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Menna Agha Supervisors Prof. Dr. Uta Brandes | Prof. Paolo Tumminelli

Kรถln International School of Design 18 October 2011 Master Integrated Design Master thesis Menna Agha (Menatalla Aly El Sayed Ahmed) Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Uta Brandes | Prof. Paolo Tumminelli

Fron Page Image Nubian man Courtesy of WeCanCam, Egypt

Contents 0.1 Abstract.


0.2 Introduction

09 Chapter One

1.1 Gender and things


1.1.1 Society as something.


1.1.2 Hierarchy and materialism


1.1.3 Gender remarks in architecture.


1.1.4 Ibn Araby's theories: gender as a human symptom.


1.1.5 The effective ,the affective and the anti-opposites.


1.1.6 Architect-ed gender interpretation.


1.2 People, language and stereotypes


1.2.1 People oriented study: name a he and a she building.


1.2.2 Gendered language and architecture


1.2.3 Gender stereotypes


1.3 Investigating icons.....


1.3.1 Iconic architecture, what and why?


1.3.2 Architecture, visual and spacial perceptions.


1.3.3 Meta-physicality of architecture.


1.3.4 Building manifestation and view.


1.4 Inside VS outside ( A Built Statement )



Chapter Two 2.1 Gender in the history of built environment ‌..


2.1.1 Nubian, history and location


2.1.2 Culture of femininity and the fertile land


2.1.3 Nubian architecture


2.1.4 Nubian architecture tribute (A Built Statement )


2.2 Domestic architecture in Saudi Arabia (interview)



2.2.1 A Built Statment Chapter Three

3.1 Architect based study.....


3.1.1 Architect as a thing gendered by society


3.1.2 Zaha Hadid’s early and later work.


3.1.3 Le Corbusier early and later work.


3.1.4 Freud's theory and opera Sydney


3.2 HE&SHE Building.....


Gender sensitive design (workshop)


3.3 Bridges and bridging ( A Built Statement )


0.3 Refrences





Abstract This study investigates, questions, and observes

we should think of it as a messenger for future ge-

social categorization of gendered qualities, resulting

nerations, or even for ourselves in the future, and

values embodied in the form of architecture as one

we should pay attention to the values that we are

of the physical products of a society. It also examines

elaborating and representing.

the global lack of social sustainable thinking, especially in terms of gender.

The current built environment has an obvious and dominating masculine character. This reflects the

The research is concerned with the relationship bet-

gender balance of society in general, which is ela-

ween architecture and gender, with particular focus

borated in architecture and thereby transmitted to all

on the “she� aspect of architecture and architectural

future generations who encounter this space.

practice. Architecture design is a process of generating symbols that can create metaphors and allegories that are perceived, analyzed, and inner-stood These metaphors can add feelings and values to the user’s life. Because architecture is connected to society, it shares in the gendered aspects of society. The process of expressing values occurs in a cycle. Values are expressed in spaces and buildings, and these spaces and buildings then transmit these values back to society, raising the issue of social sustainability. When we design a building, for example,


Introduction We live in a highly gendered world. On a daily basis,

Taking nations as an example, Arabic speakers often

we deal with familiar things that, obviously or in a

refer to Egypt as “the mother of the world,” referring

hidden way, are categorized by gender. This includes

to its ancient civilization. Why “mother”? What does

not only products and tools but also collective state

“mother” refer to in this context? In the poetry of po-

of mind such as ideologies, nations, natural architec-

pular culture, the geography of Egypt is viewed as

ture such as mountains and rivers, and animals. Re-

female, with the Nile flowing between her breasts.

gardless of their biological sex, we name, gender,

This is an obvious projection to a female physical

and label all of our environment.

body, yet the idea of a female Egypt is found centuries before the region’s morphology was studied and mapped. The tools of craftsmen are another interesting example of gender referencing. For example, a screw set is called “male and female” in Arabic slang, which is understandable because of the similarity to human organs. Even more interesting is the German term for the hollow part, which is translated as “screw mother”. In this case, it is not just about physical similarities, because the idea of motherhood is attached to this piece of metal. This is not a sexual resemblance, but a gender one.


Introduction Thinking of gender in architectural terms, and thinking of architecture in gender terms, is the main approach of this project. It is well known that our gender differences as human beings shape our everyday lives, To a great extent, they define our social formation and rules, therefore our quality of life. This study investigates gender differences and definitions with respect to the existing built environment. “Gender” as a term was first used in 1955 by the psychologist John Money (1921–2006) referring to the social characteristics, rules, and values assigned to the sexes as “masculine” and “feminine”. It became a very important concept in the social sciences and cultural studies. The word itself spread rapidly, and came to be perceived somehow as a more comprehensive terminology, employed for men and women‘s issues.


Chapter One

Gender and things

I believe strongly that architecture as a process can

ses the issue of gendered societies and “Collective

influence our ability to change the gender balance

gender”; referring to a group of people agreeing to

in society through conscious decisions made in the

an unwritten understanding to validate one gender

realm of aesthetics as well as policy.

above the other. An examination of some representative aspect of the society can demonstrate the specific values that the favored gender has acquired as a result of social and environmental reactions, which have taken place over decades or even centuries and have built up a collective unconscious gender. The French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu illustrates the global nature of gender understanding: “Male domination is so rooted in our collective unconscious that we no longer even see it. It is so in tune with our expectations that it becomes hard to challenge it. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we work to dissolve the apparently obvious and explore the symbolic structures of the androcentric unconscious that still exists in men and women alike What are the mechanisms and institutions which make possible the continued reproduction of this age-old domination by men? And is it possible to neutralize them in order to liberate the forces for change which they are instrumental in blocking? ” Pierre Bourdieu, ‚On Male Domination‘, Le Monde Diplomatique English edition (October 1998).


Do we have a masculine society ?

The question “Do we have a masculine society?” rai-

1.1.1 Society as something

1.1.2 Hierarchy and materialism

The question naturally arises: Why do we have a

The hierarchy itself is thought to be a product of mas-

masculine society? Why is one sex favored over

culinity, because of its competitive and often egoistic

the other? In a ranking system of gendered quali-

motives. In architecture it is showcased in the design

ties, which affects the quality of life for both sexes,

of space and in the generation of forms.

hierarchy is the medium for this process of sorting, a process that has taken place in all known human cul-

An example of the hierarchy of space is the ancient

tures throughout history, taking various social forms.

Egyptian temple. The temple consisted of five transitional spaces, starting at the outside, where the

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002)

public was permitted to enter. In each space, access

describes the outcome of hierarchy in modern societ-

was further restricted according to rank, until the pro-

ies in his book Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique

cession reached the sanctuary, where no one other

(Outline of a Theory of Practice):

than the pharaoh or the supreme priest was permitted (depending on the type of temple). In the modern urban setting, we witness the race to build the highest tower, thus gaining a higher ranking

“ In a social formation in which the absence of the symbolic-product-conserving techniques associated with literacy retards the objectification of symbolic and particularly cultural capital, inhabited Space—and above all the house—is the principal focus for the objectification of the generative schemes; and, through the intermediary of the division and hierarchies it sets up between things, persons, and practices, this tangible classifying system continuously includes and reinforces the taxonomic principles underlying all the arbitrary provisions of this culture.” (p. 4)


and earning the respect of others. This is a form of

Floor Plan

hierarchy, setting things, people, nations, or institutions above or below each other. The most common hierarchy system is the ranking of human needs known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or Maslow’s pyramid, named after its developer, the American psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow (1908–1970). This pyramid is the ranking of the things a human being needs in life, arranged according to the importance of each need. It is not a matter of chance that the most common visual representation of hierarchy is a pyramid, with a broad base and a decreasing width as one ascends to the

A, pylon B, obelisks C, entrance D, temple courts E, porticus F, pronaos (court


with colonnades);

Maslow states that the most important human needs

G, naos

are the physiological ones, such as food, water, sleep, and the like. Next come safety needs, fol-

H, sanctarium.

lowed by belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Temple of Edfu,


1.1.2 Hierarchy and materialism

1.1.2 Hierarchy and materialism

The fact that pyramid moves from physical to psy-

which allowed him to provide for these most basic

chological needs reflects the greater importance

needs. However, this pyramid does not take into ac-

of the physical aspects of life. Historically, the sa-

count more contemporary, or more culturally specific

tisfaction of these needs has favored masculinity,

points of view.

because of the male’s greater physical strength, In modern terms, other factors, such as the natural environment and cultural heritage, come into play. Maslow’s pyramid does not necessarily apply these terms. In Egyptian slums, for example, the houses (one of the most basic needs) are in bad shape, sometimes unstable and life-endangering, yet their occupants are more concerned about owning a mobile phone and satellite Internet access. Maslow’s pyramid was proposed in 1943 in a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation”. It displays a mechanical understanding of humanity and a mechanical application of his theory. This machine-like system lacks the flexibility to cope with the changes that happen to human beings. I believe that this mechanical system has been influenced by the developments of the modern era.


Although it is obvious, it is also complex. Conside-

In some parts of the world, women do not use pro-

ring the case of the dome. It represents a strong

ducts that seem to imply men such as smoking or

structure (often considered a masculine quality),

wearing lipstick, because the shapes of these pro-

but it is also a curving and embracing form, which is

ducts resemble the male organ.

considered feminine. Thus gender in architecture, as

A plausible terminology concerning the differentiati-

it is demonstrated in a particular element, is hardly

on of genders, is referring to differences in attitude,

absolute. a certain gender seems stronger depen-

interests, abilities, motives, and modes of behavior.

ding on the concept behind the design -the decision

She called them “masculine” and “feminine”, not

made by the architect to use this specific architectu-

“male” and “female”. This will be the terminology

ral vocabulary e.g. to show strength or to embrace

used in this paper to describe social and non-physi-

the user. The socially constructed idea of femininity

cal aspects of gender.

and masculinity - the link between gender and sex, established long ago and now almost untraceablesets the social rules of how to be and behave. Moreover, it reflects the collective ideas of appreciation and importance, of whom is more visible and significant. Another important issue is the gender Detecting abilities in most cultures. Gender categorization has to do with the invisible rules that determine gender-appropriate behavior, such as; boys do not wear pink.

Dome of the Reichstag building © alles-schlumpf


1.1.3 Gender remarks in architecture

1.1.4 Ibn Araby‘s theories

He held that masculinity and femininity are mere

structed two separate worlds, femininity and mas-

symptoms of humanity. He imagined them in a sym-

culinity, using an image of a bi-world, where each

bolic dimension, existing in the universe of beings,

world manifests itself as separate, ruled by its own

including the metaphysical world, with no differentia-

ideas. This duality persists into the twenty-first cen-

tion or hierarchy. He believed that all relationships

tury, even though we think of ourselves as more ad-

between beings, and all the worlds that exist, are

vanced. It naturally implies separation.

bound together by love.

Mohi al-Din Ibn ‘Arabi (1165–1240) was a philoso-

The fact that femininity and masculinity in Ibn Arabi’s

pher and a Sufi who sought to understand existence.

theories are never separated or dealt with as two dif-

He is distinguished by the fact that his path to knowl-

ferent aspects, Proofs his approach in dealing with

edge was different from that of his contemporaries.

gender as coexisting symptoms in beings including

At that time, the standard road to knowledge was

humans, despite their sex, He Denied the Idea of

the logic inspired by Greek philosophers, especially

duality and due even though he deals with femininity

Aristotle’s theories. Ibn ‘Arabi; however, pursued a

and masculinity as two terms, but Ibn araby thought

cognition scheme based on sensory input and intu-

of the gender or the symptoms as he refers to them

ition. His philosophy denied the idea of duality in life.

as one, in his poetry he said “ we are the feminine

He used thoughts and senses to investigate truth,

to what generates in us, let Us thank god there is no

rather than logical analysis of facts. His ideas con-

“only man” in this Universe” he referred to him self

cerning gender were very advanced for his time. He

and to his reader as a feminine, with a self generated

acknowledged the creation of men and women, but

gender that appears to be with no relation to man(or

stated that there was no difference between them.

woman) and with the closest, inseparable relation to masculinity


Gender as a human symptom

Mohi al-Din Ibn ‘Arabi (1165–1240)

In the past, people (especially philosophers) con-

The issue of gender is often associated with the idea

trist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) took them up, he

of contradiction and opposites. Masculine and femi-

was the first to use them within the framework of the

nine are linked with adjective pairs such as big/small,

theory of psychosexuality, and more specifically, with

strong/weak, intellectual/sensual, egoistic/collective,

respect to sexual drives, creating paired opposites

and many other opposing values. These antonyms,

associated with masculine and feminine.

and especially their association with gender, have gone in and out of fashion in the writings of philoso-

The Freudian definitions of male and female depend

phers and psychologists since Plato. Their appear-

on the idea of the existence of the male organ in

ance in language reflects their position in culture.

men, the absence of this organ in women, and the

The notion of opposition implies that each member

resulting jealousy of women. I strongly disagree with

of a pair is incompatible with its opposite, creating a

this theory and consider it an objectified approach to

bipolar scale of judgment. Because of the dynam-

gender. Freud’s ideas of the passive female and the

ics of hierarchy that comes into play in the process

active male have polarized into what we now see as

of perception, this bipolar scale becomes a most fa-

stereotypical gender opposites.

voured/least favoured scale, or in other terms, positive and negative. In the collective subconscious,

The Sufi philosopher Muhie al-Din ibn Arabi took a

they correspond to male and female.

different approach to masculinity and femininity seven hundred years before Freud. The base of his idea

The most frequent antonyms associated with femi-

about existence is that the source of all beings is

ninity and masculinity are “passive” and “active.”

love. He derives this from the hadith qudsi (that is, a

These words are though to summarize the relation-

holy saying, a saying from God directed to mankind

ship and the distinction between the sexes. Although

through the prophet Muhammad) “I was a hidden

these terms were used before the Austrian psychia-

treasure, I loved to be known, so I created the crea-


1.1.5 The effective, the affective and the opposites

1.1.5 The effective, the affective and the opposites

tions to be known.” Ibn Arabi thus believes that the

essence. The concepts associated with femininity

world is created by reason of love, which he sees as

-starting with its most basic form, maternity -are re-

the dynamic connection between beings.

lated to the concept of “affection”, while the masculine values are related to what is “effective,” such as

He refers to the ninety-nine names of God (ninety-

mechanical or strong.

nine adjectives describing God) with respect to their gender in the Arabic language. He states that all

Thus each concept has a role in life. Both are “do-

masculine and feminine meanings exist in every be-

ers”, and each needs the other as part of our human

ing, and he clearly associates the passive and the

nature. Still, the issue continues to arise when social

active with both of them, denying a definition that as-

hierarchies transform the collective consciousness

sociates one gender with “passive” and one with “ac-

of societies to favour the “effective” and therefore

tive”. Thus, femininity and masculinity do not relate

to favour “masculine” values. This of course leads

to physical femaleness and maleness. He holds that

to the favouring of men, due to the association be-

any being, including man and woman, is a complex

tween masculinity and men, an association that I

composition of both concepts, and the orientation of

think is too primitive and too profound to break.

a given being is determined by the outcome of this

The fact that the terms “effective” and “affective”

process of combination. He rejects the idea of the

used in Ibn Arabi’s philosophy differ from each other

bipolar world; he believes the created world is based

by only one letter is an irony worth mentioning. The

on unity. The “active” and the “passive”. in terms of

slightness of this difference blurs the phonetic dis-

the “doer” and the “receiver”, take a different form

tinction between the words and underlines our “anti-

in ibn Arabi’s philosophy. He denies any opposition

opposites” approach to the issues of masculinity and

between them. He states that what is masculine is


“effective”. which is not the opposite of the “affective”


There are many theories and definitions of gender,

not only gender architecture, but also we architect

beginning with the very first labels, “male” and “fe-


male”. Later there developed the idea of “male”, “female”, and “something in between”. The still more

This process brings up yet another question, the

radical idea of “re-gender” blurs the boundaries even

question of the limits of the virtual space in the hu-

more. It was proposed by Professor Uta Brandes at

man mind that we recognize yet do not consciously

the (Re-form)-(Re-vision) workshop at the twentieth-

acknowledge. These limits become apparent when

anniversary conference of the Cologne International

we try to create a simple definition of a complex

School of Design. Thus, we have gone from “two”

concept: what is gender? Any answer might be the

to “two and in between” to “two and in between and

wrong answer, or the right one, or both.


