אדר' ג'ויס אורון

Arc. Joyce Oron


Is there a Feminine Architecture?

The Gaby Mode-Botelho Wizo Center in Givatayim, an example of the feminine expression in Architecture.
Lecture given in the "Architects' House" April 2001.



After the publication of an article by Loni Gershoni in the magazine "Architecture" about the Wizo Center, I was invited by Arie Shilo to speak at the "Architects' House". In this article 1 expressed by means of the presentation of this building, my personal uncertainties on this subject. As this was the first time a woman was invited to lecture at the Architects' Society, I was asked to speak on the subject of Women in Architecture. My first task was to choose a name for the lecture. Until that time, my prime interest related to women in Architecture was the professional woman's need to balance time and priorities in her life, but as to whether there is a difference in style between men and women architects, I still had no answer. For that reason I chose a title ending in a question mark. "Is there a Feminine Architecture?"
The process of looking for an answer led me to conversations with friends, colleagues ,women architects and male architects as well as couples who work together. I also will quote from the latest research studies made on this subject. In addition, for the purpose of answering this question, 1 will first present some selected projects from my office, and through them, present my design language:

1. The Gaby Mode-Botelho Wizo Center in Givatayim

This Wizo Center for women is located on the corner of Ben Gurion and Aural Streets in an urban area where it serves as a community and social center, principally for women senior citizens. In this center there are offices that offer legal assistance and day care center registration. Because I felt that this building had to represent the program as well as the site, I searched for a way to express that this building is meant for women.
As a preliminary step I discovered four phrases from the Talmud that refer to the subject:

  • "Everything comes from women" (Bereshit Raba)
    That symbolizes for me a woman's role in the continuation of the generations: pregnancy, birth, children and their upbringing.

  • "Women prefer a nice room to a full meal" (Esther Raba)
    This refers to the importance to women of aesthetics.

  • "A woman musn't go from door to door seeking help" (Ketubot)
    This expresses the role of the Wizo Center in helping women in need.

  • "A woman carries her weapons on herself. (Yebamot)
    This phrase is excerpted from a story of a conquest. The conquerers entered a dwelling. The man was killed on the spot and the woman was saved. Was it because of her grace? her smile, her tears? or perhaps it was a story of rape?

The above four phrases reinforced my idea to express women's role in the continuation of the generations: pregnancy, birth, children. The physical expression in the building of this "continuity" is done by a cutting wall that "grows" from the ground until above the rooftop. Alongside is a slit with light, reinforcing its continuation beyond all levels.
Gila Margalit wrote an article about this building in "Itzuv" magaine in 1998 entitled "As a Woman Who Chooses". Women are frequently in conflict between two poles of the spectrum" "career" or "home", with each and every point between them as legitimate. The career woman who "cuts" her way strongly is represented in the building by tall straight gray walls "cutting" their way through the lower and rounder mass of the building. The rounder walls, creating softer lines, express care and protection, representing the woman at home. Each woman seeks and finds her own personal equilibrium between the two.

2. The Design Language

In the design language there are contrasts that build up the artistic equilibrium in the building. In my office's projects I use several elements to create contrasts that are:

  • the cutting wall

  • geometrical blocks cutting into each other.

  • aesthetic contrasts created by "heavy" and "light" materials and between stone, a local material and metal of international architecture.

  • the contrast between the "translucent" and the "monolithic"

Following are several examples of projects that exemplify the above:

  • The Cutting Wall

  • The Center for Family Health, Modiin
    This building was awarded the title of "Beautiful Building" by the Local Council of Modiin. In this project the wall changes from a row of columns to a wall with perforations, ending in a totally opaque wall. The top of the wall is slanted, creating a dynamic skyline contrasting with the other perpendicular lines of the building. The wall and the entry arch are in semi-pastel colors contrasting with the neutral ones of the building's stone walls.

  • The Clinic in Alon Shvut
    A colonnade of round, silver colored columns, leads toward the entrance of the building and crosses it to the other end. Vertically there is a learning wall with a glass box crossing the building.

