Sunday, 30 November 2014

The 'body' of Architecture

Being a vocal feminist and an architecture graduate, I have always been interested in our society's obsession with architecture that manifests itself in the form of human genitals. From the Gherkin to the Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers, phallic references never cease to be present and I have to come to the understanding that some of the fundamentals of our architectural influences must be derived from our awareness of ourselves and the body in which we occupy. The Ancient Greeks and Romans celebrated phallic festivals where they constructed penis-like shrines to Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, and many ancient cultures in the Far East also celebrated the phallus as a symbol of fertility. Thousands of years later in the present day, we celebrate the penis again through the erection of skyscrapers that dominate our cityscapes. In the voice of feminist theory, high rise towers embody the symbols of male authority, power and the extension of man's ego. Anthropomorphism, in terms of the phallic, is the evidence of a male dominated society. 

The relevance of this topic to me stems from the fact that having completed a 10000 word dissertation on the perception of the female architect and having established my thoughts on the patriarchal framing of architecture,  I have found myself a year later in an architecture practice, working on a skyscraper project, that looks exactly like a penis (balls and everything...!). Oh the irony..! The project having started out as a low rise proposal has gradually escalated in size through the developer's wishes of wanting more and more square metres; his eyes squealing in delight every time our sketch models increase in area. My female colleagues and I have been giggling about this, especially when I attempted to colour the shape in a light-orange-flesh like tone when producing a diagram (ended up having to change the colour to blue to minimise resemblance!).  

But in all seriousness, if skyscrapers are a reflection of masculine power, what buildings embody the symbols of female power? I didn't want to stereotype or mention Zaha Hadid's Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar -aka the 'Vagina,' but can we define buildings as being 'masculine' or 'feminine'? I read an interesting quote last year that said, 'cultures that revere the feminine principal and treat women as equals produces built forms related to the morphology of the female body' [J.Rendell in Gender, Space, Architecture], which seems to suggest and stereotype that buildings with curvaceous and womb like qualities are produced in more gender equal societies. However, looking at the fact that the vagina stadium is in Qatar and Middle Eastern countries are famous for their repression of women, presents this statement to be quite false. So, when will architecture stop being a man's world? Will it be when more women reach the top? When the balance between the genders is not 21% female to 79% Male (statistics for RIBA membership that is)? Or conversely, do we need to stop attributing the penis to the skyscraper and accept that in the modern world, where ground space is a becoming a problem for exploding cities, that towers are in fact an ideal form for the development and progression of our society? 

New York City : (found on

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Dreaming of the Sea

It's that time in winter, where the days have got noticeably shorter and the bitterness of the cold has begun to kick in. The longing for the warmth, sun and sea is almost a daily thought. Here are 2 pictures from my travels around South East Asia 2 summers ago. The first is me in meditation on a beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia and the second is of a colourful boat in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Enjoy :)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Our futures are still in the making

Last night, I was fortunate enough to be able to get a last minute invite from my friend to an Architecture Foundation event which consisted of a discussion surrounding the future of Architectural Education, in conjunction with it's current Futures in the Making Exhibition. Having just started my first graduate job and currently being in a debate with myself about whether to study the part 2 or not, I was very excited to hear about how the profession will soon be changing for the good. Hosted at Feilden Clegg Bradley's lovely studios in Goodge Street, the night featured a lively talk with panelists Peter Clegg (Senior Partner at FCBS & Professor of Architecture the University of Bath), Gemma Barton (editor of the Edge Condition & Interior Architecture lecturer at Brighton) and Neil Spiller (Dean of Architecture at the University of Greenwich), all chaired by Professor Robert Mull (Director of Architecture at The Cass).

Sat down with our complementary glasses of wine, my friends and I (also recent architecture graduates) found ourselves nodding in agreement to Robert Mull's engaging introduction. With a note to the long awaited reforms of education, he was spot on with all the concerns that us students are constantly battling with and habits that are so hard for such a well-established profession to drop. The debate between the necessity of both ARB and RIBA, the length of the courses, which 'hold us hostage for so long', the 24 hour studio culture which leads to the institutional exploitation of graduates in practice, the competitive environment which bring forth a lack of collectiveness in the job, which then leads itself to low starting salaries and etc... All of which are vital questions that need to be solved before the current educational system can be readjusted. Though, as Mull was about to finish his speech, he hastily mentioned that during the discussion the panelists should not mention the dreaded words of Part 1 and Part 2 and any of the above... to which my friends and I looked to each other with slightly concerned expressions on our faces.

