Architecture and the Woman Question: Spaces for Gender Utopias from the Nineteenth Century to the Present. Arnold Bartetzky / Dietlind Hüchtker, Centre for History and Culture of East Central Europe (GWZO), Leipzig; research group Utopian Societies, 07.04.2016–09.04.2016.
Reviewed by Maddalena Comincini
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (August, 2016)
Architecture and the Woman Question: Spaces for Gender Utopias from the Nineteenth Century to the Present
Gender equality is naturally linked with the emancipation of women. Furthermore, the emancipation of women is tightly bound with the development of innovative forms of private, social and urban architecture. From this central conception, DIETLIND HÜCHTKER (Leipzig) and ARNOLD BARTETZKY (Leipzig) organized the international and interdisciplinary conference “Architecture and The Woman Question. Spaces for Gender Utopias from the 19th century to the Present”, which took place from the 7th until the 9th of April 2016 at the Centre for History and Culture of East Central Europe (GWZO) in Leipzig. The main topic of this forum is one of the key elements of the current macro investigation theme of the research group Utopian Societies, part three of the research cluster Social-Organization Planning of the GWZO.
As one can infer from the title “Architecture and The Woman Question”, the central fil rouge of the conference has been the employment of the prism of the Woman Question in the analysis of the numerous architectural projects and debates which have been discussed and in some cases realized in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this sense, the Woman Question has been considered as the fundamental starting factor of these innovative spatial production attempts.
The conference had been structured in four main thematic moments, introduced by an engaging overview, presented by HILDE HEYNEN (Leuven), with the title “Time, Space and Family. Architecture’s Ambivalent Relationship with Utopia”. This lecture examined peculiar examples of modernist architectural and urbanist theories and practices linked with utopian thinking. Heynen asserted that the ‘ideology of the two spheres’ – the division of public and private space, according to which women naturally occupy a subordinate position in societies –, was the ruling ideology of the 19th century. However, she argued that this way of thinking is unconsciously widespread also in present times. In this sense, the space of the house today still represents the domestication of female sexuality. Another essential aspect of Heynen’s presentation was the idea that male architects and urbanists, who engaged in utopian thinking, focused especially on the theme of spatial arrangement. On the contrary, their female equivalents concentrated on the concept of time, rather than space, and worked on these ideas mostly from a literary point of view. Hence, feminist utopian thinking can be interpreted as an analysis of utopia as a potential social transformation in the making, meaning as a matter of how women can appropriate and inhabit space in an innovative way. The last peculiar idea presented by Heynen was the thesis that these two different utopian traditions find a point of intersection in some 21st century’s versions of utopian thinking and in this framework ecofeminism plays a crucial role.
The first thematic moment of the conference - “The Gender-Fair City between Vision and Planning” - consisted of four contributions. KATIA FREY (Zürich) and ELIANA PEROTTI (Zürich) introduced their work “The City of Women. Utopian Concepts for Future Urbanity” arguing that in women writings urban planning has always taken a form of an utopian conceptualization.
At a second stage, JOST ULSHÖFER (Leipzig) discussed his paper “How does the liberté amoureuse live? Remarks on Gender Relations and Architecture in the Social Utopia of Charles Fourier (1772-2837)”. Ulshöfer concentrated on the author’s idea of the Phalanstère and stated that the key element of his utopia clearly was gender equality. From this perspective, Fourier represented undoubtedly a paramount thinker in the Utopian and Woman Questions, being a pioneer and a starting point for the future socialist architectural ideas.
SANDRA HUNING (Dortmund) contributed with her presentation on “The non-Sexist City Revisited. A Dream Come True through Gender Planning?”. Huning started from Dolores Hayden’s utopia of the ‘non-sexist city’ and its reception in West Germany and concluded discussing today’s rise of the idea of gender planning. According to Huning, gender planning is not utopian in itself, since it has to be simply considered as a concept of openness and variety. Hence, if utopian planning may result in totalitarianism being excessively positivistic, gender planning may be able to guarantee the realization of everyone’s potentialities.
RIXT HOEKSTRA (Deventer) introduced “The Gendered Debate on Residential Reform in the CIAM, 1928–1937”. The author presented an innovative interpretation of the history of the CIAM, stressing the importance of female contributions in the discussions on the theme of domestic reforms and focusing in particular on the figures of Charlotte Perriand and Helena Syrkus. Admitting that in the CIAM real autonomy for women was very rare, Hoestka underlined how female personalities, Syrkus in particular, managed to emancipate themselves in this very context.
The second thematic moment of the conference focused on “The Kitchen as a Center of Utopia and Reform”. MAGDALENA GEHRING (Dresden) discussed her paper “Apartment Houses for Professional Women with Families”, on the housing utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the reception of her ideas in the German women’s movement around 1900.
Secondly, HUBERT GUZIK (Prague) presented his work “Czech Einküchenhäuser as a Tool of State-Building, 1905–1948”. Guzik’s main question focused on if and how Einküchenhäuser could serve as an instrument for nation-building and state-building in 20th century Czechoslovakia. Stating that emancipation of women, division of labour and solidarity in the factory and in society were paramount concepts of the liberal sociologists and feminists belonging to Tomàš Masaryk’s circle, Guzik observed that these ideas have been stolen and implemented in a different way by communist leadership. From this perspective the natural path of the Einküchenhäuser towards being an instrument in the creation of proper material conditions for a new healthy society and lifestyle found its ending.
