Just days after my blip about GENDER SPACE ARCHITECTURE & Denise Scott Brown’s essay Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture the long-accumulating discrimination & frustration made some waves.
DENISE! DENISE! DENISE!
As I write this 1,784 people including the only solo-woman to ever receive a Pritzker (Two Thousand and Fucking Four!) have signed the petition calling for Denise Scott Brown to be retroactively acknowledged for her work deserving of a joint Pritzker Prize alongside her husband, Robert Venturi, who was awarded the prize in 1991. As the Pritzker has been co- awarded to partners on multiple occasions & Venturi + Brown had been partners in practice for 22 years and co-authors of the seminal Learning From Las Vegas at the time of the award, this is a pretty clear example of architecture’s inequality + thus an opportunity to call into question the boys club that is Architecture.
Purpose illustrated by Pritzker: Tom Pritzker, Bill Lacy, Jay Pritzker, Frank Gehry, J. Carter Brown, and Kenzo Tange
Architecture has failed to integrate women at the rate of most professions, which is strange considering that the number of women in architecture school has been equal for decades. That balance doesn’t continue into practice, especially at upper levels. While there clearly is gender inequality, it’s not an isolated thing. It’s one of many issues & inequalities created by the broader hierarchies within architecture.
The Pritzker purpose is defined as: To honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. The jury is made up of former Pritzker laureates, older established architects & the most time tested architecture critics.
This is THE prize of the architectural world. It is constantly compared to the Nobel prize, but unlike the Nobel, it is about looking back rather than forward. It is based on the opinions & work of the exiting generation rather than current achievements & emergent achievers. As most of the arts push social values yet to be accepted by the whole & creates space for it’s youth, architecture’s institutions often reflect those social values a few generations back.
As a backwards looking prize representing a field in the clutches of the elders, perhaps the most progressive thing the Pritzker can do at the moment is critique it’s own history. More so than righting the past for the sake of personal pride, it’s an opportunity to foster progressive social thinking in the future. I greatly appreciate history, continuity & the wisdom of elders but it can be stalling & misinformed. Correct the missteps & create way for progress.
Denise’s demand came with some guiding words for the future female architects:
There are as many women as men in the early stages of architectural practice, but as they move up the ladder, the glass ceiling really hits. I say to young women today, don’t cast out your feminist awareness. When the glass ceiling hits you, you will think it is your fault unless you know a bit about feminism, and it will destroy you.
This morning I’ve been reading a collection of essays titled Gender Space Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Introduction after coming across it on aaaaargh.
Karen A.Franck’s A Feminist Approach to Architecture: Acknowledging Women’s Ways of Knowing (1989)proposes that women architects have observable & scientifically verified feminine qualities present in their work. She lists these as connectedness, inclusiveness, care of others, subjectivity (feeling as knowing) and acceptance of change & complexity. She then lists works of woman, largely utopian communities & objects that curve, in support of this.
Generalizations across the board make me itchy, and this one makes me want to dig my way out of my own skin. She is reconstructing on the foundation that centuries of oppression were built and calling it feminist. Women were openly denied positions of power and equality on the basis that they were too emotional, sympathetic, passive & thus irrational & weak. Even today, 24 years after this was written, we are not at all freed of this prejudice & it’s obnoxious effects. Also, the concept of the curving architectural form as female is as ‘masculine’ as building steel cocks. Usually it’s based on jargon that objectifies & compartmentalizes woman as exotic objects of sexual desire and natural vessels for baby making.
I like straight lines and I know plenty of men who are more undulating than I am. But, being overpowered by my innate “desire to overcome opposing dualities” and my “sensitivity to the connectedness of categories” I want to consider it. As women have gradually entered the workplace & positions of power have there been shifts towards a more egalitarian society?
So, I don’t need to bore you with a list of female Randian heroes or the expanding class gap to prove it. In reality, it’s not about prescriptive female (or male) traits, but rather, like Denise Scott Brown’s explains in Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture, the bias against & stereotypes placed upon women & woman architects.
