Literature Review: Beyond The Gender Binary Of Space And Architecture (in Relation To Digital Technology)

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Introduction/ Abstract:

This research will explore the interdisciplinary study of gender and space beyond the binaries and examine the case for the future post-gender binary space and architecture using digital technology as a methodology. As the ideology of gender and the ways in which it is expressed are evolving simultaneously, expanding beyond the binary of the male and female categories to the inclusion of LGBTQIA+; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual individuals. (Gold, 2018) These changes are becoming more prevalent within the millennial generation as they become empowered to embrace fluidity. In contrast, these preexisting binary gendered spaces exclude non-binaries or gender-diverse people today. This creates an urgency to dismantle these exclusive spaces and develop new methodologies to expand on the inclusion of post-gender binary thinking for the future world of spatial design.

Literature Review

‘Gender’ often refers to the socially, culturally, and historically constructed set of differences between the binary of women and men, which is different from the term ‘Sex’, based on biological differences between female and male bodies. (Rendell, Barbara, Borden 2000) The biological basis of gendered cognition, gender identity, and sexual preference imposes limits on human’s capacity for communication, and intersubjective understanding, and empathy. (Hughes, Dvorsky, 2008) The human condition has been shaped by limitations imposed by the gender binary, affecting everything from our metaphysics to our linguistics (Hughes, Dvorsky, 2008) As Butlet has said, “

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Genders can be neither true nor false, neither real nor apparent, neither original nor derived… genders can also be rendered thoroughly and radically incredible.” (Butlet, 1990)

Gendered + Space

When considering anthropological and geographical perspectives of both gender and space, we find that they are similarly constructed through the same social and cultural lenses, which raises questions, “How are gender relations manifest in space?’ and equally, ‘how are spatial relations manifest in constructions of gender?” (Rendell, Barbara, Borden 2000)

Historically, gendered space associates with the representation of ‘separate spheres,’ to the hiearchyhierarchical system consisting of the dominant public male realm of production (the city) and a

subordinate private female one of reproduction (the home). (Rendell, Barbara, Borden 2000) This theory of division of city and home, public and private, production and reproduction, and men and women are critiqued by the British architectural historian, Jane Rendell as being both patriarchal and capitalist. (Rendell, Barbara, Borden 2000) Gendered space dealt with the separation of sexes (for cultural or religious reasons) at the scale of individual buildings. “These separations of women and men in homes, schools, and workplaces reinforce gender inequalities” (Spain, 2014). This division becomes problematic as the separations and assumptions regarding sex, gender, and space contained within this binary hierarchy are continually reproduced. The construction of gendered space is shaped by the dominant gender within the society, creating space that physically reflects a social hierarchy system. If these gendered spaces are left unchallenged, then the reproduction of gender binary and reinforcement of gender-based norms will continue to be built into the architecture of society.

An Australian gender non-conforming architect and activist, Simona Castricum, explore their unique personal narrative, by examining the correlation between power, violence, sexuality, and their bodies in relation to architecture as emotional space. Castricum argues that architecture and interior space are places where risk, violence, and oppression are encountered. CAS creating and experiencing architecture is considered as a privilege, in both space and practice with and its outcome being, the marginalization of user groups. (Castricum, 20..) This leads to the production of architectural outcomes that serve certain kinds of people and d exclude others. For instance, a client or an architectural brief often disregards the existence and experience of gender non-conforming users. (Castricum, 20..) As a result, it creates spatial exclusion. Moreover, Castricum mentions that the default of the legislation of the Equal Opportunity Act does not always cater to gender-diverse people and ‘is not enough to lead to tangible changes in the participation of architectural space.’ This shows how architectural space and practice are still mainly enforced through the lens of the binary notions of cisgender normatively.

