The association of gender with space is both absurd and well documented. The gender association of figural space with women, for example, is well endowed by the literature with exegesis and analysis, and seems obvious if the initial metaphoric leap is accepted. In fact, there have only been two spatial traditions in architecture to which gender identifications could even be applied. The seeming convenience of this, though, is belied by the second tradition’s ambiguity about its sexuality. The political convictions of modernist “free space” lead it to assume for itself a neutral, non-authoritarian position, which does not seem sexually charged either way. There has been no male spatial tradition. Only the Doric Order stands out in history as an explicitly male reference, and it is neither a building nor a space, but a system of objects. Though it is such an emphatic presence, Architecture, like ships, has always been seen as female.
There have been and continue to be programmatically masculine spaces, such as barracks or gymnasia. But program, or use, is something different than space. The character or sense of these male spaces can always be explained more accurately and easily in terms of the functions they house or the uses to which they are put–as spaces for males, rather than as gendered themselves. And the associations of these spaces with the masculine do not make or even particularize these spaces at all, much less make them masculine. A barracks is not noticeably different than a dormitory, nor does a men’s gym differ from a women’s gym by more than the presence of urinals.
It is arguable whether space alone, outside of the appeal to program can be considered gendered, if we elect to assign a gender to it, then we are electing to effect an abstraction. This is to identify properties of the space that would identify its “gender;” these can only be metaphorical–the womb –like qualities of figural space, or the upright cylindrical posture of the Doric column are obvious examples. This sort of thinking can be pushed further, allowing us to imagine a whole catalogue of metaphorical properties for a masculine space. If a male space is possible, its character lies in this issue of force.
Force is impersonal, it implies a relationship between bodies; in this case suggesting less a field of such effects than the isolated collisions of a pin-ball. Or, if a field, then one described by the flippers and bumpers that “effect” the pinball. The agents of influence are objects, as are the objects of that influence. The character of this force is selfish, or indifferent. The user is not impelled for their own good, but for the object’s. It is not a mothering sort of suggestiveness, or a helpful hint, but a blunt warning, a neutral advisory.
Not the seductive or coercive, concave and female influences of figural spaces defined by apses and other feminine formalisms, but the determined commands from objects placed in the field, to face this way, avoid this, come here, go there. The masculine space would be a space that demands engagement and assumes submission; not submissive itself, it forces its subject user/viewers to be men. Two postures are unequivocally available to the user: to submit to the space’s apparent requirements, or to challenge them. In submitting to the space the user would be rehearsing a more general acceptance of authority, but it is also possible to imagine the opportunity to make obvious the space of the user in the enactment of masculine models of rebellion–to go rogue, to become a maverick or outlaw, to live against the grain.
A masculine space would seem the opposite of the feminine, in the same way that the traits of the two sexes are opposed in culture. Where a feminine space is “warm, enveloping and womb-like,” “soft” and supportive, favoring muted or pastel shades and finished material, a masculine space would be expected to be the opposite: colder, harsher, open-ended as opposed to a closed figure, and challenging, stridently colored and unfinished or roughly finished.
The masculine space would be more self-interested, less inflected to the viewer: it would tell the viewer he was on his own, that this stuff which defines the space has no necessary or empathetic relationship to the viewer. The viewer is on his own. The viewer then submits or accepts the responsibility for his own re-authorship.
In accepting this responsibility, the viewer exhibits the primary masculine trait of assertiveness. If he rejects this role, submitting to the apparent demands of the space, then he must face the fact that he’s a wimp and should hang out in nice supportive figural spaces. The masculine space is not contained, or defined so much as driven. The interaction of extreme forms of peer figures create as clear sense of the extent and direction as the actual, embracing borders of figural space, and exert a stronger sense of influence than these literal borders. But since this soup of spatial relations is stirred by objects, a more explicit connection between the space, or these objects which drive it, and the viewer ( always cast more actively as a user or visitor ) is forged. In such a (paradigm/spatial regime), the objects which populate and direct the space are equivalent to the humans who occupy and use it. They are neither transparent to their makers, nor mirrors for their users, they are peers with both.
The objects direct the space in the usual traditional way, as Portoghesi analyzed for example for the Baroque. But they operate as objects within the universal spatial continuum, or any local subset of that, and rarely if ever would they combine to create a continuous boundary condition–a s’mothering condition common in “feminine” shaped spaces. So, for example, a billboard sort of device would assert a field effect on the space adjacent to its face, orienting the space to that face, imposing a sense of orthogonality to the space related to the geometry of the face. And creating a sense of expectation , which subtly shades “orient” into “address.” The peer figures which might create a masculine space are merely more relentless or pugnacious versions of the same peer figures we might expect to populate simple directed space.
OK, but lets say that gender does not have anything to do with it–neither suggesting this sort of spatial effect, nor following from it. Does that then invalidate this effect? Does it alter our claims for its challenge-into-empowerment? No, because these peer figures do not attain their peer-ness through dependence on anything particularly related to the masculine. Rather, the relation is to a sense of willfulness, integrity, and engagability/legibility that is more generally human than male or female.
Masculine space would be space that is openly assertive, directive, rather than slyly coercive. Space that challenges rather than supports. Is this challenge, then, a route to openness, to empowerment? Only if the viewer is not a wimp. To Undecidability? Only if the viewer is himself prone to indecisiveness. Does it make visible the dynamics of spatial influence that have traditionally operated behind the magician’s cape? Yes. Is to draw the cape aside, so that the viewer can become a conscious party to the affect, to give away trade secrets? Such as they are.