Recently I was walking through Frank Lloyd Wright’s Living Room from the Little House: Wayzata (at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) with a fellow designer. He was marveling at the sweeping horizontal planes, perpendiculars and lines of the room. I on the other hand was taking some time to adjust. Think not that I was contemptuous of the quality of design here, but rather that I was struck by the austerity of shapes and lack of ‘cosy’ places to settle oneself in what was supposed to be a ‘living room’. The human form, the organic form, and above all the ‘curve’ have always been the genesis of my creative journey. I have often wondered if this is an inherently female insight on my part – I am sure no doubt it is as we work from our own experience of the world and mine happens to be a female one. There in Lloyd Wright’s room before me was modernism and structure in all it’s grandeur; an architectural direction which fostered the minimalists and has to some degree continued to direct architecture. But now new work is emerging in architecture that draws heavily on the curve and organic forms. This is profoundly so in the work of designers like Zaha Hadid(London) and Alisa Andrasek(New York).
Both of these architects are women, and both have recently exhibited as part of the group show elles@centrepompidou at the Pompidou Center in Paris. The question that occurs to me is whether there is some connection between a masculine psychological tendency towards straight linear planes, and a feminine fascination with curves and organic modules. In her book ‘Knowing Woman‘ Jungian psychologist Irene Claremont de Castillejo speaks of the female psyche’s tendency towards ‘diffuse awareness’ and the interconnectedness of all living things. She contrasts this with the male tendency towards rational and logical ‘focused consciousness’. In an aside to this the comparison of the sexes has recently undergone a candid, humorous and at times passionate online debate on the subject of Male leadership versus Female leadership – you can follow that thread of debate here.
Andrasek’s practice works under the studio title ‘Biothing‘ in which embodied feelings are entwined with abstract relationships. The creation of ideas for Biothing are based on this relationship and harnessed by the use of digitally generated diagrams. Taking for example the formulation of skin, a mathematical algorithm of skin-surfaces is fed into a computer to produce physical, structural formations. They are developing a built environment in which ‘the organ’ and biological elements are becoming tangible structures to live and work within, and are echoing the very nature of the organisms that inhabit them.
I recently heard an esteemed male designer lambasting the curvilinear structures of Zaha Hadid as unsympathetic to the built environment. However, the counter argument to a generalization of male and female architectural tendencies can be found in the form of Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, or Renzo Piano’s Aurora Place – also in Sydney. Both provide magnificent and acclaimed curves in the skyline; and both were designed by men.