The rest of the evening was divided into a speech by the panelists followed by further questions from Robert Mull. Despite the fact that the speakers did not actually contribute any valid answers or solutions to the pressing concerns that we are facing, the discussions were relatively interesting and dwelled into the unique perceptions of each speaker. Peter Clegg spoke of bringing the freedom of architecture school into the professional world, calling for more disciplined research to be part of practice. Clegg reflected on how architecture these days has a wider philosophical approach than when he was at school, stating that in the present moment we have a lot more to offer the world and a stronger chance to make a political statement using our work, with architects able to be a catalyst for social change.
Gemma Barton questioned the point of architectural education and commented that these days students are refreshingly not conditioned to a certain way of thinking, as otherwise they would turn into miniature versions of ourselves. This seemed like a fair point, yet I have been lead to believe that certain architecture schools with strong social or political agendas do instill a certain way of thinking about the world upon their students; its how we are able to say in a colloquial way , 'oh that's such a Bartlett drawing' or 'that's such a Sheffield concept' etc. However, Barton rounded off with a very valid point that 'before we attempt to reroute education, we need to decide where we are going'. As we a profession we need to figure out what we actually to achieve before we start making any changes, and called for students to join up in a super symposium to be part of the decision process.
Neil Spiller, last of the panelists discussed the positives of what architectural education does do and mentioned the 'great tsunami of technology' and something about how universities are agile...? I think at this point I started feeling a bit sleepy from the wine I had drunk, my concentration started dwindling and I was confused as to why the discussion was going so off topic.

All in all, the debate were engaging and thoughtful, there was a lot of talk about 'radicalism' (definitely the word of the evening), Can you teach radicalism? How are architecture schools radical? With the panelists stumbling for cohesive answers on such a pensive question, I was reminded by all those 90s TV shows I watched as a kid where they would all say, 'that's so radical, dude', to each other.
Nevertheless, another event down, another discussion later, we are still no closer to solving the most important questions of why is our education so long? Do we really need to have all of Parts 1, 2 &3? How do we change the obsessive late night culture of the profession and how do we value ourselves more in the real world in order to raise our starting (and continuing) salaries? Our futures are definitely still uncertain and definitely still in the making.

(found on tumblr)

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Weekend at Longleat, Wiltshire

Pictures from my girlies reunion weekend with my housemates. Longleat is an English stately home, the seat of the Marquesses of Bath. It is located near the town of Warminster in Wiltshire, and has a safari adventure park right next to it. Longleat currently features a brilliant light display as shown in the pictures above with all the funky models, which all contain colourful lights that look beautiful at night time.

Extract from my dissertation: The Perception of the Female Architect

I have been meaning to write about my dissertation for a while now. I spent a large and rather enjoyable part of the last year researching into the debates, histories and experiences of the female architect. I undertook first hand research to understand the current perception of awareness of many themes regarding women in architecture through the methods of focus groups and structured interviews with both men and women. The research project aspired to ask, not the heated question of why women are disappearing from the architectural profession, but what factors within the profession need to be highlighted to tune in with the recognized feminist concerns? Through focusing on the perceptions of individuals within the broad time range of the profession, the thesis hoped to provide a starting point in which to examine where women stand in the pulse of the architectural world today.  

From the book: Feminist Practices: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture, [Lori A Brown] 

A extract from the Introduction:

The progression of women in the architectural world has been a relatively slow ordeal, as the ideals and basis of the architectural career are deeply embedded in historical traits that are difficult to evolve. The story of women in architecture in the UK starts in the late 19th century, along the trajectory of the campaigns regarding women’s rights. Architecture has historically always been a man’s world, and in the last century women have been running to keep up with the patriarchal hierarchy of the profession. Over the last few decades, the same anxieties regarding women have been reiterated with no overriding shifts in attitudes. This can be seen as a reflection of the society that we live in; the concern of the unhealthy lifestyle, competitive environment, sexism, the suppression of femininity in the workplace and most importantly the question of why do so many women leave the architectural world? 

