Aaron Betsky: Queer space (March 22, 1995)

Craig Hodgetts introduces Aaron Betsky, commenting that he may be the first architect from San Francisco to speak in Los Angeles. Hodgetts recalls that when he first met Betsky he was impressed by the wide scope of his interests. Aaron has had an incredible influence on the city and has succeeded in bringing it to the forefront of architectural discourse.

Aaron Betsky discusses his research concerning the body and sexuality in architecture and design. His interest in the subject began during his first teaching assignment at the University of Cincinnati when he notice his interior design class consisted of forty women and one gay man. Pondering why this difference in gender make up exists between architectural and interior design, he began to explore ways in which ideas of gender performance are wrapped up with notions of space and building. The thesis of his book Building Sex is that the man made environment was made by men, and that since the Renaissance women have had to work with the places to which they have been confined. The Vitruvian Man and Ledoux’s Oikema plan are examples of how architecture is associated with male imagery such as erections, domination, and uninhibited power.

Betsky discusses the gender performance origins of the split between interiors and exteriors in architecture. Women in the late 17th Century began to create a concrete alternative to the abstract world of men and began to invade structures with the “queering” of Baroque high style architecture. In “Gilded Cage” spaces described in the novels of Henry James, women created a place for themselves within designed interiors where they ruled supreme, but that also confined them. Modernist constructions such as the Rietveld Schröder House attempted to reject this split between interiors and exteriors but ended up reproducing the biases between men and women. The sexual revolution of the 1960s signaled a rediscovery of decoration and led to projects such as Peter Eisenman’s House X and Ben Nicholson’s Appliance House that explore the notion that the fundamental propositions by which power operates in society can be attacked through architecture.

Betsky describes how his research consists of a search for cracks and fissures in the constructed world that might lead to different and weird stories. These might exist in high society or in prehistoric shared bodily building. They might also be found in such “heterotopias” as gyms and military organizations based on discipline, or in dance clubs and bars based on sensuality. The repressed self-consciousness of the middle class has come out of the closet this century and merged architecture and interior design to propose an almost tribal model for a real community, and create public spaces that infect our repressed culture. Betsky hopes that these developments do not just result in sexuality or the creation of fun stuff, but that these weird spaces might crack open divisions in society and provide a path through a world of oppression.

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