Act 1: Space of Performance, Space of Resistance
The conception of architecture today endures a double bind which consists of, on one hand, a neoliberal obsession for novelty, hence the pressure to incessantly renew, innovate and reinvent; on the other hand, discriminatory and oppressive systems of rules, regulations and standards that tolerate hardly any changes or alterations to the reigning norms. No matter how much we like to think of these norms as academic or technical matters, they are indisputably rooted in structural issues of discrimination, from gender to class, from disability to sexuality. In a world where virtually everything is designed using the reference of cisgender, heterosexual, white, middle class, able male bodies, the prism of queer and queerness instigates a strangely revealing perspective on the normativity of the environment we try to build for ourselves.
The manifestation of queerness in architecture does not necessarily result in a fixed description of what queer architecture is and can be; the former emerges from the roots of the ethical and political stance of our profession, to then inform its processes of production and occupation. We are now talking about the conscious act and enactment of queering architecture to question and challenge the constructed heteronormativity which governs both the way we conceptualize and materialize architecture.
The current tendency to describe queerness as a verb more than a noun is relevant here; you can queer something, but you cannot fashion an identity around queerness, … Increasingly, we all seem to be verbs rather than nouns: evolving, shifting entities that are out of place, out of time, marooned.1
Space is performative; it can frame—dictate or liberate—the performance of one’s identity and expression. In addition to that, space is telling of its own making; it cannot disguise the premise nor purpose of its existence. It is here that the queering of space urges an undoing of the knowledge, methods, tools and actors involved in the process of making that space, in order to emancipate the elusive spatial boundaries wherein one can perform as or simply be themselves.
In this text, we intend to use the metaphor of the theater, the play and the stage as a space of resistance for the queer practice of architecture to be ignited. Inspired by the tableau—a more fluid division of a play or an opera that is usually linked to a change of decor, space and time, without strictly following a chronological order or the entrance and exit of the characters—we aim to enunciate how this form of self-defined practice can bring about the opportunity to create new evocative backdrops for the plural expressions of subjectivities and narratives in society. Throughout the twelve tableaux, we will draw from literary references to confront the preconceptions and realities of our profession, before taking active part in queering it. With a sense of wit and liberatedness, we hope to uncover a caring approach to placemaking and a new array of possibilities that will enrich our lives.
Act 2: Deconstructing the Dominant and Normative Figure (or the White Male)
What is most important is to cease legislating for all lives what is livable only for some, and similarly, to refrain from proscribing for all lives what is unlivable for some.2
2.1. End the Tyranny, that of one, that of the majority.
The social worlds we inhabit, as so many thinkers have reminded us, are not inevitable, they were not always bound to turn out this way, and what’s more, in the process of producing this reality, many other realities, fields of knowledge, and ways of bring have been discarded and, to use Foucault’s (2003) term, “disqualified”.3
2.2. Stop the Autonomous, Egoistic One-Man Show, by means of an open and honest design process—ultra-referential but respectful, personal but not individual, intellectual but contextual and accessible.
The book conceives of bottomhood capaciously, as a sexual position, a social alliance, an affective bond, and an aesthetic form. Posed as a sexual practice and a worldview, this flexible formulation of bottomhood articulates a novel model for coalition politics by affirming an ethical mode of relationality. Instead of shoring up our sovereignty by conflating agency with mastery, adopting a world view from the bottom reveals an inescapable exposure, vulnerability, and receptiveness in our reaching out to other people.4
2.3. No More Tagline Architectures, or the reductive materialization of a vector of capital accumulation.
Architecture is meant to be cohesive but complex, superb but generous, innovative but thoughtful and caring.The architectural profession has siloed itself. With increasing focus placed on image and form, the agency of the professional architect can be seen to have steadily diminished over the last 50 years. … Routes to building no longer necessarily start with the architect; what remains of the architect’s services, reduced to accommodate other statutory, construction and management specialists, now occupies a smaller space in the decision-making process. However, there is a growing practice of architecture that is breaking free from this mould, embracing the complexities of politics and people and finally admitting that architecture without these influences is just glorified furniture design.5
2.4. Reconstruct the Social Imagery of the Architect, from the rigid, distant and complicit character to a dynamic, wholehearted and engaged being.
