Gender Analysis within Architecture
We shape our homes to reflect our cultures and lifestyles. But have you ever wondered how our homes impact who we are and our perceptions of the world? An ideal single family residence and domestic life are often benchmarks used to talk about homes. Generations of Americans have striven to attain such a lifestyle where the stability and prestige of homeownership is paramount. The home has become a statement that attests to the occupiers’ status of domestic life. To better understand how this type of living became so highly regarded it is helpful to look at architecture’s role in influencing such an ideology. Architecture has helped to sustain and promote certain social and gender roles within and outside the home.
Exploring this notion within Milwaukee’s Washington Park area we must begin by looking at the time period, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when a large majority of the homes were built in this neighborhood. Around this time designers began releasing catalogs and magazines which specialized in architectural floor plans, known as pattern books. The layouts featured were advertised as innovative ideas for all families. Such marketing attracted a large population of immigrants within Washington Park during this period. They found appeal in these house styles, viewing them as innovative, a way to conform to American lifestyle, and as testament to the affluence of both their neighborhood and families.
Although marketed as innovative designs these floor plans in
actuality offered little diversity, represented a scarce majority of the United States and created a false notion of the ideal home. Life within these homes helped embed implicit gender and class roles within the household and in daily life.
The floor plan of a Washington Park home, built in the early 1900s, shows how explicit boundaries were created within the home. These boundaries influenced behavior, practices, as well as directed movement inside the residence. They produced hierarchical interior spaces that in turn influenced the resident's behavior and social roles. They allowed some to cross while prohibiting others from entering. The yellow bands show circulation and movement spaces between rooms. The gray zones show discrete interior rooms separated by various forms of boundaries. Walls are impenetrable and rigid. Doors and sliding doors are flexible since access can be controlled and monitored as desired. Stairs, hallways and bay windows act as thick boundaries that increase the complexity of the home interiors.
One overt spatial divide used in this home are the sliding pocket doors. The doors serve as a flexible boundary. When closed, the pocket doors produce two discrete spaces. When open, they unite the rooms into a larger space. If closed the doors define a formal front room and a more private interior space. Historian Gwendolyn Wright shows how such interior layout sustained gender separation within a household during the late nineteenth century. During formal events, the men occupied the front room and the women occupied the back sphere consisting of the kitchen and dining room.
Means of entering and exiting the home are often controlled. The front of the house features a large window overlooking a formal room where guests would be greeted or turned away. The back part of the house has an access for service deliveries. Whoever occupies the back zone also has access to the private upstairs bedroom where children or an elderly adult may reside. The back of the house is the domain of a caretaker who is in charge of housework and domestic labor.
Page by Milan Outlaw