Feminist Architecture: The Case of Female Public Toilets - Prof. Barbara Penner


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Not only do we expand our knowledge and understanding of the world but we also inspire young people who otherwise wouldn't know anything about this book is time we the people get involved with academic research even if it's just as listeners so we can truly make education a democracy so barbara. Thank you for joining me. Really pleased to have you. And he's read unusual times pre uncertain for for somebody who's works in architecture department. Well i think that it's uncertain for everyone. But you're right. Architecture deals with bricks and mortar and somehow the whole our emphasis shift to remote learning remote environments. That is actually. I think particularly challenging for those in architecture. are are. Can you imagine an less of diving to your work. How first of all. How did you find yourself interested in architecture again. It's a good question going back into the mists of time. I was studying art history. This was at undergraduate. When i was at school at mcgill university in canada and i laughed art history but it's i felt troubled by the fact that it didn't really impact people in their day to day lives and i guess my attention became fixed on architecture. Because i was aware it's so shades and influences the fabric of our lives and our everyday experiences but often in quite a background way. We very often aren't aware of how much of our lives are shapes by our bill to firemen's and it struck me. This was something that i really wanted to delvin. Share and bring to the foreground and so you ultimately go into architecture. I did it so in montreal. Where i was studying there was this really amazing. Institution called the canadian sensor for architecture sooner the world's leading architectural libraries and because of the proximity of miguel to cca. I was able to start tear explore this subject greater taps and basically i was one of the leading programs in architectural history. At the time was actually at uc l. In london though. I came here to pursue my masters and then i carried on into the phd. And i basically never left the twenty five years later i'm still here s You must have gone through quite some journey in within your research. yes well. Unbeknownst to me. I entered the fields at a really interesting really dynamic time so this would have been the mid nineteen nineties and feminist theory was really starting to answer the fields of architectural history in a serious way sir feminist theory also queer theory post colonialism and because architecture is a profession it tends to be a bit more conservative or was in the nineties. A little bit slow. I would say in picking up on critical theory but in the mid nineties i this sort of inflection of critical theory in sioux qatar was well underway and so i was coming into it with this interest in every day in firemen's the bill fabric and this was exactly the moment at which kinds of questions were beginning to be quite seriously examined within the discipline so i decided i was very interested in in the built environment so i decided that i would write my dissertation on. A public toilets poker. When did they first begin to appear in london streets were they were seized. What kind of controversies surrounded them. And because i i thought well you know if i want to see the impact that gender has had on the built environment. What better place to look than a female public toilet and it was in fact incredibly rich and interesting study which came out of unknown. So what did you find the time. What were some of your conclusions. so i'm female. Public conveniences probably not surprisingly. We're not a regular feature of london streets and tell the end of the victorian era the beginning of the oregon era they were hugely hugely controversial. Nobody wanted them in anywhere near their homes or businesses but of course they were really essential because at the time there were many female workers who are commuting to and from factories to from their places of work often quite long commutes and they had nowhere to go and so became a cause. Celebre and george bernard shaw. The playwright among others ended up campaigning for female public toilets. I suspect he did in part to urinate His more conservative council members. He was He was a member of the local government at the time but nonetheless. This was one of these very odd incidents in history where the campaigns for female public toilets brought together a really unusual coalition a coalition of reformers and those interested in women's rights and to try to improve women's mobility within a city. So was there like a need for women's mobility the time oh was society still dominated by men in the workplace in a nestle thing again. Really good question. The reality was that women were moving around the city especially working class women as i said many of whom were commuting to and from job abs paying jobs but at the time there was this prevailing ideology of the separate spheres which maintains that women's place was bloom and so by definition. Somehow a woman moving freely through the city was on anomaly. Potentially threats women mobile women were regarded with considerable suspicion favor seen as potentially more all they were sometimes even called public women prostitutes because of this freedom. They were enjoying suit to move around. The city and