Volz & Associates Collection: The Analog Edition

Hello Battle Hall Enthusiasts! We may not have met yet, so I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Mandy Ryan and I’m a Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architecture Archives. I’m currently in my second year at the School of Information at The University of Texas and I’m about to finish my MSIS with a focus in archives. My position with the Alexander has been an incredible experience and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about working in an academic archive and particularly with an architecture collection. In addition to being the processing archivist for analog materials, I’m also the resident facilities monitor and pest identifier. If you’re ever wondering what that creepy bug is in your office, I’m your go-to person.

Field Sketches for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral completed approximately 1994. This was part of an initial condition assessment that outlines potential issues to be addressed during renovations.
Field Sketches for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral completed approximately 1994. This was part of an initial condition assessment that outlines potential issues to be addressed during renovations.

The Volz & Associates, Inc. collection contains the construction documents, field sketches, and historic finishes for some of Texas’ most notable buildings and homes. This architecture firm specializes in historic preservation and the collection details the rehabilitation and remodeling of several Texas landmarks, such as the Gonzales County Courthouse and the Governor’s Mansion.

Historical research on The Allcorn House compiled by Volz & Associates, Inc approximately 1995. Historic preservation requires in-depth research into the building and can even mean pulling historical photos or land deeds to ensure accurate revisions and preservation. The above photo shows photographs provided by Jane Barnhill that show original structure of the Allcorn House, plus scanned copies of the original land deeds from1834-1841 and 1878-1888.
Historical research on The Allcorn House compiled by Volz & Associates, Inc approximately 1995. Historic preservation requires in-depth research into the building and can even mean pulling historical photos or land deeds to ensure accurate revisions and preservation. The above photo shows photographs provided by Jane Barnhill that show original structure of the Allcorn House, plus scanned copies of the original land deeds from1834-1841 and 1878-1888.

The analog materials are comprised of over 4,860 sheets of drawings, 192 linear feet or 187 boxes of papers, 20 boxes of historic building artifacts and samples, and 152 project binders filled with photographs and slides. Combined they document over 300 architectural projects undertaken by the Volz & Associates firm from 1987 to 2008.

I absolutely love working in the archives and processing is my favorite part because you never know what you’ll find in the collections. Working with the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection has been truly fascinating due to the sheer diversity in papers and documents contained in each box. In the course of my inventory, I’ve discovered everything from tile chips to field sketches.

Field sketches and wood samples from the Garten Verein in Galveston collected between 1995 and 1996. The wood samples from the window frames and roof line were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory to be studied for traces of fungus that could cause rapid decay.
Field sketches and wood samples from the Garten Verein in Galveston collected between 1995 and 1996. The wood samples from the window frames and roof line were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory to be studied for traces of fungus that could cause rapid decay.

It is remarkable to see the work and planning that goes into every project and to be able to read through the details from start to finish. Each project begins with historical research which documents the original drawings and construction notes and even includes the original paint colors or light fixtures used.

As of right now, the biggest part of my job is ensuring that we know as much information as possible about the collection, so that we can make it easier for our patrons to access all of the project materials.

Part of my role has been to conduct a large-scale, item level inventory of the collection. On the screen is a detailed spreadsheet that allows me to take notes about the box, folder, and items discovered. I can provide relevant dates, preservation notes, and details that will help with the overall arrangement of the collection.
Part of my role has been to conduct a large-scale, item level inventory of the collection. On the screen is a detailed spreadsheet that allows me to take notes about the box, folder, and items discovered. I can provide relevant dates, preservation notes, and details that will help with the overall arrangement of the collection.

I’m currently halfway through completing a large-scale inventory of the collection materials and drafting an appraisal report and preservation plan. The inventory and the plan will ensure that all of the materials are properly housed and preserved, while still allowing our faculty, students, and general researchers the opportunity toview it. This collection is truly one of a kind and I’m so grateful to be a part of it!

