What does looking up at the Empire State Building have to do with masculinity? And what does any of this have to do with the current environmental crisis?

Le Corbusier and other architects actively employed the archetype of the male nude in their construction. Naked and unadorned, modern forms of architecture demonstrate masculine features different from more elaborate and clothed forms evoking feminine traits. The male nude embodies masculine ideas of rationality and strength, illustrated in architecture by the cold and logical elements of stone, steel, and glass and epitomized in modern skyscrapers. The building elements themselves evoke the “manly” environments that produced them. From steamy, soot-covered foundries molding molten metals and to sizzling and clammy factories sheeting glass, these materials conjure up masculine environments that necessarily drag social values attached with the materials along with them. Austere. Productive. Legitimate.

Moreover, skyscrapers, by employing a vertical rather than horizontal orientation, privilege masculine traits by organizing the gaze of the viewer. Skyscrapers and other vertical structures demand the upward gaze of the onlooker, affirming their authority and legitimacy in the city landscape and perpetuating qualities attached to modern masculinity. Horizontal structures, on the other hand, invite the view inward. As a result, intimacy, openness, and warmth are commonly associated with these buildings. 

Architecture is not a benign idea simply to facilitate shelter for our many activities. Rather, it is a curated social space, powerfully enacting, performing, and normalizing engrained facets of masculinity and femininity. It is easy to see how ideas of legitimacy, productivity, and control flow from skyscrapers, by way of modern masculinity, to build and reinforce the extraction economy (with the reciprocal active as well) currently driving the global environmental crisis we are seeing climax today. 

This does not mean that in order to address the environmental crisis we must tear down all skyscrapers. Nonetheless, I believe it is important to understand what these structures mean. The underlying ideas communicated by our physical structures should be used to redefine masculinity into a positive force, not reinforce a negative one.

Kate WeinerComment