public toilets became suspect because they enabled that free movement. That's very interesting So would you say that is an inflection. Point from public toilets becoming widely present in society or in in in the seas was there an inflection point to of how architecture changed to accommodate the woman during the victorian era it was very common for architecture to be highly segregated and i should say it was not only segregated by gender but it was segregated by class as see red have tradesmen's entrances Man you would have the official public entrance to a building. For instance around and over the course of the twentieth century that kind to richard segregation began. Sa- breaks down buildings at least outwardly. Under the influence of the modernist movement became more egalitarian. in appearance. So a really classic building. I would sign in. This regard is a royal festival hall friends. Stones which was designed as part of the nineteen fifty one festival britain. A not was very much designed as a building for all the todd black It was designed along the idea of something called the Condenser so it was meant to be a place that would bring together different elements of society encourage mixing which of course victorian buildings absolutely did not dare vapor designed on the opposite principle taking rich rigidly segregate different elements of the population. So i do think at least outwardly. That kind of richard segregation Eased but that is not to say of course but the built environment is a Harian place i would say. Mechanisms season has simply become more subtle in many ways the built environment is still very much a manifestation of power relations and it does still attempt to impose a certain kind of show order in society. The that's very interesting. So you mentioned that. The elements of seclusion in the built environment Osorno as opposed to being over Can you give an example of the so one example. I would give birth. Although i must have met. It's building. i love a nonetheless. The british library on road. I believe it was. oh kinton. The nineties But it had a long just station is designed by the architects call in saint john wilson and On the one hand it's meant to be democratic in welcoming building It has a public piazza in front. Survey you go through the doors. And it's really remarkable building with indoor's streets an indoor piazza so again. It's got this idea. Welcoming the puck lack and it it's meant to be a democratic space however the reality is is that surrounded by high walls in gates It's quite intimidating for those people who somehow understands that they are not meant to end for and it it is in fact a police space. So sh- hung has people often gathered right outside. The gates could turn actually entered into the precinct of a library because they know that they will be asked to leave on. There's all sorts of invisible. I would say here's in many public buildings that that may to clear to as for instance the homeless that they're not welcome. It's not a truly public space even however much it has that appearance that makes sense and so if something that i would have never considered personally you have not consider things from a architecture standpoint but that sort of leads me onto to think to ask you how. How has architecture evolved in so in the twenty first century how other key key so of themes that have emerged in architecture in the twentieth century in the uk for instance architecture is such a diverse profession. it's hard to characterise. You've got commercial. Buildings friends stones Which i would say where the client perhaps is speculated developer In the building will end up being lease to various corporate clients and that type of architecture. You know it's a fact of life. London a commercial city. I'm not type of architecture. I would say is more Aesthetically focused perhaps In terms of maybe smaller scale less profit oriented architecture which is quite different. I would say there's much more interest now in community participation architects working with neighborhoods Solicitor tried to create more responsive environments at a good example is a colleague of mine. Someone called yene line and he has worked with dozens of uk. High straits to try to Enhance them revitalize revitalized them but rather than imposing some kinds. If top down process he works with keepers on the local council really tries to create environments that Enhance the sort of existing next shopowners. That really tried to serve below co community. There's a whole gamut of practices within architecture and it's hard to characterise but the certainly the architecture that i'm most interested in is the architecture that tries a work very reflectively in an ethical way with community into witch they're intervening is that sort of taking is gaining traction at the moment where this localized i i suppose. Socially friendly is interaction is still having to compete with these forces of commercialization bean around since the sixties world yeah lurk commercial forces are not going away. We live in neo liberal times. But i would say that. There is a very committed group of architects who are examining. The ways in which architects were can can work And are trying to act ethically And that to me is is an incredibly inspiring way forwards what perhaps has changed somewhat. Is there much more in step with the mood of the times. Where currently in this rather incredible time as social upheaval