Against simplification – Mark Foster Gage: Projects and Provocations

Cover photo Mark Foster Gage

New to our collection is this monograph on Mark Foster Gage and his ideologies especially “Object Oriented Ontology” and “Speculative Realism”. Gage can be called an anomaly as he started off at the University of Notre Dame learning classical architecture and turned into a leading avant-garde architect of the present day.

The book features an afterword by Peter Eisenman and divided into seven chapters that is loosely based on a particular theme. These are cut across by transcribed texts from interviews and conversations between the biggies in Architecture. I HIGHLY recommend reading the one in honor of Zaha Hadid along with Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Deborah Berke and MFG.

For people who aren’t into extensive texts and reading (meh!) the book also offers a excellent collection of 3D visualized images that gives an insight into the architect’s mind. A cursory look at them is enough for us to understand what his design philosophy is all about. “The Tower for New York’s 57thstreet with mouth like balconies on giant wings or a retail space bedecked with a hundred faceted mirror, Gage’s work at once challenges expectations of what architecture might be and as well frequently fills one with a sense of excitement.”

Tower for New York's 57th street.
Tower for New York’s 57th street.

P.S: Did I tell you he 3D printed Lady Gaga’s outfit in collaboration with Nicola Formichetti in 2011?

Lady Gaga’s dress 3D printed by Mark Foster Gage.

This book is excellent if you love visual fodder, new design philosophies or Lady Gaga.

Medieval Mondays: Alhambra

Plans, Elevations, Sections and details of the Alhambra: From drawings taken on the spot in 1834.

This is one of those rare books that will be placed in a capsule for the future along with Monalisa and Klimts’ if the civilization is about to end.  Its cultural importance and documentation that follows military precision are the key factors as to why this book is forever in our special collection.

It covers the design and details of the Alhambra fortress and palace complex in Spain. This is a two-volume publication, with complete translations of the Arabic inscriptions and historical notice of the kings of Granada, Spain. It also consists of a detailed history from the conquest of the city by Arabs to the expulsion of the Moors. The second volume consists of detailed lithographs by Owen Jones and Jules Goury.

More importantly this is a book about friendship.  In 1834, after staying in Granada for 6 months, Jules fell victim to Cholera while documenting this book. Devastated by the loss, Ar. Jones took over to the publication of the project and further archived the palace.  Impressions of every ornament is meticulously taken either in plaster or unsized paper. These casts have been tremendously important for preparing drawings for this publication.

Plan of the Alhambra
Plan of the Alhambra

The site plan of the Alhambra shows the most significant spaces in the palace like the Court of Lions, Court of the Fish pond and the Hall of the Two sisters.


 

The Court of Lions

 This perfect portion of the palace is a parallelogram surrounded by portico with small pavilions at each end. This space consists of a hundred and twenty-eight columns. Due to the restoration works undergone by the court from time to time, the walls are defaced with several layers of whitewashing, beneath which it is still possible to see traces of the original coloring.

Details in the Court of Lions
Details in the Court of Lions

 

Court of the Fish Pond

Court of Fish pond
Court of Fish pond

This lithograph shows the view of the Fishpond from the Hall of the bark

Hall of the two sisters

This is a view taken from the Hall of the Two Sisters, looking towards the garden and a portion of the corridor which separates the Ventana from the Hall. “The lattice window gives light to the upper corridor, leading to the apartments appropriated to the women. It was through these lattices that the dark-eyed beauties of the Hareem viewed the splendid fetes in the hall below, in which they could only participate as distant spectators.”

The intricate details in the Hall of the two sisters.
The intricate details in the Hall of the two sisters.

 

Frets:

The most common pattern that crops up in several halls are the interlacing lines done in plaster. It is remarkable both for their variety of designs and for the simple means by which they are produced. They are formed by two principles exhibited in the diagram.

