Stud: Architectures of Masculinity

June 11, 2015

In the opening passage of Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, its architect hero Howard Roark stands naked at the edge of a granite cliff surveying a panoramic view of a wooded valley below. The Fountainhead achieves its author’s stated goal – ‘the presentation of an ideal man’ 1 – by portraying its male protagonist as an architect, capitalizing on the popular cultural perception that authors of buildings, like the structures they design, embody the very essence of manhood. Conflating the male architect’s body with the landscape that elevates him, Rand’s hard-edged prose lodges both masculinity and architecture in a transcendental natural world. “His face was like a law of nature- a thing one could not question, alter or implore” (15). Roark’s robust physique, composed of long, straight lines and angles, each curve is broken into planes,” seen silhouetted against the sky, reads like a description of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous house “Fallingwater,” also a composition of hard geometric forms set against a rugged forest setting. An unfettered and independent creator singlemindedly concerned with “the conquest of nature, “ the professional architect mines his intrinsic “manly” faculties; possessing both physical and mental prowess, Roark shapes and masters the natural forces that sustain him (679). “These rocks, he thought, are here for me: waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice; waiting to be split, ripped, pounded, reborn; waiting for the shape my hands will give them” (16). Rand’s portrait of the architect as elemental man vividly dramatizes how culture relies upon architecture as a foundation for the construction of masculinity.

Architecture and masculinity, two apparently unrelated discursive practices, are seen to operate reciprocally in this remarkable opening scene from The Fountainhead. Rand exploits building metaphors to articulate the theme of “manworship” , while the portrait of Howard Roark as creator sanctifies architectural doctrine. In the novel’s central dramatic scene, the courtroom scene in which Roark is tried for dynamiting one of his own buildings “disfigured” during construction , Rand’s uncompromising male idealist defeats the principles of modern architecture with arguments comparing built structures to masculine virtue, claiming buildings have integrity, just like men. Roark’s narcissistic proclamation echoes the words of Western architects and theorists from Vitruvius to Le Corbusier who, in their attempt to locate and to fix architecture’s underlying principles in a vision of transhistorical nature, recruit masculinity to justify practice. Rand’s architecture of masculinity offers one of the most dramatic, although certainly not the earliest, renditions of the notion that buildings derive from the human form itself – specifically from the unity, scale and proportions of the male body. 2 The Fountainhead’s portrayal of the architect as virile stud ultimately reveals architecture and masculinity to be mutually reinforcing ideologies, each invoking the other to naturalize and to uphold its particular claims and intentions. 3

In one of modern intellectual history’s stranger alliances, contemporary cultural theorists have recently borrowed from architectural discourse the language of “construction” to denaturalize sexual identity. Arguing that identity is “constructed” rather than natural, “mapped” rather than given, these theorists draw on the popular perception of architecture as manmade precisely in order to de-essentialize gender. But in the process of erecting an argument about gender, cultural theory draws on a view of architecture – architecture as human artifice- that the discipline itself has, throughout its long history, sought either implicitly to camouflage or emphatically to deny.


Rarely are gender and architecture, allied and interdependent cultural productions, afforded the opportunity to address one another directly. Stud invites both theorists and architects, writers and artists, to expand the notion of cultural construction by investigating the active role that architectural constructions play in the making of gender. Through its mobilization of architectural metaphors to describe the “built” male body, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead illustrates one crucial way that culture enlists architecture to construct gender. But the same question can be broached from the opposite direction. How does architecture, as a concrete material practice, works to institute sexual identities by delimiting and demarcating the interaction of human subjects in actual space? While previous studies have tended to concentrate on architecture’s role in the formation of feminine identities, 4 Stud interrogates how, through the precise organization and distribution of materials, objects and bodies in space, physical structures assist in the fabrication of masculine identities at specific sites and at precise moments in history.

Although engineering masculinity is a Herculean task, architecture never lets you see it sweat. Unless a building stands out as a monument with inscriptions literally incised in stone on its surface, we tend to think or architecture as unencumbered by politics and ideology. Normally, we regard edifices as empty or neutral containers, facilitating the free interaction of sovereign subjects in space. But the essays in this volume will suggest, the ostensibly innocent conventions of architecture work in convert fashion to transmit social values in unexpected places- the everyday and often banal places where our daily lives unfold. For this reason, Stud investigates a series of commonplace but ideologically overdetermined spaces – houses, bathrooms, gyms, offices, streets, parks- environments that we habitually take for granted but that quietly and decisively participate in the manufacture of male subjectivity.