“If architecture can play a part in eradicating the instinct to clock every person we walk past as either man or woman, cis or trans, we can begin to reject binary thinking and we create more fluid and non-binary spaces.’ BThere more, by reimagining gender-exclusive architectural spaces, we can ultimately establish the inclusivity of post-binary thinking for the future of architecture and spatial design.” (Castricum, 2017)

Theory of a Post-Gender world leading to an= Egalitarian Utopia

The initial idea of postPost-genderism was initial initially inspired by ted in 1984 by Donna Haraway’s essay “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the 1980s.” Harraway argues for technological transgression to liberate both women and men from the gender binary. (Hughes, Dvorsky, 2008)

“The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity.” (Haraway, 1991)

“Discrete genders are part of what ‘humanizes’ individuals within contemporary culture; indeed, we regularly punish those who fail to do their gender right. Because there is neither an ‘essence’ that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires, and because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all.” (Butlet, 1990)

Case Study Similarly with AI

One of the most gender-defined spaces observed is a department store, where the shoppers often head to their gender-assigned sections. The Agender concept space at Selfridges was designed by Faye Toogood in 2015 with the aim of creating a “genderless shopping experience” in the London department store. (Tsjeng, 2015) Toogood said ‘In the twenty-first century we’re increasingly aware that gender is not a binary, and the way we choose to present ourselves as individuals shouldn’t be constrained by the artificial divisions of society or commerce.’ (Howarth, 2015) The Agender concept represents the post-gender binary thinking in spatial design by removing the social and spatial boundaries that separate and restrict individuals. This project acts as an experiment on gender, where it allows shoppers to approach the experience without preconceptions. One of the design strategies was to display the clothes, brands, and logos inside the plain white garment bags, where the hidden identities of the clothes allow all individuals to explore and shop in the same space. The Selfridges concept store breaks down the boundaries of the gender binary and is reflective of the current cultural shift to cater to everyone regardless of their gender identities. While this concept successfully introduced the ideology of genderless retail and challenged gender constructions, it remains spatially exclusive in that it excludes lower-income shoppers who cannot afford high-end retail. (Srisurayotin, 2019)

‘If the spaces from the future are designed by algorithms, will these be free from hidden biases?’ – Rozenberg

In examining the relationships between gender and architecture methodology, the Royal College of Art graduate Hannah Rozenberg questions whether architecture can be created without gender bias. The case study of ‘Building Without Bias: An Architectural Language for the Post-Binary’ by Rozenberg addresses the implications of the unequal distribution of power between men and women, a lack of women in the field of technology, and the effects of the binary system approach in designing and spatial planning in London that amplify and sediment existing gender inequalities. (Rozenberg, 2018) She examines the gender biases embedded in architectural vocabularies that are learned by contemporary technology, to develop a digital tool for designing a more gender-neutral environment: the Post-gender architecture. This design methodology aims to intervene in a series of architectural components that in the eyes of the machines are neither male nor female.

‘If the spaces from the future are designed by algorithms, will these be free from hidden biases?’ – Rozenberg

‘As automated technology finds its way into our bodies, buildings, and cities, it is essential that it be designed in a way that is free from insidious biases’ – Rozenberg

Rosenberg’s ideology is further developed on her website called Building Without Bias, an online calculator machine that allows users to find out the ‘gender unit’ or gender value of words. W When words are inputted into the calculator, they are assigned a gender value based on how machines (or algorithms) currently see that word as male or female. ‘The gender values are based on word embedding induced using the word2vec method, trained on English Google News articles.’ For instance, the word ‘kitchen’ appears on the ‘She’ value rather than the ‘He’ values, as it is more frequently found with the female pronouns in sentences. Rozenberg tests her design methodology in the central London neighbourhood of St. James, as it is still known for its exclusive male-only membership clubs and gendered businesses.