"Because the fret is one of the simplest and most natural of decorative forms, it is one of the most widely spread, found from early times in most art forms and on all continents"-Britanicca encyclopedia.
“Because the fret is one of the simplest and most natural of decorative forms, it is one of the most widely spread, found from early times in most art forms and on all continents”-Britanicca encyclopedia.

To review this massive book, make an appointment with our special collections department of Architecture and Planning Library.

New Books: January Edition

New books newsletter is back a second time this month! Surprisingly, both the books kind of belong to a similar category: Social Design. These books give an in-depth look into designing, especially, addressing social issues of  our times.

Design Solutions for Urban Densification by Sibylle Kramer

Design solutions coverStudies show that about 3 million people move to the cities every week! Apart from the privilege of having SoulCycle at every corner, cities provide better education, infrastructure and more importantly, culture. Therefore, getting our cities right should be the order of the day. There are two ways to do this, one is getting on to the suburban craze of “sprawl” (ugh! Boring!) or retrofitting our inner cities to suit the incoming populace. This book deals with the latter.

This essentially means that “even the smallest building gaps are closed, peripheral block buildings are complemented, small buildings are replaced by larger ones, living spaces are created by reuse, plots are divided and inner courtyards are used for construction.” If you’re good at Tetris, you will probably be good at this urban retrofitting thing. One such example is the Cordoba-Reurbano Housing building in the historical La Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. As a part of an urban recycling initiative, it adds on a succession of terraces and built residential volumes on top of a historic building.

Design Solution for Urban Densification presents 41 outstanding projects of urban redensification that illustrate the different approaches adopted by architects and planners to build for the cities today. Explore a range of amazing and surprising unconventional buildings and creative solutions across the entirety of the book with graphical plans and detailed sections and of course lots of beautiful photo spreads.


 

Social Design: Participation and Empowerment by Claudia Banz, Michael Krohn and Angeli Sachs

Social design coverSocial Design talks about designing for the society… with the society, addressing complex social issues of our times through the perspective of interdisciplinary design. It addresses 25 international projects that represent unique solutions and tackle the redesign of social systems. The projects range a wide breadth of topics from creating human scale neighborhoods in China  to sustainable weaving communities in Ethiopia. These are framed by three essays that talk about Social design in the past and present, it’s job in education/ research and the concept of plan making  in shaping socially conscious societies.

Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR Shigeru Ban. Byumba Refugee camp, Rwanda
Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR Shigeru Ban. Byumba Refugee camp, Rwanda
Antonio Scarponi's Teh Campo Libero (The innocent house) was designed for Italian organization, Libera. This mobile, self sufficient and reversible pavilion is a tool in this process.
Antonio Scarponi’s Teh Campo Libero (The innocent house) was designed for Italian organization, Libera. This mobile, self sufficient and reversible pavilion is a tool in this process.

Some of the feature projects include Fairphone, 10,000 Gardens for Africa (Slow Food Foundation), Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR by Shigeru ban among a few.

Friday Finds! The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

Eyes of the the skin- cover“A meaningful architectural experience is not simply a series of retinal images. the ‘elements’ of architecture are not visual units or Gestalt; they are encounters, confrontations that interact with memory.”

We see an architectural marvel and the first thing we do is record it. We sketch, we take pictures, we remember how it looks. But do we feel it? Sense it? Smell it? “The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the neglect of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system.” This book challenges the hegemony of vision and the ocular-centrism of our generation. Pallasmaa calls it the violation of the eye, he goes to the extent of calling it the Narcissistic and Nihilistic eye.

Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.  Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.
Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.
Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.

As if we actually need to convince you to read this book. We are sure most of you have already read it. And if not, you are missing out on realizing architecture to its full potential. This polemic book on architectural philosophy and teaching, was first published in 1996 as an extended essay to Questions of perception: Phenomenology of Architecture written by Steven Holl, Pallasmaa, and Alberto Pérez-Gómez. The eyes of the skin is broken down into two neat essays, the first runs us through the historical development of ocular-centric paradigm in western culture, starting from the Greek civilization and its effect on the architecture today. Part two examines the function and presence of our other senses in experiencing architecture and how they could potentially bring us to building spaces that are integrated and personable.