But how, exactly, does architecture work to construct gender identity through the distribution of bodies and objects in space? Recent critical theory offers us the suggestive notion of sexual identity as performance – as the compulsory repetition of culturally prescribed codes and utterances. 5 This book proceeds from the premise that architecture behaves as one the subjectivating norms that constitute gender performativity. Programmatic functions in architecture are commonly associated with specific, although culturally contingent, spatial configurations, often referred to as building “types.” For example, dwelling locates itself within the house, research within the library, working within the office – all formulaic structures made up of recurring formal elements offering relatively few variations. Working within the spatial limits dictated by custom, and by a building industry driven by economic forces that encourage standardization, the architect or builder modifies a type in response to the particular pressures of a unique site or program. These moments in a design that do allow for the possibility of inflection and variation represent potential sites in architecture where norms and their attending ideologies can be reviewed, resisted, and revised. Although purportedly outside the domain of politics, the way buildings distribute our activities within standard spatial configurations has a profound ideological impact on social interaction- regulating, constraining and (on occasion) liberating the human subject. Architecture, through the establishment and the alteration of reiterated types and conventions, creates the space – the stage- where human subjectivity is enacted and performed.

What, then, are the formal codes and conventions that architecture deploys to erect masculinity, and where do they occur? Considering the problem at different scales – from the design of furniture and wall coverings to the layout of public parks – Stud’s contributors collectively identify four architectural strategies that enhance male performance: dressing wall surfaces, demarcating boundaries, distributing objects, and organizing gazes.



The suggestion that architecture stages masculine performance through the treatment of interior and exterior wall surfaces contradicts one of the central tenets of architectural doctrine. By identifying manliness as “genuine” and womanliness as “artifice,” architects since Vitruvius have associated the ornamented surface with femininity, not masculinity. Discussing the origins of Doric and Ionic columns, Vitruvius writes: “in the invention of the two types of columns, they borrowed manly beauty, naked and unadorned for the one and for the other the delicacy, adornment and proportions characteristic of women.” 6 Because of its long-standing associations with the feminine, ornament has come under sustained attack in this century from architectural modernists invested in upholding the notion of a building ‘s pared-down inner truth. 7 Searching for an authentic, rational, and timeless architecture, Le Corbusier and others have found their archetypal model in the image of the male nude (“naked and unadorned,” like Ayn Rand’s architect hero) rather than in the picture of the female masquerader, embellished with clothes and makeup. But while the image of the male nude was seen to embody masculine ideals of rationality and strength, the functional imperative that requires buildings to wear a protective outer skin implicitly challenged modernism’s devaluation of ornamentation. As Mark Wigley notes, Le Corbusier’s “Law of Ripolin” – the thin coat of white wash painted on the pristine walls of modern buildings and associated with such “masculine” traits as logic, hygiene and truth – functions, despite its apparent invisibility, as an applied layer, a form of clothing added to the surface of buildings. 8 Recognizing the practical indispensability of this second skin for dressing the building surface, Adolf Loos recommends that designers emulate the timeless simplicity of the Englishman’s austere, standardized wardrobe. Both examples suggest that masculinity, no less than femininity, is constructed through the use of supplemental surfaces.

Even the materials employed to construct buildings are implicated in a process of architectural engendering. Coded as ruggedly masculine, wood paneling is conventionally used for sheathing recreational and professional interiors (men’s clubs, bars, law courts, corporate board rooms). Because of their hard, cold, crystalline surfaces, building material s such as glass, steel and stone are similarly attributed masculine properties. Often these materials evoke the “manly” environments that produced them: wood conjures up a vision of pre-industrialized, pre-domesticated masculine wilderness, while steel invokes a picture of virile laborers shaping molten metals in foundries. Le Corbusier derived his lexicon of materials from building types mainly inhabited by men (factories and monasteries) as well as from the traditionally male domain of transportation (cars, ships, airplanes). But while these materials directly recall male environments, they are also more subtly convey the social values associated with them. A building’s architectural integrity derives from the masculinization of its materials, made to bear the weight of all the cultural values masculinity purportedly connotes, above all austerity, authenticity, and permanence. Ironically, architects value the supplemental skins used to register masculinity precisely because of their innate, hence “manly” characteristics. Electing to forego the use of the applied ornament, architects like Mies van der Rohe (at the Barcelona Pavillion) and Adolf Loos( at the American Bar, Vienna) favor wood and marble, materials prized for their inherent natural patterns.

