Feminism, civic architecture, and political philosophy

Date

1990

Authors

Bridges, Bonnie Louise, 1960-

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Suppose that civic architecture of the Western world represents not only the political structure in power at the time and/or the attitudes of its citizens, but also carries with it a patriarchal narrative consistent with the political philosophies of Western civilization? Then it could be said that civic architecture is not a representation of all the people, but only some of the people, included or excluded by gender. In this thesis, three examples of civic architecture are transformed according to feminist critiques of Western philosophers in order to discover the gender constructed meaning of the civic architecture and offer design alternatives. There are two issues that establish the background for realizing the relationship between feminism, civic architecture and political philosophy. First, there is an interactive relationship between the political philosophy and the civic architecture of any given period. Not only is the civic architecture a concretization of the political thought and a physical manifestation of the political philosophy of its period, but architecture, because of its physicality, shapes the political atmosphere of the city; how people move through the city, interact with each other, give public speeches and act politically. Architecture can influence the political structure within which the political philosophy is enacted, indirectly influencing the political philosophy itself. Second, political philosophy has an interactive relationship with feminism. One of the methods used by feminist theorists to influence changes in the way women are politically situated is to analyze how women have been treated historically in political philosophy. By understanding this history, a new political philosophy can be achieved that includes a woman's voice. It is through these two interactive relationships that the connection between feminism and civic architecture becomes apparent. Civic architecture is not just an arbitrary term that applies to government or political architecture, but a term loaded with meaning, refering to gender-constructed political philosophy. This thesis applies feminist criticisms of three political philosophies to a corresponding civic architectural example to begin a process of understanding gender constructed meaning in architecture. At the start of this project, questions arose as to what gender constructed architecture means. For example: What do classically designed colonnaded porticoes represent in Western civic architecture? Are they simply convenient stylistic representations of political power, or powerful statements of gender excluded architecture? Do buildings have specific sexual characteristics due to their shape? Are skyscrapers male and domed buildings female? These simple questions lead to more questions: Does civic architecture harbor the same patriarchal narratives that exist in political philosophy? If so, how can architecture be de-coded to reveal its gender-constructed meaning? What significance does exposing gender constructed meaning have, if any? Applying feminist criticisms to civic architecture is just one way to begin to understand the complex and varied relationships among feminism, political philosophy and architecture

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