Now imagine the picturesque ancient towns of Croatia and the busy, dense streets of Malta. Compare it to the function-first, grid-locked planning of New York or Chandigarh. Yes, there is a reason why most people choose the former for vacations. These are the spaces of intimate warmth, of participation and integration, catering to all the senses of the body; smell, taste, touch, sound and of course vision.  “The authenticity of architectural experience is grounded in the tectonic language of building and the comprehensibility of the  act of construction to the senses. We behold, touch, listen and measure the world with our entire bodily existence, and the experiential world becomes  and articulated around the centre of the body.”

Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929. Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.
Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929.
Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.

We highly recommend it if you just started getting into the whole architectural philosophy readings. It is a particularly interesting book to start off with and debate over as well as most don’t really accept this idea of Pallasmaa’s. A good book to get some really romanticized quotes about architecture and planning for your class essays.

New Books: A newsletter

Meeting nature Halfway: Architecture interfaced between Technology and environment by Multiple Authors

Meeting nature halfway cover
“Architecture, as design of artifacts, buildings, landscapes, cities and organizations, is the central battlefield where new relationship to nature is established”

New in our stacks is this little book on sustainability focusing on research of synthetic ecosystem particular to the Alpine region of Innsbruck. It is written by various trailblazers in the field of experimental architecture and showcases a few of their breakthrough projects. All the projects covered are linked back to the Institute for Experimental Architecture of University of Innsbruck and gives an overview of their design and research culture.

Preparation of the FrAgility show, an agile robotic fabrication methods with fragile materiality.
Preparation of the FrAgility show, an agile robotic fabrication methods with fragile materiality.

“The book shows different approaches united through a shared interest in developing a new relationship between architecture and nature. “

It is cleverly classified into three categories based on the classes of camera lenses. Wide angles, to give an inclusive and expansive view of the research. Portrait, to highlight and isolate the subjects from potential noisy background. Lastly, Macro lenses, to focus on smaller details or prototypes.  From adaptive self-regulatory ecologies that build based on collective interaction between buildings, to self crystallising ice structures, the future of architecture 2.0 is imagined and reimagined throughout the book.

 

In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation edited by Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Oren Sagiv, Tania Coen Uzzielli.

 In statu quo cover“The combination of historical events, myths and traditions has created a multiplicity of conflicts between competing religions, communities and affiliations regarding the ownership and rights of use of places and monuments. In turn these conflicts have led to the formation of an extraordinary concentration of intricate spaces, fragmented and stratified both historically and physically”

Love reading about Architecture, religion and politics? Then this is a book for you! Published as a part of the Israeli Pavilion at the 16thAnnual Biennale in Venice, the book traces the complex and delicate mechanism of co-existence, established in the 19thcentury, called the Status Quo. This has been described by chronicling five Holy sites situated in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. The five featured sites being, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall Plaza, Ibrahimi Mosque, Rachel’s Tomb and Mugrabhi Ascent.

Panoramic view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount with mosques of Omar and Al Aqsa and Mt. Scopus int he background on Jerusalem day, Old City, Jerusalem, 1971.
Panoramic view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount with mosques of Omar and Al Aqsa and Mt. Scopus int he background on Jerusalem day, Old City, Jerusalem, 1971.