Two exclusively male domiciles invite us to see through the masculine garb of modern architecture. Playboy’s Penthouse Apartment for a Bachelor by an unidentified designer (1956) and Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (1958) each reveal, in their respective attempts to showcase masculine austerity, an almost obsessive concern with style. 9 Eschewing the upholstered furniture and applied fabrics and wallpapers that conventionally define a feminine interior, the designs for both the Playboy bachelor apartment and the Air Force academy show single-sex environments tacitly organized for the performance and display of masculine power. Playboy’s “handsome haven” places stylish pieces of designer furniture made of steel, leather, and wood – a Florence Knoll desk, an Eames lounge chair, a Noguchi coffee table – within spaces defined by wood and glass partitions. The Air Force Academy interiors and furnishings, created by Walter Dorwin Teague Associates use similar materials (dark wood paneling and aluminum framed furniture) to create orderly and highly regimented living quarters where cadets train to become men. The exhibitionist overtones of even the most Spartan masculine spaces is particularly striking in the Air Force Academy design, where built-in wood closets, opened daily for inspections, reveal military uniforms custom designed by Hollywood director and designer Cecil B. Demille. When seen framed within the closets and hung in a series prescribed by military protocol, these uniforms reinforce the image of masculine regimentation, hierarchy, and control symbolized by the outfits themselves. The Air Force Academy closets demonstrate how the wall dressings that adorn a building work analogously to the clothes that outfit a body. But more often than not, architecture fabricates a masculine environment by undressing rather than dressing its surfaces: less is more masculine. Thus the campus plan of the Air Force Academy illustrates how “mascline space is created by reducing architecture to its bare essentials. Each academy building, whose design is generated from a seven-foot grid derived from the module of a cadet’s bed, is set on a vast, barren horizontal podium that levels the rugged topography to afford an uninterrupted view of the horizon. These empty plazas create an atmosphere as spare and forbidding as the bare Rocky mountain range that serves as their imposing backdrop. The building interiors are also conspicuously lacking in detail, conveying the same virtues of cleanliness, order and restraint connoted by the academy’s Spartan exteriors.




Artists Andrea Zittel and John Lindell also fabricate austere manly environments, employing the severe aesthetic associated with the rational languages of modern architecture and minimalist art. Zittel’s “A to Z” lexicon of domestic prototypes consists of reductive geometric objects that accommodate and contain household functions – eating, sleeping, bathing – within a minimum, often collapsible space. While Zittel’s proposals for contemporary Spartan living would seem to situate her within the masculinist tradition of the heroic modern architect, confident in his abilities to forge a rational world through the creation of standardized artifacts that obey universal human needs, her status as a contemporary female artist makes it ambiguous whether Zittel intends her interpretation of modernist austerity to be read as prescription, parody or critique. In his installations, John Lindell both celebrates and subverts the masculine visual codes he appropriates. In Untitled, Lindell uses his signature template of abstract symbols denoting male erogenous zones to overturn the logic of the “flow chart,” diagrams commonly used by natural and social scientists to represent the steps of rational processes and procedures. Conflating the language of science and geometric abstraction, the crisp black lines and abstract shapes that Lindell draws on the pristine white gallery walls map activities that fall outside the binary logic of heterosexuality – representing instead the ecstatic, even delirious geometries of gay male pleasure. Both Zittel’s and Lindell’s projects underscore how the articulation of masculine space often obeys a logic of absence – a logic implicitly predicated on the eradication of “feminine” excess or ornamentation.


Renee Green’s Commemorative Toile Fabric, calls into question the traditional association of ornamentation and femininity by demonstrating how ostensibly feminine surfaces of toile fabric historically embody masculine civic virtue. A commodity traded by French merchants in exchange for slaves, 18th-century toile fabric featured idyllic pastoral scenes representing an Enlightenment idealization of untamed nature. Exposing the violence of the sexual and racial economies that supported the trade in toile fabric, Green’s contemporary designs for this material seamlessly splice together engraved scenes of rape, abduction, lynching, and slavery. By showing, through her visual alterations, how a material as supposedly neutral as toile fabric can encode dominant cultural ideologies, Green reminds us that the female domestic interior is not opposed to but is wholly complicit with the politics of the male public sphere.



