man space

The title of this post is not an allusion to a gay bar in Chicago, although I do think there was one with that name.  Rather, I have written in the past about the growing prevalence of and interest in gender specific 'guy spaces'.  I am not an academic and I am wary of stepping into such a dangerous landscape as gendered space, but by coincidence or not, I have been engaged on a couple of projects recently that press the question of male-dominated spaces.

I should say that these are not really "male-dominated" because they are actually male-exclusive places.  One is a fraternal organization, the other is a generations-old hunting club.  Both have that smell of leather and old wood and the unmistakable look of domestic neglect that are tragically stereotypical but abundantly manifest.

I have worked for a number of different types of clients for a variety of project types.  As most of my work recently is involved with single-family houses, the majority of clients have been female-male, married couples.  Some have children, some not, some couples are near retiring with adult children, a remarkable number of clients have children during or immediately after construction.  I have had plenty of single clients and recently a number of female-female couples as clients.   In all these cases there have not been any easy patterns or identifiable mechanisms by which you can predict how the interaction of decision-making will take place.  The cultural prejudice has the woman making the aesthetic decisions while the man handles the finances and "functional" issues.  As an architect, that has not been my experience at all, and as a single, hetero-sexual guy with kids, I have empathy with anyone that puts their trust in me to make them a home.  Any attempt to delineate these issues with regard to gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, etc. would have been impossible.  With maybe one exception.

Guys seem really embarrassed to say how much they care about how things looks.  They flee from the aesthetic realm with a surprising zeal.  Of course this is not always the case, but as a guy who spends my days and nights designing things, this seems odd and a bit disorienting.  And when your client is a bunch of guys, the owners of a club for instance, and someone has to make design decisions, this can be frustrating.  No one wants to really own these decisions, to strongly come down on the side of sage green in lieu of celadon, or vernacular versus traditional.  A guess it all sounds and feels a bit too fluffy, too close to aprons and doilies and pom-poms for many guys to feel comfortable.

As a result, I have been collecting images of traditional guy spaces that I can show to this kind of reluctant client.  I think it is much easier for them to see an image and say, "yeah, like that", than to talk through the particularities of each material or color and even more elusive quarry like room-feel and atmosphere.  Many of these are old photos, of places long since past:  barrooms and pool halls, club rooms or military institutions.  There is more nostalgia dripping from these images than in any of the countless of magazine photos that other clients send me.  I know it is too simplistic to say it is nostalgia for a by-gone era when men unquestionably and unapologetically ruled the kingdom.  There is clearly a remisniscence of fathers in these places, for fathers maybe more imagined than realised.  You can almost smell the acqua velva, old spice and brill cream mingled with smoke and whiskey.  There is certainly some recognition of these places on my part and that may largely explain my growing collection.  But as a design tool, these photos are invaluable.  And I would never have guessed, back when I was a eager architecture student, that one day I would have a binder in my studio labeled "MEN'S ROOMS".