It [architecture] could permit itself to be opened up to the understandings of the profane and the vulgar, at the risk of destroying itself as an art in the process. Or it could close ranks and continue as a conspiracy of secrecy, immune from scrutiny, but perpetually open to the suspicion, among the general public, that there may be nothing at all inside the black box except a mystery for its own sake.6
Act 3: Reappropriating the Closet Door, from Concealment to Space of Emergence
[The ante-closet] resists the violence of fixed identities by allowing spaces to fold, unfold, and fold again.7
3.1. Self-Expression! Abolish all dogmas to embrace every form of true self-expression.
[Architecture] behaves as one of the subjectivating norms that constitute gender performativity. … 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 alteration of reiterated types and conventions, creates the space—the stage—where human subjectivity is enacted and performed.8
3.2. Decenter! Redefine the limitations of a profession whose rules and regulations do not mirror its potential outreach, in order to decenter architects from their deliberately bounded vocation.
[Decentering] consists of one’s ability to distance themselves from themselves, their reference points, their convictions, their vision of the world, in order to meet others. … This is not what the thought of decentering has in mind, which is not a-centering, absence of center, but rather a reflexive movement, a movement in relation to oneself, allowing an attitude more “understanding of others and more reflective of oneself” (Ferry, 1996, p. 111). … Critically examining our spontaneous inclinations and judgments, with a negative presumption about attitudes that are beneficial to us, characterizes the self-critical dimension of decentering.9
3.3. It’s a Process! Leave space for constant questioning, progression, and evolution, as if we were to be persistently coming out, coming in, and coming out again.
Those places [for people with marginalized identities] become spaces of radical acceptance; they are in constant evolution, which, along with their ephemerality and their illegality, makes them adaptable, portable and sustainable in ways that established spaces are unable to fully reproduce.10
3.4. Resist, Advocate, Celebrate! Resist, the normative. Advocate, the queer. Celebrate, a unified and solidary community.
The dream of an alternative way of being is often confused with utopian thinking and then dismissed as naive, simplistic, or a blatant misunderstanding of the nature of power in modernity. And yet the possibility of other forms of knowing, a world with different sites for justice and injustice, a mode of being where the emphasis falls less on money and work and competition and more on cooperation, trade and sharing animates all kinds of knowledge projects and should not be dismissed as irrelevant or naive.11
Act 4: Making a Representational City
As the dictionary argues, admission is also a question of acknowledging, recognizing, accepting as valid. To be admitted is to be represented, and space is after all a form of representation.12
4.1. Exteriorize the Spectacle of Interiority: by tearing down the physical and mental barriers between private and public, hence dismantling the spatial confines of the expression of self.
In the public realm, it represents the possibility that the institutions that formalize our social relations don’t have to be cold, empty squares or museums for dead values, but can be places of sensuous gathering where bodies might find each other.13
4.2. Don’t Be a Man: trade business for meaning, seriousness for sincerity, prejudice for empathy, fear of difference for embrace of diversity.
The collapse of the phallocratic system includes the collapse of the capitalist system, which rests on the masculinist and heterosexual foundation of society and on the repression and exploitation of Eros that together guarantee the perpetuation of alienated labour and hence the rule of capital. The revolutionary proletariat and the movement of revolutionary women are the two faces of the communist/human-community party, and the movement of revolutionary homosexuals is its ass. Like transsexuality itself, the revolutionary is one and multiple.14
4.3. From Collaborative to Collective: the architect is not a conductor but an engaged actor who truly knows how to involve, respect and cherish their equal partners in the making of a project.
The project as such is written collectively - not just between experts - and convenes civil society. Making a project becomes the making of society.15
4.4. Intersectionality as a Spatial Practice: an architect’s genuine introspection and thorough understanding of privilege and discrimination can teach them how to think and make a better city for all.
