Pinnacles Are From Mars, Dumpsters Are From Venus?

I often complain, as someone who follows news from the worlds of art, architecture, and design, that in order to keep up with the news in these fields, I have to wade through dumpsters full of garbage stories, in which daft ideas and poorly executed, utterly stupid things are afforded the same level of serious treatment as, say, a Mozart piano concerto or a Georgia O’Keeffe flower painting. Safe to say, I’ve seen a lot of daft things in my time. But when it comes to the pinnacle – or, I suppose, the nadir – of daft things, this one is right up there.

In a piece published in Dezeen over the weekend, the painfully hip architecture and design magazine discusses a new digital tool created by a British architectural student, which “calculates the underlying gender bias in English architectural terms, to help create more gender-neutral environments.” Created as part of a master’s degree thesis, “Building Without Bias: An Architectural Language for the Post-Binary”, rates words that are used in architecture as being more male, female, or neither. This will (allegedly) be useful in the future for creating better computer programs for architecture, design, and urban planning, in which gender neutrality is to be the sine qua non.

Taking a stab at it, I typed some words into the algorithm to see the results on a few common, but important, architectural terms. The word “column”, perhaps not unexpectedly, leans male. For some reason not immediately apparent to this scrivener, the word “tympanum”, which is the flat area over an entrance porch, doorway, or window, as shown below, is considered extremely female. “Plinth”, on the other hand – which, along with “moist” is one of British comedienne Miranda Hart’s favorite words (as one can see in this sketch from her hilarious sit-com) – falls somewhere in the middle.

So what does all of this mean? Why, nothing, of course. It’s utter nonsense.

At best, I suppose one could use this “tool” as some sort of drinking game, in which a player is given a word related to building and design, and has to decide whether it is male, female, or neither. The player would then type in the word and, if they were wrong in their initial guess, be forced to drink a shot. The result could also spark a lively debate among the participants, as to why one would rate an architectural term like “stringing” as neutral, but “architrave” as female. Incidentally, while the program considers the term “Ionic” to be female, it apparently has no awareness of either the “Doric” or the “Corinthian”, which are the other two classical orders of Western architecture.

In any case, read the article for yourself, and feel free to share your own results in the comments section below.


2 thoughts on “Pinnacles Are From Mars, Dumpsters Are From Venus?

  1. Just when you think higher education and the arts avant-garde couldn’t get any stupider. But, of course, these notions will gain currency. Do you suppose this comes from telling children that everything they do is wonderful?


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