Pablo Picasso, the Spanish artist, once called computers useless because they only provide answers.

All of these definitions imply an architected space in

Trying to generate a definition of a social concept re-

our minds, with things between things, things out-

sembles a mechanical, computer-like, logic-based

side things, and boundaries and borders. This leads

process: we try to define gender, then create clas-

to a further question on the relationship between

sifications, then assign each word to what seems to

architecture and gender: Are we only architecting

be its proper class. This is similar to the process of

the space we live in, or are we also architecting the

architecture itself, because it is the act of building

space that lives in us? We build all of these spaces

ideas, underlining the architected gender according

in our minds in order to define gender as a formative

to the virtual space that has been created, or that

agent in our social tissue. As we move in, out, abo-

already exists, in the human mind.

ve, between, and even beyond these spaces, we


1.1.6 Architect-ed gender interpretation

1.2.1 People oriented study

South America: Brazil, Chile, Colombia

A survey was conducted to ask people how they think gender is represented in architecture, and what they think are the gendered qualities that are present in the built environment. The main question was: What do you consider as “he” buildings and “she” buildings? The question was designed to be unexpected to the respondent. It was very successful in drawing


reactions. Although no one was expecting it, everyone had an answer in the back of their mind.

34 respondents found it easier to name a

“he” building.

The survey group consisted of 43 people under the

Most people’s answers started with a “he” building,

age of 30. They were all designers, architects, engi-

which demonstrates the dominance of masculinity

neers, and students in these disciplines. 22 females

for both males and females.

and 21 males They came from 21 different countries:

Europe: France, Germany, Finland, Romania, Eng-

34 respondents mentioned an existing buil-

ding or structure.

land, Italy

Most of the answers referred to a certain building or

Africa: Egypt, Sudan

street. This indicates the existence of gendered ar-

North America: United States

chitecture in people’s minds. It also shows that, even

Western Asia: Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia,

if architectural design is gendered unconsciously,

Oman, Iran

this gendering can be consciously perceived, not

Eastern Asia: Thailand, South Korea, China, Hong

only by the building’s users, but also by people who

Kong, Japan

are visually exposed to it.


32 respondents mentioned abstract qualities

and feelings.

The words used in connection with feminine buildings included

6 respondents mentioned the architect’s

name. Knowing the architect’s name did not affect the gender choice most of the time. For example, respondents easily labeled the Sydney Opera House as a “she,” even when they knew its architect was a man.

18 respondents mentioned names of cities

and urban spaces. The idea of gender does not apply only to buildings, according to the survey group. Urban spaces and cities are also gendered.

6 respondents mentioned buildings in their

own country. Architecture has become a global language. The survey found someone from Germany referring to a building in Dubai, and a Sudanese student mentioning the Sydney Opera House.


1.2.1 People oriented study

1.2.1 People oriented study

Factors Potentially Affecting the Responses

The words used in connection with masculine buildings included

Respondent’s Sex The study showed an unexpected similarity in approach between male and female respondents. The main difference observed was the tendency of females to describe feelings and qualities instead of a specific building. Visual Perception Visual perception means the interpretation of visual aspects or forms in terms of gendered qualities, such as curves or high-rise buildings. This was the dominant factor in identifying buildings as “he” or “she.” Native Language Two of the respondents raised the question of whether they should consider grammatical gender in their judgments. Thirty-two other students whose first language is a gendered language did not raise the issue.


1.2.1 People oriented study


Details of the Respondents Ann Lee (female)

Samara (female)

Ken-Taro (male)

Juliana (female)

American of Chinese origin




design student

design student (master’s level)

design student

design student (master’s level)

“she” is the Brada Building in Tokyo,

“he” is metal, thick walls, partitions, “he” is Eiffel Tower, Gothic

“he” is the Arc de Triomphe, Colosse-

bubbly and curvy, artistic space

industrial, steel structure, square, bul- “she” is Art Nouveau, Art Deco


“he” is the rest of the world

ky, dark, big size, small windows

“she” is greenhouses, Park Güell in

“she” is transparency, light colors,

Barcelona, coritiba botanic (brazil)

different materials, natural, big windows, lighting

Ahmed (male)

Belal (male)

Stefanie (female)

Sa’eed (male)


Palestinian living in Saudi Arabia




architect/interior designer

architecture student

site architect

“he” is gym, factory

“he” is al-Khalifa Tower, glory, prestige (no “he” response)

“he” is Dubai Tower

“she” is spa, office building

“she” is delicate, soft lines, relatively “she” is the Golden Gate Bridge in

“she” is leaning, short


San Francisco, peaceful and seductive

Details of the Respondents Valencia (female)

Gab (male)

Student (Male)

Jaclyn (female)

American of Latina origin



American of Vietnamese origin

design student

design student

design student

design student (master’s level)

“he” is sleek, tall, linear, no façade

“he” is the KISD Building , complex,

“he” is a skyscraper

“he” is the Los Angeles train station,

“she” is Paris, beautiful, curved

long hallways, the door, Thai temple,

“she” is the Sydney Opera House

remote, dirty, geometric, not harmo-

a tower with pointed extension

nious, narrow, buildings in Vienna,

“she” is the Cologne cathedral, a

smokestacks, cold, uniform

house by the river with coffeehouses

“she” is the idea of Vienna, radiating

downstairs, details and ornaments,

colors, Milan cathedral, Paris, harmony

Simon (male)

Student (Male)

Na-Young (female)

Kai (male) German




design student

design student

design student

design student (master’s level)

“he” is the Eiffel Tower

“he” is technology and engineering

“he” is the KISD Building, show of po-

“he” is KISD

“she” is the Allianz Arena

“she” is Swiss Tower, detailed, orga-

wer, named after some person

“she” is a department store

nic, Frank Gehry’s work

“she” is a two-story house in the suburbs, schools

Details of the Respondents Ann Lee (female)

Maria (female)

Paolo (male)

Student (Female)

American of Chinese origin




design student

design student

design student

design student

“she” is the Brada Building in Tokyo,

“he” is a skyscraper

“he” is bridge structure, arches

“he” is cubic

bubbly and curvy, artistic space

“she” is a house

“she” is a church

“she” is the Waterfalls House, Sydney

“he” is the rest of the world

Opera House

Kwan (female)

Astrid (female)

Jeannette (female)

Andrew (male)


German design student


design student (master’s level)

“he” is a tower

design student (master’s level)


“he” is the Empire State Building,

“she” is a school or university

“he” is monumental, Karl Marx Street

strong, tall

houses and castles are neuter

in Russia, small

“she” is the Guggenheim Museum in

“she” is the Guggenheim Museum in

New York

New York

design student “he” is Cologne Cathedral, dominating structures “she” does not exist

Details of the Respondents Jana (female)

Karin (female)

Rene (male)

Sasha (male)





design student

design student

design student

design student

“he” is technical, function

“he” is a Dom (cathedral)

“he” is the Eiffel Tower

“he” is the Empire State Building

“she” is atmosphere

“she” is a little gift shop

“she” is the Arab Tower

“she” is fluent, the new museum in Tel Aviv

Ada (female)

Aya (female)

Sameh (male)

Shaima’ (female)



Palestinian living in Jordan


design student

architecture student

architecture student

architecture student

“he” is Cologne Tower

“he” is rectangular, strong, functional,

“he” is the Guggenheim Museum in

“he” is Dubai Tower

“she” is Dubai Tower

no attention to details

Bilbao, strong, Liverpool Cathedral,

“she” is a basket-shaped building

“she” is soft works by Zaha Hadid

huge “she” is the Guggenheim Museum in New York, embracing, no stairs, motherhood, the Palladio in Rome

Details of the Respondents Heba (female)

Yousef (male)

Jason (male)




high-school student

architecture student

design student (master’s level)

“he” is Sixth October University

“he” is a mosque

“he” is work space, KISD, German

“she” is our house

“she” is home, university, Coquette

buildings, structures, separate func-


tions “she” is windows, people-oriented, social intimacy, small details, cozy, function and beauty combined

Yasmine (female)

Muhammad (male)

Yousef (male)


Palestinian living in Saudi Arabia


interior designer

civil engineer

architecture student

“he” is the Colosseum

“he” is the Eiffel Tower, Dubai Tower

“he” is a mosque

“she” is spa, office building

“she” is the Twin Towers of Malaysia,

“she” is home, university, Coquette

Atlanta Hotel in Dubai, no complica-



Details of the Respondents Magdalena (female)

Mauro (male)



design student (master’s level)

design student (master’s level)

“he” is Titanium Building in Chile, Ca-

“he” is skyscrapers, the Empire State Building, functional, Com-

latrava Bridge in Argentina

munist buildings, Oscar Niemeyer, challenging, not to be com-

“she” is the Sydney Opera House,

fortable, exterior, corridor, wide spaces


“she” is more about the inside, Mom’s house, full of stuff, comfortable, where we talk and gather

Ann (female) German design student “he” is Dubai Tower “she” is the Sydney Opera House









Petronas Towers, Malaysia Colosseum in Rome, Italy

World Trade Center

Empire State Building

koln international school of design

Arc de triomphe

Tour Eiffel, Paris

Cologne Dom











Guggenheim museum by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Cologne Dom

Atlantis, the Palm resort in Dubai

Burj Al Arab

swiss tower by Norman Foster

Prada building in Tokyo

Sydney Opera House by Jorn Utzon

1.2.2 Language One of the factors that was found to affect the gen-

According to the cognitive psychologist Jean Pia-

der categorization of architecture was whether the

get, a person can only understand language if he or

respondent speaks a language that has grammatical

she understands the concept behind it (for examp-

gender, such as German (a West Germanic langua-

le, one can talk in the past tense when one knows

ge), Arabic (a Central Semitic language), or Spanish

something about time).Discussing the same idea in

(a Romance language). The use of gender-specific

a different language causes the speaker to use dif-

articles or endings acts as a strong influence in the

ferent sounds and different vocal dynamics. It also

process of collectively assigning gender to one’s

changes the image generated in the mind, and thus

surroundings, as well as sustaining these assigned

a significant difference in the meanings and feelings

gender values.

associated with the concept. There was a noticeable change in the output between the first interviews,

An experiment was carried out to determine the role

when English was used, and the second interviews,

of language in the perception of architecture. Spea-

when the respondent’s native language was used.

kers of Arabic and Portuguese were asked about the

This change was pointed out by the interviewees

gender of the following words: home, building, kit-

themselves. For example, a different image might

chen, passage, factory, architecture.They were then

come to mind when discussing home (‘beit’) in Ara-

asked whether the grammatical gender of the word

bic with an Egyptian native speaker of Arabic than

had any effect on their answer. Finally, they were

would come to mind when discussing ‘home’ in Eng-

asked to provide a short description of each noun, to

lish with the same person.

express the meaning that lay behind the impression of its gender.


1.2.2 Language Dialogue Interviewer:

Do you think the word [kitchen, passage, factory,

home, architecture, buil-

ding] is masculine or feminine? Interviewee: ____________ Interviewer:

Even considering its grammatical gender in your language?

Interviewee: ____________ Interviewer: Why? Interviewee: ____________ Notes | Judgments cultural background where the culturally-defined During these interviews, the following factors see-

gender identity of the word is not negotiable in their

med to affect the process of deciding whether a word

minds. This gender does not depend on the word’s

expressed masculinity or femininity. This effect ex-

grammatical gender. This factor was also noticed in

ceeded the effect of actual grammatical gender in

people whose first language was different from the

the case of Portuguese and Arabic speakers:

interview language.

Cultural heritage: This factor was especially strong

Parents, and the spaces associated with parents:

for interviewees who came from a clearly defined

For example, interviewees whose mothers worked in


1.2.2 Language factories when the interviewee was growing up said

was a common choice. This was particularly true for

that ‘factory’ is feminine, even if the word is gramma-

‘passage’, which is not usually a gender-associated

tically masculine in their language, and people who-

space in most cultures. In fact, this was the most

se fathers did most of the cooking regarded ‘kitchen’

confusing word for the interviewees, due to its com-

as masculine.

plex of meanings.

Personal involvement in gender issues was a huge factor in decisions. People for whom the issue was

Television, movies, radio, and other media also

prominent in their minds refused to surrender to eit-

played a huge role in forming some of the answers.

her the grammatical article or the social stereotypes.

One interviewee showed confusion in assigning a

They often chose feelings instead of a definite gen-

gender to ‘kitchen’, because in his own experience

der, and preferred to give “neutral” for most of their

the kitchen was associated with his father, whereas

answers, after discussing the complexity encoun-

the images projected through the mass media often

tered for every space.

relate kitchens to mothers. This made him question

Social norms played a role in choices, either by fol-

the validity of his own personal experience.

lowing the norms or defying them, especially with words strongly associated with one gender or the

The space and its context were often the subject of

other in the interviewee’s society. These respon-

questions directed to the interviewer. For example,

dents usually lacked a personal relationship to that

when asked about the gender of the word ‘architec-

particular space.

ture’, the interviewees asked what kind of architecture—buildings, or software, or some other kind?

In cases where there was no personal attachment to

Of ‘kitchen’, was it a hospital kitchen or a kitchen at

a space, or a lack of definition to the space, “neutral”

home? The context of the space appeared to be a factor in their judgments.


1.2.2 Language Details

1.2.3 Gender stereotypes

A stereotype is a form of implicit social cognition. It

is a three-dimensional object bounded by six square

has been embedded in human cultures for as long

faces. This perfect form does not exist in real life; it

as we know. A stereotype relies on fixed notions

is created by our brains in order to reduce the num-

and preconceptions concerning something. This

ber of variables involved and thus make the object

“something” can be a value, a person, or even an

easier to understand. There is no such thing as a

image. Stereotypes most often use the sense of visi-

perfect cube, sphere, or pyramid in the natural world;

on as a source of judgments.

they are all man-made.

