Gender and Space: The Colloquium at YSoA


The Architectural Mystique

Volume 1, Issue 23
April 7, 2016


This year’s MED colloquium, “Gender and Space,” investigates how gender politics are reproduced across cultural and physical landscapes, through disciplinary lenses including architecture, art, geography, literature, history, and American studies. The motivations for pursuing this topic are multiscalar.  As the first all-female class in the M.E.D program’s history, we have a vested interest in gender. Academically, our theses study spatial types that implicate gender – industrial infrastructures, domestic spaces, and retail environments. More broadly, the landscape of gender is gradually shifting in design schools, including with the appointment of several female deans – among them YSOA’s own Deborah Berke. Finally, we are witnessing an increasing interrogation of gender and power dynamics in architectural practice.

“Gender and Space” is a vehicle to unite these questions and introduce them pedagogically to the School, where a course dedicated to gender/sexuality is currently nonexistent. We bring to dialogues at the School a particular interest in how transdisciplinary historical and theoretical frameworks can inform intervention; that is, we advocate for the pursuit of gender and sexual equity as praxis, not simply practice.

The speakers curated for our colloquium are similarly motivated, involved in historical, sociopolitical, and theoretical excavations of gender and sexuality that drive projects in scholarship, design, and activism. Conversations in the course highlight the far-reaching, surprising reciprocities between gender/sexuality politics and the built environment.

In our first lecture, Victoria Rosner (Columbia University, English & Comparative Literature) highlighted the little-known narrative about Virginia Woolf as an architect, who iteratively rebuilt her study as a way to assert her agency. If Rosner demonstrated how space-making can empower, Lori Brown (Syracuse University, Architecture) illustrated the devastating effects of using building codes in abortion clinics as a means to advance political agendas that prohibit women’s healthcare access.  

Joel Sanders traced the evolution of his own work amidst the changing social climate of gender and sexuality, particularly how his practice has designed for the embodied performances of sexuality in new spatial products like the boutique hotel and bachelor pad.

Our colloquium is only the beginning of any potential changes in the School’s approach to integrating history/theory into practice. A common thread throughout our discussions has been gauging the interest in gender amongst YSOA students. We had only four female students enroll in our colloquium. While it is reductive to hold these statistics as singularly reflective of the school’s attitude towards gender, it is perhaps worth investigating for future course planning.

YSOA does not have any dual-appointed faculty in WGSS, and with Dolores Hayden’s retirement, we are losing an important champion of gender issues. But we are also welcoming our first female Dean, who has been recognized for furthering gender equality in the profession.  As we stand at a turning point in YSOA history, how can we rethink the future of gender in the school’s pedagogy, for a more socially engaged, inclusive education?

Upcoming Speakers:

Dean Designate, Deborah Berke, “Women in Practice” (4/6)

Karen Burns, University of Melbourne, “Activism in the Profession” (4/13)

Alice Friedman, Wellesley, “Poker Faces” (4/20)

Dolores Hayden, Yale, “Building Suburbia” (4/27)

Join us to continue the conversation!

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Volume 1, Issue 23
April 7, 2016