and particularly would be a lamb on. There are some very serious. Discussions opening up within architecture. Schools about racism are guitar. typically has been a very white middle class profession and people are making point very forcefully now that we architects will never be able to serve a broad spectrum of the population so long as architects though search at a narrow social class and so there are i would say that discussions around diversity are accelerating and intensifying and hopefully You know there will be serious efforts on the part of the profession to tackle the lack of diversity in a more sustained way Which is something. I i guess something. That is naturally going to happen given lack. You mentioned the social upheaval. But i guess the something. That's really interesting to me. M firstly with regards to social inclusion. Is you might have. People say actually will some of the most famous in the world. Why the like for instance the hadid was you know an iraqi female so architecture could be seen as that but what you're saying is still generally the just the. The outliers was an incredible force and She was the leave. The first female to win the pritzker prize. She was however for a long time. One of the very few so called stark attacks Who was in the profession. There were a few others a very well known female architect called. It's zico has to go. Fifteen of miami school was christine hawley throughout the nineties. Who practiced with sir. Peter cook one of the founding members of our crime so there there were some prominent women in the field by factor main that intel very recent. Play only about thirteen percent of registered architects. Were women because there has been concern about the underrepresentation of women in architecture since the mid nineties i would say that we have definitely seen some movement bear but we have a long way to go in terms of bain an enhancement minorities where we're really falling down And i i suppose it's not too dissimilar to many other fields. Why i'm interested in of no kind of exploring his. How do you think this pandemic is going to shape architecture for the foreseeable future. Given the fact that there's loads of unnatural things are artistic previously natural things happening for example the social distancing and people's reluctance to cough in public. Or you know sneeze and that sort of stuff. How much does that impact architecture. Do you think that's a great question I hadn't thought about it quite in those terms. I hadn't previously thought about coughing friends and architecture as you know in the twentieth century has always been a very concerned with high chain ans- and health and actually this was really one of the preoccupations of modernist architects people. Lie the kirby and so on the white a static that they adopted for their buildings inner it was mainly symbolic of course it was meant to symbolize the ratification of dirt. Z's so the modernist really appropriated this whole hygiene Discourse in their buildings Whether or not about will happen now or how it will happen is is really interesting to think about again. Some of my colleagues are doing work on pro biotic buildings so they are actually looking at how you could Implants surfaces with probiotics auroral. Yet here is so those so called good bacteria homes so that you can you know improve public health through buildings in that way. There's lots of really interesting. Research going on between architects and biologists chemists Considering microbes. Looking really at our environments through the lens of house. So i could see that being the kind of direction that opens up even more over covid otherwise in in terms of public buildings for instance i could see just changing the configuration of buildings to make a greater emphasis sprints dunstan entrance ways of creating spaces for queuing it. If that is going to be a feature again should i call it. Our covid futures You know there's no question that it will start to change the way buildings are planned. Unladen our the fascinating. I mean these are some fascinating insights that you know. I didn't even know a possible with appropriate. For instance this mind blowing stuff. I'm conscious of time. Because i know you've a bit to do but i want to ask you about your work. Honeymoons that seems really interested in. And i wanna hear more. I grew up near niagara falls which is considered or wise when i was growing up the honeymoon capital of the world. And you know how it is when you grow up with something. Even one of the great wonders the world's at your doorstep he's sort of come to think of it as a bit boring or you for granted been then when i moved to europe And when i started to study architecture. Niagara falls is a honeymoon destination. It just came to seem seem author an author to me and and moreover i was very aware that there was no equivalent plays in europe. There was no place that everybody went to on their honeymoon. Except maybe italy or something like that. It just wasn't the same. So i got very interested in how disapp- become so ritualistically connected with a moment a great sort of moment in people's lives and how than does a tourist industry get built up around it including honey her towels honeymoon suite's again in. In what ways does architecture. Kind of enshrine These practices and it. It did really interest me because architecture i think is great at scripting environments and in somehow it in its