[It] becomes clear that for representational practices to fully confront and reform the oppressive and discriminatory potential and actual effects at play, it is necessary to desire beyond the marginalized merely appropriating neoliberal structures and logics. It is necessary to desire beyond the intentions of those at the center for those on the margins. It is necessary to desire beyond a mirror of the past, present or even future. It is necessary to desire entirely alternative futures and practices, that not only center those at the margins, but decenters, troubles and challenges hegemony, rather than incorporating us into it.16
Act 5: Incredible Futures
Let me just says that theses words—dom, Master, bottom, whore-fem, butch, Daddy-boy, cruising, play, play-mate, and so on, have their place, or rather they take a place an make a place. They make an impossible place take place. They describe, circumscribe, inscribe a spectacular space, a spectacle of space that people like myself sniff out and crave and live in and want to call “Home;” a home I want to suggest that is entirely Urban; an urbanness I want to say that is entirely City and not at all—or not exactly—Community; a queer (kind of) city (or better yet, cities), that finally, not only privileges the Joke but has something to do with the cry: “Freedom.”17
Looking and analyzing are merely not enough in the current climate; the idea of queerness needs to transgress the sphere of immaterial ideology and concretize itself. The climax of these multiple queer studies, theories and narratives lies very much in the active manifestation of this interrogation through the means of practice. Indeed, the queer practice of architecture is fully aware of the past and present realities of the world, then builds upon the rigid grid of social construction and heteronormativity in order that the system be skewed, distorted, challenged, and even fully reconstructed. The future desired and imagined by this queer practice—a certain queer architecture—will not only embrace the emergence of non-conforming forms of being, but will count on the sense of self-definition in each of us for the enrichment of our ways of living.
Queerness is not yet there. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never stop queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future.18
Originally published in Safe Space Zine 6: A queer practice of architecture
, 2021: 34–39.
1 Halberstam, Jack. 2018. “Unbuilding Gender.” Places Journal
2 Butler, Judith. 2004. Undoing Gender
. New York ; London: Routledge, p. 8.
3 Halberstam, Judith. 2011. The Queer Art of Failure
. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 147.
4 Nguyen, Tan Hoang. 2014. A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation
. Perverse Modernities. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 2.
5 Bryant, Chris, Caspar Rodgers, and Tristan Wigfall of alma-nac. 2018. “The Changing Forms and Values of Architectural Practice.” Architectural Design
88 (5), p. 7.
6 Banham, R. n.d. Black Box: The Secret Profession of Architecture.
IN: A Critic Writes, p. 299.
7 Urbach, Henry. 1996. “Closets, Clothes, Disclosure.” Assemblage
, no. 30 (August): 62, p. 72.
8 Sanders, Joel. 2020. Stud: Architectures of Masculinity
, p. 13.
9 Vandamme, Pierre-Étienne. 2017. “Qu’est-ce que le décentrement ? Moralité individuelle et justice sociale.” Ethica
, vol. 21, n° 1, pp. 167-202. Translated by Bui Quy Son and Paul-Antoine Lucas from: “[Le décentrement] consiste en cette capacité à prendre distance d’avec soi, ses repères, ses convictions, sa vision du monde, pour aller à la rencontre d’autrui. … Ce n’est pas ce qu’a en vue la pensée du décentrement, qui n’est pas a-centrement, absence de centre, mais plutôt un mouvement réflexif
, un mouvement par rapport à soi
, permettant une attitude plus « compréhensive à l’égard d’autrui et plus réflexive à l’égard de soi » (Ferry, 1996, p. 111). … Le fait d’examiner de manière critique nos inclinations spontanées et nos jugements, avec une présomption négative à l’égard des attitudes qui nous sont bénéfiques, caractérise pour sa part la dimension autocritique
10 Choquette, Éloïse. 2020. “Queering Architecture: Un(Making) Places”. Queer: Archithese
, p. 9.
11 Halberstam, Judith. 2011. The Queer Art of Failure
. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 147.
12 Colomina, Beatriz, and Jennifer Bloomer, eds. 1992. Sexuality & Space
. Princeton Papers on Architecture 1. New York, N.Y: Princeton Architectural Press, Preface.
13 Betsky, Aaron. 1997. Queer Space: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire
. 1st ed. New York: William Morrow & Co, p. 98.
14 Mieli, Mario, Massimo Prearo, and Tim Dean. 2018. Towards a Gay Communism: Elements of a Homosexual Critique
. Translated by David Fernbach and Evan Calder Williams. London: Pluto Press, p. 255.
15 Menu, Flavien, ed. 2018. New Commons for Europe
. First edition. Leipzig: Spector Books, p. 17.
16 Skadegård Thorsen, Tess Sophie. 2020. Racialized Representation in Danish Film: Navigating Erasure and Presence
(PhD dissertation). Aalborg University Press, p. 217.
17 Ingram, Gordon Brent, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter, eds. 1997. Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance
. Seattle, Wash: Bay Press, p. 86.
18 Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
. Sexual Cultures. New York: New York University Press.