In order to study stereotypes in architecture, I first

This process is not limited to material objects. Be-

needed to discover why people are so inclined to

cause of our need to create fixed notions with limited

take this easy road in judging an object or a person.

variables, we humans approximate new values to the

I observed two main reasons.

most similar “box” already in our minds. Our stereotypes serve the function of communicating the world

The first reason has to do with the limitations of

to ourselves. This is the second reason for the uni-

mental, and possibly spiritual, capacities of human

versality of stereotypes. They make communication

beings to process all the variables present in a new

easier, especially with those with whom we share a

person, object, or idea. To make the task easier, we

culture. For example, if someone tells you, “John is

simply create patterns linked to the preconceptions

a nerd”, a certain image will immediately form in your

already installed in our minds. We place things into

mind, which you will then associate with John. Or

imaginary boxes because it is easier to understand

the opposite may occur: John will demonstrate one

a limited entity than a universal one.

of the qualities associated with the word “nerd,” and

A good example of this process is a box itself. A cube

you will then attach the label to him.


Our surroundings and our built environments are so-

and complicated values. They may display gender-

metimes perceived in terms of stereotypes, for these

related stereotypes, such as color (e.g., pink), cur-

spaces are tangible representations of composite

ves, technical and mechanical features, and so on.


1.2.3 Gender stereotypes

1.2.3 Gender stereotypes Colors

A study was conducted in Sweden in the mid-1960s

labels seem to oppose the passivity implied in the

to determine the semantic associations that colors

common social perception of masculinity as active

might have. The subjects were presented with sam-

and femininity as passive; they support the idea that

ples of colored paper, which were to be judged on

these perceptions are merely social constructions.

various scales, such as like–dislike, cold–warm, and masculine–feminine.

A similar study was made on pictures of buildings. The subjects were asked to reduce their evaluation

These bipolar scales showed that the hue of the co-

of each building to a single value of “ugly” or “beauti-

lors had little effect. Other variables of color, such

ful”. These judgments were more complex, because

as whiteness, lightness, and blackness, were more

of the complexity of the buildings themselves and

significant. The connotative variables passive\acti-

the composite meanings that they thus conveyed.

ve, and whether the color was reddish or greenish,

White F

did not have a large effect. The one exception was cold–warm, which showed a direct relationship with blue for cold and red-yellow for warm. The association with femininity tended toward warm colors, while masculinity tended toward cold colors.

Black M

More extensive analysis showed that warm colors,

Associations between colors and the semantic variable (ma-

already associated with femininity, were further as-

sculine-feminine) Isosemantic mapping in the color triangle

sociated with values such as excitement or activity,

(Black, White, Red)

and energy or forcefulness. These expressive, active


Pink is the color assigned to femininity, especially

so strongly associated with women in many cultures,

in Western cultures, but the reasons for this are not

a link between pink and femininity was created.

clear.because pink was not “a universal stereotype for femininity”. Until about a hundred years ago in

This well-established association is especially visib-

the United States, pink was considered a “strong”

le during pregnancies, when parents who know the

color more suitable for boys than for girls. Research

sex of their baby start buying things in pink (for a girl)

reveals many culturally specific color associations.

or blue (for a boy). The South Korean photographer Jeong Mee Yoon, inspired by his daughter’s obsessi-

What researchers have discovered instead is the

on with pink, created a photography project showing

impact that a particular color makes on people. For

photos of other children with similar behavior.

example, the “provocative” and “entreating” qualities of red encourage designers to use it on banners and in the interiors of fast-food restaurants. Because red stimulate human urges. Pink on the other hand is known to have a sentimental emotional effect on the spectator. Interior designers and decorators advise it as a paint color in spaces designed for children-both sexes- of divorced parents, as a substitute for the emotional presence of the missing parent. Since pink has such a strong association to emotions, and emotions are


1.2.3 Gender stereotypes Pink

1.2.3 Gender stereotypes

SeoWoo and Her Pink Things

Kevin-Donghu and His Blue Things

The South Korean photographer Jeong Mee Yoon, inspired by his daughter’s obsession with pink, created a photography project showing photos of other children with similar behavior. „The Pink and Blue Projects are the topic of my thesis. This project explores the trends in cultural preferences and the differences in the tastes of children (and their parents) from diverse cultures, ethnic groups as well as gender socialization and identity. „ Yoon‘s introduction on his official website


Geometry defines a straight line as the shortest dis-

in designs from female students, but are not encour-

tance between two points, and a curve as a line that

aged in the work of male students. Such stereotypes

changes its direction at every point. The visual issue

can lead to different ways of thinking and planning.

here; however, is the association between femininity

Marget M. Kennedy May 1980, studied the differenc-

and curved lines, and similarly between masculinity

es between the architectural products of men and

and straight lines.

women. She noticed more curves in the females’ output, and concluded that this tendency is a female

The association of curves, as a visual referent,

characteristic. i disagree with her assumption and i

with femininity is obviously due to the fact that the

believe this tendency arose from the social percep-

female body contains more curves than the male.

tions that had become embedded in their minds.

This association has given rise to the stereotype, unconsciously or in the collective consciousness. Although I am not in a position to critique the scientific research that seems to demonstrate differences between the functioning of male and female brains, it seems to me that the ideas of both the “scattered” female brain and the “efficient” male brain are discriminatory. In schools of architecture, curves are often expected

“straight line is the line of duty and curve line is the line of beauty” Egyptian Architect Hassan Fathy


1.2.3 Gender stereotypes Lines

What is the Problem with Stereotypes ?

1.2.3 Gender stereotypes

Stereotypes create confusion between gender and

in such a situation is that normal social exchange

sex, by defining what is feminine and then limiting it

cannot take place, and freer meanings of masculin-

to women, and similarly for masculinity. Stereotypes

ity and femininity cannot develop to be exported into

create boxes, in which every individual is expected

the future.

to fit in order to prove his or her identity as a man or as a woman. In some societies this division becomes

Because of the long life of buildings, architecture is

a social threat. Men avoid colorful clothing and other

in fact a means of exporting values into the future.

items because they are considered feminine. Due to

Normally a building is expected to remain sound for

the social hierarchy that places men above women,

a hundred years; some buildings, of course, last far

any behavior by a man that seems similar to feminin-

longer. A particularly good example of this is the pyr-

ity is regarded as degrading, and any attempt by a

amids in Giza, which were built thousands of years

woman to approach anything considered masculine

ago and still continue to shape space and our soci-

is regarded as an outrage and a threat to what has


been taken for granted as a social norm. Nevertheless, stereotypical qualities have their own This gender separation results in a compartmental-

input to offer to society. The qualities present in

ized life. The extreme consequence would be a bi-

curves have their own beauty, as do sharpness and

polar space, where everything masculine is found in

technical advances. This study is not a call against

one place, and everything feminine is found in an

pink or curves; it is a call to include a greater variety

opposite place, and there is no overlap between the

of forms in our lives.

two. The real threat in such a situation is that normal social exchange cannot take place. The real threat


What is iconic architecture? This is a frequently

ally takes the credit. This brings up the issue of van-

repeated and answered question. The answers in-

ity. Most of these buildings are named after a person

clude keywords like “famous”, “symbolic”, “visually

or otherwise identified with one person, such as the

strong”, sometimes “historic”. All of these answers

architect, which is a quality associated with mascu-

involve the visual media. If I had to define iconic ar-


chitecture, I would say it is the kind of building found on a postage stamp. What is special about iconic architecture is its communicative ability. This ability is now increased by modern means of communication such as the World Wide Web, where these icons move around the world in the form of two-dimensional images. Another question is: Why are iconic buildings used as case studies in this research? Although there are other sorts of buildings that demonstrate more honesty, such as the more collectively designed domestic architecture, I chose it for this very reason—the lack of honesty and collective input. In iconic architecture, the idea and the generation of the form are done by one person, or by a team of architects following the ideology of the head architect, who usu-

All Gizah Pyramids (Liberato, 2006)


1.3.1 Iconic architecture

1.3.1 Iconic architecture

Besides vanity, there are other concepts associated

share of the wealth of human values that we have in-

with masculinity that are often found in iconic archi-

herited from previous generations and civilizations.

tecture, such as size. The scale of most of the well-

In this case, feminine-related values and meanings

known buildings, such as the famous skyscrapers

are the under-communicated aspect in iconic ar-

or the pyramids, is huge compared to human scale.

chitecture. Iconic architecture is monumental, and

They are also a demonstration of strength, ability,

monumental is regarded as an aspect of masculinity.

and wealth. Durability is an aspect of strength; it

I strongly disagree with this idea, however, because

gives the building—and more importantly, what the

the perception of icons is an exercise of vision and

building represents—a chance to live longer, usually

meaning. Iconic buildings are not necessarily creat-

outliving its creators. The semantics and the aesthet-

ed to commemorate a person or an important event,

ics embedded in these buildings are thus exported to

and the fact that most buildings now considered

future generations, along with their associated social

iconic are in fact monumental is proof of the mas-

(especially gender) qualities.

culine domination of aesthetics. It is not mandatory, however, there are a few iconic buildings that are not

The qualities that are selected to be represented in


an architectural context might result in the absence of other, less esteemed qualities. Thus we will end up sending more of our masculine-labeled qualities into the future as representatives of our culture, and ignore other qualities that might be vital to the formation of society. This is a lack of sustainable social thinking: the right of future generations to their fair


People can visually identify many of the well-known

In this thesis, the term ‘spatial perception’ refers to

buildings in the world without ever having visited the

the perception of an actual space, using the context

actual space. A good example of this is the Sydney

in order to create one’s perception and cognition

Opera House. This is one of the most recognizable

of this specific space. The term ‘visual perception’

buildings in the world, even if many people do not

refers to the act of seeing the object in some form

know what it is called or what its purpose is. This

of imitation and representation of the original (e.g.,

does not mean that all of these people have visited

a photograph). ‘Visual referencing’ is the link made

Australia. In fact, the majority of people would know

between a visualized aspect of the original form and

the building through visual media rather than direct

some other quality, such as gender. For example,

observation. They have experienced the building vi-

a link is made between the curves (the visualized

sually rather than spatially, which suggests that spa-

aspect) of some material object and the curves of

tial experience is not a necessary requirement in the

the female body, thus associating that object with

process of perception.


Applying these theories to the perception of archi-

Although Arnheim regards both visual perception

tecture reveals the effect of where and how we see

and spatial perception as visual, he notes that the

a work of architecture: as an image in an academic

process of translating a three-dimensional vision into

journal or as part of a movie scene; situated in cen-

a two-dimensional representation fails to capture the

tral Africa or western Europe. The building’s function

whole essence of the subject of vision. He also criti-

is also a factor: an image of a white cuboid in the

cizes the prejudice of contemporary society toward

middle of a forest would be perceived differently if it

capturing visual images in what we think is a more

were a public toilet than if it were a concert hall.

‘realistic’ way, because ‘realistic’ depends on many


1.3.2 Visual Perception

1.3.2 Visual Perception

factors, one of which is the way in which one sees the reality of an object. He mentions ancient Egyptian techniques as a way of perceiving and illustrating spaces. The method of copying an object or arrangement of objects from one fixed point of observation—roughly the procedure of the photographic camera—is not truer to that concept than the method of the Egyptians. . . . (Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, p. 113) Arnheim highlights here a very significant element in the process of visual perception, ‘intrinsic interest’; what is the most difficult aspect of the whole process to detect or measure. It can be defined as the tendency to focus on one element instead of another, without any apparent reason related to its visual weight. the interest invested results from some unknown linked to the receivers (viewers) themselves.


1.3.2 Visual Perception

Rectangular fishpond with ducks and lotus planted round with date palms and fruit trees, in a fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 18th Dynasty (1400 BCE)


1.3.4 Building manifestation and view

How Does a Building Manifest Itself?

in the photographs that people take of particular

I have mentioned before that buildings are an exten-

buildings. The photographs of a given building tend

sion of human existence, not only in their physical

to follow a pattern. Certain ones are usually photo-

aspects, but also because buildings are often associ-

graphed with the surrounding natural or man made

ated with words relating to human psychology, such

environment included. Others are more often pho-

as “character”. The character of a building leads the

tographed alone; even if it stands within a crowded

viewer to perceive it visually and spatially in a cer-

environment, it appears as the absolute hero of the

tain manner, which defines the overall experience.

scene. A relative novelty in visual perception is the

For example, if you visit the pyramids of Giza, the

bird’s-eye photograph, made possible by the tech-

high point of your visual experience is when you are

nologies that allow us to fly above an object and

standing far enough from the pyramid to have the

take a picture. This new way of perceiving a building

whole object within your angle of sight. This is how

adds more variables to the equation of perception

the pyramid manifests itself. Proof of this idea is the

and cognition, especially in wide-scale forms such

fact that photographers almost always photograph

as parks. In my opinion, the aerial photograph is a

the pyramids in this way.

means of glorifying both the human spectator and the scene.

Described logically, all buildings have an inside, an outside, an upper side. Yet there are touchpoints in

If you type “iconic architecture” into a search en-

the experience of viewing a building that subcon-

gine and press “images,” you will obtain images of

sciously draw the attention to one aspect or another,

many buildings around the world that could fall into

creating a sort of understanding between the build-

the category of iconic architecture. To me, the most

ing and its visitor. This understanding is elaborated

interesting aspect of this search was that all of these


images are exterior shots. In these sorts of buildings,

One of the rare exceptions to this pattern is the

the decorating budgets are relatively large, so it can

Sony Center building in Berlin. It was financed by

be assumed that they all have nice interiors which

the Japanese company and designed by the Ger-

are also visual assets. However, the exterior is the

man architect Helmut Jahn (b. 1940). The area was

overwhelming touchpoint in the experience. Tradi-

originally a bustling city center, but it was destroyed

tionally, exteriors are associated with the masculine,

during World War II. After the demolition of the Berlin

and interiors with the feminine.

Wall, the area again became the center of the city. The Sony Center is one of many examples of iconic


1.3.4 Building manifestation and view

1.3.4 Building manifestation and view

phers inside, not outside, although the building looks shiny and impressive from the outside as well. For the purposes of this study, I found it necessary to visit the Sony Center in Berlin myself, in order to obtain a spatial experience of this specific form. What I found was a containing space that very smoothly attracts the people passing by, but the most significant element was the dome. It hugged the scattered forms into a unified building with an inner court. This inner court has a feeling of warmth that has nothing to do with temperature.