  • The Labor Council Building, Ashkelon (a theater and offices of the Labor Council)
    The elements that "cut" towards the building are here illumination dots. A colonnade of lights, as part of the landscape accompany the entrance pathway, while on the other side is a line of "short" round columns that match, perpendicular to the above mentioned high illumination dots, accompanied by "tall" round columns.

  • Senior Citizens Club, Yeruham
    There is a colonnade with a beam enclosing an exterior area. The same element acts also as a pergola. In this way we have the vertical and horizontal versions of the same element.

  • Geometric Blocks Cutting into Each Other

  • The Brainen Reuben Kindergarden in Geha Hospital
    The kindergarten is for children with psychological problems, the first of its kind in the country. From a morphological point of view, it resembles a cube game with tridimensional shapes. In addition to this composition, is a set of bidimensional shapes in the windows, slanted squares and triangles, etc.

  • The Municipal Library of Haifa (competition proposal together with Arch. Hugo Rozenfeld) In this case the geometric shape is the triangle, expressed in the plan as well as the elevations. This shape was selected because of the form of the neighboring plot of land which cuts into the plot of the library at a sharp angle.

  • The Givat Shmuel Kindergarden
    A geometric composition of rounded roofs cutting into the slanted ones at different heights.

  • Aesthetic Contrasts Created by "Heavy" and "Light" Materials (Local stone and the Metal of International Architecture)

  • The Beit Eliezer Community, Hadera
    As in the Wizo Center in Givatayim, in this project there is an aluminum covered cylinder that contrasts with the stone and the gray walls crossing the building. In this building there is an aesthetic and artistic equilibrium. In addition to the contrasting materials above mentioned, there is also the contrast of geometric figures. Two walls "cut" themselves through the lower and rounder masses, and another wall, perpendicular to them, penetrates through the main entrance. Also represented is a third equilibrium, that of colors and textures.

  • The Eial Shimoni Sports Center, Kibbutz Ashdot Yaacov (competition proposal together with Arq. Yuval Regev)
    This project combines a Sports hall with swimming pools and a Memorial Hall or place of remembrance. In this case as well, I looked for a metaphysical basis for the architecture:
    Swimming, a horizontal movement, contrasted with Remembrance. pointing towards heaven or sky. The cone shaped entrance is the Memorial Hall that points upward and defines the vertical line. The roof covering the swimming pools is metallic waves strengthening the horizontal line,-of the swimming movement or of the movement of waves in the sea. In this project there is a greater use of light metallic materials than in the one before. The planes of glass and the uncovered aluminum bars cross over the openings.

  • The Contrast Between the "Translucent" and the "Monolithic"

  • 112 apartment units, Modiin
    The meaning of the expression "translucent" lies in a system of beams and columns that create an airy screen over a back layer, casting a lacework type shadow, thereby creating a sculptural tension between two layers.
    These 112 apartment units create a clear border toward the streets that circumscribe it, according to the principles of the Town Plan of Modiin, and surround a green park. According to the local town plan, the corners of the buildings must be rounded. I chose the shape of the cylinder made of a grid of columns and beams (quoting the original projects of Modiin). The cylinder is the basic translucent (lace like) element of the project, repeated again on the straight elevation: the round grid element, and on its side, the straight grid element.

  • The Civil and Community Center, Kiriat Ono
    The project contains a city hall, a community center, a library and a shopping mall, in front of a large green park. The principle of the "grid" has different nuances from building to building according to each function. In the community center, the "grid" is a colonnade defining the building's exterior open spaces. In the city hall, the "grid" acts as shade for the offices inside the building. In the case of the library, the most introverted building, the "grid" is used solely for shade, skylights or pergolas over the entrance doors.

  • The Community Center of Maboim, Merhavim
    Here the lacelike elements are the colonnades in several versions: round, straight, tall and short.

