ringgold to Cindy Sherman continue to explore issues of gender equality and representation. It is clear that woman artists throughout history have made work from distinct feminine points of viewworks that ultimately could not have come from men. With this established, Id like to explore the following question: Are feminine sensibilities and a womans point of view also discernible in architectural works? If female artists have imbued their work with their identities as women by creating art that has commented on the female life experience and challenged societal norms about gender, have female architects approached their work with similar feminine sensibilities and points of views in ways that are clearly observable? An ardent admirer of art as an important manifestation of a societys cultural development, I have long held a regard for architecture as a means in which artistic manipulations of form, line, size, scale, materials, texture, and color are employed to create spaces that serve functional purposes. I believe what has come to distinguish fine art from architecture and other applied arts lies is an element of self-indulgenceartists must not consider the needs of clients as architects must. Furthermore, it is the functional purpose of applied arts and architecture that differentiates those practices from fine art, which rarely sets out to have a functional purpose of its own, but rather, is a manifestation of the artists mastery of technique or personal view on the subject, or both. In this project, I question if, despite these distinctions between art and architecture, the identities of female architects as women have somehow been manifested in their work as it has for so many female artists throughout history in ways that are clearly observable.

December 4, 2012 To begin, a look at modern architectural history provides one striking example of how female perspective has clearly appeared in a landmark piece of architecture. Truus Schrder greatly influenced the radical design of her home, the Rietveld Schrder House, an icon of modernist architecture and the Dutch De Stijl movement. After the death of her husband in 1923, Schrder decided that she wanted to move with her three children out of the traditional Dutch bourgeois house they lived in.2 Years of disagreements with her husband over the raising of their children developed in her definite ideas about how she wanted her familys new house to be arranged. 3 Important to Schrder was a view of the surroundingInterior of Rietveld Schrder House in Utrecht, Holland



landscaping and practically throughout the design.4 Additionally, she wanted the houses interior to be as open as possible, a concern rooted in her desire for ideas to flow freely within the space. 5 As directed by Schrder, Gerrit Rietveld designed a small, inexpensive two-story house in Utrecht where the bottom floor was open and flexible in use. 6 Building codes at the time required supporting walls on the first floor in the presence of a second, but Rietveld listed the house as a one-story unit with an attic, avoiding the bureaucratic need for supporting walls on the bottom floor. 7 On the top floor, he designed a system of sliding doors and panels, allowing the space to become any combination between being completely open and being divided into four separate rooms and a hall. 8 This opening up of interiors and innovative use of spatial divisions were radical ideas at the time of the houses construction in 1924.9 Today, the Rietveld Schrder House is regarded as a landmark in modern architecture for its open, innovative interior space as much as for its distinctly geometric, De Stijl exterior. 10 Truus Schrders ideas about open, flexible space that directed Rietvelds innovative approach to the houses design were rooted in her views of early childhood development and modern family life, particularly the importance of open communication throughout the environment in which the family unit lives and interacts in.11 In effect, it was a womens point of view developed because of her own experiences as a mother that largely dictated the pioneering modernist design of the Rietveld Schrder House. While Truuss Schrders influence on the design of her own landmark house is largely unquestionable, there have been numerous females architects who, despite their contributions, have been left undistinguished or outshined by male contemporaries in the annals of modern architectural history. For example, after years of involvement with the Bauhaus, Lilly Reich died in poverty and relative anonymity as longtime collaborator Mie van der Rohe ascended to the status of iconic architect. 12 Architect Eileens Grays house in the south of France, E-1027, has long been considered compromised by the murals painted by another male icon of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier.13 And in 1991, architect Denise Scott Brown went unrecognized as her husband and partner Robert Venturi was given the Pritzker Prize, the architecture

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equivalent of the Noble prize. 14 It is clear that architectural history has not been a place where women have been justly recognized.

Today, a number of female architects have been able to win distinguished commissions, as well as achieve great recognition for their work. The 2010 winner of the Pritzker Prize, Kazuyo Sejima is one of the leading female architects working today. 15 She earned her degree in architecture in 1981 from the Japans Women University and shortly began working in the studio of noted architect Toyo Ito.16 She went on to open her own studio in Tokyo in 1987 and in 1995, formed the design firm SANAA with her former employee Ryue Nishizawa. SANAA has been behind a number of noteworthy and innovative architectural projects around the world, including the Serpentine Pavilion in London, the Christian Dior Building in Tokyos Omotesando, and the New Museum of Contemporary Arts in New York.17 Receiving her Masters in Architecture from Harvard University in 1993, Jeanne Gang is the founder of Studio Gang Architects, a Chicago based architecture firm that has been recognized for its innovation in materials, technologies, and sustainability.18 Jeanne Gangs work has received numerous national and international awards and recognition and is responsible for a diverse range of building projects from community centers to an 82-story Chicago skyscraper, the Aqua.19 And Iraqi born Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, doing so in 2004.20 A former student at the Association School of Architecture in London, Hadid founded her own firm in 1980. 21 Her distinct and striking designs ranging from museums to opera houses to aquatics centers have earned her numerous awards, recognition, and press, including a 2006 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.22

So it is at these contemporary female architects that I would like to refocus my original question onhave these contemporary female architects approached their work with feminine sensibilities and points of view in ways that are clearly observable? In exploring what may be an answer to this question, I will examine variousArchitects Kazuyo Sejima, Jeanne Gang, and Zaha Hadid

pieces of critical architectural

literature, namely architecture review pieces from top tier publications. I will look for instances in the writing where the architects female gender is highlighted in a way that is meant to comment or analyze on their design. The reasoning behind this method of examination is if these female architects have indeed approached their work with feminine sensibilities and points of views in ways that are meant to be clearly observable, critical viewers should be able to note the physical manifestation of these feminine sensibilities and points of view in the design and mention them in their writing.

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Ill begin by examining critical reaction to the work of SANAA, Kazuyo Sejimas design firm. One of the firms most noted projects is the New Museum of Contemporary Arts in downtown New York. Opened in November 2007, the museum is conceived as a dramatic set of several aluminum mesh boxes unevenly stacked on top of each other on the Bowery, a main thoroughfare in Downtown New York long known for its gritty character but one thats been succumbing to bourgeois gentrification.23 Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for the New York Times, described the building in the n