Berlin-Sony Center, by Ardiles-Arce architecture in the German capital. It contains a mix of shops and restaurants, a conference center, hotel rooms, art and film museums, a cinema, an IMAX theater, a small version of Legoland, and a “Sony Style” store. The space is inside-oriented. The form is simply a number of cuboids clustered around a courtyard; all are roofed by a spacious semi-transparent steel dome. In a Google search for “Sony Center” images, almost every image is of the interior, even the ceiling dome. This building manifests itself

Sony Center Berlin ground floor plan

from the inside, and attracts the lenses of photogra-


A very common stereotype in human cultures is the

inside or the outside of a space, to confirm female

association of women with the interior of the house

empowerment through spatial liberation. The shape

and the man with the exterior. This idea has some-

in architecture is defined within a group of straight

times limited women to the insides of houses, defin-

lines, in contrast to another persistent stereotype of

ing it as their territory. It has been expressed in the

femininity, namely curves. This study; however, fo-

writings of many thinkers. For example, the German

cuses on non-visual perception.

sociologist Erik H. Erikson (1902–1994) said that “girls emphasize the internal space, boys the outer.” This idea is universally taken for granted as common knowledge. A logical explanation for it is the human anatomy, which is almost a collective subconscious reference, as in the theories of Sigmund Freud focusing on the difference between the sexes as the presence or absence of the external male organ . The aim of this “built” study is to break this stereotype of “inside” and “outside”, and soften the sharp division between them, both conceptually and spatially. It is an attempt to deconstruct the conventional ideas about “home” and what “home” is supposed to look like, and to replace it with a new and more integrated image. Ultimately, to create a breakthrough definition—or, more accurately, an anti-definition—of the

Escher's Relativity, 1953


1.4.1 Inside versus Outside

1.4.1 Inside versus Outside

In Egypt, 80 percent of interior design projects are assigned to women, but only 15 percent of exteriors. Interiors are often designed with soft surfaces, curvy furniture and other items, and colors and other features that society recognizes as feminine. In contrast, exteriors, with their stone work and other rough surfaces, are recognized as masculine. The psychological result can be a sort of visual gesture to indicate where men and women belong, and even to segregate them accordingly. Argument The proposed Form is a statement of refusal of any sharp division between interior and exterior. This concept visualizes a switching of surfaces from inside to outside (i.e. converting the interior surfaces to be exterior and vise versa) , and also by relocating the usual interior elements, blurring the normally sharp divisions between interior and exterior, positive and negative, passive and active.


The original purpose of this master’s project was to

conceptual forms of architecture to express a visual-

develop a comprehensive understanding of feminine

ized idea or belief.

architecture and elaborate it in the form of a building. This turned out to be unrealistic. I therefore propose as my project a series of built statements—using


1.4.2 Built statements

Bridges all over the world are a clear manifestation

that is rarely found in modern architecture.

of a nation’s strength and ability. Usually the design of a bridge is not assigned to an architectural firm;

The feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray regards

it is designed and executed by a specialized civil

bridging as a “sexed spatio-temporality.” She con-

engineer. Unlike other forms of architecture that are

siders bridges a threshold space, as stated by Peg

designed by an architect and then turned over to a

Rawes in her book Irigaray for Architects:

civil or construction engineer to design the loads and the structural system, bridges are often designed as

“Irigaray then calls upon architects to build conti-

a structural system to fulfill a specific function and

nuously changing ‘thresholds’ that embody the phy-

sometimes to showcase the engineer’s abilities. As

sical, tactile and emotional power of relationships

a result, bridges have been considered masculine

between individuals” (p. 85).

forms. Emerging from Irigaray’s theories concerning space More recently, architects such as Zaha Hadid have

as a “sexed” object, bridges become passages to

been involved in designing bridges as a form of ar-

transition from one state to another, bearing a strong

chitecture and giving them different functions, such

resemblance to the phenomenon of birth, a transi-

as exhibition bridges and residential bridges, which

tional stage from the womb to the world. This is a

restates the cultural value of bridges in their new con-

perspective saturated with the essence of gender in

texts. This kind of bridge architecture can be found

a metaphysical dimension. It may not be conscious-

throughout history, such as the Ponte Vecchio in

ly acknowledged in contemporary cultures, but it is

Florence, Italy, which is a residential compound built

there, buried underneath the physical, materialistic

across a body of water. This is a concept of bridging



1.2.5 Bridges and Bridging

1.2.5 Bridges and Bridging

The original purpose of this master’s project was to develop a comprehensive understanding of feminine architecture and elaborate it in the form of a building. This turned out to be unrealistic. I therefore propose as my project a series of built statements— using conceptual forms of architecture to express a visualized idea or belief. This built statement will take the form of a bridge to represent the journey of transition or passage. The bridge will serve more than a mobility function; it will be an intimate object, emphasizing the metaphysical possibilities that can be architected in such a common element of the modern urban tissue.


Chapter Two

Gender in history of the built environment


It is argued that architecture is a physical extension of human cultures. It reflects the values and characteristics of societies. This can be seen in comparisons between ancient cultures and the buildings made during those times, such as the ancient Egyptians and their temples, which teach us about their religious culture. Another example is Gothic architecture. In those times, the pope ruled in the name of the Church, and Gothic churches are the biggest and tallest buildings in their contexts, in order to demonstrate the power of this institution. Nubian architecture is an outgrowth of what can clearly be regarded as a “feminine” society, due to its relationship with the “mother land” and fertility as the constant source of its life. This is why I have chosen to study aspects of this architecture in relation to social status. My hypothesis is that Nubian architecture will demonstrate aspects of femininity, which may give insights into what “feminine” architecture might be in creating built environments.


2.1.0 Introduction

2.1.1 History

sessed by the built products of the culture. Although

The very word “Nubia” is Nubian for “land of gold”,

Nubian culture has such a long history, this study

which is how the Nubian people referred to their

will be concerned with the architecture of traditional

homeland for centuries. This land is now shared

villages from four hundred years ago until the early

between the modern states of Egypt and Sudan. It

twentieth century. The architecture and the charac-

stretches for some 1,600 miles along the Nile River

teristics of the built environment of this period have

south of the Egyptian border city of Aswan, and ex-

been abundantly studied, archived, and documented

tends to south of Meroe in Sudan. Archaeological

by scholars from all over the world.

sites discovered in this area have been dated as far back as 70,000 BC, but Nubian civilization starts at around 3500 BC. Nubia, like its northern neighbor Egypt, owes its existence to the fertile land abutting the Nile. This location and environment provided the Nubian people with the tools to form their culture. With some exceptions, the majority of architects and architecture critics believe that architecture echoes its social circumstances. Therefore, Nubia’s tangible heritage, including architecture, can be expected to reflect Nubian culture, social values, symbolism, and mythology. In terms of the gender hypothesis of this study, the dominant gender in a culture also dominates the visual and spatial gendered qualities pos-


As previously mentioned, Nubian culture is maternal.

were Christians, and the Great Mother was symbol-

There are many aspects of contemporary Nubian

ized by the idea of the Virgin Mary, the mother of

culture that reflect the culture of two thousand years

Jesus Christ. In fact, they referred to him as her son.

ago, such as people using their mother’s name—un-

The Nubian song “El Marie Marie’n tod ya salla wen-

officially, of course, because most Nubians now hold

neby” means “A salute to Mary and Mary’s son, and

Sudanese or Egyptian citizenship and follow the

prayers upon the Prophet” (referring to Muhammad).

laws of those countries. But by far the greatest women of Old Nubia were There is a Nubian expression, “Home is where my

the Nubian mother queens, known as the Candaces

mother is”. This is not a matter of dependency so

(Kandakes, kendakas,. They were best known in the

much as an issue of belonging. Furthermore, wom-

kingdom of Meroe. The most famous of them was

an-ness is an earned state. Females are addressed

Queen Amani Rinas, who ruled from 40 to 10 bc

as ‘girls’ until they demonstrate a level of social in-

and was known for her strong army. She fought the

volvement and responsibility worthy of the glorious

Romans right after they invaded Egypt and forced

title of ‘woman’.

them into a peace treaty in 24 bc. She appeared on the battlefield, and the Greek geographer Strabo de-

The ceremony of welcoming a newborn child is valid

scribed her as “a manlike queen with one eye.” This

only if it is initiated by the seven head women of the

corresponds to her description as a “tomboy” in the

family or the village. This is a very old tradition, con-

temple and tomb inscriptions of Meroe, which depict

taining prayers and rituals to seven of the ancient

the queen as a big, strong person.

Nubian deities of the old religions, such as the Nile, the sun, and palm trees. For a long time, Nubians

Her daughter, the Candace Amani Shakhiti, inherited


2.1.1 Nubian Women

2.1.1 Nubian Women

her throne and ruled from 10 to 1 bc. She was known for her wisdom, intelligence, and large treasure. The fragment shown here is from an Egyptian tomb wall. It shows Amunirdis II, the daughter of the Nubian pharaoh Taharqo

Queen Amanitore depicted on the Lion Temple at Naqa, 1907 From W. Budge Vol. 2


Until the Egyptians undertook to control the flooding

of consolidating symbols in a culture. Repetition also

of the Nile at the beginning of the last century, the life

contributes to a culture’s concept of time. The Nubi-

of the Nubian people revolved around an annual rou-

ans had a relaxed rhythm of life, knowing that eve-

tine. Every summer the river flooded, irrigated their

ry year the flood would occur and their crops would

land, and brought good fertile mud from the southern

grow again. They did not develop a fear of the future,

valleys of the river. They had effective storage sys-

which I believe affected their approach to aging. Ol-

tems for their crops until the following summer when

der people, especially women, enjoyed high rank.

the water level was at its lowest. This was their an-

This contrasts with some contemporary cultures,

nual cycle for thousands of years.

where women prefer to remain young because of the sexual appeal associated with youth.

The Nubian people, like other agriculture-based societies in Africa, had one source of living, which was

The Nubians honored femininity in the form of Ha-

their fertile land. This land depended on a seasonal

thor, the goddess of fertility. She personified the

source of water, such as rain or, in the Nubian case,

principles of love, beauty, music, motherhood, and

rivers. Because of this dependence on fertility, the

joy. She was visualized as having a female face with

culture showed a great deal of appreciation for wo-

the ears of a cow. Hathor was worshiped in ancient

men. We are not speaking here of physical sexual

Egypt as well as in ancient Nubia. The most com-

urges, but of a glorification of the female body as a

mon monumental element featuring her was the fa-

symbol of life, especially the organs with a strong

mous Hathor column in temples, with the goddess’s

association to motherhood, such as the breast.

head at the top.

The power of repetition is a catalyst in the process


2.1.2 The Fertile Land

2.1.2 The Fertile Land


2.1.2 Symbology

The vertical Nubian date palms or doum palms (a local fruit) are the closest thing to the sky for the Nubian people. They are almost the only vertical-directed element in the Nubian environment. This vertical form was not matched until the introduction of Fatimid-style mosque towers around the eleventh century. Verticality in contemporary cultures is a symbol of masculinity; skyscrapers are usually identified as masculine. Palm trees, on the other hand, were the symbol of the mature woman. They appear in this way in Nubian songs and poetry. The palm tree is also a symbol of fertility because it is a living plant; unlike a skyscraper, it is able to grow and produce fruit. This difference in symbolic meaning between two tall objects reveals the weakness of visual associations to gender. It should be noted that palm trees do have biological sex; there are male and female palm trees, but only the latter produce fruit.


2.1.2 Symbology Nubian architecture expresses, directly and indirectly, elements of the Nubian lifestyle. Their houses were colorfully ornamented with illustrations of plants and animals from their environment, along with special symbols representing ancient meanings, such as welcoming good spirits. Nubians documented their personal histories, such as trips and adventures, on the façades of their buildings. The illustrations also included religious elements, such as the cross on the sun, even though these religions are no longer practiced. This tendency to express emotions and everyday events. In the case of the Nubians, it contained a sense of collective expression. This type of expression also appears in more intangible forms of Nubian culture, such as music and dance. According to my grandmothers, people used to sing almost every night. Nubian gate, UNESCO‘s images


I was born in a small village in the south of Egypt, one

I felt a strong contrast between the isolated home

of the “migration villages” built by the Egyptian gov-

in which I lived and my grandmother’s open house,

ernment in the 1960s to accommodate the Nubian

where we spent—and still spend—the holidays. Her

people after the drowning of their original homeland

door did not lock from the inside and neighbors did

caused by the Aswan High Dam. The dam created

not knock to come in. The cat was free to come and

the largest man-made lake up to that time, flooding at

go as it pleased. When the weather grew hot, we

least eight thousand years of built heritage. My family

would sleep in the open courtyard. If there are too

moved to Cairo when I was four years old to pursue

many people spending the night, we simply moved

better financial opportunities.

some of our mats outside and slept in the street-yes, the street- in front of the house. This sounds unusual

As I was growing up, I noticed differences between

or even crazy in some cultures, and I always won-

me and my Egyptian contemporaries. One of these

dered why.

was that my mother instructed me to play with all the other children, while other girls had strict orders not

My great-grandmother was still alive in the early

to play with boys. Another was that my grandmother

1990s, and she ran the lives of three successive

was known by her mother’s last name, which was

generations—a strong mother and a smart business-

also a female name. I myself, when I am introducing

woman. After she left our world, her daughter—my

myself to a Nubian, mention my own name followed

paternal grandmother—took her place as the head

by my mother’s last name, as my father also did.

of the family. In short, I come from an old maternal

This is not the custom in northern Egypt, and some

culture, which my family has kept alive even though

people found it personally offensive to be asked their

we live in a masculine society, and even though the

mother’s name.

old culture has been affected by contemporary mas-


Personal Reflections

Personal Reflections culine culture. This was my impetus to study the fe-

dom of Nubia, the tribe was located in the fifth and

male in ancient Nubia.

last part of the country, counting from south to north. ‘Kenouz’ is an Arabic word meaning ‘treasures’. The

I am a Faddeki Nubian; this is the name of my tribe.

Kenouz and the Faddeki speak two very different

Nubians in Egypt are classified into two main tribes,

dialects of Nubian; it is very hard for speakers of one

Faddeki and Kenouz. ‘Fadekka’ or ‘fa-detcha’ is a

dialect to understand the other dialect, unless they

Nubian word meaning ‘fifth place.’ In the old king-

have grown up hearing both of them.


Textures: Nubians preferred a smooth texture on their surfaces. This was the women’s job, using mud from the shore of the river. Nubian houses were known for their smooth textured walls and surfaces. Usually they were covered by mud. This process was done by hand, and renewed as needed. Floor material was usually sand, especially in the open courts. A very fine type of sand was used, and renewed at least annually. The surface of the sand floor was kept smooth by the women of the house, using a broom made of palm fronds to assure the horizontality of the floor. It looked almost like a hard material, until it was used or walked over. This tradition of smoothing the floors continues to this day, especially on important occasions like weddings and feasts. It is done several times a day in a very elegant technique. I recall watching my grandmother and my mother moving backwards with their brooms to prevent their footsteps leaving a trace on The interior of a Nubian house in Qustul,

the surface.


2.1.3 Architecture

2.1.3 Architecture


technique using bricks was developed in areas where white ants caused damage to wooden roofs.These

Mainly cuboid with a wide base; vaults and domes

shapes dominated Nubian architecture until the ele-

for roofing.

venth century, when Fatimid styles were introduced.

Nubian buildings had a rectangular, sometimes

These included the cylindrical minaret (ma’zana),

squarish, floor plan, and hemispherical domes, used

sharper edges around the dome, and a slight change

as roofs for tombs, and parabolic-shaped vaults that

in the shape of the dome. These shapes came to be

appeared in the Kenouz area of Nubia. This roofing

regular features of Nubian architecture.

Nubian house, Nubian museum in Aswan



and their grief.)