3. Sketches

  • Nude, drawn in the "Open Studio" in Tel Aviv

  • Nude

  • Alley in Fez, Morocco

  • Monastery in Abu Gosh

  • Santorini

4. Answer to the Question "Is There a Feminine Architecture"?

  • The Self Image
    The term "gender" as opposed to the term "sex" which defines biological differences established a priori refers to social differences acquired over the years, that change with place and time.
    In order to present a wide enough range of answers and references, I carried out an inquiry among my colleagues. My thanks to: Bracha Haiutin, Iris Aravot, Perla Kaufman, Batia Malul, Tali Hatuka, Orit Siman Tov, Michaela Eitan, Tagit Klimor, Shike Finchi, Yuval Regev, Hugo Rozenfeld, Shmulik Groberman, Peera Goldman, Galit Mashiajch, Yfat Wincygster, Yaacov Yaaf, Moshe Tzur, Beni Peri, Haim Dotan for their time and insight.
    I once had a conversation with an important woman architect of our country about a subject related to my work. In the conversation she was very cooperative, businesslike and matter-of-fact. When I brought up the subject of tonight's lecture, feminine architecture, I sensed a certain level of discomfort and dislike in her reaction. When I was asked to speak on the subject I also felt a certain level of anxiety... and the question is, Why?
    In the seventies, at the time I graduated, women architects preferred to refer to themselves in a neutral manner, not as women architects. The term "feminism" aroused a certain hostility.
    Lately researchers are more open to the subject, and, instead of talking about "feminism" the studies refer to "gender theories".
    In 1949, at the beginning of the era when I was born, Simone de Beauvoir wrote her book "The Second Sex" from which I excerpted the following quote which throws light on the origin of the Piety of women of our generation:
    "...In truth, to go for a walk with one's eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different. Perhaps these differences are superficial, perhaps they are destined to disappear. What is certain is that they do most obviously exist.
    ...In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of "man" to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative... He is the subject, he is the Absolute-she is the Other".
    In the inquiry I carried out, I found that the women architects I talked to are divided in two groups: the group of the "equality", me among them, a group of women architects who prefer to act as architects without emphasizing their feminine status. Then there is a second group:
    "inequality", women architects who work in a partnership with their architect spouse or any other male partner, and complement each other with the differences between them, combining their advantages with those of their male partner.

  • The differences
    A woman architect that I interviewed told me how she and her husband-partner use these differences to create harmony in their work. Each of them contributes to the area in which he or she is strongest. He is more focused; she, because of the need to fulfill so many roles, is better able to subdivide her attention. As a result, in their planning, he sees the details and she sees the whole picture. As a negative aspect of this division of areas she cites the clients' use of stereotypes in their thinking, thereby creating inequality in the assignment of credit for the job done together. They assume that she is responsible for the "interiors" and he for the building's structure. They lack confidence in her. If she comes to the building site with a male employee, the contractor addresses him and not her. When I asked her how she manages with her second role, in her home, she finds the solution in working close to home or at home.
    Another woman architect referred to the subject of "the partnership". Because of society's tendency to give authority to men, many women architects tend to create partnerships with men. This architect made an interesting comparison: the Architect as "Conductor": he or she conducts consultants in the planning stage and construction workers in the building stage. In Architecture as in music, a woman conductor is a rare phenomenon. There are also other advantages to this collaboration between the sexes; the combination of "reality" with the "artistic" and of the "sentimental" and the "realistic".
    Yet another woman architect talked about the subject of recognition. She works together with her husband and in her conversation described several situations. In presenting a project on which they had both collaborated at an exposition, her name was omitted from the panels. At a presentation before the mayor of a certain city , the mayor directed the questions to her husband regarding plans for which she was responsible. On the other hand, she is satisfied with her partnership which frees her from having to hunt for projects and allows her to direct her work from inside.
    A more senior male architect remembers working with his wife. He recounts the differences. He was the "rational" one while she had the "intuition". The work each chose to do was different.
    He took care of urban planning which required a rational point of view, while she worked on the aesthetics of the building, the elevation, the choice of building materials and colors.
    Humorously he adds, "she even chose my whole wardrobe". He also told me that in the subdivision of roles, she assumed the responsibility over the finances of the office, a situation that is common to other partnerships with which he was familiar.
    Another woman architect added that the problem never was the lack of women architects in the past but that they weren't ever "in the front". Frank Lloyd Wright employed many women architects who were responsible for some of his work. Society hid them. Was it because of social norms?
    Another woman architect referred to the difference in the work process. Women, to avoid the stigma of being thought of as too agressive, try to be more flexible and understanding. Men can allow themselves to present a finished solution, fight to have it carried out , and this way achieve their goal. Women have to maneuver to achieve the same goal.
    The following quote shows the basis of the problem. Written by Nancy Chodorow. it is called "Why Women Mother" (1978).
    "...Most.. .theories see women's mothering as central...They simply assume that it is socially, psychologically, and biologically natural and functional...
    The argument from nature;
    ...the structure of parenting is biologically self-explanatory. This assumption holds that what seems universal is instinctive and what is instinctive is inevitable and unchanging...Another explanation from nature is bioevolutionary. This explanation holds that women are primary parents now because they always have been. It assumes that the sexual division of labor...was the earliest division of labor...necessary for species survival...
    The assumption is questionable, however, given the extent to which human behavior is not instinctively determined but culturally mediated...Why men by and large do not do primacy parenting, and women do, is a centrally interesting sociological question.
    We must question all assumptions which use biological claims to explain social forms, given the recent rise of uses of explanations to legitimize inequality".

