Modernism and the Gender Trouble: Techno-Utopia and Gender Politics in the 20th Century Design

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Suriyaporn Eamvijit


Among prominent figures in the architectural field of the twentieth century, Le Corbusier was undoubtedly the most renowned. His key writing Vers Une Architecture (Towards a New Architecture) was received with praise and has been regarded as the manifesto of modern and contemporary architecture ever since. His projects have become symbols of the end of the old regime and the possibility for a new democratic society. However, his revolutionary mission apparently diminishes gender issues. Although there is extensive research about Le Corbusier’s works, only a few investigated the gender aspects of his works or incorporated his artistic works into the analysis. Among several studies on politics of gender in modernist architecture, what is still lacking is the analysis of Le Corbusier’s works that are not architectural. This paper aims at examining the relationship between Le Corbusier’s architectural as well as his artistic works and gender politics through the lens of Henri Lefebvre’s spatial theory and feminist theories. The paper focuses on the modernist aesthetic, technology, and gender politics in spatial arrangements and designs, especially in the domestic sphere, that are discussed mainly in Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture and his poetry collection Poem of the Right Angle. An analysis of spatial representations in both works reveals how the architect’s obsession with purist functionalism and the glorification of technology propagate the conventional concept of femininity and reduces female subjects to a unit of domestic labor. On the other hand, the paper contrasts the work of Le Corbusier with that of Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky to demonstrate how the very same aesthetics can be a design that favours women when it is appropriated by female professionals who think about equality both in terms of class and gender.


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