She chronicles media personnel & colleagues constantly submerging her in the image of her husband, crediting their collaborative work & even her independent work to him throughout their career. This, of course, arises from the long held beliefs that men are leaders & women are assistants. This was generally the way the world approached husband/wife duos such as Charles and Ray Eames, but I expected that would have lessened dramatically since then. At the time of writing this (1989) she averaged that it still happens once a day.
Liz Diller, never doubted as an equal force in the collaborative practice with her husband, is perhaps proof that there has been a shift, or she is perhaps demonstrating an alternate path entirely by practicing so outside of traditional architectural that it would be impossible for the men’s club to address. Her included piece Bad Press is a brilliant circumvention of the expected and sometimes tiring dialogs compiled in this book, while saying what it needs to eloquently:
Bad Press is an exercise in dissident housework made with 25 generic men’s white shirts, an iron, and spray starch. the project scrutinizes ironing as one among other household tasks that are still governed by motion-economy principles designed by the efficiency engineers at the turn of the century. the standardized ironing pattern was devised so that a minimum of energy would be expended in pressing a shirt into a fit, rectangular shape that would fit economically into orthogonal systems of storage: the shipping carton, the display case, the dresser drawer, the closet shelf, and the suitcase. the residual trace of the orthogonal logic of efficiency is worn on the body. the parallel creases and crisp, square corners of a clean, pressed shirt are a sought after emblem of refinement. but what if the task of ironing could free itself from the aesthetics of efficiency altogether? perhaps the effects of ironing could more aptly represent the postindustrial body by trading the image of the functional for that of the dsyfunctional.
Pleased to have participated in the Los Angeles Art Book Fair. It was a good time. Very different vibe to the NYABF: more space & spacey, laid back like the left coast would be. Thank you to call who came out + friends in LA who took me on outside of the book fair.
I had the pleasure of being the sidekick of Clint from Dead Beat Club & visiting Aya from Rain or Shine books at her shack in Topanga Canyon. Its one in a larger community of hand-built shacks featured in her zine Neighbors. So inspirational!
—rear view IIIII Columns Table
—Me at Aya’s. By Clint.
Thank you to those who came to visit. The book fair was both a beginning & end:
—Official shelving of No Now, a project that had long grown complacent from collaborative efforts that never came to.
— Resolved to focus my generative efforts on IIIII Columns in a real way.
The internet presence has been elusive. With my resolution, comes the understanding that it’s time to put more in & take part. You will find that IIIII Columns now has twitter, instagram & this, which I will tend to more regularly & sincerely. I am opening the doors to collaborators & thus, a number of new projects are on the table.
Thank You 4 Your Interest & Support,
Melissa J. Frost
The presentation party at Public Assembly was a good time, despite my topic being of heavy relevance for the audience.
I started by outlining & defining architecture as the art of making human spaces, especially habitable spaces. I went into NY habitation, the current ways & standards of rental properties, the income to rent ratios & housing statistics,… to make clear what we all basically know: the housing situation in NY is widely failing it’s residents. I argued that contemporary concepts of architecture / design as being for the wealthy are what keeps dignified modes of habitations perceived as being far beyond common accessibility & that if an appreciation or sensitivity to space was pushed as much in education as a basic appreciation of art is, people may demand better quality of living space & construction, better living standards from those landlords who now profit of tenants passive acceptance of low standards. This is why basic architectural thought in the realms of the everyday is a topic of great political potential.
& for your entertainment, some numbers:
—2,172,634 rental units. 68.2% of New York City’s available housing stock. almost twice as many rental units as the nation as a whole.
—CLOSE TO THREE IN TEN OF RENTER HOUSEHOLDS IN THE CITY (29.6%) PAID 50% OR MORE OF THEIR HOUSEHOLD’S INCOME FOR CONTRACT RENT. New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey 2011
—Every year the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) issues a study to determine whether rents are affordable to the lowest wage earners. Per their 2012 study, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the City’s Fair Market Rent, ($1,424 a month, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) a full-time worker must earn $27.38 per hour, or $56,960 a year.
Alternately, those who earn minimum wage would have to work 151 hours a week (or two persons would each have to work 75.5 hours a week) to be able to afford a two-bedroom unit priced at Fair Market Rent.