“These gendered prescriptions are the result of a machine logic—a logic that indiscriminately infers truths from data; a logic that thus uncovers and embeds problematic prejudices at the heart of contemporary society.” (Rozenberg, 2018)

Rozenberg developed a complex mathematical formula, in order for the design to achieve the zero-gender unit, based on the values of each architectural component. The spaces she proposed have a reading of zero gender unit; neither male nor female. Although herHer approach was to disrupt the existing gendered environment and build a gender-neutral master plan in which buildings are no longer individual, exclusive spaces, and the boundaries between programs, forms and genders are merged. However, when analysed by the machining process, the result shows that the architecture fails to achieve the gender-neutral design as a whole, assumingly due to limited and arbitrary data. Thus, this design methodology could be considered partially successful as it incorporates the post-gender binary thinking into the technological system that architects and designer use for design.

‘As automated technology finds its way into our bodies, buildings and cities, it is essential that it be designed in a way that is free from insidious biases’ – Rozenberg

“These gendered prescriptions are the result of a machine logic—a logic that indiscriminately infers truths from data; a logic that thus uncovers and embeds problematic prejudices at the heart of contemporary society.” (Rozenberg, 2018)

“As automated technology finds its way into our bodies, buildings, and cities, it is essential that it be designed in a way that is free from insidious biases. However, in the case of gender, this is rarely the case. Instead, the artificially intelligent tools that we use on a daily basis amplify and sediment existing gender inequalities. For example, Google translates non-gendered language to a gendered one by assigning male pronouns to words such as intelligent, successful and ambitious but female pronouns to the words emotional, vulnerable and swee

The example of Agender concept store and the Building Without Bias case study discussed above identify and describe serious obstacles to the responsiveness of designing for gender-specific concerns and needs. Where the case study is more limited, as the design methodology cannot be solely based on the linguistic approach by using the value of architectural terms. However, it identifies concrete issues of the biases in the binary system in contemporary technology and the western languages, and provides a means for including post-binary thinking into design methodology. This design methodology may require border transformations and participation from different disciplines, including engineering technologist, sociologists, geographers, architects, and designers. By incorporating both aspects of post-binary technology and the way we are thinking will create a more balanced, functional outcomes and a nuanced design methodology for all. The example the Building Without Bias case study discussed above identify and describe serious obstacles to the responsiveness of designing for gender-specific concerns and needs. Where the case study is limited, as the design methodology cannot be solely based on the linguistic approach by using the value of architectural terms. However, it identifies concrete issues of the biases in the binary system in contemporary technology and the western languages and provides a means for including post-binary thinking into design methodology. This design methodology may require border transformations and participation from different disciplines, including engineering technologist, sociologists, geographers, architects, and designers. By incorporating both aspects of post-binary technology and the way we are thinking will create a more balanced, functional outcomes and a nuanced design methodology for all.

Provisional findings and further research:

At this stage my research answered part of my initial questions, yet a lot more research and further investigations needs to be done.

In the next step, my research study will focus on moving post-beyond gender binary thinking and spatial design methodologies in relation to digital technology. This will include further analysis of Chaillou’s ‘AI & Architecture An Experimental Perspective’ where ies, the Post-Binary, which will be defined and researched further in relation to future spatframeworks are developed to generate spatial plans using Arial planning, specifically within London. Continually examining diverse perspectives within the current world of binary thinking, alongside the theory of digitalization within the context of Architecture. This research is necessary to improve gender balance by incorporating the post-gender binary thinking into the design world, creating and defining a more safe, inclusive, neutral space.

I chose to use this term rather than other terminology based on the redefining research of Judith Lober’s, ‘Beyond the binaries’ (1996). The author believes that there are revolutionary possibilities inherent in rethinking the categories of gender, sexuality, and physiological sex. Additionally, I will look into other similar terms, such as ‘Postgenderism: Beyond the Gender Binary’ which will inform a more clear definition of what Post-Binary might mean in the future.

Bibliography

  1. Srisurayotin, A. (2019) ‘Moving beyond gendered space: examining a new case for incorporating Post-Gender Binary thinking into spatial design.’, PreMArch. University College London. Unpublished essay.
  2. Rendell, Jane, Barbara Penner, and Iain Borden, ‘Editor’ General Introduction’, in Gender Space Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, ed. Rendell, Jane, Barbara Penner, and Iain Borden. (London: Routledge, 2000), p.6

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