The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1870] Salvation by brick


It is very regrettable to see, in the twenty-first century, the social backward process of industrialization in developing countries, where certain social relations that are no longer acceptable used to be the norm prior to the creation and expansion of major cities in these countries. The numbers of female admissions in the university entrance exams have increased while the population of female contestants remains low in comparison to the male. This trend strongly indicates a growing eagerness in creating a path of social existence in a male dominated society. Many of these female academics will not be able to move in proper spheres of economy, politics and social life, and will instead choose to step out of the way of others and surrender. Those who have had the chance to participate in social matters are still fighting over this unfortunate fact.

The deep gap between men and women can be seen in most Iranian social issues, from the lack of social and psychological security in city spaces such as streets and parks to the separated schools in which Iranian female students cannot quietly enjoy the sunshine in the shadows of tall walls.

This subject becomes more complex since it is not only connected to social factors, but it is directly associated with today’s religious, cultural and political matters. There are three main factors preventing women from social activities:

1)Extreme Islamic laws (sometimes in contrast with culture)

2)Lack of social security

3)Lack of special circumstances essential to meet the increasing participation of women in social activities

1) Sexual segregation has become a controversial phenomenon in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The extreme Islamic laws dictate a separation of men and women in almost all social aspects, the stated intent being the prevention of crimes against women and the guarding of their safety. Not only has separating genders in university classes by a partition been unsuccessful, but we can also see that the extension of such practices into other social realms has been ineffective.

In a cultural aspect women and men can work alongside each other in the dimension of small communities providing they are familiar with one another.

That is the reason why women in traditional bazaars in northern and southern parts of Iran attend to their day to day activities side by side with men. This is an example of integration thousands of miles away from any aggression. Quite the opposite of what the extreme Islamic laws theoretically indicate, this coexistence is not arousing for men, and pointing out any separation is also considered odd and unacceptable. In such public spaces, social and moral consideration normally prevails and social civility can clearly be seen in the dialogue between the sexes.

2) Lack of social security for women: Government organizations are responsible for providing social security. Lack of supervision on the other hand, in administrative systems and in different arenas, leads to an absence of social and psychological security. For instance, in some parks landscape designers use rows of high and dense box trees between the park and the sidewalks. This means that while a victim’s screams are audible, the offender can not be seen. Instead, designers should design the park in a way that the users’ actions would be visible. For example if the park were designed on the top of a hill there could be supervision while still maintaining privacy.

As a result of segregation, sexual disorder has manifested itself in different ways. Verbal abuse is a common and daily occurrence for females using public areas unaccompanied for exercising purposes. Also other forms of abuse and sexual obsession can be observed in a variety of scenarios from distribution of home recorded teenage birthday parties to subjection of women to nasty and inappropriate comments on the streets. Ironically in spite of the limitations that social segregation imposes on the lives of Iranian women in the name of safety, it not only fails to protect them against such abuse and insults but it greatly contributes to the escalation of such behavior.

3) Holding women back from social participation:

According to Manual Castells¹, the increase in women's awareness is consistent with an increase in their social participation. This rising social participation, along with a new found understanding of their social rights and the reality of equality among genders, has accordingly led to a higher level of expectation in women's own social lives.

Nearly after two decades, women are starting to become informed about their fundamental rights. Previously, mothers did not know about their basic right of using recreational and public spaces for participation in social activities. They never had the chance to run or walk or take part in sports in parks. Most of these women are suffering from a lack of vitamin D from following extreme Islamic dress codes in mixed-gender public spaces. Taking care of their health is not a concern.

This indicates that the easiest practical solution is to keep women away from participating in social activities.

Currently in half-modernized cities, the maturing daughters of these women are bitterly struggling against this injustice. This conduct however remains the norm in smaller cities. This fight has led to the creation of a few separated spaces for women such as female parks, but there is little regard for the quality of the space or the life contained in them. Many of these parks are useless during the fall and winter seasons, since they are enclosed by leafless trees. High walls, instead of preventing the escape of prisoners, are now being used to block visual contact between visitors and outsiders.

Playing sports in female schools while wearing scarves to adhere to Islamic dress codes is no more bearable for today’s young girls than it was previously, and the simplest solution always appears to be to raise the walls and leave them in solitude of their own shadow.

In this social environment, female citizens are deprived from expressing themselves in social spaces. There are no areas for them to reveal their excitement or energy as long as men – as first class citizens – are using the spaces. They cannot go to stadiums to support their favorite football team. All that remains is to sit in front of the television in their home and watch the game. Women can never have social and public celebrations; they have neither the chance nor the place. These are the consequences of a negligent and flawed urban landscape design by the government which holds a significant rule in Iranians social values reflected in today’s urban landscape design.

Disregarding this problem will only lead to more ineffective city spaces being created by our architects and landscape designers. A much needed consideration should be given to women and they should be equally perceived as first class citizens and their needs should also be taken into account. It is sad to see that in many cases the smallest or the back rooms in masques, university classes and any other mixed spaces belong to women, with no regard for the actual quality of the space.

The concept of separating female and male spaces can only be regarded as a short term solution. By eliminating one sex; the social equilibrium will clearly be disturbed. As a result, women cannot exercise in parks ALONE unless they are accompanied by a male or are a part of a group of four or five (in which they are still not safe from verbal abuse).

The mixed use of spaces is acceptable in small communities; however it should be noted that when a community expands, the cultural differences grow deeper and consequently more discrepancies arise. In small communities such as villages, people share the same cultural beliefs, values and lifestyle and that is the reason why they do not experience any major difficulties with one another. In contrast, in today’s cities in which one can observe a variety of cultural differences among individuals, balancing this social equilibrium can not be an easy task.

