The issue of gender discrimination in architecture is receiving growing attention and discussion. Many instances, including salary discrepancies, disrespect by male employees in construction sites and team management, and the historical oversight leading to women’s lack of recognition are detailed and illustrated. These demotivations mean that, despite being the majority in architecture courses worldwide, only a few women manage to consolidate and gain prominence in the profession.
However, sexism doesn’t end there. In addition to the discrimination experienced in professional contexts, one can observe the objectification of women in architectural images and concepts.
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The objectification of women is a product of the patriarchal system and the division of labor based on gender, which reduces women to objects, whether for their physical beauty or male gratification. This practice diminishes their individuality by placing excessive emphasis on their appearance while neglecting other defining aspects of their identity. For years, its application could be seen in different spheres, like sports, with camera framing and often smaller and tighter uniforms, or in advertising, with advertisements that display a semi-nude female body aiming to attract consumer attention. These are some of the more common examples when discussing the objectification of women, situations that – albeit belatedly – are being reconsidered. However, what is almost not discussed is the objectification present in the architectural field, backed by famous statements and projects by architects recognized worldwide.
The Japanese architect who won the Pritzker Prize in 2019, Arata Isozaki, was obsessed with the body of American actress Marilyn Monroe. Her curves symbolized perfection. For him, Monroe was like the model for Le Corbusier. His works were permeated by the actress’s curves, from furniture design, with the Marilyn chair as a standout, to large buildings. He never denied being influenced by this, openly discussing his fixation on Monroe’s curves in various texts and interviews. He considered them his design criteria and a source of inspiration, similar to how topography or context would inspire most architects. One of Isozaki’s most well-known projects that reflects this obsession is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
On a more subjective note, Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s work was also influenced by the materialization of the female body, a concept he expressed through his famous quote in which he states that “it is not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line, hard and inflexible created by man. What attracts me is the free and sensual curve. The curve I find in the mountains of my country. In the sinuous course of rivers. In the clouds in the sky. In the body of a beloved woman.” In his work, one can perceive the tripod that fueled the architect’s work: woman, biology, and nature. A dazzling eroticism that materialized in famous and internationally revered works.
It’s crucial to consider the historical context in which these architects lived: an era when women objectification was not an openly discussed topic, and some ideas and influences were not scrutinized as they are today. However, if the associations between the female body and its objectification in architecture had not persisted beyond the past century, this text would not exist.
In 2012, as Lance Hosey states in the article Sexism Is Alive and Well in Architecture, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat awarded the Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Ontario, the “Best Tall Building in the Americas” award with a jury observation that said, “It may not be surprising that the buildings have gained the local nickname, Marilyn Monroe, with her curvaceous and sexy form in an obvious association.” Detail: All jurors were men.
On the other side of the ocean, in Melbourne, Australia, the recently inaugurated Premier Tower, with its 68 floors, was inspired by Beyonce’s body, more precisely in the music video for the song Ghost, in which she contorts amidst billowing veils. Let’s not discuss the role played by some celebrities in the cult of beauty standards and the thin line between presenting oneself as a feminist or a sexual object. That is not relevant here. What matters in this text is shedding light on these conceptual inspirations that use the female body as a guide, indirectly promoting objectification and placing excessive value on female appearance. It is a legacy of a sexist way of thinking that reinforces the devaluation of women in the profession, overshadowing their intellectual qualities.
In conclusion, as Hosey argues, emulating female shapes in architecture objectifies women and frequently diminishes the essence of architecture itself, transforming buildings into mere symbols or sculptures. Despite respecting the creative process and personal motivations of each individual, it is worth noting that we are currently living in a particularly stimulating moment with significant environmental and climatic issues that need to be addressed through architecture, which opens up a range of new sources of inspiration that do not involve the female body.
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