Type to search

Should we ‘queer’ architecture?


Should we ‘queer’ architecture?


What might it mean to ‘queer’ architecture – as a workplace, a professional identity, a series of processes and practices, or the built places that emerge from them?

This was the catalyst for debate at the Queering Architecture? panel discussion on Sunday, an event run by XYX Lab and organised as part of Melbourne Design Week.

The discussion was moderated by Naomi Stead of Parlour, and populated by musician, designer and writer Simona Castricum; director at schoredprojects Sophie Dyring; senior lecturer in the department of architecture at Monash University Nicole Kalms; senior urbanist at Hill Thalis Architecture and Urban Projects Ben Driver; and principal and architect at Sibling Architecture Nicholas Braun.

Queering Architecture? cast a wide net for discussion – asking whether the architectural workplace as a whole could be more welcoming of LGBTIQA folk, whether buildings respect and enable the needs of this demographic, and the importance of LGBTIQA safe spaces, amongst other topics – and aimed to start an open discussion, rather than seeking a specific and definitive answer.

“I think we’ve been at the cusp of change, in terms of a lot of our ages up here [on the panel],” said Driver, when confronted with the question of whether we need queer spaces. “I feel a little nostalgic thinking about this. Of course we do. But actually, in a way, we wanted to be normalised and accepted in ‘normal’ places, and we were asking for it for so long that we have, in fact, let our own spaces go. We don’t support them anymore. We absolutely need them, but really I don’t know the last time I went to a gay bar… We need them, but none of us are supporting them.”

The movement of LGBTIQA people finding communities online has also possibly contributed to the loss of interest in queer-specific spaces, however this option can be dangerous and can exclude, pointed out Braun. So in reality, these physical spaces are still needed. Despite this, some queer spaces have historically been equally as exclusive, such as lesbian bars which often have not been welcoming to the trans community. “Last time I went to a lesbian night, I had my phone stolen and was told that if I went to jail that I was going to go to the men’s prison, so I’ve never been back to one. I went home crying,” said Castricum. “The ‘queer party’ has really taken over now. I think we just all want to move away from the binary sense of lesbian or gay, and trans-exclusion and gender-non-conforming-exclusion, so ‘queer space’ is perhaps a little safer than ‘lesbian space’ or ‘gay space’.”

While the desire for queer spaces is still there, and is something that needs to be addressed, the discussion on the heterosexist nature of public space is just as important.

Many public spaces which are everyday to heterosexual and cisgendered people, are incredibly unwelcoming and uncomfortable for those who aren’t; a problem that, in some instances, bears potential to be improved through conscious design. Spaces like taxis, airports, the CBD and public transport can be exclusionary for those on the LGBTIQA spectrum. Castricum discussed upsetting and scary experiences she has experienced in the airport, constantly having to prove who she was at every checkpoint, in public, shocking and offensive instances that would simply not happen if she was cisgendered. “You have to be hyper vigilant. I am constantly assessing threats and working out how I can get out,” she said. “It’s hard to be invisible.”

The question here, is can architecture and design help change this? Does the design community need to be more aware of how public spaces are used by non-heterosexual and cisgendered members of the community? And do architects often reinforce outdated social norms through their work?

“The research that I have been looking at has been examining the proliferation of heteronormativity and heterosexism visual language in cities and I looked at things like commercial spaces, but also places like sex precincts,” said Kalms. “I have been looking for clear examples of how architects have taken up sexuality in a way that isn’t heterosexist or normative…and I really struggled to find examples. So, I think that one of the reasons I’m here is thinking about ways architecture can do that. There are real opportunities.”

While many practices such as Sibling and schoredprojects are populated by diverse staff and work to break down the normative methods of design, there are still practices that are firmly tradition-driven and have not explored this space. Open-minded and honest conversations such Queering Architecture?, however, are the drivers for this change, so here’s to many more.

Lead image: Theodore Treehouse by Studiobird. Photography by Peter Bennetts.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *