Sex and the Single Building


Course Objectives:

"Sex and the Single Building," is a 20th-century architectural-history seminar on gender, sexuality, and space. The main intention is to explore a series of real places in which diverse body/space relationships are played out. Our starting point will be the study of highly-charged sites of sexuality: houses, bath houses, spas, hotels, shops, and even university campuses, as well as spaces of specialized body care, such as hospitals, beauty salons, and gymnasia. Students will learn how to analyze space through primary-source documentation and fieldwork, while assessing a range of readings on sexuality and space. Interdisciplinary scholars with expertise in prostitution, gendered space, lesbian urban life, and "maintenance architecture" will be special guests.

Our perspective in the course draws from a feminist architectural history that takes a revolutionary approach to architectural objects and producers. A core aspect of our research method is to understand the arrangements of buildings as statements of normative values. We will pay particular attention to how architectural plans hold prescriptive power. Many house plans, for example, reinforce heterosexuality and traditional family values as a social/cultural norm. To the architectural researcher, plans also reveal key assumptions about gender roles and sexuality because they are a compelling means to uncover social resistance. A person may choose to alter his or her house, for example, to suit a different lifestyle. This intellectual position of assessing architectural use as a form of resistance holds potential for studying LGBTQ places, and those designed for "single" people that occupy marginalized, ad hoc structures, as well as those that are purpose-built.

The focus of each class meeting will be one real place or artifact, represented in plans, video, virtual reality, or experienced by the class on a field trip. Our discussions will then explore the relationship of the readings to the actual building or thing. How do feminist/queer theories on architecture play out in reality? What observations can we make in person that may not be visible in drawings, photos, or other forms of documentation?

An important assumption of the course is that all buildings are used in more ways than intended by their designers. The methods of analysis we explore in this course may thus inspire students to re-visit places with no obvious gender/sexuality link, but that support "secret" or invisible functions. How do we as researchers uncover the secret lives of buildings? What does the study of architectural typologies - the "single building" - tell us about gender and sexuality?


Class meetings:

Fridays, 10:30 am-12:30 pm, rm 207


Prof. Adams



course outline.


Weekly participation (10%),

250-word proposal due Feb. 6 (10%),

Poster due Apr. 3 (30%),

Research paper due Apr. 14 (40%), brief (5 min.)

Presentation on Apr. 14 (10%).


Please check the website regularly as our schedule may change and readings for guest discussants will be posted.