By ‘queering’ the discipline of architecture, we sought to discuss new ways to arrive at an inclusive approach to architecture and urban planning from the LGBT perspective. Speakers included Jasmine Rault, who wrote a book on Eileen Gray and Sapphic modernity; Henry Urbach, who organized the exhibition Queer Space in New York in 1994; Wolfgang Voigt, who is preparing a book publication on gay architects together with Uwe Bresan; and Riëtte van der Werff who is building a project for LGBT-seniors in Amsterdam.
About 20 years ago, two extraordinary books challenged conventional architectural criticism. In 1996, Joel Sanders published his anthology, Stud: Architectures of Masculinity. It was followed by the provocative Queer Space: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire, by Aaron Betsky. Both books focused on gay identities in relation to architecture. As a larger project for the architectural discipline, both authors aimed at a different method and subject choice in order to include the histories and experiences of people whose sexualities differ from the heteronormative mainstream, namely lesbians, gays, and bisexual and transgender people (LGBT). Since then, much has changed in terms of civil rights for the LGBT community, at least in the Americas and Europe. LGBT culture has become part of the mainstream. The resulting new openness also impacts research, design and historiography. By ‘queering’ the discipline of architecture, we seek to discuss new ways to arrive at an inclusive approach to architecture and urban planning from the LGBT perspective.
First of all, there are countless stories of individuals, communities, sites and buildings waiting to be told. Queering history is a means to bring out cases that were suppressed or simply overlooked. Next to the identification of historical cases and writing their stories, it is necessary to learn how to unlock such 'secret' histories, and which methods and interpretations of available historical testimonies are useful in doing this.
Secondly, queering architecture touches on the shifting and unstable notion of queer identity itself. Obviously, 'queer' is a term reclaimed relatively recently, and now mostly used in an activist sense. The historic subjects of this study would have defined themselves in a very different manner, certainly not in the explicit and rather provocative way implied by the modern use of the term 'queer'. As a method then, queering architecture is also a political act: not only as an act of ‘outing’ in order to break the silence of the archives, but also as an act of resistance in looking for new possibilities and new spaces that might enable different lifestyles.
Finally, there is the question of queering the gender debate in general, and in architecture in particular. Since the 1990s, a plethora of publications has demonstrated how architecture is inherently sexualized as a profession, as the production of space (social, public and domestic), and as a language system of metaphors. What does it mean to develop a queer perspective of these matters? Would it be possible to develop a practice that goes beyond essentialist binary oppositions such as masculine versus feminine values? Can architecture embrace fluid identities and accommodate processes of becoming and metamorphosis?
Speakers included Jasmine Rault, who showed her research on Eileen Gray and Sapphic modernity; Henry Urbach, who organized the exhibition Queer Space in New York in 1994, discussed the notions of the closet and anti-closet; Wolfgang Voigt presented several of the biographies of gay architects which are part of a project for a book publication with Uwe Bresan; and Riëtte van der Werff, who, together with her clients Josee Rothuizen and Karleen Veenker, explained a project for a building for LGBT-seniors in Amsterdam.
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The seminar was followed by the Thursday Night event Archive Explorations: Through Queer Eyes. During this evening the Archive of Dutch architects and urban planners was viewed through queer eyes as a way of inquiring whether there is such a thing as ‘queer space’ and if it can be designed.