Seda Oznal @ GSAPP Columbia University [Spring 2018 for What If..? studio lead by Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen (UrbanLab)]
- is a statement in which ideas of utopia, leisure, and pride in being female are played out
- suggests a narrative for all women, especially oppressed and so-called‘bad’
- is a manifestation againstpatriarchal social structure and ideas of normatively/propriety
- resists easy definition and defies confinement
- is surreal, she is fantastic, she is grotesque
- accepts every color of expression
- isa beautiful monster where monstrousness is human, political and a metaphor for goodness
- possesses intimacy and connectedness and defies objectification with her spectacular interior
- is phantasmagoric, open, colorful and carnivalesque, ready for birth
- is interactive and explorable, deliberately too large to be taken in and consumed from different angles
- is a shelter, a protector, an ideal of cultural strength, central to the community
- is fundamentally a challenge to the sexist precepts of public representation
- is a celebration of sexual liberty and humanity
- is right in the middle of social interaction, actively being the spectator and the subject, autonomous and politically conscious
What prompted the project? How did contemporary events shape and affect your project?
We are now actively present in a transformative moment in history for women. As women are politically demanding rights and gender equality, I was also in search of its spatial projection. I believe that it is essential to comprehend ways in which gender contributes to changing architecture and planning and study semantics of femininity and feminine principles in space. That prompted me to rethink identity spatially.
I was specifically drawn to Japanese women; to the way, they have been assigned to labels and images throughout history. These still carry a restricting effect on women’s position in the sociopolitical environment, similar to several other cultures. The extent to which women could participate in Japanese society varies over time and among social classes. Ironically though, the inequality ethics, governments, religion, tradition have produced, allowed women the margin of freedom to explore their individuality in ways not obvious or accessible to men. Women diversified while men stayed homogenous. I found it to be a critical moment in time for Japanese women because it shows that they’re on a unique quest in search of themselves. Creating a space that can accommodate these unique expressions and provoking discussion through politics of space were my major motives.
What was your work process in terms of project development and drawing?
It was a challenging project considering how culturally sensitive the topic is. While trying to comprehend what “gendered space” means, I was also doing an extensive research on Japanese women and their position in the current urban context.
The representation of women is critical considering the uneven pace male and female attitudes/behavior cause stress in Japanese society. I started piling a collection of images that I took in Japan and turned it into a book. My aim was to examine the representation of women in the urban context to expose ways in which the imagery of women has been sexualized, westernized, traditionalized, maternalized and domesticated. It is important to note that the institutionalized representation of women by the government and the media is different from how women define themselves in the society. Women reinforce, juxtapose and reinterpret these institutionalized messages into new outlets to express themselves every day. That’s exactly where the project seeks to be provocative.
It was also interesting to distinguish how women have always been represented as monstrous figures in Japanese culture. Mythological constructions of women have always marked the female form with mystery, fear, and desire. This approach has been carried out with mangas. While documenting this ingrained perception of portraying women as monstrous figures in society, culture, and history, the project shaped around the ways and which to embrace that monstrosity. By re-contextualizing the monstrosity and what it imposes, celebrating monstrousness as something human, political and a metaphor for goodness, the project started to challenge the sexist precepts of public representation.
Projecting the research and the argument into a speculative megastructure in the middle of World’s busiest pedestrian crossing was the main challenge. The project became alive right after I wrote the SHE manifesto. Writing has always been an essential medium for me to carve the narrative. As I was trying to make a cultural commentary through urban form, the idea of celebrating monstrosity and creating a phantasmagoric presence in the city shaped the skin. As the interior spaces attached to one another, poche started to act almost like an anatomical skeleton.
What were the biggest challenges when trying to articulate the project through one big drawing?
Embedding all the research, argument and narrative into one 6×6 ft drawing is highly compelling. The drawing technique, overall composition, provocative architectural expression and even the very details of people who are accommodating the space must support one another. If one of them contradicts the other then the argument will lose its ground. I think the biggest challenge was to balance all those aspects to create a solid ground for a convincing argument.
To what extent did the work of Peter Cook and Yona Friedman influence your project and approach to drawing?
As a studio, before diving into our proposals, we all produced three scenarios to engage and explore the formal and programmatic possibilities of invented large-scale architecture in the city. First, we looked back at the megastructures that have had historical and theoretical significance and started speculating on what might have been. We simply asked questions such as ‘what if Lamp and Secret Garden had an interior? or ‘what if Yona Friedman lived in Tokyo?’ Re-contextualizing and somehow “internalizing” these megastructures helped us to understand the scale, programmatic potential, and relation with the city which megastructures have always been criticized about. I believe this sensitivity that we practiced through speculating sections for existing megastructures projected to our projects directly. Also personally, Peter Cook has always been a great inspiration in my work, not just with his delicate and thoughtful use of color and texture, composition and drawing techniques but as an architect who manifests strategies through speculation.
What tools did you use? What would you say is your most important tool?
I believe that one of the best ways to fully understand the current environment and initiate change relies on taking courage and faith in speculative and fictive approaches. Most of all, speculation holds the freedom to question; while fictive approaches reveal undiscovered insights, having considered the unlikeliest of possibilities. In order to produce a speculation with a solid argument, one needs unconventional tools. As each argument demands its own representation, it also seeks for a new methodology. This project particularly sought critical thinking, unique research tools and inputs from other disciplines such as art, literature, history, politics, sociology etc. Most importantly, in terms of representation, hand drawing, instead of producing the skin as a digital repetitive texture, helped to achieve the unique expression that SHE was seeking.
How did the environment of Columbia shape how you operate as an architect?
As an architect who is seeking to create a spatial equivalent of criticism, theory, research, and discussion, Columbia provides the transdisciplinary platform that engages with all kaleidoscopic qualities of architecture in relation to other disciplines. Exposure to other disciplines creates a new space for social, political, intellectual and economic discussions. This helped me to critically and consciously position myself while exploring new methodologies to create new realities. As a post-professional program, M.S. Advanced Architectural Design helped me to articulate arguments rather than one-way answers.
What are your next steps?
I am currently working as a teaching associate in Columbia. It is truly an amazing experience to see a great section of different discussions that our studio produces. It feeds my determination to explore the infinite nature of space and design by creating unconventional narratives.