This opposition of public and private, upon which sexual binaries like male/female and heterosexual/homosexual crucially depend, is itself grounded on the prior spatial dualism, inside/outside. 10 Through the erection of partitions that divide space, architecture colludes in creating and upholding prevailing social hierarchies and distinctions. Working on vastly different scales – from developer house plans that sequester the housewife in the kitchen from the husband in the family room, to large-scale urban masterplans that isolate the feminine world of the suburb from the masculine world of the city – architecture’s bounding surfaces reconsolidate cultural gender differences by monitoring the flow of people and the distribution of objects in space.

The spatial differentiation of the sexes may find its most culturally visible form in the construction of the sexually segregated public bathroom. It is not by accident that Jacques Lacan chooses, as his privileged example of the institutionalization of the sexual difference, adjoining public bathrooms in a railway station. Seated opposite one another by the window of a train pulling into a station, a boy and a girl misrecognize their socially prescribed destinations. “Look,” says the brother, “We’re at Ladies!” “Idiot!” Replies his sister, “Can’t you see we’re at Gentlemen?” 11 In this parable, of what he calls the “laws of urinary segregation,” Lacan attributes the division of sexes to the powerful signifying effects of language. But sexual difference is also a function here of spatial division. Lacan’s reduction of the problem of sexual difference to the two-dimensional surface of a pair of bathroom doors, one labeled “Ladies” and the other “Gentlemen,” conceals the more complex ways that the actual three-dimensional space of the public bathroom assigns sex and gender identity. The architecture of the public bathroom, where the physical walls literally segregate the sexes, naturalizes gender by separating “men” and “women” according to the biology of bodily functions.

While Lacan shows us two bathroom doors identical in every respect for their labels, we never see beyond the doors to the interiors themselves, which in fact are quite different. The common assumption that purely functional requirements specified by anatomical difference dictate the spatial layout and fixture design of restroom architecture reinforces the reigning essentialist notion of sexual identity as an effect of biology. Just one look inside the typical domestic bathroom shared by both sexes discloses the ways in which segregated public restroom facilities answer to the requirements of culture, not nature.

Two public bathroom renovations in this volume, one by Interim Office of Architecture and the other by Sheila Kennedy and Frano Violich, emphasize the contingent status of a cultural site generally considered functionally fixed and inevitable. In their renovations of the public bathrooms at two urban art centers, these design teams attempt to make visible the architectural codes of the bathroom that shape and regulate sexual identity. In their modernization of the Boston Arts Center, a 19th-century exhibition hall, Kennedy and Violich invert conventional gender assignments by placing the building’s new women’s room where the men’s room used to be and the men’s room in the space formerly occupied by the women’s room. Bruce Tomb and John Randolph of IOOA reconfigure the laws of urinary segregation by converting the bathroom at the Headlands in San Francisco, once a single sex military latrine, into a coed public lavatory. Each design team exposes architectural remains normally concealed in a bathroom renovation. A row of freestanding “dysfunctional” urinals at the Headlands and a row of the urinal floor drains left beneath the newly installed sinks in the women’s room at the Boston Arts Center are intrusive reminders of the culturally encoded urinary postures enforced by the architectural practices that govern sexual difference.


The men’s room appears to function as a cultural space that consolidates masculine authority around the centrality of phallic power. But as the lead-in essay to Stud’s section on the bathroom suggests, this particular hygienic site also operates as a theater of heterosexual anxiety. Lee Edelman argues that the anus, an orifice open to penetration, must be closeted in a stall to protect against the “homophobically abjectified desires” provoked by the “loosening of the sphincter.” The internal spatial boundary within the men’s room that separates the urinals from the enclosed toilets, together with the cultural prohibition against looking at one’s neighbor while urinating, actually initiate what the structure of the men’s room was meant to ward off: fear of the abject and homosexual desire. Edelman’s discussion of a chic New York restaurant’s men’s room, where televisions are installed over the urinals to fix wandering glances, reflects the capacity of architecture to participate in the formation of heterosexual identity by giving cultural play to the forbidden and threatening desires its spatialized boundaries purportedly labor to conceal. In the over-determined site of the public men’s room, the door apparently swings both ways.