THERE ARE 168 HOURS IN A WEEK
What are you going to do with your 17 hours a week?
Home Depot materials lean closer to Necessity, as architecture has always supposedly been more constrained than the fine arts. But if the fine arts themselves are not constrained, or a matter of materiality or medium-specificity, what possible meaning could there ever be for a thing like an ‘art supply?’ Why would we think that Home Depot should inherently be more bound to Necessity?
The bricoleur just possibilizes more on the ground, on the fly, in the aisles— a possibilistic flavor that I, embarrassingly enough, probably know too well.
Brandon Joyce’s A Possibility Analysis philosophizes on the poetics and possibilistics of Home Depot. Leaping from Lefebvre’s Production of Space, it is a production of that space which it explores, the wide aisles that both differentiate and blend the engineer and bricoleur. There is no guide more suitable than Joyce, a prestigious academic, an esteemed alumni of DIY warehouse culture and respected co-founder of the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study and the South Philadelphia Athenaeum.
This line in Rybczynski’s The Look of Architecture struck a chord with me. I would say that architectural style is a language, but I am forever looking for a sign of the informal, the oppositional, the street in the speech. I am forever looking for a culturally responsive architectural dialectic. This seems extremely hard to find. It’s even difficult to imagine, much less create. Architecture by its nature is so tied to establishment that it’s nearly impossible to truly break from it.
Slang is an alteration of the established language by outsiders, generally minorities or youth, the great anonymous cultural inventors. When slang subdivides the masses & unifies subcultures, it articulates complex social shifts poetically, facing democratic processes by which it may proliferate and become integrated. In a country deeply divided by class and race, slang is one field that gives the unempowered creative control over their cultural identity and opportunity to penetrate wider culture. cultural outsiders > artists> wider culture. This is often the way art, music & language are consistently developing as an effective tool in expressing our current realities.
Rybczyski’s claim seems to pay no mind to any of that, using the term slang loosely as he elaborates. “Architectural styles are mutable, unregulated, improvised. Architects break the rules and invent new ones. In part, this is simply the irrepressible urge of creative individuals. In part, architects break stylistic rules because they can. After all, most of the rules that govern building designs - fire codes, building codes, zoning laws, budgets, programmatic requirements, engineering norms - are outside the architect’s control; stylistic rules are firmly within his preview. Since architecture is so intensely competitive, doing something unexpected, unusual, or just different is a way to be noticed, to rise above the crowd.”
While Slang is informal, stylistic & about establishing outsider status, Rybczynski is speaking of privileged individuals heading hierarchical establishments that function cooperatively within larger established systems completely at the aid of power- those who’s creative whims can become large scale built work. Similarly, he is himself a power player in the academic & publishing institutions that create the dominant dialogs of architecture. This Architecture, with a capital A, is using professionalized lexicon with a thick layer of “creative” frivolity & self-promotion. When an in-group is using insular language, working with & within the bounds of power, particularly in the frame of a professional group, we call that something else. That is not slang. It’s jargon. And it’s so prevalent, it’s even got it’s own name: Archispeak.
Archispeak, however improvised, like any dialect of establishments, comes encoded with conventions. Like new slang and old jargon, it means very little to outsiders. The white box of modernism has not been challenging, relevant or egalitarian for nearly a century, yet it is the cornerstone. Those with rigid footing in practice & the academy posses what it takes to make architecture both physically & philosophically. Power. Prestige. These older practicing architects are often distanced from the rapidly developing architectural tools as well as the world they work upon. This is leveled by commanding an extended servitude of constrained yet computer literate youth. The context is conceived from within the studio hive mind. Critics & curators capable of archispeak pull together threads & weave the words after the fact. There is applause in the auditorium and very little dialog with the culture at large. It is often static, a statement, a wall.
