F225: Feminist Design Hero

Thirty years ago I made the observation that whoever designed the homes I’d lived in or the restaurants where I’d been employed had never worked in these settings. It was clear to me that the proportions, the flow – to name only two – were just wrong.

When I made my decision to enroll at Cornell University’s Human Environment Relations College, I knew I wanted to major in Design. I knew I wanted to change my world to one that I could fit into, I could work within and I could design to my own criteria. I discovered Delores Hayden while I was at Cornell.

I am so thrilled that Beany linked to Delores Hayden in her post yesterday. She made the statement, "In the U.S. however, entire living areas are designed so as to make it hell for pedestrians". I felt in a rush the thrill of discovery I’d felt more than a quarter of a century ago when I stumbled upon Hayden’s perspective.

Aside, those many years ago I searched the stacks for women in design, women in architecture. I was a neophyte at research and all too often I would get caught up in browsing, losing my focus, forgetting my train of thought and careless in recording my search methodology. As part of my work-study funding I worked at Cornell’s Olin library one summer and fall. I learned a lot to do the job, but never got over my frustration with getting in and getting out with research materials in any deliberate, productive way. I think my mind vacillates between the vast and the minute, the philosophical and the personal, big – little, etc. Aaargh. Research at the library for me, FAIL. Conversely, I am so grateful for what the internet allows me to experience. The internet allows me to research far more effectively.

To return to Delores Hayden and to illustrate what I just wrote, I want to provide a quick glance at the several publications from Hayden those many years ago.

Now for some unabashed promotion of Delores Hayden’s books. I start with:

Seven American Utopias:The Architecture of Communitarian Socialism, 1790-1975.

"Seven American Utopias combines cultural history, design analysis, and political theory. It is, thus, a conceptually ambitious book and a good one....a sophisticated study of the politics of design."
--Thomas Bender, The Journal of American History
The Grand Domestic Revolution:

A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities

"This is a book to startle and inspire feminists today...An architect herself, Hayden has brought history to life by insisting that social problems are also spatial problems, and must be addressed as such."
--Nancy Cott, The New York Review of Books

"Women's work is not done. The design of our place to live (some still call it 'the built environment') still follows men's visions. For most women, the old household drudgeries have merely been replaced by new suburban drudgeries.

"We now have women architects--all of 3 percent of a total of 37,000 members of the American Institute of Architects. But few if any of them are addressing the issues of residential and community design that are still keeping women 'in their place' and that, a century-and-a-half ago, led to what Dolores Hayden calls 'material feminism."
--Wolf Von Eckardt, Washington Post June 1982

These were the two publications I knew about during my studies. Later, Hayden wrote these following books about America’s suburbs, America’s urban environment.

Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing, and Family Life

Americans still build millions of dream houses in neighborhoods that sustain Victorian stereotypes of the home as "woman's place" and the city as "man's world." Urban historian and architect Dolores Hayden tallies the personal and social costs of an American "architecture of gender" for the two-earner family, the single-parent family, and single people. Many societies have struggled with the architectural and urban consequences of women's paid employment: Hayden traces three models of home in historical perspective—the haven strategy in the United States, the industrial strategy in the former USSR, and the neighborhood strategy in European social democracies—to document alternative ways to reconstruct neighborhoods.

Revised and expanded in 2002 and still utterly relevant today as the New Urbanist architects have taken up Hayden's critique of suburban space, this award-winning book is essential reading for architects, planners, public officials, and activists interested in women's social and economic equality.

"...the most cynical anti-planner and the scrappiest tenant organizer will be pleasantly surprised to see that Hayden includes positions of class, race, and the economic underpinnings of women's position."
--City Limits

The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History

"Essential reading for preservationists and anyone interested in urban America."
--Antoinette J. Lee

"Hayden invents a totally original method of 'storytelling with the shapes of time.' The result is an almost poetic invocation of the resilience of the human condition, grounded in both theoretical understanding and practical experiences of place-making and preservation."
--Michael Dear

"The Power of Place is a graceful manifesto that enlists Dolores Hayden's formidable skills as a writer and architectural historian to argue for new ways to understand and represent the social history of urban space."
--Carl Abbott

Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000

A history of the seven contested cultural landscapes where most Americans now live.

Delores Hayden is a professor of architecture, urbanism and American Studies at Yale University. She is credited with being the first to use the expression ‘built environment’ in America. She’d studied in England in the 1970’s where this expression was in use.

Merely explaining the relationship of American studies, the social sciences to the built environment brought back a flood of the passion within me. I loved my field of study and had forgotten how much until reading the interview that follows.

"Building Suburbia," Architecture Boston, April/May 2008, Jeff Stein interview with Dolores Hayden

There is a real key within this book to the loss of our farmland and the disproportionate wealth, the dominance of a growth economy and the loss of the focus, the money, the building and governing for the public good. I have not yet read the book, but I am excited to after reading this interview.

I am so happy to have been given this reminder of Delores Hayden again.

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Rosa said...