Philippe Starck’s designs for public bathrooms effectively challenge the conventions of men’s room architecture, highlighting and encouraging those activities and desires that standard ones elicit and suppress. While facilities for urinating and defecating are normally discreetly placed opposite one another, at the Royalton Hotel in Manhattan they share a common wall: the urinal, which take the form of a vertical steel plane, is situated between flanking cubicle doors. Registering the movements of both the eye and the body, the urinal’s metallic surface reflects wandering glances while a motion detector, activated by unzipping flies, initiates the flow of a sheet of water down its face. Further rejecting the norm of the isolated bathroom fixture separated by partitions that insures an individuals sense of hygiene and propriety, at both the Royalton and the Teatriz in Madrid, Starck creates communal sinks that make washing a truly public activity as well.

A number of the visual projects in Stud highlight the ideological instability of the partition ordinarily found in toilets, gyms, peep shows, and sex clubs. Translucent partitions counteract the visual privacy afforded by Kennedy and Violich’s restroom stalls, while flexible plumbing hoses shake when flushed in IOOA bathroom restoration, immediately undermining the authority of the undulating ¼ inch steel privacy screen rendered tough as military armor. Looking at this contentious membrane from an explicitly queer perspective, media critic Bill Horrigan’s essay, which frames architect Mark Robbins’s project, Framing American Cities (New York), shows how the cubicle refers not only to toilet stalls but also to peep shows and confessionals. Robbin’s installation demonstrates how this vulnerable, penetrable boundary, originally designed as a spatial bulwark against the threat of homosexual predation, actually serves as an eroticized site of gay male sexual coupling.



Within the spaces articulated by the enclosing boundaries of architecture, any performance of masculinity requires its props. A number of the contributions to this volume consider the obsessive, even hysterical ways that men relate to the objects that surround and define them. Men’s overestimation of certain fetish objects points to the vulnerability at the very heart of masculine identity. Historians attribute the crisis in masculinity to specific historical events – the industrial revolution, World War II – that transformed traditional roles both in the workplace and in the home.. Psychoanalysts attribute the rents in male subjectivity to the formation of sexual identity itself, where the biological penis can never live up to the mystique of the cultural phallus. 12 In both readings, objects locate and reconfigure masculine identity in historically specific amd psychologically powerful ways.

The urinal itself Is just such a culturally weighted sign, a brace for the erection and support of male subjectivity. By facilitating the manly posture of upright urination, the urinal illustrates the capacity of objects to function as foils against which a performing body assumes its gender. But objects not only supplement the body, they also metaphorically stand in for it. In the famous cabaret scene of the film Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich’s long legs and lithe torso pose seductively against the contours of a Thonet chair, theatricalizing a feminine identity in the contradistinction to her masculine attire. In itself a gender-neutral object, the Thonet chair behaves almost like a human partner, providing a prop for the interactive articulation of sexual identity. In much the same way as Dietrich’s chair, Robert Grober’s urinals emphasize the anthropomorphic qualities of architectural objects. Acting like surrogate males, their protruding profiles suggest a cross section through the male body. But unlike the polished, mass-produced, machine-made urinals whose dimensions are derived from the standard of an ideal male, Grober’s hand-made plaster urinals impersonate masculine vulnerability. Eroding the show of masculine invincibility represented by the traditional porcelain urinal, Grober’s urinals present emblems of an ideal but unrealizable masculinity, vacillating uneasily between power and priviege on the one hand and failure and insufficiency on the other.


Steven Cohan attributes Rock Hudson’s success as a playboy in the 1959 film Pillow Talk to his impressive equipment; his modern telephone, hi-fi, and electronically operated sofa-bed all function as technological sex aids that compensate for, while nonetheless accentuating, Hudson’s fragile virility. And Ellen Lupton describes how another post-war domestic gadget, the electric carving knife, was designed to bolster the insecure ego of America’s new suburban husband. The electric carving knife, a household appliance originally marketed for women, was eventually adopted by men as a device that allowed them to perform the traditional male ritual of meat carving with greater prowess and confidence. However, in rendering simple a task that once required artistry, strength, and skill, this mechanical prosthesis also functioned as a powerful reminder of the social castration of the American male. Thus, in both authors’ accounts, mechanical objects designed to proclaim phallic mastery disguise a deeper anxiety, as American struggled to shore up a stable masculine identity against the emasculating effects of post-war consumer culture and the corporate workplace.

While domestic prosthetics compensate for the suburban male’s imagined sense of his lost virility, at Rem Koolhaas’s Villa in Floriac a mechanical device enables its owner – a man recently confined to a wheelchair- to overcome his actual loss of physical mobility. Ironically, it is now the husband rather than the housewife who needs to be “liberated” from the “prison” of the traditional home. But while the buildings for the physically challenged typically avoid level changes, this design welcomes the challenge posed by its mountainside setting. The project consists of three stacked “houses” intersected by a hydraulic lift – a moving room that allows the husband to circulate freely between floors. Its status literally elevated by the lift, the wheelchair, once an index of its owner’s vulnerability, now confers power. Located adjacent to the lift, a storage wall vertically penetrates the house, providing the husband easy access to his possessions – books, artworks, wine – which allow him to cultivate his worldly pursuits. From the vantage point of his moving perch, floor-to-ceiling windows on the second-level afford the husband unobstructed panoramic views. The prosthetic architecture of Koolhaas’s Villa restores to its owner visual and physical freedom, attributes necessary for the successful performance of masculinity.


Artist Matthew Barney takes this consideration of masculine performativity as the overcoming of the physical obstacles even further, unveiling masculinity as an overt challenge – a trial performed under constant pressure and anxiety. Barney’s ottoshaft, an installation mounted in the concrete parking garage at Documenta IX (Kassel), investigates how the mainstays of masculinity present literal obstacles to the achievement of gender identity. This installation’s meticulously crafted objects (exercise mats covered in tapioca, blocking sleds used in football training lathered in petroleum jelly, and collapsed gym lockers made of pink plastic typically used for prosthetic devices) define masculinity in its relation to sports, sex, and metabolic functions. Using these objects as performance props, Barney enacts a variety of masculine roles for the videos that he both shoots and displays within the installation space itself. The videos show us Barney, wearing only a harness, subjecting his naked flesh to an excruciating and bizarre set of physical endurance tests. Scaling an elevator shaft, dropping from the ceiling, and even submitting to anal probes, Barney’s contemporary rite of heroic self-fashioning parodies what it seeks to impersonate, intentionally implicating himself, in his role as male performance artist, in the very rituals of masculine display he aims to unmask.



Architecture regulates subjectivity not only through the arrangement of objects in particular spatial structures but also through the organization of spectatorship within those same spaces. From panoptic prisons to pornographic theaters, numerous building types endow men with visual authority while regulating disempowered subjects- especially women – to the position of scopophilic objects. But while visual control remains a recurrent theme in the architectural construction of masculinity, in many circumstances the spatial distribution of the gaze undermines men’s culturally privileged access to vision. Several of the pieces in this volume demonstrate how specific architectural spaces work to destabilize the active/passive, subject/object, male/female binaries upon which conventional theories of spectatorship depend. This disturbance of the gaze works in at least two ways: masculine subjects endowed with visual authority can be dispossessed of the gaze through changing configurations of spatial boundaries, while even the most traditional masculine environments are capable of encouraging a transvestite logic of viewing, inviting men to be both subjects and objects of the gaze. 13

The essay by Diana Fuss and Joel Sanders takes up the first of these possibilities, mapping the visual organization of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna office to explore the complicated play of power and transference at work within the spatial and historical scene of psychoanalysis. This essay calls into question the traditional view of Freud’s professional office as a space of male dominion, in which patients are rendered powerless in the face of the analyst’s absolute scopic authority. The actual architectural configuration of Freud’s office and the arrangement of furniture and objects within it suggest a far more complicated dynamic between patient and doctor, a scenario in which Freud more often than not adopts a passive position while his patient is permitted to occupy the room’s center of activity. In the highly mediated settings of both his study and his consulting room, Freud assumes a spatially marginalized position, one that leaves him perpetually vulnerable to the risk of feminization.


Focusing on a very different kind of cultural arena, one perhaps more obviously overdetermined as a site of masculine performance, Marcia Ian, analyzes the gym as a socially sanctioned space where men become the object of the gaze. The success of the male bodybuilder who pumps iron to “substitute the rock hard for the soft, the monumental for the human, and the masculine for the feminine,” is registered through the visual admiration of his fellow bodybuilders. Within the confines of the gym, whose mirrored surfaces disperse the gaze in many directions, men willingly submit to a process of scopophiilc objectification, readily assuming a receptive position so that they might ultimately attain physical supremacy.