But Architecture needs walls. It needs stability, establishment and power just as we need established language as a basis for communication. As a lingo, archispeak can be useful within the studio. It is that translation, archispeak to architectural style to built work all done without the dialog with that which exists outside, the slang infiltration, which is lacking. Architecture critics, as with the case of Rybczynski, are so often within institutional walls and thus push very little if at all, mistaking jargon for slang and gestural formal experiments as radical. Architecture generally turns away from radical criticism and socio-political commentary should it extend beyond the safe lingo of an undulating wall or abstracted demonstrations of obtuse theory. As the language of architectural style, it’s created an architecture of alienation and perpetual cycle of in-speak. Living or working amid architects’ whims, a built world of “because they can,” is demeaning & strange. Recycling the white box of a failed utopia is dismal. Look outside! Architecture is first and foremost a public art, not for the architect, other architects or even the client, but for all of us.
Slang grows. It is at once bound to the ground level of reality and also the ecstatic. It navigates between the real and curated identity. It begins on the corner of Kensington-Allegheny and lands in Merriam-Webster. It arises from a gap in established language, as a needed innovation or alteration. It defines what has either not been named or re-names that which needed a nuanced name. It is ephemeral or expansive. It is urgent or enduring. It is always evolving and pushing established language to evolve.
The way I imagine it, an architectural slang would simply be a dialectical way of speaking & thinking about architecture that was accessible and evolving with all engaged. It would be a living language to revive what is, in my opinion, the dying humanist art within architecture. It would produce dialogs that would in turn inform established language, articulating the terms of a dynamic architecture that is responsive to context. Like any slang, this cannot originate within the studios of systematic practice, but instead with architectural youth & architectural outsiders, artists, writers, inhabitants and security guards. By rejecting and being free from the marriage to power in order to build, by focusing on the developing an architecture that celebrates and dwells in it’s separation from power, let us re-invent the language of architecture & with it, the world it shapes.
This summer, IIIII Columns will have the honor of publishing a very exciting work by an esteemed philosopher & my former collegue from the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Studies (o beloved PIFAS!) & a guest lecturer in my Architecture with/out Architects series. Brandon Joyce’s Home Depot: A Possibility Analysis focuses on how possibility is made, or concretely produced; rather than something that just is or is not.
“As something concretely produced, we can only talk about possibility or impossibility in very concrete situations— for this, I chose Home Depot, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons, is the cultural possibility of the poetics of making; what a bricoleur/D.I.Y. cultural life has aesthetically/poetically in common with the bricoleur/D.I.Y./redneck approach to building rooms and fixing sinks (versus “official” culture-making’s kinship with “official making of contracted construction and home building). This is to say, also, that Home Depot is as much as— probably more— of a resource for cultural stock than something like an “art supply” store, in that as we make things possible through Home Depot, with a certain sensibility, we question the very ways in which life and culture are made. About what is possible and impossible, on a daily level.”
I’ve always been interested in ethical and cooperative business models because they are, at their best, scaled down utopian experiments.
Like any good experiment, They are potentially world changing. Once proven, the tested method can be implemented at scales large and small, just as we have our current system. Excuse the elementary economic break down that follows, but it is as to-the-point as possible as I know time = money.
At this juncture, we widely apply the logic of our presiding economic system across the board: use of short-term cost/benefit analysis in order to maximize profit.
It is a system, a machine, and thus, left to it’s own devices & in the wrong hands, it does not & cannot account for costs that exist outside of it’s programming. For example, it is basic knowledge that product recalls are made only if the lawsuit potential or cost of negative PR (thus damage to sales) outweighs the recall cost. The loss of human life, the only Real cost at play, does not exist within this equation. The imaginary profit is pathologically proliferated at the cost of all that is not that: everything that is real.
Here in the future, the year 2012 ad, most of us now recognize this & understand that the system does not and will create positive outcomes it once promised & that continuing to run it as is will cause irreversible destruction. This is why people, so many inspiring, beautiful, creative, wonderful people, are going to work on this problem in their own ways.
And it has been so uplifting to see this response.
But as the most passionately curious man to ever live once said, You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.
It is absolutely baffling to me that so many creative practices working towards a more sound world use the same failing hierarchical models of big business & what’s worse, depend on big business to function.
I will be expanding on this periodically, as Im working on multiple theoretical business models at the moment (one for IIIII Columns & one for DSGN AGNC) but this is pre-gaming plea for another level of creativity from the creatives.