OMG, thank you and Beany! I am reserving all of her books our library has right now. I love utopian histories. I've visited Nauvoo & Amana (plus New Harmony, IN, which it looks like she didn't cover - their building style wasn't that unique though).

katecontinued said...

I thought of you - knowing I should go back through comments for the books you had recommended to me before. This is as good a place as any. Would you mind telling me those titles again?

Rosa said...

I wouldn't mind, but I have no recollection at all. I'm sorry. Was it fiction?

Our library recently merged with the less-liberal county library system and now you can look up your account history. This is bad, because it can be secretly subpoenaed, but it's going to be helpful for me.

katecontinued said...

Don't worry, Rosa. I know where I am going to start looking. Trouble is, I keep checking books out and then taking them back unread. I still can't get into reading. It pisses me off, but not bad enough I guess.

Rosa said...

You need more books with picture! Have you read Persepolis yet?

Maybe I don't remember the suggestions because I make too many.

Melinda said...

Sounds like I should have been reading her when I read Jim Kunstler in college. Also sounds a little in line with Landscapes of Power by Sharon Zukin. Others in a similar vein I've read are Bourgeois Utopias by Robert Fishman, A Better Place To Live by Phillip Langdon, A Primer For Daily Life by Susan Willis, and Suburban Nation. All of these books formed my way of thinking. As did Kunstler's two books Geography Of Nowhere and Home From Nowhere, though it's hard for me to see him in the same light anymore - I think he's gone off the deep end in the peak oil world now, and I also plain and simple don't like his writing anymore.

Interestingly, I came across these ideas when studying cultural anthropology. Those two fields (design & anthropology) can learn a lot from one another.

Anyway, thanks for pointing me in her direction!

I have a question for you, because it has been burning in my brain for a while: how do we talk about these issues without alienating 1/2 the American population? I guess this is something I grapple with. It's that whole redefining normal thing again, where we have to change the idea American Dream... Easy enough - heh - nothing like struggling against the last 70 years of American politics, economics, and ideology...

katecontinued said...

Melinda, thank you for the great resources- as usual. I think my toughest challenge with Hayden will be diving into academic writing again.

Excellent question, Melinda. Your redefining normal was my recalibrating the defaults. I think the toughest thing is allowing the 'traditionalists' to frame the argument. I am really sick to death of worrying about offending this crew or even letting them say what the argument is anyway. (Like economy versus ecology; that's a false dichotomy.)

My approach is leaning more towards putting my energy towards what I believe and let those who disagree just be. My thinking is that right decisions, right actions will prove themselves. I want to be better at simply stating to the deniers, the status quo crowd - "No. That is factually incorrect, and I believe that you know that it's factually incorrect."

I don't do well with debate, especially fact free emotional issues. Sadly, my synapses misfire and my reasoning powers shut down. For me it isn't fight - it's flight when the adrenaline pumps. I have therefore never developed a good counter argument to the nay-sayers. I am better at preaching to the choir and fortifying my own ranks.

This deserves a whole post. One of my favorite themes at make-a-(green)plan is Myths America. Revealing myths and living otherwise is my standard operating procedure. If those who disagree find something that helps them see beyond our cultural conditioning - wonderful.

Rosa said...

One thing that's been working for me is constantly referring to cars as "debt traps" - which they are, of course, but nobody usually talks about them that way.

I have a coworker whose car got totalled, who has decided to go with an hourcar program instead of replacing it. And another coworker, with a very, very long commute, just switched to telecommuting with the idea that they'll sell the not-paid-off car and go down to one car. Both of them asked what I thought as they were making their decisions - though of course gas prices put the idea into their heads in the first place.

The language is really mainstream/right - if you listen to the Christian financial advice people, they talk about the traps & snares of debt. And a friend of mine who came up in foster care always talks about poverty traps (things like not having regular dental care, or being on your feet all day in cheap shoes). It makes a nice one-line comment to just drop into conversation, and it seems to stick with people. Not that most people can implement something like that right away, it's a big structural change, but it sticks in their heads.

The other idea I've been playing with is redefining "middle class" back to what it was in the '50s - one car, small house, push lawn mower, one TV, line drying - people think of that time period as "modern" and not the kind of "you want us all to live in caves!" that I usually get when people find out I bike to work & line-dry my clothes. I know that's not as resonant for you, Kate, but people have been really brainwashed with nostalgia for that era.

katecontinued said...

I recently wrote a thing for our park newsletter about this consumption difference between the 20th century and now. I used a visualizing economics graph. I don't remember where I first spotted it, Rosa. But I think it does a great job of illustrating exactly what you are saying.

I think of the fact that shampoo has only been around since the 30's - yet people are mortified at the idea of not using shampoo.

I gave a tour of my place on Sunday to City Council members and guests. Someone said, where is the refrigerator? I told them that I wasn't using one. You'd have thought I said I drowned a pet. The minds couldn't grapple with this factoid. Great fun.

Beany said...

Glad I'm not the only one who's been turned off by Kunstler.

Kate: Thanks for putting together this list, I hope to read all of Hayden's works at some point.