Design Prose

Women in Architecture: Kevin Mark Low

Posted in Architecture by designprose on January 8, 2014

This article first appeared on World Architecture News, here:

Q:What is the state of women architects in Malaysia. Is it culturally progressive or regressive for female architects to thrive?
Kevin Mark Low elaborates his stand below:
I do not believe one’s sex plays much of a part in one’s ability to thrive professionally in Malaysia, though it very well might in another country. Through my years working in Malaysia, I am quite glad to say that I have never experienced an intelligent statement, comment, or question by a female or male architect that was not given deep regard, and with that individual earning the greater respect of others. Perhaps the deeper aggression associated with men enables certain advances and opportunities denied women, but I believe that culture here has little to blame for.

Having taught at the University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur over the past ten years, I have found female students to actually have an edge over male students with respect to a quicker understanding of concepts, ideas and issues of content over those of form. I do believe women have it in them to be greater architects than men. However, I also believe women to be better nurturers than men, and when it comes to raising a family, a woman will make sacrifices few men would ever consider, let alone undertake. The fact is that many of us do grow up, get married, and ultimately produce children – if there exists fewer women than men in architecture performing at the very highest levels of the profession, I believe it is only because the very best women architects are doing their best work caring for their families as a sacrifice they cannot see any other way but make.

Please do let me try to explain further, as I didn’t think earlier that an involved discussion was necessary for the WAN interview – you see, I approach things from a considerably more biological and psychological perspective, which if you don’t mind, ill try to clarify. The human animal is, by and large, a predominantly sexually-driven one (yes, we can go on talking about the rationality and sense of self-awareness that marks human beings different from animals, but so much of what drives us is our sexuality – almost every experience of human want in life relates to our sexuality. Not sex, mind you, as these are two completely different things). As such, the individuals we each feel we are is very much a part of our perception of our own sexuality. And medicine has found that the hormones most responsible for determining our sexuality comes from the brain. I believe it is the combination of these hormones, and human perception of the physical sexual organ most acutely associated with each sex (from the very first moment we begin to grasp concepts of space and form) that has the male mind see itself as occupying space, and the female mind as being part of it – each incidentally corresponding to how the penis is an object in the space it occupies, while the vagina is that space within, which it has nurtured/created.

Of course there are many other specific biological, social and cultural mechanisms that determine how we each perceive and relate to the creative act, but by and large, the profound depth of that psychological difference between the sexes results in men arriving at the objectification of situations much quicker, reducing problems to tangible attempts at solutions faster, whereas women take greater time to understand the abstract and conceptual aspects of any problem set before them, before any attempt at resolution is made. I must emphasise there are obvious exceptions, as nurture plays an equally important part in how each mind develops, with special circumstances affecting how certain individuals might prove otherwise, but generally speaking, and certainly within the context of Malaysia, I have found my male students to arrive at formal solutions considerably faster than their female counterparts – merit of solutions however, happily notwithstanding. As an aside, I suspect the female aspects of my psyche are more dominant than my male side of things, possibly as a result of particular circumstances in my formative years, while it might not be wrong to say your male component is a touch stronger than your female side, for the same reasons. This might not impact our intrinsic sexuality, but it well makes us a touch different from the norm.

So men lean towards objectification and women, conceptualisation. An interesting addendum to this is the fact that form is intrinsically also easier to work with than concepts, due to their tangible nature. As such, not only does objectification happen quicker and easier for men, they are simultaneously helped with it through the pure nature of form itself. It should be remembered once again though, that being quick with form doesn’t necessarily mean being good with concepts.

For the reasons above, I believe that the male facility with objectification is what drives them quicker to some degree of recognition than women, as a pure default of the immediacy which form is assimilated, categorised and hailed, but also for the sad state of the world with its preoccupation with the iconisation and objectification of the same – a biologically male trait. And the fact that women are generally more inclined to engage conceptual issues (which take so much more time due to their richness) rather than immediately formal ones, simply means that they take longer and have to develop the patience to produce tangible solutions. Both very difficult tasks.

Which brings me back to the point I attempted to make in my earlier reply regarding women and children – you see, more women, for the reasons I have given as the nurturers they biologically and psychologically are, simply have the patience to do what men are less capable of – raising children – in sacrifice of their careers. The more involved reason I have provided here (which I had not described earlier in reply to your question, due to its length) is something I believe to be a lesser effect of the same biological and physiological tendencies built into being either male or female.

It isnt the system that limits the aspirations of women, it is firstly due to innate sexuality that certain roles are naturally assumed. After that, it is the system that limits content in preference for form. The unfortunate fact is simply that women are generally more driven by content, and men, at form. As such women are marginalised by default of the system, not limited by intention.

At its most profound levels of expression, form finds nurturing through issues of content, taking deep patience and time. As is most commonly evidenced however, form develops through the subtle aggression of objectification, requiring neither considerable effort of patience nor engagement of content, and can be accomplished within short turnover of time. The latter is simply what more men than women, identify with.