The relationship between space and vision is bilinear. At one time the space and consequences can form a vision; at another the vision (perspective) can form a space. The existence of insecure space forms the perspective of space segregation; alternatively a wrong perspective forms the inexistence of recreational space.

The solution for this problem does not lie solely in the hands of architecture. Architecture however can lighten the load of limitations and contradictions from women’s lives by providing safe and proper spaces for walking, daily exercise and meditation to heal some of the wounds on women society caused by improper cultural and social values.

It is our foremost social responsibility as architects, regardless of social and political beliefs and whether we in fact believe in separated or non separated spaces, to give the users the convenience and pleasure of utilizing those spaces without the existence of any fear. As long as there are no evident recreational spaces up to standard in Iran, the question of women’s public spaces in regard to other city spaces will remain unsolved. This issue can only be resolved if more research is conducted and more practical designs are created. This can be the driving force of a competition that will bring about a handful of projects and designing concepts, ideas and theories by creative students, designers and academics alike that will hopefully lead to new discussions and debates on this controversial subject.

The criteria of the competition can be determined by answering these questions:

-Are there sufficient recreational or useable public spaces for women?

-What are the needs of today’s women in public and recreational spaces?

-If there is a need to have such spaces, according to social and cultural values, should it be segregated or combined?

-How is the quality of life in recreational and public spaces?

“The well-being or quality of life of a population is an important concern in economics and political science. It is measured by build, social and economic environment. There are many components to Well-being. A large part is standard of living, the amount of money and access to goods and services that a person has; these numbers are fairly easily measured. Others like FREEDOM, HAPPINESS, ART, ENVIROMENTAL HEALTH, and INNOVATION are far harder to measure.This has created an inevitable imbalance as programs and policies are created to fit the easily available economic numbers while ignoring the other measures that are very difficult to plan for or assess. ”²

Architecture as a social art can affect people’s sense of freedom, happiness and satisfaction in their living space. A satisfaction from a yard surrounded by senseless walls is different than the one surrounded by flowers and trees.

With a futuristic approach in mind, a few of the primary questions of this Design competition may be:

How do you predict Iranian’s future in urban landscape design taking into account an equal usage of city spaces by females and males both? How do special factors in women’s public or recreational spaces differentiate them from other city spaces? Should there be any femininity in the body of that space?

-If the designers believe there should be separated city spaces (which will be defined in the competition), how do they differentiate between spaces for female and male users? e.g. Duplicating spaces? Or two completely different spaces in quality, material, texture and sense?

-How do they separate these spaces? By walls, doors, windows, or a completely new architectural defined element? If so what would be their design?

-How is the edge of these separated spaces defined? Is there any common area between them?

-Should they be far from each other or next to each other? What will be their composition? Linear, centralized, or other arrangements?

-What elements are going to be placed in them? Feminine art works? Exclusive elements only designed for feminine users?

-What is the relationship between the designed spaces and their surrounding environment?

-How is the designed area going to communicate with its surrounding environment?

-If the designers believe the specific city space should be for mixed usage, how are they going to give the female user the freedom and happiness of her use in that space?

-How do they guarantee users’ security in their form of design?

-How attractive are the designed spaces for both female and male users?

-Are the elements inside them useable for both sexes?

The competition seeks to offer new insight into the theory of social sexual segregation. It consists of two sections:

1)The research essay which will outline the proposed theoretical solution of social and sexual segregation taking into consideration its more complex cultural, religious and political aspects

2)The design part to develop the theoretical solution

The competition can be open to all registered undergraduate / post graduate / doctoral students of architecture, planning, urban design, landscape design, environmental design and related disciplines of anthropology, sociology, psychology economics, social work, and etc. The student group can be headed by a student of architecture. The participants may be individuals or a group of not more than 6 students. (Because of the complexity of this issue it is recommended to participate in multi disciplinary teams).

In this competition participants will be asked to design an urban landscape in a specific site, with respect to their own stance on sexual segregation. To support their position on sexual segregation in social spaces, they are required to complete a documented research such as an essay, which will help them to realize the most effective solutions for this issue (by means of surveys, interviews, workshops, and etc). This research would be essential for their suggestive design solutions.

In addition to the research essay, the participants will be asked to design the following functions next to a single or a number of their own suggestive functions: Cultural (cultural complex), religious (mosque), educational (library, classes), open spaces for open air activities such as light sports. If participants prefer other functions, their relevance and necessity is subject to explanation. Furthermore, they will be required to show the context of their designed spaces by putting special artistic elements such as statues, special designed benches, sitting areas, day or night lightning, and etc.

The ideas and designs of participants will create a rich archive of not only architectural and fine art designs, but also social research conducted using a new approach. The effectiveness of these designed spaces to guard women from harm and unpleasantness is directly linked to the success of addressing social and sexual segregation in social spaces. This urban landscape design is definitely a combination of desperately needed spaces for women. Each single provided function might be applicable and useable in other places around the city or country. Analyzing the relationship between designed spaces with surrounded areas would also offer other opportunity for further steps in this way. Gilchrist says: “space provides more than just a map of social relations”. Let us engrave the map of today and tomorrow’s city spaces with the joy and satisfaction of women, wronged in today’s Iranian society as minor and forgotten users.

(1)Castells, Manuel. The Crisis of the Patriarchal family; The Rise of Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1999.

(2)Quality of Life.Online..

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