White is the usual color for buildings, but several other colors appear because the Nubians made drawings to decorate their exterior and interior walls. Nubians delight in colors. in Faddeki areas They often decorate their houses with bright colors like yellow, blue and purple, and white with cheerful illustrations of plants and animals in Kenouz areas. This love of color does not extend to clothing. Nubian men wear long white robes (galabeya), and Nubian women wear a sheer black dress called gargar. (Husein M. Kabara, a scholar of Nubian language and history, tells the history of the black dress. It began as a political statement. When the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps received approval to build the Suez Canal, he needed labor. This was provided to him by the Egyptian government in a system called al-sokhra, which collected people from all over Egypt without their consent, tied them up, and

Color Pallet analysis, Nubian architecture

literally dragged them to work camps. Their women wore sheer black dresses to express their refusal


2.1.3 Architecture

2.1.3 Architecture

300 square meters. Some families built their own


houses, either because they could afford to build a The typical Nubian house was one story, with an av-

large traditional house or because their houses were

erage height of four meters, a square shape, and

not yet built when they arrived in the new villages. In

an average area of five hundred to two thousand

either cases, the self-built houses are at least double

square meters.

the area of the government houses.

The most common type of architecture in modernday Nubia is residential, apart from community centers (al-madyafa) and mosques. The buildings may have different functions, but they all tend to be wide and spacious. A normal family home may measure five hundred square meters. The size increases with increased financial status to more than two thousand square meters. Houses with ten bedrooms and a spacious court are normal, especially for those who lived in the old Nubian lands before 1964. The relocated Nubian villages in what is known as the ‘migration land’ were built in the early 1960s to accommodate the Nubians displaced by the dam and its lake. They were built in the pattern of linear

Nubian house, floor plan, 1993 Omar el Hakim

urban tissue, and the houses are relatively small. Those built by the government are between 150 and



and horizontal repetition of triangles, to show off the builders’ technical ability and to celebrate the Nile

Nubian façades had few windows, but the buildings

inspired motif.

had an interior court. Nubian architecture did not provide wide areas of transparency, especially in the houses. This was partly for environmental reasons (to keep out the burning sun), and partly for privacy, because almost all houses were built on one level, except in the contoured landscape of the Kenouz area. The source of light was usually the inner court, The only fenestration in the exterior façade was the small (forty to seventy centimeters) opening, shaped like vertical rectangles or the famous Nubian triangle. Nubian architecture is known for these triangles, which are formed by leaning blocks of mud brick at a sixty-degree angle. To the Nubians, this form resembled the waves of the Nile. The triangles functioned as a structural support. What the Nubians did not know was that they had invented the first triangular truss in history. There are rare cases of vertical


2.1.3 Architecture

2.1.3 Architecture

Houses built with these techniques have also been

Structure system:

found in excavations in Egypt. Simple system of weight-bearing walls; domes with an average radius of two meters; vaults with an aver-

The famous Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy was

age radius of two meters and length of six meters.

inspired by Nubian architecture. He has used their

Nubian architecture did not include mega-structures

building techniques to reinvent what is now called

or wide-span structures; the buildings were not cre-

“the architecture of the poor�, which is also the title of

ated to show off their strength. However, they did

his book. The Nubian vault and dome have inspired

have some complex structural systems, especially

many other architects, in Africa and elsewhere, to

the roofing systems, constructed with techniques

build affordable and environment friendly buildings.

that have been passed down since ancient times,

Lateral and vertical cross-sections of a Nubian Vault house


2.1.3 Architecture

Solid and void: Nubian architecture displays solids and voids on the level of horizontal planes (when looking up from below)—solid representing the man-made built elements, and void being the God-made natural elements that surround the buildings. Nubian architecture is characterized by a special tissue form: a solid (building) includes an inner void (inner court). The court acts as an environmental element, but it also serves to bring sun and air into the house, and thus forms a metaphorical connection with the outside.


2.1.3 Architecture


Visual impressions

The significance of spaces in Nubian life is deter-

The visual impression of a Nubian village gives a

mined by the activities carried out in these spaces.

feeling of similarity and homogeneity because of the

The most important of these are birth, marriage, and

common style of architecture; it is visual evidence of

death, the events that act as major touchstones in

Nubian culture, like clothing. The uniformity of the

human life. Another is the annual celebration of the

social tissue can be seen, despite the differences in

harvest, which is also associated with the wedding

social and economic status among the owners and

season. Nubians choose these “containing� spaces

the different functions of the buildings. The only ex-

for their major life events, giving them the highest im-

ception would be buildings with religious functions,

portance among all buildings.

such as mosques and churches, because the styles of these buildings were originally imported from elsewhere.


2.1.3 Architecture

Skyline: One of the most significant characteristics of Nubian

rizontal skyline for the village. The horizontality exhi-

architecture is that almost all buildings are one story

bits the respect paid to the God-made architecture in

high. Two-story buildings are also found, but rarely,

the surrounding natural environment, including palm

and only in buildings with special functions such as

trees and mountains—the highest elements in the

military buildings. This is an ancient form of Nubian

Nubian landscape.

architecture. This common height manifests as a ho-

cross section or kalabsha village, El Hakim 1993


2.1.3 Architecture Mobility: The Nile is the major source of constant movement in

actually be seen from the house. The river was the

the environment. It is the reason for the linear distri-

main means of transportation for the Nubians, along

bution of buildings; throughout Nubian history, every

with the inland roads, which were designed to run

Nubian house has faced the Nile with its main doors

parallel to the Nile and sometimes adjacent to it.

oriented toward the river, even if the river could not

A view of the nile in Aswan, on the other side the village of gharb Aswan parallel to the river


The “Container” as an Architectural Element: Open Courts, Public Yards, Tombs The container, as a notion, has many profound meanings, mostly related to motherhood and the womb. The idea of containment is one of the most basic human urges and the impetus for developing architecture in its many forms. Whether building on

idea of “woman” is unavoidable even in simple observation. It can be perceived as a materialization or re-materialization of the womb itself, especially when perceived by the materialistic eye of modern globalized society. The idea is reflected visually and tangibly in what I regard as a sexual and biological metaphor.

the surface or carving an interior form of shelter, the architecture itself is metaphorically considered as a extension of the human body. This metaphor of a space generating a sense of containment has taken many forms in the human heritage. The cave is the most primitive embodiment of the idea of the womb containing a new human being and providing protection and nutrition in addition to a sense of self and belonging. This sense eventually generates the individual and collective senses of home and of the centrality of space. The relationship between these metaphors and the


2.1.3 The “Container”

2.1.3 The “Container”

The source of meaning for this metaphor for Nubians and other peoples of the ancient world was not actual human anatomy. This is not because they lacked biological knowledge. The Nubian sense of architecture as an extension of the human body is instead a sense of motherhood—or perhaps ‘parenthood’ is preferable—a sort of meta-existence of the physical qualities. The proof of this is found in Nubian folk culture, in which the words ‘home’ and ‘mother’ take on meanings completely separate from the physical existence of the buildings. A Nubian proverb defines ‘home’ as where one’s mother is, even when the speaker of this poetic statement lives miles away from his biological mother and her physical house. The fact that Nubians have a maternal culture is demonstrated in the significance of three types of spaces that all carry maternal metaphors. The open-to-thesky court inside every Nubian house and almost every other kind of Nubian building, the open public yard, and Nubian cemetery architecture all epitomize the idea of containment in Nubian culture.


The space of the open courtyard reflects the idea of

ling height.

containment not only in its square shape. The middle court is the heart of Nubian architecture, especially

Within this architectural tradition, cross-movements

Nubian houses. It is where life happens. This is why

within the house during the course of daily activi-

it is an attractive and active space. As the day goes

ties—that is, the transition from one zone to another

by, the activities of the house move around the court

inside the building—meant crossing the court or at

according to the angle of the sun and the correspon-

least moving along its edges. It was a free area for

ding places of shadow.

humans and animals to walk across; although animals usually lived on the opposite side from where

The court is also the source of natural light for the

people lived, they still had this area in common. In

interior. Because of the high temperatures, the exte-

addition to people and animals, there was always a

rior fenestration is kept to a minimum, and the interi-

tree planted in the middle of the court, usually a fruit

or spaces are illuminated and ventilated through the

tree such as a palm. I grew up with a guava tree in

open court. For Nile-valley people throughout histo-

the middle of our house. This different form of life

ry, sunlight has had a huge impact on culture. Some

provides shade and color, which has such great cul-

of these civilizations worshiped the sun for centuries.

tural importance for Nubians. Because of their agri-

Nubians, like their northern neighbors the Egyptians,

culture-based existence, plants indicate life. Deser-

share that heritage of sun- and light-worship. This

ted places and dead plants cause grief to Nubians

notion in the collective unconscious has affected the

even today.

significance of the court itself, providing yet another metaphysical dimension to the relationship between Nubians and their indoor space with its infinite cei-


2.1.3 The “Container” The Open Court yard

2.1.3 The “Container”

Nubian Interior Court, 2007 Qustol ,Aswan


The public yard adjoining the village is the platform of social life for Nubians. It is often found in a central position where all the houses of the village are able to hear anything that happens within the space. The relationship between the public courtyard and the river is different from the relationship between other elements of Nubian architecture and the river, for except in rare cases it is the only space that does not face the river. The space has flat, sandy ground, which is kept clean and free of physical obstacles thanks to the united efforts of the community. The public yard is the center of action in the Nubian village. It is where the life-defining communal ceremonies take place, such as those associated with birth, marriage, and death, as well as simple, normal events, such as daily and weekly markets. This space is always surrounded by structures for communal functions, such as the village mosque, the community center (al-madafa), and the main water fountain (a source of drinking water because of the high temperatures and low humidity in the area).

The public area often has an undefined shape. It

2.1.3 The “Container”

is not a regular quadrilateral or circular shape. It is formed by the surrounding buildings and the development of village society, and manifests the very idea of openness, with its blurry borders of active space. It is a stage for a party when people start clustering in the middle; it is a regular “square” when people move across it to go from one place to another; it is also the local parliament when people gather in lines to listen and deliberate on important village matters. After 1964, Nubians had to leave their homelands and relocate in the Valley of Kom-Ombo because of the flooding caused by Lake Nasser (as the Egyptians call it) or Lake Nubia (as the Sudanese call it). Their new villages were designed according to modern models of the “ideal village” at the time. They included the necessary functions of life without any of the culture-specific uses traditional for Nubians, so that the public yard was not included in the planning. However, Nubians in every village found a way to compromise other functions and create this


The Public Yard

2.1.3 The “Container�

space because of its importance in the culture. For

to the surrounding area, creating a space similar to

example, the residents of Qustul, a Nubian village,

the old-style Nubian yard. All other relocated Nubian

used the area adjacent to the sports-club building

villages followed a similar procedure, such as giving

by tearing down the wall of the building to open it

up pieces of land that had originally been intended for other functions.

Public Yard infront of the village guest house (Madiafa) 2007, Suheil West, Aswan


A tomb is the space that contains the afterlife. In the long history of Nubian civilization, the perception of death and the hereafter had to do with the concept of going back. This concept has a physical echo in the fact that a deceased person is buried in a space that resembles a womb. The earliest form of Nubian tomb was a circular hole in the ground with the deceased person placed in a fetal position, along with food and tools to help him on his journey. A real example of this sort of tomb Nubian early Tombs, Containing the Deceased and the belongings needed in the afterlife, the deceased lying in a fetus form Adams, William

is now exhibited in the Nubian museum in Aswan. The rounded shapes did not persist into later Nubian history, but the fetal position did. The architecture of Nubian tombs changed according to religious beliefs, economic status, and even political states, from the simple hole to multi-storied underground rooms to the Nubian pyramids (of which there are 223 in the north of Sudan).


2.1.3 The “Container� Tombs

2.1.3 The “Container”

The most recent form for graves in Nubian architec-

faced in the Nubian migration project was the ceme-

ture is the dome, which is a hemispherical shape

teries. The Nubians refused to leave their deceased

either roofing a room with a square plan or built di-

ancestors, especially in the older cemeteries. These

rectly on the ground without the room. The dome has

were saved by UNESCO as part of a World Heritage

a special meaning for the people of the Nile valley.


Since it is a symbol of death, it was not used in residential architecture until the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy drew inspiration from Nubian architecture and borrowed the dome as a roofing system. He used it in his famous village El Gourna. Some critics say that this is one reason that people abandoned their houses there; Fathy imported the structural technique without paying attention to its metaphysical dimension. The Nubian dome style is similar to that of the ancient Egyptians. It is called a “real dome” because of the way in which it is built, with one center for all three dimensions. This form has zero tension, only compression, and zero net forces. It is always referred to as a passive space.

A tomb in Suheil West village 2007, Aswan

One of the problems that the Egyptian government


No One’s Business, Everyone’s Job Among Nubians, professional architects or construc-

village helps to prepare the land and the materials.

tion workers are a recent development, imported

The work is considered a voluntary gift rather than a

by those who can afford to hire them. At first, these

duty. The building materials are chosen according to

specialists came in from the north. Then Nubians

the surrounding environment. Near the mountains,

themselves started learning these occupations, ei-

rock is used, but since most villages are located

ther by working at them or by enrolling in specialized

in the Nile valley, mud brick is the more available

schools, as I and other Nubian youths have done. In

choice. In addition, palm trunks and leaves are used

traditional Nubian culture; however, the process of

for thatching and roofing, and sometimes for interior

building did not include a builder or an architect. It

furniture as well.

was a social activity that included every single person who had the ability to contribute to some part of the process. The most significant aspect is that women contributed as much as men to the physical act of building. The process begins when a new building is needed, such as a house for a newly married couple. The act of building is a social gesture, a salute to those who are celebrating the wedding. Everyone in the

Two girls thatching a house, Albert A.


2.1.3 Building by Nubians:

2.1.3 Building by Nubians:

The sequence of building a house usually followed

environment. Some flooring is made from mud, but

these steps:

the majority of the area is covered with sand, especially the middle court.


The selection of a piece of land, which is usu-

ally provided as a gift by one of the couple’s closest relatives, is a very important part of Nubian wedding traditions. Relatives donate items from their belongings, such as land, fruitful palm trees, and other valuable assets, as contributions to the startup capital of the new couple and their future family. 2.

Land preparation is also done by the neigh-

boring people. This starts with preparing the space for building by removing any physical obstacles that are in the way. The outline of the house is then drawn on the land. Unlike modern techniques using paper or computers, this is a one-to-one scale design, right on site with an immediate feel of the surroundings. 3.

Foundations and walls are built in a bearing-

wall system, in which the walls act as the bearers of the weight, transferring it to the buried foundation and then into the earth. After the walls comes the flooring, also using materials inspired by the

Aman and two women collaborating in building a house



2.1.3 Building by Nubians:

Furniture and decorations are usually co-

lorful and cheerful, especially in a house being built for newlyweds. This is also done by the community. Older people take the largest part in making the furniture. The walls are decorated with drawings and symbols that commonly express happiness; this is usually the work of younger people, mostly children and teenagers, who are known for their good taste. 5.

The distribution of work in the entire process

is based on the ages and abilities of the contributors. Sex differences do not play a big role, even when it comes to the heavy work that requires physical strength. Both men and women take part in this, because the building techniques require a level of strength that both sexes can attain.


2.1.4 Built Statements

The original purpose of this master’s project was to

se as my project a series of built statements—using

develop a comprehensive understanding of feminine

conceptual forms of architecture to express a visua-

architecture and elaborate it in the form of a building.

lized idea or belief.