The homoerotic possibilities of the gym return us once more to one of this volume’s most important subtexts: the role of architecture in the formation of the modern sexual subject. Stud’s final section, “Outings,” focuses specifically on the architectonics of gay male sexuality, mapping the spaces of male desire across an urban landscape of streets and parks, sex clubs and theaters, bathrooms and bars. Throughout this volume, numerous contributors draw on queer theory to interrogate the ideological production of normative architectural spaces, a process that often involves shoring up a vulnerable straight masculinity by disavowing the specter of gay sexuality. Stud’s concluding essays consider instances of queer appropriation of space: gay men annexing, inhabiting, and recoding space. Arguing against any essentialist notion of “queer space,” these projects demonstrate instead the many inventive and resourceful ways men have appropriated everyday public domains in the formation of a gay social identity.

Overturning the assumption that urban queer visibility commences with Stonewall, George Chauncey investigates the many ways that the public spaces of the city have been claimed, in the past, by the gay community. His historical research on New York City’s homosexual underground from 1890 to 1940 demonstrates that gay men have in fact appropriated as venues for social interaction and sexual desire a wide variety of urban spaces, including bars, streets, beaches, and parks.

The diverse physical characteristics of queer spaces resist categorization. Although gays stereo-typically congregate in dark deserted sites like abandoned piers and overgrown parks situated at the fringes of the city, they just as often make contact in busy open squares. Yet a common feature possessing significant spatial implications belongs to all of these divergent spaces – the central importance of the gaze. Elsewhere, D.A. Miller has written: “Perhaps the most salient index to male homosexuality, socially speaking, consists precisely in how a man looks at other men” 14 Constantly subject to the threat of public and private surveillance, gay men have invented strategies for remaining invisible to the public at large while at the same time, and in the same spaces, becoming visible or readily identifiable to one another. For this reason queers have had to depend not only on legible signs – clothing, grooming, mannerisms – but on the visibility of the look itself to identify other queers. 15 In his important study Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Spaces, sociologist Laud Humphreys has shown how communication through eye contact governs the carefully staged choreography of cruising. 16 His study documents how the precise layout of restroom architecture – the location and number or urinals in relation to the placement of stalls – shapes the relay of desiring gazes that signals each player’s shifting but precisely defined role in sexual encounters. Humphreys emphasizes that the carnal pleasures initiated by visual exchanges presuppose spaces capable of monitoring and surveillance; open or broken windows and squeaking doors permit the vigilant “lookout” to detect hostile intruders.


Tom Burr’s physical reconstruction of Platzspitz Park in Zurich clarifies not only that the space of desire is also the space of surveillance, but that spaces appropriated by socially dispossessed groups can also be re-appropriated through public renovation. Burr reconstructs the Platzsptiz Park as it appeared in the 1970s, when its secluded enclaves and dimly lit paths provided a fertile terrain for the emergence of a gay urban space. His account describes how gays actively altered the spaces they annexed, introducing hidden paths and sheltered areas made readable to the initiated by deposits of litter and forgotten clothing. Burr’s full-scale mock up of the Platzspitz’s design, displayed in the Landesmuseum overlooking the park itself, stands in stark contrast to the parks’ current landscape, which features well-lighted sweeping vistas and open spaces. These dramatic renovations, introduced to maximize visibility, are designed to eradicate the presence of the very community that had previously so successfully carved out in the park its own private sanctuary in the park.

Queer appropriations of the gaze undermine normative codes of spectatorship by creating a reversible look that allows men to be both spectator and spectacle. The architecture of queer visibility troubles the heterosexist assumptions behind the look by overturning the social interdictions forbidding male spectacle. 17 Steven Barker’s hidden camera eye documents a recently closed sex club that occupied a former movie theater. Previously, the building’s proscenium arch focused the uni-directional gaze of the audience on a discretely framed moving image. Now the gay men who occupy the theater and engage in openly visible sex acts consent to see and be seen, thereby blurring the boundary between spectator and spectacle, voyeur and exhibitionist.

All human inhabitants of space, regardless of their gender identity, assume, to varying degrees, reversible and fluctuating scopic positions; gay men merely exploit a visual condition that patriarchal heterosexuality considers threatening. These essays and projects that collectively reveal the structure of a homoerotic look already inscribed within public space call our attention to the always unstable and fluid nature of all kinds of visual relays transacted through space.



