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“Women are from Venus, Mies was from Mars: The role of the modernist male in the construction of an architect’s sexual persona”

Part 2 Dissertation 2013
Chris Jeffcoate
London South Bank University | UK
Gender has been under discussion in debate about architecture – its professional landscape, its interpretation, its physical manifestation – for decades. Women in architecture, sexuality and space, the relationship between power, men and practice: these issues raise perennial questions. But where does all this questioning leave the emerging, conventional, male architect of today: the cliché? That cliché is me – a young graduate whose middle-class upbringing has been defined by garden village urbanism and John Lewis. My research investigates the ambivalent heroes and role models on my own architectural horizon, those masculine stereotypes and misogynist templates demolished and destabilised by the previous generation.

How do we write a script for what it is that should define our identities as male or female architects today? Theorising this dilemma in relation to critiques of gender-making, this dissertation directs its investigation towards the archetype of the modernist male in the post-war era. Mies van der Rohe exemplifies this figure. By exploring his persona – particularly his relationships with women, often conducted in a manner that may appear deplorable in the eyes of today’s historian – we can shed light on how Mies and other key figures of the 20th century are woven into the fabric of aspirations available to the emerging cohort of architects.

Contemporary attitudes to celebrity encourage us to chew up and spit out public figures, including the ‘Architects with a capital A’ held in high esteem by earlier generations. We expect our heroes to be flawless, not only squeaky clean but also charismatic and engaging, and are therefore left with a very narrow range of sexual personae available to guide and frame our own ambitions. Who really were these heroes? How did they hold the ability to inspire others? These are the questions we must ask in order to understand how they played their parts against the cultural scenery of the times, not in order to imitate the life lived by Mies or any other modern era role model, but to learn from it and thereby build up the capacity to contribute something genuinely new.

Chris Jeffcoate

Matthew Barac
Paul Davies
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