Rife with pictures, sketches and newspaper articles, the book sets the mood by detailing their history, rise of religious conflicts, controversy and the resulting ad hoc political solutions that redefined these spaces. More importantly the reading allows us to look at architecture beyond its order, form, immutability it usually stands for, to making it a palimpsest charged with the status of “permanent temporariness”

 

 

Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America edited by Robert Bruegmann

 Art Deco: “Works that Art Deco Coverembrace naturalistic, geometric or abstract surface decoration, and those that have no surface decoration but whose forms are themselves decorative”

What does Metropolis and The Great Gatsby have in common? The stunning portrayal of visual style during the time, Art Deco. As the name suggests the book consists of architectural and design entries, each belonging to a broad current of Art Deco style that originated in the early 20thcentury focusing in the Chicago area. The book consists of carefully curated pictures and illustrations of architecture, industrial, fashion, product and graphic designs that embraced Art Deco expression. The book explores architects and designers beyond Sullivan, Wright and Mies to underdogs like interior designers Marion Gheen, Rue Carpenter and forgotten Industrial designer John Bollenbacher.

The exuberant lobby decorations at One North LaSalle embody classic Art Deco style. Architects: Vitzhum and Burns.
The exuberant lobby decorations at One North LaSalle embody classic Art Deco style. 

The heart of the book consists of 101 “Key Designs” commissioned, designed, distributed in the Chicago region between 1910 to 1950, the peak of Art deco movement. It also includes five thematic essays detailing the development and particular character of Art Deco in Chicago, to the way Chicagoans rediscovered the work that we now call Art Deco.

New Books: The Art of Bar Design

Art of Bar Design_CoverIn this week’s batch of new recruits to the collection is this gem of a book, The Art of Bar Design, featuring a forward by  Natali Canas del Pozo and stunning photographs of each of the highlighted bars.  The book identifies four types of bars and the distinct styles within each category: cocktail bars, restaurant bars, nightclubs, and breweries and wine bars.

In the forward, Canas del Pozo writes about how “bars have historically been (even more so than The Art of Bar Design_The Abysschurches) the main interior spaces for people to gather and meet,” and bars must be physically inviting and be comfortable to people who are there for a variety of reasons (pg. 004).  The bars discussed in the book are located all over the world, from Hong Kong to Munich to Seattle.  There is a brief analysis written about each bar, but mostly Canas del Pozo lets the pictures have the final word.

Starting with cocktail bars, comfort and a sense of intimacy seem to be crucial to a good bar design.  It’s comfortable, where people can sit for hours during an evening out, but the finishes are also key.  The location is also key in designing some of those finishes, as in the case of the Blue Wave Cocktail Bar in Barcelona, which sits on the edge of the water in Barcelona’s port, and the backsplash behind the bar appropriately mimics seashells.  Similarly, restaurant bars are The Art of Bar Design_Opheliadesigned to have a welcoming warmth to them that blends in with the rest of the restaurant.  Everything here goes along with the meal experience, rather than the bar being the center of everything as in cocktail bars and nightclubs.  Some of the most opulent bars are at nightclubs. where the bar is frequently a statement piece that occupies much of a room.  One example in particular stands out: Ophelia in Hong Kong, where the decor features peacock feathers.  The nightclub as a whole is a spectacle and the photographs are stunning.  Finally, breweries and wine bars are places where the alcohol itself is highlighted.  The atmosphere is frequently laid back and epitomizes the culture of the brewery or winery.  Patrons are there purely to enjoy and sample the drinks, rather than socialize in the same way as at a nightclub.  And the bars at breweries and wine bars reflect that through their focus on the process of brewing and making wine (e.g. through display of wine barrels and the ability to see the brewery from the tap room).

This is a really interesting look at spaces that people often do not consider when out at restaurants and bars.  Depending on the purpose of the space, the location and size of the bar varies.  The bar is the heart of a nightclub and a cocktail bar, where people often go to socialize, whether with friends or to meet new people, and the bar must be reflective of that.  While at a restaurant or a brewery, the bar itself is an important part of the eating and drinking experience, but one that is not at the heart of the experience.  All the same, the design of the bar says a lot about the business, its culture, its audience, its taste, and what people do while there.  So next time you go out, whether to a club or a bar or a restaurant, notice how the bar is designed.  How well does it fit with the rest of the business?  Where is it located within the space, is it at the center of all with comfortable stools, or is it an aside where there is only space to stand?  What are the finishes like?  What kind of statement does it make about the space and the people who work and frequent there?  You’ll probably never look at a bar quite the same way again.