  • The differences in Israeli society
    What causes the differences between male and female professionals in our country: Compulsory Army service? the Jewish mother? The fact that we are a young country with a lot to accomplish?
    Two women architects who practiced abroad referred to this subject. The first one claims that our society is very achievement oriented/and primarily pressures men. Their main approach is "reach the goal fast". In comparison, women can afford to enjoy the work process. In other countries, men, as well as women. immerse themselves in the work process.
    The second woman architect, who lived for several years in the United States, claims that overseas men are "sober". She says that the seventies was a turning point in Israeli society. Until then a man was considered successful if he had gone to a technology oriented high school, served as an officer in the Army and had studied in the Technion (Technology Institute). Since then there has been a process of change. There is more legitimation for men interested in the Arts, in being more sentimental. or loving to cook. etc...
    Today parallel to the research done about women, there is research being done about men. The following is the beginning of a research project and presentation written by Hany Trod called "The Case for Men's Studies".
    "men's studies"...emerges as a necessary complement to "women's studies"...no feminist theory can move women from the margin to the center by ignoring men.

    1. Work and family
    Why are women parents in the paid labor force seen as working mothers, while statistics on levels of fatherhood in the workforce are unavailable?
    2. Violence
    What is the connection between masculinity and militarism?
    3. Health
    How much more would we know about health science if gender bias had not prevented us from looking for the DES son, for example, and the miscarriages and birth defects among offspring of males working with hazardous genotoxic substances as quickly as we moved to protect the supposedly frailer vessels of female bodies? How are codes of masculinity and Type A cardiovascular disease personalities related?
    4. Sexuality
    Is pornography constitutive, expressive, or distortive of male sexuality?
    5. Culture
    How have concepts of the hero been shaped by the rhythms of male life cycles, with their particular patterns of separation and return?
    The breadwinner role, arguably the traditional core of male identity, is threatened not only by the increased entry of women into the paid workforce but also by changes in the nature of work, such as increasing emphasis on mental rather than manual labor.
    Masculinity Demystified
    One of the apotheotic films of the decade, "Rebel Without a Cause", contains scenes in which the James Dean character's juvenile delinquency is clearly attributed to his father's wearing an apron".

  • The Differences in Style
    "Do women practice architecture differently? How do such differences manifest themselves? Do women have a different sense of aesthetics, sense of space and time? Do women use materials differently, organize their practice differently, prefer certain kinds of design methodology? Further, how do we explain such differences? Do they derive from biology or from society? Where do we locate these differences in architecture, in the building facade or the ground plan, in the construction detailing or the interior finishes?" (Jane Rendell, "Gender, Space, Architecture").
    Most of the architects I interviewed claimed that there is no difference. The building is the result of the office's teamwork which combines the work of women and men architects. Just one woman architect mentioned that she remembered as a student that she realized that women worked in a more complex manner than the men students.
    In an essay written by Karen A. Frank called "Acknowledging Women's Ways of Knowing", the author suggests seven qualities that characterize feminine or feminist ways of knowing and analyzing:
    1. An underlying connectedness to others, to objects of knowledge.
    2. a desire of inclusiveness, and a desire to overcome opposing dualities.
    3. a responsibility to respond to the needs of others, represented by an "ethic of care".
    4. an acknowledgment of the value of everyday life and experience.
    5. an acceptance of subjectivity as a strategy for knowing.
    6. an acceptance and desire for complexity.
    7. an acceptance of change and a desire for flexibility.

