Landscape for the second sex

What is a woman? What does the word “woman” mean besides a definition of one specific type of physical body structure? I asked myself these questions after reading a few articles on the relationship between gender and landscape design. Being a woman myself, how do I perceive landscape more from a female perspective? And when I used the word “female”, had I already have presumptions for what femininity is?

Besides comparing how men and women react different to different landscapes, I am also interested in how certain landscape types have shaped the character of women. The landscape people (mostly males historically) have made, as a social product, has helped to shape the preferable female qualities. The ancient emperors in China usually possess gardens with houses around them, where their women live, as part of their property. These “privileged” women were expected to do certain chores in that environment, and the gardens served the expectations well. Some landscapes that were built by men, were used to limit the activities of women. So we cannot simply talk about female preferences, but also talk about how the relationship has been between the built landscape and women. Being a woman myself, I don’t find myself preferring corner spaces, and I usually just sit by myself in the public space. Seeing myself as a social product, the landscape that has shaped my personality is the city, a more complex environment that is relatively hard to limit my behaviors and impose gender roles. My family used to live in an apartment building and my mother always has a job, so I didn’t have much of the opportunity to observe my mom performing  her gender role in the city landscape (like watering flowers in the front yard).

So we have noticed the differences of how women and men use public spaces differently, what should we do now? Should we base our designs on the different performances in the public of each gender? Again if our behavior is a product of the society including the long oppression on women, are we reinforcing the inequality by repeating the same structure? As we are getting closer to the real gender equality, the social structure and female behavior are constantly changing. There seems to be no solutions to these questions.  

However, if we take a look at the native Indians’ landscape at the reservations, basically made up of squash gardens and corn farms, made by women, is a product of the Matriarchy society. Who has the power to make the landscape, seems to become a deciding factor for the dominating gender. Here we might get a hint of how we can make the landscape to support gender equality, that is, to recruit enough females in the realm of public space planning and design. There are no people that understand the need of women better than women themselves. I am not talking about to have exactly the same amount of female landscape architects as males. But at least these factors need to be taken into serious consideration during the recruitment of this profession. 

Aesthetics in Design

Aesthetics, as one of the most initial motivation for design, is either too much emphasized or under-evaluated. The tension between beauty and ethics has always led to discussions among scholars.  These discussions are valuable because designers, even the great ones, tend to invest either the aesthetic aspect or the ecological/ethical, and ignore other factors.
Beauty can be deceiving, but beauty is not evil. I agree with the author Lance Hosey that the human need for beauty should be fully respected and protected. We human are wired to appreciate and value beautiful things, as a trait for survival. Beauty is always associated with health, youth, vitality, productivity and abundance. We are so intuitive to sense beauty that we are able to make quick decisions in the natural environment. Although the modern world might no longer require us to make fast and intuitive decisions, the way we perceive things still remains very primitive and irrational. Humans are attracted to beauty, this is and will be a fact for a long period of time. Designs that don’t meet this need will fail to sustain itself through our humans’ subconscious selection.
What is beauty? What are the things that are considered aesthetically pleasing by the most people? These are interesting questions for designers to ask. Historically architectural beauty has not been associated with sustainability and has been even the opposite. Before the lack of resource started to concern people, the most labor intensive craft and the most fine and expensive material were seen as beautiful.  “Waste spoils taste.” The most visited historic buildings are oftentimes the most labor intensive with the most expensive material. Luxury even in today,  is always in our language when we describe beauty. In modern times, people’s aesthetic taste started to vary significantly. More styles are considered to be visually pleasing, including industrial beauty, pop art, something no longer associated with the word “expensive”.
Designers played a critical role in the development of people’s aesthetics. It is hard to answer the question of whether there is a universal rule for the ultimate beauty. However we do know that designers can change the way people see things. A different way of looking at something will influence whether we determine it is beautiful or not. Before Le Corbusier, houses were never seen as “machines for living”. Throughout time more and more people started to embrace his philosophy in his design and appreciate the beauty in his design. Not only do we have the power to change people’s mentality but also we should to a degree be responsible for the result. I am against the waste in design personally, and I believe it is avoidable by gradually shaping people’s aesthetics. Fur is no longer prevalent in the fashion world. Art pieces using recycled material are not hard to find nowadays, and the fact of the recycling process add to the attraction. It is rather, a choice for designers to determine whether to change or not.