How do our workplaces affect our aesthetics? Architect and blogger, Ella Leoncio, reflects on discovering a ‘feminine’ design aesthetic, and on the importance of the female perspective in the design of our built environment.
When working in a studio environment where all or most of your peers are male, it’s natural to inherit some of their interests and possibly develop a slightly masculine approach to design. I’ve been fortunate to work in a very supportive office environment where I’ve never felt disadvantaged for being female. This has fostered a mutual respect, so the influence of my colleagues, who happen to be all male, is something I’ve never resisted and something that I value. Further to this, with architecture being a male dominated field, it’s not surprising that a majority of my design heroes are, again, male.
A year and a half ago, I started Pages From My Moleskine, a design blog to better understand my personal design interests as an architect. Through the process, I discovered that my interests are much more feminine than I was previously aware of. While I still have an appreciation for bold, heavy and powerful aesthetic expressions, I have also discovered an interest in more polite, smaller scale, whimsical and ornate approaches to design. I’m also finding inspiration in other, traditionally female-dominated design disciplines. I won’t attempt to define in universal terms what ‘feminine architecture’ actually is, as I’m sure that deserves a thesis in itself, but I am now aware that some of my interests have been laying dormant due, in part, to working in a male-dominated field.
My writing style, graphic communication and quite often the choice of content on my blog, quite clearly signal that I’m female. It was never a conscious decision of mine to be a specifically ‘female’ blogger, but given that being female is an inherent part of my personality, it’s not surprising how things have transpired. From what I can gather, my blog readership is approximately three-quarters female. In some ways, this is to be expected, and it is satisfying to know that I’ve reached out to a community of women. At the same time, the predominant interest from females is slightly puzzling given that our industry is male dominated. This starts to raise questions. Is the feminine nature of my blog off-putting to potential male readers? Do men consider feminine design to be less valid, or is it less interesting to them? I know I have an appreciation for a masculine design approach, so I can only hope it works both ways.
At times I’ve been tempted to play down my femininity in an attempt to produce content that is more palatable to both genders. However, I question how useful this is, not just for myself and my own development, but for the profession more broadly. Reflecting on my personal experience, I wonder whether the architectural profession as a whole, is driven by a masculine-leaning design approach. As Karen Burns’ article points out, the number of females in senior positions is alarmingly low. With men holding a significant proportion of the decision-making power, what consequence does this have for the built environment? Clearly the risk that the female viewpoint will be watered down or lost is already too great. To actively quieten the female voice only exaggerates the imbalance that already exists within the profession. If women like myself suppress our femininity, then what hope do we have of creating a better balance? And what hope do we have of innovating and of educating people of the value of the female perspective? The people we design for are both male and female. Whether or not the female view is being readily accepted, it is entirely necessary to incorporate female input in our work to achieve the balanced outcome that we need for our end users.
What I am trying to highlight here is the importance of investigating one’s own design agenda outside of what exists in a male-dominated profession. I’d encourage women to resist the urge to downplay their femininity on the assumption that it will not appease the masses. A female design perspective might be different to that our male colleagues have to offer. And while it may or may not be readily celebrated by the current society or our profession, it is a perspective that is valuable and in fact necessary for a gender-balanced built environment.