Southern Architect and Building News Project Update

Hello, People of the Blogosphere!  We’ve been very busy working on a number of projects this summer, one of which has been the Southern Architect and Building News digitization project.

Part of what’s so neat about this project is that we get to collaborate with other wonderful folks around the UT Libraries.  The downside of this is that it means we have to coordinate and make decisions together about the workflow, standards, and overall goals.  This does make it take a bit longer than if all the work were happening in-house here at the Library.

IMG_5243
Picking up digitized volumes of SABN!

So far, we have sent several batches of about 10 volumes over to our friends in Digitization Services to be scanned and ingested into the Data Asset Management System (DAMS).  They have input some metadata for us, but part of what we have to decide here at the Library is what our metadata schema will look like.  There is a lot of information we could include in our metadata, so we have to make some choices about what will be most meaningful to our end users and how much information it is realistic to enter for each item.

IMG_5257
Packed to go to PCL!

The last batch of Southern Architect has been sent to PCL to be digitized, which is pretty exciting!  Once this is finished we will pick them up and they will join the rest of Southern Architect to await metadata entry!  Currently all the already digitized copies of Southern Architect are back at the Library, so once the paged content issues with the DAMS are fixed, we should be ready to go all-in on metadata!   

We’re slowly working our way through some of the issues with the DAMS.  This project is for the long haul, so it is going to take some time to get Southern Architect and Building News digitized and available online.  But, we also known what a special publication it is and how fascinating it is and its value to architectural history!  We can’t wait to keep working to make sure every one can see for themselves what makes Southern Architect so special and important!

The Volz O’Connell Hutson Collection: Born-Digital Initiatives at the AAA

One of the many structures VOH Architects worked on: the Littlefield House on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
One of the many structures VOH Architects worked on: the Littlefield House on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

Hello! My name is Abbie Norris, and I am the current digital archives Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives. My primary job is processing the born-digital content received in the Volz O’Connell Hutson Collection. This collection contains the records of Volz O’Connell Hutson (VOH) Architects, a firm focused primarily on preserving and restoring historic buildings and interiors. The collection showcases notable buildings from Texas and United States history and is an excellent resource to discover how much is needed to keep historic buildings authentic and alive.

A gray CD reading "Images for Volz: Elisabet Ney Museum, April 2007"
A sample CD from the collection. Born-digital archiving requires preservation two ways: retention of the original media and capture of the data for long-term storage.

The VOH Collection is significant to the Alexander for several reasons, but most importantly, it is the archive’s first large-scale born-digital accession. In addition to analog records and building materials, the collection includes roughly 450 floppy disks, 250 CDs, 90 zip disks, and one lone flash drive. These materials document the life of the firm from the early 1980s to the mid 2010s. So far, we have imaged over 100 filetypes representing everything from office files to construction reports to historic photographs. It’s a diverse array, and as the project moves forward, we’re faced with many questions about how best to provide access to researchers.

As diverse as the filetypes are the kinds of buildings included in the collection – though many are tied by one important identity. VOH Architects worked on buildings of many functions, styles, and preservation needs. While these buildings span the United States, the majority of them are located in Texas. Included are the Governor’s Mansion, the Alamo, the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch, and the Alexander’s own Battle Hall. I love working with this visual representation of Texas history. Whether it’s by noticing design similarities between county courthouses or the way historic landmarks are used and maintained, the collection is an in-depth look into how architecture shapes our state and its identity.

Scaffolding covers a green dome atop a white tower.
Restoration underway on the Colorado County Courthouse dome. Photo credit: Volz O’Connell Hutson Architects, (http://voharchitects.com/projects/colorado-county-courthouse/).