This turned out to be unrealistic. I therefore propo-


Nubian Architecture Tribute The concept is a tribute to traditional Nubian architecture, in the new format of a community center, in a new dialect produced by a Nubian living in the twenty-first century. It emphasizes the space within a solid as the true core of Nubian architecture, and its relationship to the Nile, that greatly valued aspect of Nubian life, celebrated with palm trees.

Chapter Three

The Architect’s Sex versus the Building’s Gender

The question posed in this chapter is: Is there a re-

the building. Except for certain social scientists, the

lationship between the sex of the architect and the

terms “sex” and “gender” are often used interchange-

gender of a building?

ably, particularly in polite and formal settings, including official documents. However, the original use of

Many scholars and architecture critics make their

the word “gender” was to refer not to biological sex,

judgments regarding the gender of a particular build-

but to the social and psychological qualities of a be-

ing according to the sex of its designer. The critic

ing or an object, including buildings. It includes all

Christopher Hawthorne wrote a review in the Los

the qualities and meanings embedded in the building

Angeles Times on 17 January 2010 of the Aqua

by the architect. The architect is also a gendered be-

skyscraper, a Chicago project designed by the fe-

ing, and this gender may or may not correspond to

male American architect Jeanne Gang. Its title was

the architect’s biological sex.

“Jeanne Gang Brings Feminine Touch to Chicago’s Muscled Skyline”. The writer referred to the sex of

This is not; however, a simple process of cognition.

the architect to conclude that the building was femin-

There are many factors affecting the gender of an

ine, even though it was a skyscraper. He based his

architect. One of these is the gender of his society,

judgment on the stereotype of curves that form the

meaning the collective preferences of the society.

building’s outer shape, which means that he judged

It also includes the life experiences of the architect

only the exterior without considering the quality of

since infancy; even instantaneous events during the

the space it enclosed.

design process can sometimes affect the gendered outcome. This means that the gender of a building

Let us first state why the word “sex” is used in re-

directly corresponds to the gender of the architect,

ferring to the architect and “gender” in referring to

not necessarily to his or her biological sex.


3.1.1 The Architect’s Sex versus the Building’s Gender

3.1.1 The Architect’s Sex versus the Building’s Gender

The architect, as a thing gendered by society, works as a link in the cycle of values. He or she produces a complex carrier of social values and qualities in the form of a tangible building. This highlights the importance of the gender-conscious design process, which consists of more than just “woman-friendly” or “manfriendly” spaces in terms of function.

Aqua, a new 82-story hotel and residential tower in Chicago Render by architect… (Steve Hall / Hedrich Blessing)


3.1.2 Zaha Hadid Zaha Hadid is one of the few practicing women ar-

One of her earliest works is the Azabu Jyuban build-

chitects. She was born in Iraq in 1950, then moved

ing in Tokyo, Japan. The concept behind this project

to England, where she received her education, first

is explained on Hadid’s official website:

in mathematics, then in architecture. Hadid was influenced by the later postmodern styles; some critics

This concept contains a number of key words that

even categorized her work as deconstructivism. Her

might strike the reader as masculine, such as blade,

first designs were well received critically, but never

intensity, pierce, pressure, metal, and concrete.

executed until the late 1990s, due to the complexity

These key words are also found in many of Hadid’s

and difficulty of the structures.

earlier works, not only in the conceptual text but also in the forms, where vertical, pointed, sharp surfaces

In terms of gender, Hadid’s designs are often consid-

can be found and the structure systems are clearly

ered feminine based solely on the fact that she is a


woman. A closer look at her work; however, shows a difference in its gendered aspects.

In the most recent work of the same architect, there

A vision to liberate space in Tokyo, a city of “blade runner” intensity—a building which slices into landscape, pierces earth, exaggerates the pressure generated by its narrow confines, incorporating “light jewelled” metal and concrete outer walls, behind which glass curtains rise upwards and outwards. (


3.1.2 Zaha Hadid is a radical change in her designs, especially in terms

obvious between the sharp vertical edges and the

of gender remarks. She starts presenting concepts

smooth horizontal forms, between the bare concrete

such as fluidity. According to her, this is not fluidity

surface finishing of her early buildings and the soft

as in “fluid matter”; she is fascinated by the phenom-

polymer cladding used in her later work.

enon of fluidity in spaces. In my opinion, these differences are caused by soThis difference in ideologies, for the same person in

cial gendering dynamics, whereby social values first

one design journey, draws attention to the changes

direct the designer or the architect toward certain

that take place in architects throughout their lives,

qualities valued by the fashions of a certain time. The

especially between the struggling beginnings, when

architect then starts to develop a sense of original-

the architect is trying to prove herself by demonstrat-

ity and self-acceptance, and finds that working with

ing competence, in the glamorous later years, when

them is more comfortable than working with group

she can be sold by her name. The differences are


The Pritzker Prize winning architect presents her practice’s continued exploration and research towards a new architectural language of fluidity that encompasses all scales of design—a built manifesto informed by originality and innovation. Evolving from the demands of greater complexity and variety in contemporary society, this new language is driven by the latest advances in computational design processes and state-of-the-art fabrication technologies. (http://www.


3.1.2 Zaha Hadid Earlier

Vitra 1990 Sky Jump1999

IBM housing,1986

Cardiff Bay opera 1994


3.1.2 Zaha Hadid

Regium waterfront 2007

Jesolo Magica 2010


JS Bach chamber Music Hall 2009

Dongdaemun park 2007


This sequence of using what seems masculine in the

volume and the ground. All of these elements are

early works, then turning toward the visually femi-

generally labeled as masculine, and characterize the

nine in later works, does not apply only to female ar-

peak of Le Corbusier’s early style.

chitects. Male architects have undergone the same process—for example, Le Corbusier (real name

Having become world-famous, hired by governments

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, 1887–1965), a Swiss-

as an architect and urban planner, his approach

born French architect who left a remarkable footprint

to architecture changed, which shows in his later

in the history of modern architecture.

works. “Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light”, he

In Le Corbusier’s earlier work, the principles of mod-

wrote. The change in vocabulary is evident. Words

ernism and functionalism in architecture are clearly

like “game” and “form” and “light” give insight into the

detected. It was he who said, “The house is a ma-

new Corbusian architecture, such as the Chapel of

chine to live in”, which reflected the industrial influ-

Notre Dame du Haut (1954) in Ronchamp, France.

ence of his era. He became a legend in the world of

The chapel demonstrates a communal form of archi-

architecture and the very image of the modernism

tecture with a curvy form and proportions, different

movement. His early work manifested these prin-

from his former style. This marks the change in his

ciples and showed structural elements, industrial

designs from the apparently masculine to the femi-

patterns, and a mechanical approach. These quali-

nine, the same process of gender development seen

ties are particularly elaborated in one of his most fa-

in the female architect Zaha Hadid, although Le Cor-

mous designs, the Unité d’Habitation (Housing Unit)

busier was male. This process demonstrates that the

in Marseille, France, in 1947. It consists of a bulky,

sex of the architect and the gendered qualities elabo-

box-shaped building, with structural columns of con-

rated in his or her buildings need not be the same.

crete appearing as the link between the building’s


3.1.3 Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier earlier

Le Corbusier‘s Cartesian skyscraper 1938

Tsentrosoyuz building 1933

Villa Savoye 1928

UnitĂŠ d'Habitation Marseille 1947


Le Corbusier

Church of Saint-Pierre 1969


Philips Pavilion exterior, Brussels International Exhibition (1958)

Notre Dame du Haut 1954


3.1.4 Freud’s Theory and the Sydney Opera House

Sigmund Freud had an interesting theory concerning

Freud then discovered what he called the person’s

the analysis and the critique of art and architecture.

“over-powerful instinct” as a strong drive behind the

Although most contemporary theories in architec-

exercises of art.

tural analysis depend on the receiver’s visual and spatial perception of the design, Freud highlights the

This theory of Freud’s would be an interesting ap-

importance of the decision-making process, and of

proach to the critique of Utzon’s design. Most people

the designer’s social and psychological background.

assumed that the building’s form represents the sails

According to Freud, it is essential to study the biogra-

of a ship. Utzon, however, surprised everyone with

phy of the architect himself in order to study his work.

what seemed at the time to be a radical form and an

This biographical study should not neglect the archi-

even more radical concept.

tect’s “sexual individuality” and “sexual behavior”,

There are more than one story concerning the de-

which are not usually included in most biographies.

sign of opera Sydney, Yet the one story of concern,

Freud tried to prove this theory about the architect’s

is the one telling about his son and the orange peel,

life, childhood, sexuality, and gender (without using

this story might be an explanation of the form in the

the latter term, since it was first used in 1955) by ana-

terms of gender, the story is about him watching or

lyzing the work of Leonardo da Vinci. He took a spe-

helping his son peel an orange, in this moment Ut-

cial interest in da Vinci’s personal life and the rumors

zon is a father, what can generate what Freud calls

of his homosexuality.

the over powerful instinct, this paternal instinct (sen-

then he made the attempt of returning to analyse

timents), might have affected the output of the form,

the exercise of Davinci’s work, Freud's ideas were

therefore the reason of the feminine label, making

disturbed there for changed according to his new

the connection between sentiments and the femi-

findings which gave a different understanding to the


mental activity of the artist .




Buildings and spaces are the physical extensions of

context, this context subscribes to an understanding

its creator; what justifies the idea of gendered archi-

of gender; what drives this person or group of people

tecture and allows terms like feminine architecture or

to act upon this understanding, hence the decision

masculine architecture to appear.

maker acts as a gender performer according to so-

The question concerning ‘gender identity’ of a build-

cial understandings of gender or in other word the

ing arises, while this study assumes a direct refer-

architect is gendered by society. Butler says: ‚There

ence to the decision maker (designer, architect, ur-

is no gender identity behind the expressions of gen-

ban planner, community ...etc. ), all these mentioned

der; ... identity is performatively constituted by the

sources of decision are simply people; channeled

very „expressions“ that are said to be its results.2

through traditional processes such as formal educa-

Butler suggests that certain cultural configurations

tion and learning experiences with is a curtain social

of gender have seized a hegemonic hold (i.e. they have come to seem natural in our culture as it presently is). Buildings act as a value carrier, they contain a certain value or meaning and transmit them to their user in different methods and aspects, gendered as is; a building has the power to regenerate values In 1980 Margrit I Kennedy published her paper „Towards a rediscovery feminine principles in architecture and planning“ .stating the differences she detected between male and female architects in terms of final product, she argues that females produce so-


3.2.1 Workshop Design HE & SHE

3.2.1 Workshop Design HE & SHE

cial and flexible design, she mentions adjectives like

who aspire to be designers, their task was to design

ergonomic, functional, and user oriented as opposed

masculinity and femininity themselves, or as it was

to male architects‘, these attributes are compatible

phrased „HE building and SHE building“ in a stan-

with the already assigned rules stated for women;

dardized A3 sheet without any prior introduction to

a clear evidence of gender performance in architec-

gender issues, nor rules regulating the division of

ture design, kennedy‘s study not only prove the ex-

their sheet.

istence of feminine (gendered) architecture, but also

The outcome took several architectural forms, yet

prove the architect him\herself to be a gender per-

most of the participants chose to draw perspectives

former. According to the parameters set in her study

as of their buildings, either in free hand or as a com-

this performance is unconscious.

puter render. Conceptually, the output can be divid-

Another question was „what would the architect pro-

ed into two main groups in the terms of ideological

duce if he/she knew the theme of the study?“ or in


other words „what if the architect was intentionally designing his/her gender?“ what led to a workshop

Group 1: This group was the majority; it included

held by the author to investigate the possibilities of

twelve of the participants who showed great similari-

consciously architecting gender in a built form; as an

ties among each other, the main observations were:

introduction to the gender conscious project.

Both male and female architects can successfully

The workshop.

design both buildings, which indicate the ability for both sexes to perform both masculinity and feminin-

fifteen designers, age between 20 to 30 were the

ity as defined and represented by architects.

target of this study, the participants are practic-

Both male and female architects applied social

ing architecture designers or architecture students

known clichés and stereotypes associate with femi-



ninity and masculinity in their designs such as pink

series of revolutions that took place in the Arab

and curves as the feminine.

world; this political atmosphere had a great effect on

The participants had no objections on the irregularity

the workshop because all designers come from Ara-

of the task, yet most of them requested further expla-

bic backgrounds.

nation, often asking the conductors of the workshop

There were no equal distributions between the two

about what they personally want instead of what the

gendered buildings neither in effort nor paper space.

task requires.

The participants devoted more attention to their

A sub-community has formed to discuss what

main concept, in other occasions the non equal dis-

seemed like an odd design task at the moment and

tribution of paper space was crucial to the point they

to acquire each other‘s validation (social approval)

were trying to make.

on the ideas proposed.

All the architects in this group were eager to com-

There were a significant equality in the distribution of

municate their concepts and explain further details

effort and paper space for each building or gender,

through a written essay or a verbal dialogue.

were all the sheets in this group was divided into two

The echo of such workshop was significant in the

equal parts.

academic community, students who attempted analyzing their work from ‚gender‘ oriented point of view,

Group 2: In this group the three remaining design-

professors and scholars started discussing gender

ers chose to make a statement or to take a stand in

in atheistic. The task stimulated a gender oriented

gender related issues in their own society, address-

discourse what is believed to be a key to introducing

ing issues like size and masculinity, or the inside and

gender issues to the architecture community and a

femininity, the main observations in this group were:

portal to innovative ideas what might breed a new

The workshop was conducted two month after the

style in architecture design by promoting a Gender


Conscious Architecture. This can be an approach to

This is a two-phase workshop with architects and

a social balance in the built environment by

architecture students from Egypt, Jordan, and Pal-

Directing more attention to the gender issues, using

estine working and studying in the Architecture De-

architecture as media

partment, Faculty of Engineering, Sixth October

Opening a window for female architects through

University, Cairo. The workshop took place over the


Internet and on the Sixth October campus in Cairo

Educating architects about the works of feminists

during summer 2011.

and gender theorists. Introducing new design tools to architects leading

The purpose of the study was to detect gendered

them to reflecting their own identity through their

features in architecture projects designed by both


males and females. Their first task was for each in-

An opportunity to highlight the contribution of femi-

dividual to design what he or she thought of as “he”

ninity in the existing built environment, therefore in

and “she” buildings, on A3-size paper. The resulting

forming human cultures.

designs were distributed online to fifteen architects

Prevent regeneration of bias traditions and fixed no-

of different professional levels: eight students and

tions in the built environment.

seven architects.

The bottom line is, architecture is media for human thoughts, I strongly believe gender should

For each respondent, the descriptions under “Con-

consciously be included to these thoughts and dis-

cept 1: ‘he’” and “Concept 2: ‘she’” are those of the

cussed further more to increase the quality of life

designers themselves. The analysis under “Notes

and try achieving social sustainability.

and Judgments” is that of the writer.



Jameel el Khayat junior architect male, age 23, Jordanian

Concept 1: “he”

The size of the male building is huge. This can be

The male building has scales that denote the tough-

seen by the scale of the building compared to the

ness of a man’s body.

palm trees in the landscape. Palm trees average

It has sharp edges, denoting that the man is strict.

thirty meters in height; the building is four times

The building is immutable on the ground, denoting

the height of the palm trees, or around 120 meters,

the man’s callousness and strength.

which is almost the height of the Khafre pyramid, the second-largest pyramid in Giza. This is a clear de-

Concept 2: “she”

monstration of power and ability.

