I know, this may seem to be drilling down more deeply into the sexuality of architecture than most readers of this family blog would like to drill, but I just could not resist. My last post, “Playboy and modernism,” referred to Beatriz Colomina’s fascination with “the male gaze,” whatever that may be. Supposedly, houses are designed to advantage men in their constant quest to see women naked. And when Architect magazine’s interview with Colomina did not bring it up, I decided to go looking for it myself.
I did not look in Playboy. Its in-depth articles on modern architecture do not seem to show up on Google. (Rats!) But I did find: “Conflicted Identities: Housing and the Politics of Cultural Representation,” a scholarly tome by Alexandra Staub. I know, I know. That sounds really boring. And it is. But some oddballs get off on this stuff. Maybe it is the sort of thing classicists should spend more time with. (Still, better Alexandra Staub than Martha Nussbaum!) If you are one of those oddballs, click on the link. (The following quote starts on page 150, in case the link doesn’t take you there directly.)
Looking at architectural spaces as well as architecture portrayed within film, Beatriz Colomina, in another classic essay, has pointed to the voyeuristic observation of women as a form of both power and control within the architectural modern movement that claimed to be working to erase women’s subjugation. Analyzing iconic works by Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos, Colomina shows how voyeurism both within the house and between the house and spaces outside allows a subtle game of domination and control.
Gee, my fingers are getting tired. And yes, that is indeed boring. But it is something we need to familiarize ourselves with, right? Well, Staub’s long research paper was published this year but Colomina published her research in the early 1990s. Staub refers to modern architecture’s founder as “the modernist figurehead Le Corbusier.” The passage following the one quoted above gets down and dirty with some details about how architects – even the figurehead Corbu – design houses so that the windows are on its periphery, enabling the nasty voyeurs passing by outside. “[E]verything in these houses seems to be disposed in a way that continuously throws the subject toward the periphery of the house.” (As a card-carrying peeping Tom, here at last is something for which I can thank Corbusier!)
Or, as the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In character, a German soldier played by Arte Johnson, used to say, “Very interesting. But stupid.”