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Editorial: sexual revolutions

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In the annual Women In Architecture issue the AR looks beyond feminist practices and binary gender divisions, proposing we remake our ideas about sex, sexuality and gender –  and correspondingly their relationship with architecture and cities

More than a hundred eyes watch out from the mannequin on this month’s cover. The eyes belong to 55 women from history, carefully selected by its author Madelon Vriesendorp, including past winners of the Women in Architecture awards – Amanda Levete, Odile Decq, Grafton Architects, Eva Jiřičná and Rachel Whiteread – as well as others as wide-ranging as Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie and Beyoncé. The artist’s own eye also makes an appearance.

Winner of the Ada Louise Huxtable Prize last year, Vriesendorp created the cover of the issue alongside four sculptures which we will present to the winners of the Women in Architecture awards on 1 March (see the last page of the issue for a sneak peek of the sculptures). Ada Louise Huxtable herself, the first architecture critic to win a Pulitzer, stars in this month’s Reputations. This year’s winner of the prize is the photographer Hélène Binet, whose striking photographs have ‘their own world in themselves’ and who argues that ‘it is impossible to photograph a building’. The winner of the Jane Drew Prize is Elizabeth Diller, with work spanning installations in the ’80s through to some of the largest public and cultural projects today, including the New York High Line and the Centre for Music in London, the designs for which were revealed this month.

‘Last year’s March issue started to examine the complex relations between architecture, sex and gender. It is an evolving conversation that needs to be constantly revisited’

Key projects in the portfolios of the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture shortlist include housing in Beirut, schools in Switzerland, and community infrastructure in rural China. The architects are working in vastly different contexts, all of them proposing sophisticated solutions inspired by local techniques. In the Architect of the Year category, rewarding a single recently completed building, the four projects strive to make a significant contribution to the wider urban fabric around them – the degree to which they succeed is likely to make the difference in the judges’ deliberation. Last year’s March issue started to examine the complex and multiple relations between architecture, sex and gender. It is an evolving conversation that needs to be constantly revisited. Taking it a step further, this month we seek to look beyond feminist practices and binary gender divisions, broadening the remit of our agenda to question the established framework we continue to evolve in. ‘We must destroy both the woman in the building and the building in the woman’, argues Jack Halberstam in the opening keynote. Only then are we free to ‘reimagine the (re)constructed body as it intersects the coordinates of gender, the social constructions, identity, and the familiar contours of the built environment’. Like the ‘dismantling and remaking’ of bodies, we must unmake the preceding historical narratives to reveal the seams.

‘We have begun to think less about ‘definitive, one-way transitions or progressions’ and more about a ‘continuous building and unbuilding’ of both bodies and buildings’

The plurality of identities deserves to be externalised through the form and decoration of our built environment, argues Adam Nathaniel Furman in Outrage, because ‘architecture has the duty to reflect the nature and make-up of those who produce it, and those it contains’. The city is for those ‘who abjure any and all alternative identities’, Furman warns. Lauren Elkin agrees, with her portrait of the flâneuse, who is frequently excluded from her city of ‘coincidence and potential’.

Catherine Slessor unveils the lives, loves and transgressions, tortuous and at times tragic, of avant-garde artists and architects in her revisit of the recent Barbican exhibition Modern Couples. Last March, Beatriz Colomina argued in these pages that collaboration is the secret life of architecture: here, the sense of partnership is elevated to new heights. From short-lived passions to lifelong union, in these liaisons boundaries between bodies dissolve.

Following a long relationship and creative partnership, artist Jean Arp continued to ‘collaborate’ with his partner Sophie Taeuber-Arp even after her premature death, by tearing up some of their co-created drawings and reassembling the pieces into collages. As Halberstam argues, we have begun to think less about ‘definitive, one-way transitions or progressions’ and more about a ‘continuous building and unbuilding’ of both bodies and buildings. Like the torn fragments of Arp’s reconstructed collages, our ideas about sex, sexuality and gender must be unmade and remade, unbuilt and rebuilt, and with them their relationship with architecture and cities.

Image by Mia Gordon of trophies made by Madelon Vriesendorp for the Women In Architecture Awards 2019. She also designed the corresponding front cover of the issue.

This piece is featured in the AR March 2019 issue on Sex + Women in Architecture awards – click here to purchase your copy today