FELICITA REUSCHLING (Berlin) discussed her paper “Domestic Utopias Revisited. A Critical History of Gender Relations and Utopian Dwelling Typologies”. Reuschling’s input focused on the question of how and why the concepts of dwelling utopias, in the beginning of the 20th century and after 1968, developed in relation to their respective feminist movements. Reuschling’s thesis affirms that in the beginning of the 20th century architectural utopias were characterized by a conceptual ambivalence between rationalization on the one hand and the persistence of a gender based division of labour on the other. After 1968, however, the new utopias featured as a key element the idea of considering productive and reproductive labour on the same level.
At a fourth stage, NINA FRAESER (Hamburg) introduced her research “Counter Space. Domesticity and the (Modern) Kitchen”. Underlining the symbolic value of kitchen design, Fraeser presented three main arguments. The author firstly stated that the modern kitchen is clearly a consequence of industrialization, urbanization and the new ideas of domesticity and home. Further, she affirmed that this development naturally displays itself in gender relations, in particular in the domestic role of women. Finally, Fraeser asserted that these societal transitions undoubtedly impact the placement and the design of the kitchen in the home.
CHRISTINA SCHRAML (Vienna) presented her work on “The Revival of the Einküchenhaus? Limits and Potentialities of a Dwelling Utopia for former and contemporary societies”. This paper discussed different typologies of implementation of the Einküchenhaus model in various European states and the different dimensions of their failure, focusing in particular on the Viennese Heimhof and the Kollektivhuset in Stockholm.
“Dwelling Utopias in the Reality-Check” was the title of the conference’s third thematic moment. MARINA DMITRIEVA (Leipzig) gave an extremely fascinating insight of the female artists’ settlement Loheland, presenting her work on “A Feminist Utopia and her Scenery. The Artists’ Settlement Loheland”. This colony represented a harmonic combination of a philosophy of life, rooted in the idea of functional physical culture, and settlement concepts. Even if these concepts were quite heterogeneous, they were based on a common leitmotiv summarized in the theory of ‘harmonic integration’ within the landscape. However, what constituted the peculiarity of this community was, according to the author, the synthesis between an educating impetus, a backwards oriented civilization and a forward oriented dynamic.
MAXIMILIANE BUCHNER (Innsbruck) in her presentation on “The Borstei in München - a Bavarian Utopia?” described this architectural project focusing on its innovative approach on the building’s interiors, which were constructed with the fundamental aim to respect the inner necessities of the individual.
The last thematic moment of the conference was entitled “Socialism and the Dream of a Gender-Fair Building”. MARY PEPCHINSKI (Dresden) gave her contribution with the paper “Feminist Utopia or Instrument of Ideology? Women Architects and the Planning of Standard Childcare Facilities in the First Decade of the GDR (1949–1959)”. Exploring the evolution of different models of childcare facilities, the author highlighted the fact that many women have been involved as professionals in developing guidelines for these infant care structures. However, one of the central questions of Pepchinski’s presentation focused on if and how a feminist utopia can exist under totalitarianism or under a socialist state ideology. Her answer resulted into further questions open to discussion.
LEA HORVAT (Berlin) discussed the last paper entitled “White Kitchen or No Kitchen? Two Kitchen-Utopias in the Yugoslavian Pop Culture of the 1960s”. The author explored these two antithetic versions - which were simultaneously present in Yugoslavia at the time - of the ideal kitchen, analyzing Yugoslav magazines and movies for women. Her findings demonstrated how, even if both opposing conceptions seemed valid on the theoretical and textual level, in fact the images and the graphics they presented were clearly contradicting.
In our time of neoliberal and reform oriented pragmatism, the need for alternatives, higher ideologies and, most of all, utopian thinking is once again manifest and necessary. In this context, different dwelling modalities and women roles, detached from the standard bourgeois conception of family and life, occupy a key position. From this perspective, the relevance of the contributions given at the conference “Architecture and The Woman Question” is undoubtedly paramount.
Hilde Heynen (Leuven): Time, Space and Family. Architecture’s Ambivalent Relationship with Utopia
Katia Frey / Eliana Perotti (Zürich): The City of Women. Utopian Concepts for Future Urbanity
Jost Ulshöfer (Leipzig): How does the liberté amoureuse live? Remarks on Gender Relations and Architecture in the Social Utopia of Charles Fourier (1772-2837)
Sandra Huning (Dortmund): The non-Sexist City Revisited. A Dream Come True through Gender Planning?
Rixt Hoekstra (Deventer): The Gendered Debate on Residential Reform in the CIAM, 1928-1937
Magdalena Gehring (Dresden): Apartment Houses for Professional Women with Families. A Dwelling Utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and its Reception in the German Women’s Movements
Hubert Guzik (Prague): Czech Einküchenhäuser as a Tool of State-Building, 1905-1948
Felicita Reuschling (Berlin): Domestic Utopias Revisited. A Critical History of Gender Relations and Utopian Dwelling Typologies
Nina Fraeser (Hamburg): Counter Space. Domesticity and the (Modern) Kitchen
Christina Schraml (Vienna): The Revival of the Einküchenhaus? Limits and Potentialities of a Dwelling Utopia for former and contemporary societies
Marina Dmitrieva (Leipzig): A Feminist Utopia and her Scenery. The Artists’ Settlement Loheland
Maximiliane Buchner (Innsbruck): The Borstei in München - a Bavarian Utopia?
Mary Pepchinski (Dresden): Feminist Utopia or Instrument of Ideology? Women Architects and the Planning of Standard Childcare Facilities in the First Decade of the GDR (1949-1959)
Lea Horvat (Berlin): White Kitchen or No Kitchen? Two Kitchen-Utopias in the Yugoslavian Pop Culture of the 1960s
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/.
Maddalena Comincini. Review of , Architecture and the Woman Question: Spaces for Gender Utopias from the Nineteenth Century to the Present.
H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2016 by H-Net, Clio-online, and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact H-SOZ-U-KULT@H-NET.MSU.EDU.