In the last 20 years, literature such as ‘Desiring Practices’ (McCorquodale, Ruedi, Wigglesworth 1996) and  ‘Gender, Space, Architecture’, (Borden, Penner, Rendell, 2000) have gathered and reprinted influential essays from the 70s, 80s, 90s concerning the role of gender in architecture and most importantly taking the position of looking at the profession through a feminist framework. ”It is surprising that after two decades of feminist movement in this country, so little energy and enthusiasm has been translated into hard research about the role of women in architectural practice. More work is needed if the matters discussed here are to be truly debated within the entire profession ”. It is interesting to consider that, though recently, the Architect’s Journal (10/01/14) has helped to highlight the important issues that women face in the job as well as lead studies into the reasons as to why women leave, the role that feminism plays has not been a primary focus. It is important to apply the feminist principals within the agendas of the architectural profession as Professor Sarah Wigglesworth argues that, ‘Feminism offers a philosophical method of making sense of the world by pointing out where gender biases operate, and posits a world based on equality’. This is beneficial as we can use it as a device to analyze and understand the world around us. 

It is interesting to reflect on whether the profession has been asking the right questions in order to facilitate change. We now need to deliberate on what the profession needs to do to start considering women’s life experiences as the norm, rather than as a ‘problem’? By cross-examining the masculine norms of the profession, and by also understanding that many of the issues are in fact not exclusively women’s problems, we are able to surely state that the perceptions of the female architect are a fundamental concern which involves the debate of both genders. This is supported by the ideals of the feminist standpoint theory brought through by the second wave of feminism. Sarah Harding (1993) argues that, ‘starting off research from women’s lives will generate less partial and distorted accounts, not only of women’s lives but also of men’s lives and of the whole social order’. We also need to consider breaking the cyclical debates of why do women leave architecture, and start considering the possibilities of forming alternative questions such as why do men stay? This attitude of thinking would be beneficial to both genders and positions feminism as a potential force of change. 

The Liverpool Docks 'Herb Store'

Here's a snippet of my portfolio for my final project of third year.....

‘ T  H  E    H  E  R  B   S  T O R  E ’

An educational building for the research and conservation of medicinal and food herbs, situated on the Northern Liverpool Docks. 

The building aims to start the regeneration of a disused post industrial landscape with the cultivation and conservation of wild herbs. It will fuel the global demand for herbal medicine as a new holistic approach for living. The seed archive tower relates metaphorically to the historical context of the docks; apothecary towers were used as signals to passing vessels that there was medicine in the vicinity. This also refers to a theme of the project, which is the difference of scale between the herb, the human and the industrial context.

The building facilitates the growing of herbs for distribution in it’s Medical Apothecary and Herb Garden and for research in the laboratories. There are also workshops that engage the community in the education of herbs, for food, medicine and fuel. The key space in the building is a large 6 storey ‘apothecary tower’, which is an atrium space which contains a large store of herb seeds, which are archived and processed in the adjacent laboratories. The seed bank contributes to the work of the ‘Plant Life Charity’, who focus on the conservation of wild herbs. The facility, through it form and orientation aims to maximise the views out to sea as well as to provide the right environment for the cultivation of herbs. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Working Life

Finish Third Year: Done
Graduation: Done
Celebratory Summer Holiday: Done
Apply for Jobs: Done
Get first Job: Done

The above pretty much sums up my last year and the transition from Architecture School to a real job in the design world.  Moving back home to London after three years up north has been quite a big readjustment period and after a few months I have now settled in and am in the swing of things. Being at home with my family has actually been quite lovely and involves lots of bonuses, such as spending more time with my mum and sister, the fridge thats stocked full of tasty food and my ironing being occasionally done for me! However, the shift from university life to waking up at 7am every morning for work has been quite challenging, as well as working the full eight hour days, which it made it feel a bit like being back at school to start with. Nevertheless, I am feeling quite established now and am enjoying my job and so I'm very determined that I make the most of my free time. I don't want to be one of those people that only lives for the weekend.... so I have decided to put some of my energy back into this blog, where I want to reflect on architecture, design, photography, fashion and social and cultural agendas that are important to me. (yes, I realise thats a long list!).  So, please bear me while I get this going and thanks for reading! 



Here are some photos from my holiday to Greece:

oh and Graduation! (me on the left and my BF stellee on the right)

After almost a year long hiatus....