MY WILL IS, I hope, of adequate size to match my ego, but I suspect my need to exercise some sense of presence within the architectural community may cloud a vision of a better future. The shadow of envy never lurking too far away, my genitalia have become a phallic fusion of confusion. I am an architect in waiting, yet laden with a willy. We wonder if architects are anointed the power of clairvoyance, but as a man I am also loaded with man genes and tendencies that flicker between the lack of multitasking, a lower pain threshold and a Neanderthal compulsion. My power of clairvoyance is therefore clouded.
Penis envy might just be a simple-minded idea from a silly little Austrian with ample beard and a disposition for Greek Mythology, but penis envy in the context of male competitiveness, as well as in its original intention, might also have triggered some architectural blunders so massive (Anish Kapoor’s Orbit, Prince Charles’s Poundbury, downtown Dubai in general) that the power of clairvoyance is no more relevant to architects of the male persuasion than loft insulation is to the homeless. Then again, the drive for giant, girthy throbbing willies may have blessed us with all sorts of cloud penetrating gems for us six-inchers to gawp and look on lustfully. Stiff and hard from London to Vladivostok, Calcutta to Harare, the dicks are every- where, glistening in their own awe. The question however remains, were they erected for the titillation of their masters? Or were they the nite answer to challenging ‘opportune’ architectural puzzles?
Easy adaptations of this notion may bring to mind almost any tower, made more perfect if they have a de ned tip. The Gherkin is an obvious choice. Shuttleworth, is now ashamed of his own guile, lamenting “architects are egotistical”. It’s a therapist’s wet dream, if therapists have wet dreams. It’s architecture screaming Oedipus, but this is perhaps all too much 101. We claim that skyscrapers look like willies, and the arrival of a certain vulva laden starchitect is too producing genetically appropriate genitalia, or so has been pointed out.
The real vulgarity of penis envy takes place in the universities and studios, where female numbers drop from 44% in education to 34% as architects, according to Architects’ Journal and RIBA. Though not universal, it is not a struggle to hear the discussion in studios of ‘which side it swings’. Whilst most point to the towers claiming crudeness, and snigger and laugh and tweet about symbolism more obvious than a shoe, swathes of manly men are stomping on, chewing through projects and erecting more flags to his name than sperm in a single emission.
Perhaps unsubstantiated, but with only around 12% of practice partners being female there is a good chance that women have fewer opportunities to make their architectural mark. The fight for women to join their male counterparts is a continued struggle; sexism ain’t dead yet, and us men are doing a fine job of keeping it alive. In teaching architecture, the willies are winning, in practicing architecture, the willies are winning, and the projected future of the mismatched discipline becoming matched is about as hopeful as the rebirth of past voyeur Oscar Niemeyer.
I would say, the importance of gender equality in architecture is no longer just about gender equality; it is about employing more people that might bring an authentic gift of foresight, about employing reason and quality without being swayed by an end declaration of “my willy is bigger”—unless of course we get to a point where it’s all women and penis envy may then take a more intense form.
The struggle for men is about being aware of their own inability to be completely subjective, or at least to detach themselves an adequate length from their go, a suggestion of thumb tip to index finger tip might do the trick. The image of Philip Johnson clutching the shaft of his AT&T model is all things Freudian, and as Arthur Drexler says,“the AT&T building is too big to be a joke.” Today’s Johnson is the gloating of overreaching firms charmed by their in flux of money—$1 billion architecture companies operating in dubious corners of the world and short-falling their interns; the power of the male ego turning to a pulp the idealised student petrified before a pin-up. Maybe a touch sentimental, but the clairvoyance so anointed to us architects—if it does exist—is not necessarily something to behold and dream and long for. Perhaps the power of foresight does exist, but it is simply to reproduce our own little 1:1s that are erected and razed on a daily basis for the benefit of our goals of intimate gratification.
And here’s the crux of the issue, I’m a self-confessed man with penis wanting to write an article about architecture for architects pontificating about the confused nature of men. Is this an article on clairvoyance, or am I the voyeur on a journey of self-gratification? I’m putting my dick on the table as it were and socking it to them... a sod it and to hell with it. Yes, I want to fight this penis thing, but what do I do about my own? I do have one.
–This feature was originally published in LOBBY No.2 'Clairvoyance' (Spring 2015). It can be found in pages 48–50. To get your copy of LOBBY, click here.
–Photograph by Erik Hartin. Illustration: Actor William Smith, late 1950’s. Courtesy of William Smith, www.williamsmith.us.