Natural and warm? A critical perspective on a feminine and ecological aesthetics in architecture

Andrea Wheeler

Keywords: atmosphere, feminism, sexuate difference, architecture

How can we redefine the fundamentals of atmosphere to include sexual difference? Built forms, ways of living, and inhabiting, are changing, but where is the progress in relation to the subject that is woman, her body, her experience and her resonance within the built environment? Where is architectural theory and criticism with respect to atmosphere and the experience of women? In both the private and the public sphere, sensorial space is being transformed but the role of women remains the same and furthermore more or less absent from any philosophical understandings of notions of ambience. But can new notions of atmosphere help in analyzing these changes, in building a new world of equality between the sexes, or does such a criticism simply embody some utopian perspective, some unachievable equality between the sexes? Where is contemporary feminist philosophy in this discourse? Atmosphere calls upon our entire embodied and existential sense. It stimulates and guides imagination. But if atmosphere in architecture is a new ecological aesthetics, and a proper aesthetic discourse for architecture, as suggested by Gernot Böhme, can it be so now, in our contemporary world, without properly considering sexual difference? And what philosophies are current and emerging that could enable us to envisage tomorrow’s architecture, could suggest a path, through the notion of atmosphere with the perspective of sexual difference? In a time where architectural theory is keen to resurrect the question of feminism this paper explores a theory of atmosphere through the prism of contemporary feminist philosophy to ask whether adding the possibility of sexual difference to theories of design for mood, design for feeling, design for atmosphere, would change our notions of atmosphere and architecture.