walls or in its features it's in certain narratives and it gives us queues as to how to be. Hey that does not mean that people always follow this cues and in fact. I'm rest interested in those moments where people miss becuse or nor the keys or just choose to not follow them. I do believe that people have agency and adults environment. So i don't think architecture determines the ways that we behave but it's suggests ways that we should be and i always just thought it was some very poignant s- died on a honeymoon when you're with your partner perhaps for the first time you turn to these architectural environments that sort of help you understand how you should be feeling how you should be behaving at this moment in. It's like the architecture becomes the proc That's really interesting. I mean it sort of raises a couple of points With regards to how we all the say we How couples when they are on their honeymoon of interact with the environment. And so you have for instance right now you have In recent times the maldives has become this hot spot for honeymoons and the of manufactured island. And and you have equivalents in dubai. So how much of this. How much of that is also planned onto these human emotions these innate feedings of like needing seclusion or something. Like that and i. Those are very good examples. I think people at these moments these these really key milestones in one's life so getting married it. You really want to enter an environment if you can. That will protect you from certain safety. You know what kinds of experience want so you go to a place where you are going to. That's going to conform your expectations Society's expectations of white you will experience posts wedding. It's like i. I see it almost as if you're trying to ward off the risk failure because to fail on your honeymoon has such powerful emotional consequences. Nobody wants to deal with that. You try to head off by entering a manufactured environment that is going to deliver White you feel should be delivered. But that's really that's really powerful so it's like you're almost trying to guarantee your return on your investment absolutely except it's it's not just financial it's emotional. Yea exactly there's pressure being placed on at moments and in the nineteen days All of these advice riders would say things to newlyweds like a mistake. Now is a mistake of a lifetime so with that kind of pressure being placed on year. You absolutely do not anything to go wrong. Wow this is really fascinating. that's amazing. so where if people more interested in in your work where can people find you online and interact with your work. I'm not terribly good on social media. But i am a regular contributor to a really wonderful online journal hauled places journal. I think it's a really remarkable a publication because it's devoted cpap scholarship on architecture. It supported by architecture schools around the world's Including mayans school the bartlett ans- it produces released thoughtful really provocative pieces on urbanism. The landscape are attack shower pretty s- great photographic essays Some creative writing I try to publish their as much as possible. Because i really believe that. Scholarship shipping open access. And too much of what we produce nowadays is hidden behind walls again. I think given where we are right now in the world that i strongly suspect out will change dramatically in the next few years but Yeah i it's a magazine that i'm very proud to be associated if you send me a couple of the the the ju- the pieces on there are linked to the onto the show so that people can get access to them instantly great i. I'm what kind of advice would you give to. Anyone of getting into architecture architecture research i would say i i always feel funny about giving a device because i still feel so much like. I'm sorting things out myself. But i would definitely say. Think about the user. That would be my main advice. You often in architecture school. You're told to think about form or you're told to think about materials or aesthetics and i think my main criticism of both the profession and education is that the user is considered too late in the as the kinds of Afterthought whereas i believe the users should completely derive bang that are tax. Do you can still make really interesting architecture. But just put the user at the hearts of your designs. That's i think. I think that is fundamental. I mean that's that's advice that i've heard a few times from like software developers and and all sorts of people that actually i'm trying to be appeal to the individual as opposed to the ego which tends to be the case. Yeah i really agree. And you know look architectured. The special challenge is that architecture tends to be around for awhile. So architecture uses change all the time so building may started off as a church may end up this flat or a domestic residents who now is but nonetheless i i do think. That user centered buildings. Stand the test of time. He even oddly if stat use changes because they will have been somehow humanely designed barbara. Enjoyed speaking to you. Thank you so much for joining me. And i hope to have you here soon again. Thank you i enjoyed. It is just like to take a moment to kind of remind you guys to subscribe to our show. An oprah cost platform and youtube as well as instagram. You can find all these links on. Www dot the no show dortmund. 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