    Connectedness and Inclusiveness
    Lately many studies differentiate between the "connection" in the woman's world compared to the "separation" in the man's world. This derives from the presence of a woman's role model in the home, next to her, while men's role models are far away from him. The man's world based on separation, influences his separational way of thinking and a "black and white" view of the world: the ideal opposed to the real, the static and the changing, the cultural and the natural, man-woman. The woman's world sees connection, continuity, togetherness.
    As a result of this, in the woman architect's way of designing there is a proximity and mixture of programmatic parts; for example, in the Beit Eliezer Community Center in Hadera that my office planned, the foyer is also the cafeteria; the inside walls are transparent to see the activity on the other side.

    Ethic of Care, Everyday Life
    The woman architect, Eileen Gray realized the changes in bedroom customs; eating or reading in bed, not making them up in the morning, and she invented colored sheets. From the same approach she became aware of the ever-present need for storage space, creating ingenious designs, including drawers that pivot.
    The furniture of Lilly Reich, who collaborated with Allies Van der Rohe, showed a similar attentiveness to human comfort. Reich's chairs featured backs contoured to the body while Mie's took idealized lines.
    A male architect that I interviewed stated that male architects prefer to make an aesthetic statement with their design while women architects are more aware of the functional and practical sides of the design.

    Subjectivity and Feelings:
    The woman architect creates spaces that encourage human interaction. In 1929 Eileen Gray criticized the architects of the Modern Movement saying: "Modern designers have exaggerated the technological side. Intimacy is gone, atmosphere is gone... Formulas are nothing; life is everything. And life is mind and heart at the same time".

    Complexity and Flexibility
    Eileen Gray attributed this lack of intimacy to the simplification derived from an atmosphere of technology caused by the Industrial Revolution. Women architects since then have voiced their desire for greater complexity. The woman architect Sheila de Bretteville sees complexity and ambiguity as desirable design qualities because they undermine control and invite user participation. lane Thompson calls for an architecture that embraces both the aesthetics of the industrial age (valuing simplification) and the earlier aesthetic, which derived from religion and magic (valuing complexity).
    The desire for complexity is allied with an attention to multiple use, and more generally with awareness of change and the need for flexibility and transformation. Eileen Gray's understanding of the use of an object over time allowed her to design a table that could be used as a coffee table, side table or bed table. Flexibility of the anticipation of change also guided Lilly Reich's design of an open plan apartment where she divided the apartment across the narrow dimension to create areas for rest, study and meals. The furniture could be rearranged to change divisions or to unite the entire room. In contrast, Mies's open plan generated a hierarchical set of spaces for fixed functions.

    To conclude, I would like to quote a phrase written by Elizabeth Groz from her essay "Women, Chores, Dwelling". Please ignore the provocation and concentrate on the concept it embodies.
    "Men forgot their debt to the first space of all, the maternal space from which every human being was created... The production of an artificial or cultural environment, the production of an intelligible universe, religion, philosophy, the creation of true knowledge is implicated in the systematic and violent erasure of the contributions of women, femininity and the maternal. This erasure is the foundation or ground on which a thoroughly masculine universe is built".
    This phrase was written in general terms, however, as architects, who during our training engaged ourselves in the use of spaces....which was really the first space we ever knew?


Job architects in the projects presented:
Ifat Wincygster, Galit Mashiah, Tali Hatuka, Iris Levin, Hamutal Levi, Michal Atzmon, Michael Mutznick, and Iaacov Fisher.




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