  1. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (1952; New York: Penguin Books, 1971), vii. Hereafter, all pages numbers are cited in the text.
  2. For a discussion of how Renaissance architectural theorists (Alberti, Filarete, Di Giorgio) privilege the male body while excluding the female figure in their discussions of the human form as architectural prototype, see Diana Agrest, “Architecture from Without: Body, Logic, and Sex” in her Architecture from Without: Theoretical Framings for a Critical Practice (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), pp.173-195.
  3. Pursuing his ongoing interest in the reciprocity of architecture and philosophy, Mark Wigley traces “the relationships between the role of gender in the discourse or space and the role of space in the discourse of gender” in his essay “Untitled: The Housing of Gender,” in Sexuality and Space, ed. Beatriz Colomina (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992) pp.327-389, esp. p.329.
  4. A partial list of significant works that examine architecture’s impact on women from a feminist perspective includes Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods and Cities (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981); Gwendolyn Wright, Moralism and the Modern Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago, 1873-1913 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1980); Susans Torre, Women in Architecture, an Historic and Contemporary Perspective (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1977); Leslie Kanes Weisman, Discrimination By Design, a Feminist Critique of the Man-made Environment (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994); and Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, The Bathroom, The Kitchen, and the Aesthetics of Waste: A Process of Elimination (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992); Beatriz Colomina, ed., Sexuality and Space (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992).
  5. Drawing on the spatial metaphor of the theater, critics like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Marjorie Garber, and Judith Butler all theorize gender as performance, a notion useful for thinking about architecture as the space that supports and frames identity. Cautioning against thinking of gender as a choice made by a sovereign subject who freely fashions a self by performing a role, Judith Butler writes that performativity is a matter of reiterating or repeating the norms by which one is constituted: it is not a radical fabrication of a gendered self. It is a compulsory repetition of prior and subjectivating work, animate, and constrain of the gendered subject, and also the resources from which resistance, subversion, displacement are to be forged.” See Butler’s “Critcally Queer.” GLQ 1:1 (1993), p. 22.
  6. Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, trans. Morris Hicky Morgan (New York: Dover, 1960), pp.104.
  7. See Mary McCleod, “Undressing Architecture: Fashion, Gender, and Modernity,” and Mark Wigley, “White Out: Fashioning the Modern,” both in Architecture: In Fashion, ed. Deborah Fausch et al. (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994), 38-123 and 148-268.
  8. Wigley, “White Out.”
  9. For a detailed historical discussion of the design of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s military complex, see Modernism at Mid-Century: The Architecture of the Air Force Academy, ed. Robert Bruegmann (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1994).
  10. For more on the spatial metaphorics of sexual identity, see Diana Fuss’s introduction to Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, ed. Diana Fuss (New York and London: Routledge 1991), pp.1-10.
  11. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977), p.153.
  12. For historical explanations of the modern crisis in masculinity, see Michael S. Kimmel, “Consuming Manhood: The Feminization of American Culture and the Recreation of the Male Body, 1832-1920,” in The Male Body: Features, Destinies, Exposures, ed. Lawrence Goldstein (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), pp.12-41, and Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993). For a psychoanalytic reading of masculinity as masquerade, see Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (New York and London, Routledge, 1992).
  13. A significant body of work in contemporary film theory examines the ntion of male spectacle and its potentially destabilizing effects for regimes of spectatorship. See, for example, Richard Dyer’s “Don’t Look Now: The Male Pin-up,” and Steve Neale’s “Masculinity as Spectacle,” both in The Sexual Subject: A Screen Reader in Sexuality (New York and London, Routledge, 1992), pp.265-276 and pp.277-287. The classic analysis of the gender politics of spectatorship can be found in Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in her Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), pp.14-26.
  14. David Miller, “Anal Rope,” in Inside/Out, p.131.
  15. Ironically, at the same time that gay men have had to rely on visual codes in the formation of countercultural space, they have had to evade the punitive gaze of mainstream culture that has endeavored to render the always ambiguous face of the gay male as visibly discernible. Lee Edelman describes how in its frustrated efforts to police the homosexual whose threatening presence risks exposing the unstable foundations of heterosexuality itself, the dominant order had attempted to denaturalize the gay male body and to scrutinize it for signs of its difference from the “authentic” heterosexual maleness. See his “Imagining the Homosexual: Laura and the Other Face of Gender,” in his Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory (New York and London: Routledge, 1994), pp.192-241.
  16. Laud Humphreys, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1970).
  17. Patriarchal spectatorship is predicated on the strict division between identification and desire. Conventionally, men, as bearers of the active look, are prohibited from identifying with women, the passive objects of their desire, because to be seen is to be emasculated, castrated by a sadistic male gaze. Jacques Lacan describes the castrating power of the exteriorized gaze in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1978).