The female building has a curved formation, denoting the softness of woman.

The “she” building is sleek and smooth, with a roun-

It has curved columns around her, because women

ded surface that meets the social stereotypes for the

need more protection.

female. Yet it is vertical and pointed, which is stereo-

It has soft edges, denoting woman’s instability.

typically masculine. There are stripes around a tent-

The building is mutable on the ground, denoting

like structure, giving a dynamic feeling to the buil-

women’s suavity and weakness.

ding. The designer identifies these stripes as extra “protection” for this female.

Notes and Judgments Jameel used scales on the surface of the “he” buil-

An interesting aspect of these designs is the contra-

ding to provide a rough texture, with reference to the

diction between the forms. The “he” building has a

male body. The ascending form comes to a pointed

horizontal base, which is usually an indication of sett-

end. This gradual transformation in form is also one

ledness; however, the combination of the horizontal

of the best-known components of masculine design;

base and the gradually ascending form changes

usually it is seen in the form of skyscrapers.

the meaning to “immutable”. Likewise, in the female


form, the narrow base rising into a vertical shape is one of the stereotypes of masculinity, but the ratios of this form give it a sense of fragility, instead of the strength usually associated with verticality.

Jameel, personal: vJameel is a hard-working former architecture student. He graduated second in his class, and first in design-related subjects. Jameel has an older sister; they share a passion for photography. He has a pleasant, friendly personality. He is a talented new designer with endless ambition.


Sara El Baghdady female, age 23, Egyptian junior architect

Concept 1: “he”

is an unusual approach, possibly reflecting some

Men are masculine, defined as aggressive, strong,

strong instinct on her part. Her form is conspicuously

violent, and without emotions. I used the abstract fa-

loud and wide.

cial expression of a man because it shows the ag-

Her concept for the “she” building is based on a sci-

gressiveness of his male side.

entific theory concerning the ways in which women’s brains work and their multitasking abilities. She follo-

Concept 2: “she”

wed the stereotypes of curves and pink in her “she”

A woman’s brain is different from a man’s, because

building to support this scientific concept. Although

she can think of multiple things at the same time,

she designed a directional wall to guide visitors in,

and can do multiple tasks too. I used the lines of the

she did not create an obvious entrance or door as

woman’s brain for my concept.

she did in her masculine elaboration.

Notes and Judgments: Sara, personal: Sara states bluntly that men are masculine, implying a non-negotiable rule more than a mere statement

Sara is an architecture graduate who is working in

of information. She followed up this definition with

the academic field. She is the elder daughter of a

the notions of strength and aggressiveness. Her in-

university professor and has one younger brother.

terpretation of masculinity is a clear reflection of its

Her family is protective and conservative. She feels

expression in society.

that she is discriminated against within her family,

Her “he” form uses visual stereotypes such as black,

and that her brother is favored because he is a boy

pointed, and vertical. Her design for the “he” building

although she is the hard-working one.

was inspired by a man’s facial expressions, which


Hamza Bashandi male, age 21, Egyptian architecture student

Concept 1: “he”

is only masculine or only feminine. Usually they are

Masculine architecture: A man’s character is usu-

mixed together.

ally described by courage and strength. Therefore,

Notes and Judgments:

I think that skyscrapers are a good example of masculine architecture. They are characterized by their

Hamza expressed the difficulties he faced in finding

strength, durability, and ability to withstand wind po-

what he could call a completely feminine or a com-

wer and other forces. Skyscrapers are also charac-

pletely masculine building. He was the respondent

terized by their many straight lines and their division into clusters, which gives them more strength.

with the most inquiries concerning the issue of gen-

Concept 2: “she”

a design that felt masculine, something about it ap-

der. He stated that every time he tried to develop peared to him as feminine, and vice versa.

Feminine architecture: In previous centuries in Old

He referred to historical architecture, specifically the

Cairo, a woman would cover all of her body from

type of house that was common in Old Cairo in the

head to toe, except her eyes, with a simple dress,

twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries. This

and hide her inner beauty everywhere except in her

house had a spacious interior, ornamented and lu-

own house. The old Arabic house was the same. Its

xurious, especially if the owner was wealthy. Despite

simple façade contained only the door and a few win-

the garnished interior, the façade was quite minimal,

dows, while all of the house’s beauty was hidden in-

with very few windows. This reference to historical

side it: decorations, inscriptions and poetic verses on the walls, plants and trees in the garden.

buildings, although they have museum status no-

Conclusion: It is very difficult to find a building that

and its ability to affect generations hundreds of years

wadays, shows the potentially long life of a building later.


His other reference, to women’s fashions of the

durability, which is a word conventionally associated

same era, shows that both women and architecture

with masculinity, His geometrical divisions are set

reflected the same social values. This explains his

in industrial patterns(square shapes). This type of

strong association of women/femininity and fashion/

clustering is, for him, another visual representation


of masculinity.

Although his idea of a feminine building refers to the

He chose a vertical skyscraper as a symbol of mas-

entire house, he chose in his illustration to emphasi-

culinity, for it refers to strength and to the display of

ze the interior of the house, with a courtyard open to

strength. We see that his “he” design bears a strong

the sky, a green area, and a fountain at the center,

resemblance to famous skyscrapers such as the

which he drew twice.

Empire State Building.

Hamza spoke of hiding a woman’s “inner beauty.” In this statement, “inner beauty” refers not to the beauty of her soul, but to the beauty of the physical body hidden by clothes, which he compared to the ornamentation inside the house. This comparison gives an insight into what he, or the culture to which he refers, considers visual beauty. In Hamza’s opinion, masculinity is represented by linearity, in intersecting horizontal and vertical lines.

Hamza, personal: Hamza is the younger son of an Egyptian family; he has a brother five years older and a sister seven years older. He was educated in a conservative French school before university. He spends most of his time researching Islamic architecture in Old Cairo.

This idea bears a strong resemblance to the modern style in architecture that appeared in the 1960s. For him, the mechanical movement of lines represents




Safaa Agha architecture student female, age 21, Egyptian

The color choice was stereotypically gendered. SaConcept 1: “he”

faa chose pink and bright red for the female building

I visualized the male building as lofty, proud of itself,

illustrations, and black and blue for the male. She

standing on only two poles, challenging people.

describes the structural system of the “he” building as “challenging” because it depends on only two

Concept 2: “she”

poles for support. This underlines the idea of self-

I chose this form because it includes some sort of

absorbed vanity associated with masculinity, versus

containment, meaning that all its separate blocks are

attentiveness to others in the “she” building.

combined into a common shape, embracing them and creating a single being from them. Safaa, personal: Notes and Judgments Safaa is the middle of three sisters. Her elder sisHere again, containment is associated with the idea

ter is an architect. She comes from a Nubian family

of femininity, the containing mother who has the po-

that keeps Nubian traditions alive. Her grandmother

wer to unify separate elements despite the differen-

is the foundation and head of the family. Her mother

ces between them. The male building, on the other

is a Nubian grandmother in the making, and Safaa

hand, is dominated by a wide space. Male and fe-

describes her relationship with her mother as very

male forms are both horizontal, although the scale is

strong, Obviously. she has been raised in a family

bigger in the female, which is unusual; large size is

with a majority of girls.

usually a masculine aspect.


Mohammad Shbib junior architect male, age 23, Jordanian

stated that he used “much more” glass, by which I

Concept 1: “he”

assume he meant more than in the “he” building.

Complicated, cubic, straight lines.

This amount of glass indicates the transparency that

Concept 2: “she”

he associates with femininity. This is unusual, espe-

Smooth, much more glass, free form, continuous

cially for someone of Mohammad’s Jordanian Arab

with the outdoors.

background, where females are associated with fe-

Notes and Judgments

wer openings and less fenestration. I assume that

Mohammad presented his concepts as disconnected keywords, which did not reveal much judgment or personal opinion towards the issue of masculinity versus femininity. He also described his “he” as “complicated”, which is an adjective usually associated with the female. In the “he” building, majority of

this excess of glass is one way to include the outside in the indoors and vice versa. He also said that the female in his design is more involved with the outside, which in his opinion implies a social aspect in feminine architecture. Mohammad shbib,

the windows and other openings are vertical, and all of them are narrow. The building also ascends from

personal: Mohammad is a new graduate who is lo-

a wide base to narrower upper levels.

ved by his colleagues for his personality. He used to

He literally underlined his building with a thick black

face disagreements with some of the university fa-

line to represent the ground line, which confirms the

culty because of his work. He prefers flowing, curvy

relationship between his building and the ground.

forms, which are regarded as feminine. This has led

He used curves on several levels with what seems

his supervisors to criticize him as a boy doing girl’s

like a containing space; he describes it as smooth,

work, and they have asked him to change his aesthe-

which, like curves, is a stereotype for femininity. He

tics to a style more recognizably masculine.


Aly Ahmed Kamal junior architect male, age 24, Egyptian Concept 1: “he”

think it is the progressive equivalent of the square-

Deconstructing in order.

based vertical straight form, for it shows complexity and different dynamics in making the same statement repeatedly.

Concept 2: “she” Mysterious and undeclared thoughts.

Aly, personal: Notes and Judgments

Aly is the son and the younger brother of civil engi-

The way Aly visually explains deconstruction is laterally, unlike the architectural style that appeared at the end of the twentieth century, inspired by the thought of philosopher Jacques Derrida. In a way, he breaks down a pure form (cuboid) into smaller fragments. The act of exploding this form into fragments implies strength and ability, which are usually associated with masculinity. These small fragments retain a uniform shape, are separated from each other at fixed angles, and are thoughtfully repositioned in the wider space. All of these actions take place in what Aly calls order, with a logic behind each movement. He is the only architect who provided an elaboration of the development of his form, its order and logic. I


neers. His elder brother is a teaching assistant and his father is dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the October 6 University . Aly has been influenced by his father, and has also worked with his father as his boss. He is now doing his military service. He has big dreams: to be a practicing architect and an influential designer.

Hany Ahmed junior architect male, age 24, Egyptian

Concept 1: “he”

culture in the modern world; mentioning the relation-

This is a building for managing a nuclear reactor pro-

ship between femininity and the concept of education

ject. It feels grounded and stable. The depth and the

is unavoidable here. Hany has added two significant

protruding form make it look like muscles.

aspects to the original form. The first is the bright red,

Concept 2: “she”

green, and blue rings on the sides. These resemb-

This is an experimental redesign of the UNESCO

le the way African women wear their earrings, three

building, adding more colorful and joyful elements

on one side and one on the other, which breaks the

and redesigning the façade.

symmetry of the original design. The second change is to the windows. The original building has a cur-

Notes and Judgments

ved elevation, and like most international-style buildings the elevation was divided into identical glazed

The “he” building is a nuclear reactor management

squares. Hany changed these to non-uniform glazed

building. The idea associated with this function is ob-

windows in the shape of long, acute-angled triangles

viously a demonstration of power, which is shown

with very sharp, pointed ends. This shape is often

in Hany’s description of the surface and its resem-

associated with masculinity.

blance to muscles. The form is completely horizontal except for the center section, which is a vertical

Hany, personal:

pyramid with a narrow base that looks like a dagger pointing to the sky.

Hany is a brand-new architecture graduate . He has

Hany’s “she” building is a redesign of the existing

one sister and is the only boy in his family. He ap-

UNESCO building. This is the only design in the stu-

pears as masculine, tall, and big, with a sociable,

dy that references an existing building. This building

friendly, and helpful personality.

houses an institution responsible for education and


Yasmine Matar junior architect female, age 25, Palestinian

Concept 1: “he”

ment among unrelated, flat and spherical elements.

Because the structure is visible!

From my previous acquaintance with the architect, I know that this is her personal style of design.

Concept 2: “she”

She has added two visually overwhelming aspects

Because it has bright colors!

to her “he” building: the visible structure added to the exterior of the two spherical forms and the vertical

Notes and Judgments

tower in the center of the arch, Unlike the colorful palette of bright green, orange, pink paint, in ad-

First, it should be mentioned that Yasmine was the

dition to the blue glass in the façade in her “She”

only member of the workshop who did not physically

building. She also surrounded the “he” building with

participate in the classroom. Because of her situati-

a wall.

on in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, she ended up com-

Yasmine, personal:

municating with us via the Internet. Her explanations were the shortest. She explained each building in

Yasmine is one of eight brothers and sisters. Her fa-

one sentence, which she said most clearly captured

ther passed away when they were young, and her

their gendered aspect.

mother took charge. She says that her uncle is her

She illustrated both buildings in three-dimensional,

second father. Their life in the extended-family home

bird’s-eye perspectives. Both have a curvy, horizon-

has led her to develop a different sense of family.

tal form except for the detached tower in the “he”

Like every Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip, she

building. Both have a radial structure with a central

struggles to make her way in a demanding field like

point. The “she” building is more unified into a single


form. The “he” building shows relationships of attach-


Hanaa Mousa senior architect female, 30, Egyptian

Concept 1: “he”

cated net with all of its inner details, which finally

Steadfast, more stable, comprehensive containment

form a beautiful outward appearance. The onlooker

(containment of the whole subject without concern

can perceive it as a whole, but will be totally lost if

for details)

he tries to concentrate on and follow the details. The

A “he” building represents one-directional thoughts

concept of containment in the “she” building includes

and vision. He cannot be distracted by more than

details and sub-subjects, not the whole thing. The

one thought. He is concerned with the whole subject

form represents this by means of several shell-like

without being bothered by any details; therefore, the

zones containing and protecting the smaller parts. It

entire surface of his form is totally smooth. He also

can be concerned with several things in several dif-

has the ability to be a containing person. The idea of

ferent directions at the same time, as the form is not

being steadfast and stable is presented in the wide

precisely oriented toward a single direction.

area of the base on the ground, and the depth dug beneath.