In my four months of working with this collection, I’ve learned an incredible amount about both the intricacies of born-digital archiving and the breadth of work architects do. Through the frustration of software bugs and the triumph of imaging previously unreadable disks, the VOH is a fascinating collection that provides many learning opportunities.

The next steps of the project are to finalize the creation of a finding aid for these born-digital materials and to determine methods of access once the collection is published. Check back here soon for collection updates and an in-depth look at the world of born-digital archiving at the Alexander Architectural Archives!

New Books: Constructing the Patriarchal City

Constructing the Patriarchal CityOne of our exciting New Books this week is Constructing the Patriarchal City: Gender and the Built Environments of London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago, 1870s into the 1940s by Maureen A. Flanagan.  Bringing together societal gender norms and architecture, Flanagan explores how gender dynamics influenced the primarily male-built environments in four cities, London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago.  The book examines the contrast between the more feminine private sphere and the male public, and how men made intentional efforts to design public spaces to limit women’s ability to maneuver outside the home.

Split into two parts, Flanagan uses Part I to cover the history of city planning and gender boundaries and norms.  Importantly, for much of history, women were considered the property of their fathers or husbands, and thus could not own property in their own right.  Yet, slowly, a “new urban single woman [emerged]: working in a factory by day, spending her money by night, unescorted and dancing with unfamiliar men” (pg. 47).  But there were also men who were becoming more mobile, and less attached to traditional views of masculinity, the “hardworking male who supported his family and obeyed the law” (pg. 47).  Tracking such shifts in society as well as the resulting changes in the architecture in London, Dublin, Toronto, or Chicago.  Housing was one of the major areas where gender dynamics were at play.  In one interesting example, a woman named Octavia Hill from London devoted her time to improving housing conditions in the city, focusing “on how a building was used by its residents and how people lived in the city, rather than how a building was designed, [which] clashed with the ideas of men building the model tenements” (pg. 33).  So, Flanagan shows how women contributed to architecture, even if many of those ideas were never implemented by the men who actually designed cities.

In Part II, Flanagan does in-depth case studies of the main gender-driven divides in London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago.  For example, in London, public toilets were a point of conflict, because “vestries had furnished public toilets for men, but most of them refused to do so for women,” or women had to pay fees for entering the facilities (pg. 124).  There was fierce opposition to women’s public toilets because it “would symbolize women’s right to be wherever, and whenever, they wanted in the city…[and] expressions against that…were gendered notions of women’s appropriate behavior,” and appropriate behavior did not include freedom in public spaces (pg. 125).  Even something as fundamental to human function as restrooms were used to control women’s movements around London.  Similar stories are included in the other case studies, showing how such intentional decisions by men were influenced by and reinforced gender stereotypes to ensure that women remained primarily in the private sphere.  Flanagan concludes that “the built environments of London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago have been historically and continuously reconstructed to exclude or obstruct women from equal movement into and through the city’s public spaces and to contain them as much as possible in the private place of the home” (pg. 262).  She also encourages architects, urban planners, politicians, and others involved in urban planning processes to acknowledge these patriarchal spaces and work to better include women’s voices in the efforts to reshape and adapt cities to contemporary needs.

For as long as the profession has existed, architecture has been one of the “good ole’ boy” clubs.  What is unique about Flanagan’s Constructing the Patriarchal City is that she shows how this ever-persistent patriarchy has been written into the built world, too.  Not only have women in the field of architecture often been granted limited opportunities for input (if any at all), but by shutting them out of the designing of cities, urban spaces are designed almost exclusively by and for males rather than as inclusive spaces.  In recent years, architecture and related professions have made an effort to increase their diversity, a worthy ambition, especially in light of Flanagan’s analysis of just how pervasive the patriarchy is in architecture.  When women, and other groups that have been shut out of the city planning process, are given the opportunity to influence architecture and planning, patriarchal cities become more navigable and inclusive to all.

Blog from the University of Texas Architecture and Planning Library