Notes and Judgments

Concept 2: “she”

The explanation provided for Hanaa’s “she” graphics

Complexity in order, “order” being defined as “accor-

focused on the mental aspects of the female—how

ding to her special certain system.”

her brain works and how she is able to attend to de-

The vision of Hanaa’s “she” buildings is based on the

tails. This recalls the theory that gray matter is dis-

“she” ability to perceive a huge number of details.

tributed differently in male and female brains, which

These details are connected to each other in a very

implies a scientific way of thinking, consciously relat-

complicated way, which could be regarded as a mess,

ing a visual form to a mental form or state.

but it is actually ordered. She perceives this compli-

She dealt with the concepts of complexity, disor-


der, and order and their relationship to one another.

scribed the interior and the cohesive relationship

Complexity occurs in the presence of an ordered re-

between this interior and its exterior. This could be

gime. This complexity might easily be mistaken for a

a gender-related reference, a way of relating the in-

mess, due to inability to process this much detail and

terior to femininity, or it could arise from her practical

the lack of a geometric reference.

work in architecture, where the interior and the exte-

Hanaa’s design elements are visually and physi-

rior must be related functionally.

cally interlinked, touching one another. A concept of

Her explanation of the fragile subject protected be-

touching is presented by the philosopher and femi-

tween thicker elements brings up the subject of the

nist Luce Irigaray, concerning the female’s tactile

fragile female and the physical weakness associated

knowledge of her own body and her habit of touching

with femininity. This weakness is sometimes inten-

others in order to construct an understanding of the

tional and arbitrary, as when a female pretends to

self and the other.

be weak in order to claim attention or some sort of

She also explained the idea of the presence of an

social approval.

exterior spectator. This spectator is a “he”. Specifi-

Hanaa’s mention of her “special certain system” sug-

cally, she is arguing that this male spectator might

gests that she assumes there is a different regime or

develop a wrong judgment about her design, and that

system for the “she” in architecture. This seems to

she needs to explain to him that her “she” concept

support bipolar theories of gender.

is not “messy”. The constructed “he” in this context

The architect mentions containment in connection

functions as someone who is reacting to her design

with her “he” building. She uses the common key

statement; it is obvious that the architect is paying

word of “embracing” , but illustrates it differently in

him a considerable amount of attention.

her two designs. The “he” and the “she” both offer an

She illustrated an exterior view of her work, but de-

embracing space for the act of containment, but in


Hanaa, personal:

different languages and contexts. The “she” demonstrates the complete containment of an already existing object or objects, while the “he” implies a gesture

Hanaa was raised in a gated compound in Muscat,

of containment in a less complete way. This kind of

Sultanate of Oman. Her environment was rich with

“she” containment is characteristically associated

people of different nationalities. She describes her-

with motherhood.

self as a Muslim Egyptian female, comfortable in her own skin. She has one older brother and has a close

The illustration of the “she” building shows a centered

relationship with him. She describes her childhood

vertical column or tower with a pointed end, without

as a pleasant time. She did not face discrimination

any explanation or conceptual background for the

as a female; on the contrary, she had more liberty

inclusion of this element. It seems to be a spontane-

than other girls around her.

ous reaction of the architect toward her design. It is also clear from the overlap of lines in the drawing that this element was added at a late stage of the design. It seems intended to start an argument concerning centering, the best-known male cliché. “Smooth” is not a word usually associated with masculinity in the unofficial social definition of gender, especially in reference to physical aspects such as smooth surfaces. This raises an interesting question to the received definition of masculinity.


Sameh Amin architecture student male, age 20, Jordanian

Concept 1: “he”

near stairways for the “he” building. He also added

Clear order and layering in spaces.

a creek of water flowing through the “she” building,


which seems to be a manifestation of fluidity.

Prefers to interact visually with people and the envi-

The function of both projects is the same. Both are


public parks with almost the same percentage of

Concept 2: “she”

green areas, which dominate the space. The green,

Ordered but complex spaces.

social open spaces are associated with femininity


and the idea of containment. Sameh used the same

Prefers complex environments.

design elements in both sketches, in both the play

Prefers more interaction with people, especially phy-

areas and the parking lots. There are also similari-

sical interaction, talking, and communicating.

ties in the levels and heights. His illustrations use the same green color palette, because the spaces have

Notes and Judgments

the same function. He also chose to elaborate both sketches as layouts (the plan as seen from above),

Despite his written concept, which seems politically

which is a standard form of graphics for parks and

correct and applicable to both genders, there are only

open areas.

two differences between Sameh’s “he” and “she” designs. The “he” building has straight lines and ang-

Sameh, personal: Sameh is a hard-working student

les, while the “she” building has a curvy form with soft

who has been the first in his class for four succes-

corners, which is the most frequent female stereoty-

sive years. He is ambitious and a forward thinker.

pe in this study (and I dare say generally). The other

Sameh lost his father when he was a child, and his

difference appears in his choice of links. He chose

mother took the full responsibility of raising him.

smooth, sloping ramps for the “she” building and li-


Mohammad Mustafa architecture student male, age 19, Egyptian

Concept 1: “he”

his concepts, implying the idea of either/or, such as

Males have a great number of ideas and all of them

males having many ideas/females having few ideas

are obvious and simple. A male isn’t shy; he doesn’t

and males not caring about people/females trying to

care if everyone looks at him. He only cares about

attract people. He relies heavily on the idea of gen-

being satisfied. He is strong, but very weak in front

der opposition, creating a sort of competitive atmos-

of his desires.

phere in his designs. His judgments favor males, because of the influence of his own sexual identity;

Concept 2: “she”

this is evident in the fact that he intentionally puts the

Females have few ideas in life; they are not all obvi-

male aspect first, every time. When asked why he

ous, but they are flexible. A female is shy, but tries to

thinks females lack ideas, he said that it is both the

attract everyone’s attention, caring about her clothing

environment and the way she was created.

and always trying to show her beauty.

Mohammed Mustafa, personal:

Notes and Judgments

Mohammed has a brother and a sister, four and six years older than he, respectively. Mohammad has a

Mohammad is a first-year architecture student who

revolutionary personality; he was even held in jail,

demonstrates comparatively primitive design abilities

along with his brother, during the 25 January Re-

due to lack of experience. This inexperience shows

volution. He takes on many projects other than ar-

in his sketches. He did not think much on his own

chitecture, such as community service and media.

about the project, and surrendered to social stereo-

According to him, he is close friends with his mother.

types because it is easier than actually reflecting on the issues involved. There are notions of opposites in


Mahmoud Adel architecture student male, age 19, Egyptian

Concept 1: “he”

correspondence between the gender of the building

Males are not inclined to fluidity. This shows in the

and the sex of the architect. In his “she” building, he

designs of many male architects.

is trying to imitate what he thinks a woman would design. He also described the curvy movement in

Concept 2: “she”

his female building as “fluid”, and related the lack

Feminine architecture is usually smooth, consistent

of fluidity in his male building to the work of male

with the general personal characteristics of women.

architects in general.

This appears in most of their architectural work. Notes and Judgments Both buildings have the same origin: they are both based on a vertical cuboid. This was modified in the male building with additions to and subtractions from the basic form, he made it curvy for the female (similar to Zaha Hadid’s dancing towers) The original cuboid form is divided vertically and horizontally into what appears as the architectural indication of glass This makes the basis of the work a glazed vertical form. In saying that curviness “appears in most of [women’s] architectural work”. Mahmoud asserts that there is a


Mahmoud Al Takatkah architecture student male, age 20, Jordanian Concept 1: “he”

Notes and Judgments:

The Arab man is expected to show certain qualities of masculinity because of traditions that bind him to

Mahmoud decided on a small, rather unusual revo-

a certain norm inherited from his male ancestors.

lution of his own. In his society, it is easy to hear

This design is intended to defy these norms and to

the sound of women demanding change and less at-

present ease and simplicity within masculinity, wit-

tachment to unfair social norms. One also finds men

hout clinging to unreasonable rules just because

supporting women’s rights. Mahmoud, however, is

they come from the past.

rejecting the strict rules that supposedly prove masculinity. He elaborated an interior space (usually

Concept 2: “she”

labeled as feminine). It is rounded, containing, and,

The rights offered to women are clearly unequal to

according to him, comfortable. His design elements

those of men in our society, although women are the

are rather artistic and calm, due to his choice of a

base of any society.

light color palette, which is rarely used in designing


Women are the structural foundation.

for men. The space contains a center circle, shaped


“Paradise is beneath mother’s feet”.an Ara-

like a hemisphere, marking a clear center for his

bic proverb In this section of the building, the design

work. His design of femininity shows three different

is a shade (the mother) to provide protection from

forms of strength ; the design elements are structural

sun and heat (representing torture), offering a para-

and fragmented even in his explanation. He implies

dise of comfort.

a strong notion of hierarchy in talking about taking


women higher and representing it in his design as

Taking women to a higher level.

an ascending line. The choices he made for his two-dimensional ren-


derings are completely different. He chose a computerized, colored, and more “realistic” rendering for his “he” building, and freehand pencil colors for the “she” building. Personal: Mahmoud is a senior architecture student at Sixth October University. He is the youngest of his sisters and brother. He has been influenced a great deal by his mother, whom he describes as a strong and educated women. He used to play electric guitar before he began studying architecture.


Muhammad Khalid Ahmed junior architect male, age 21, Egyptian dent at Cairo University.

Concept 1: “he” The aggressive form represents Battle, with all the

His graphics reflect his great interest in the “she”

sharp edges and the undefined central space.

task, even though he is male. It shows very little Concept 2: “she”

evidence of sexual identity or prejudice, either be-

“The idea revolves around the fact that we live in a

cause he was trying to make a certain statement or

masculine society; therefore, women’s rights are not

because he was affected by the fact that the per-

fulfilled. From there I took the curved lines to repre-

son making the request (myself) was female and he

sent fear of free thinking. This fear created an inter-

wanted to be politically correct.

nal conflict inside her mind because of her belief that

The elements he used in the “he” design were mini-

these ideas are of no interest to males. This makes

mal and solid, with an obvious entrance.

her mind full of repulsive ideas, which are accumula-

To represent the “she”, he used elements like pas-

ted in the center of my form in the shape of scattered

sages, bridges, shades, and courtyards. The ambi-

bulky black pieces. This results in her ideas being re-

guous use of passages and bridges give a glimpse

presented in an indirect way in the shade appearing

of honesty in his work, because they carry conno-

in the form”. (Translation from Arabic into English of

tations of transition (some say passivity, with which

Muhammad’s exact words)

I disagree). There is also the court (the container) in the middle, located in the middle of a conflict , al-

Notes and Judgments:

most like a pivot. The shaded part, as a compromise,

Muhammad is an architect who graduated from Sixth

shows a tensile structure, although structure sys-

shows increasing volume, resembling growth. It also

October University in 2010 and is now a master’s stu-


tems are not the usual representation of femininity.

Personal: Muhammad is the eldest of four brothers. He was raised in Saudi Arabia, where his father worked as an engineer. He has a tendency to make fashion statements. He has a long-time fascination with the arts. His graduation project was about colors and the seven arts. He is single.


Aya Nour junior architect female, age 23, Egyptian

Concept 1: “he”

different levels, with a waterfall moving through the

This is a façade of a villa intended for a male ar-

steps, to create a feeling of joy. It will include cultural

chitect. When I first thought of designing a “he”, I

events, open theater, and kiosks to show artifacts

made a decision to avoid sharp and aggressive lines,

from different cultures.

because I honestly do not accept this sort of visual

Notes and Judgments:

representation for either gender. The mass is simple and squarish, free of complications and physical

Aya is also trying to revolt against the common ideas

issues; this is what we look for in masculinity. The

of gender, the ideas known and agreed upon in her

exterior color is white, with minimal movement, but the inside is full of color and life.

society and in many others. Her “he” building is a

Concept 2: “she”

residence, despite the fact that traditionally masculi-

home. She is associating masculinity with the idea of nity is associated with working outside the home and

“She”, the second project, was a project in Sixth Oc-

earning the means of material life, while women are

tober City. I suggest that it be turned into a public

associated with the home, raising children, cooking,

park because of the practical realities of life in the

and dealing with indoor issues.

city, the fact that people of many nationalities live in Sixth October, and the fact that we always need

She illustrated her idea of the male home with ex-

more green and pleasant sights. This place will bring

terior elevations, which somehow connects with the

people together and let them get to know each other.

ideas of man and exterior space, yet it denies the

I am hoping to communicate a feeling of joy and em-

fact that the exterior is harsh and tough. An interes-

bracing to the visitors in this space. I chose the cur-

ting aspect of her design is that she provides an illus-

ves to hug and embrace, and designed the land on


tration of the front façade, but describes the interior

The first thing to notice in her representation of fe-

as colorful and full of life even though it is a home for

mininity is that it contains almost no buildings in the

a man and both the exterior and the interior will be

usual sense of the term, except for leveled steps and

used by a man. She also stated her strong personal

light-structured kiosks. It is also unusual that she

opinions on the stereotypes of masculinity and how

gave it a place and a context by choosing a speci-

they are presented in aggressive forms. She refused

fic city for the project, unlike her masculine building,

this visual representation for both femininity and ma-

which could be anywhere. This location of the “she”


is related to her specific ideas of spatial design and

She chose an easy structure and a simple form for

the microcultures that exist in every place; they em-

the “he” building. What she sees in the idea of ma-

phasize the individuality of the design.

sculinity is ease; she wants to express her hope of what masculinity should be.

Size is a controversial aspect of gender. It is typically

She also mentions the relationship between the

manifested in the large masculine and the petite fe-

mood of the design and the mood of the user, who

minine. Aya has designed her “she” as a spacious,

in this case happens to be a man. According to her,

multi-level park, many times larger than her “he” buil-

his house tells us what kind of man he is, and so-

ding. Yet she does not use the conventional idea of

mething about his individual characteristics. These

size as a means of showing off strength or ability.

characteristics are associated with mood, in all con-

The purpose of her noticeably large project is to con-

ditions of what she calls “the world”. My interpreta-

tain as many people as possible.

tion of “world” in this sense would be the context in which her architecture is situated.

Green areas and plants dominate her “she” design. These are logical elements in a park, but the greens,


the living things, and the fertile land are also asso-

Aya, personal:

ciated with femininity and Mother Earth. The idea of motherhood is difficult to isolate from femininity,

Aya is the eldest of three sisters in a traditional, con-

although its ideas and qualities can be practiced by

servative family, typical of Asyut in Upper Egypt, whe-


re she is from. All of the sisters are well educated: Aya is an architect, her next younger sister is a doc-

The language she uses to describe her “she” design

tor, and the youngest is studying to be an architect

is quite sentimental and manifests personal feelings.

as well. Aya is now pursuing a master’s degree at

She hopes to create joy with her space. She did not

Cairo University, although this means she has to live

use this emotional style in describing her “he” buil-

far from home.

ding. The community involvement, the bringing together of people, is also traditionally feminine, unlike her almost solitary representation of masculinity. Curves are one of the biggest clichés associated with women; they represent the visual beauties of femininity and the supposedly mild nature of women. The interesting thing about Aya’s use of curves is that she places them almost solely for function, to contain and direct people to the different levels and zones of the project.


Conclosions Gender classification of non-sexed objects exist in

Grammatical gender in language does not define

the collective conscious.

gender of objects, for individuals, therefore, societies, unless there is no interaction between the re-

The failure of the bi-polar theories of gender, those

ceiver and that certain object, then the receiver

who are based on the idea of opposition, to accom-

tends to rely on language to determine moral gender

modate the true essence of gender.

for objects. Visual representation of gender faces radical chang-

Gender judgments with relation to only visual percep-

es when dealing with different styles or difference in

tion lacks depth and comprehensive inner-standing

the collective gender.

of the gendered object.

The biological sex of an architect has no relevance to the gendered remarks elaborated in the outcome

The collective gender of a certain society affects di-

of his or her work.

rectly the gender remarks in the built environment. Gender sensitive architecture is an important approach to deal with the masculinity of contemporary societies. The importance of distinguishing sociological and psychological gender from biological sex when dealing with “things�.


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Declaration This is to declare that I wrote this thesis by myself – in case of group work I marked the part of the thesis produced by me – and that I used only thoses quotes, sources and aids indicated in my thesis. All quotations used by me are explicitly marked.

Place, date

Cologne, 04.10.2011



Final dessertation  

feminine architecture

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