In the shadow of segregation : women's identity in the modern Iraqi house
Author(s)Ani, Raya H
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This thesis intends to develop a critical perspective on the culture and politics of the modern house in Iraq. It advances the discussion from the authoritative religious environment of women's segregation in the Islamic era associated with the courtyard house, to the seemingly liberated status of women in modern times, as manifested in the design of the house. The primary argument is that there was little substantial change in this status through British Colonialism and the emergence of the secular state and modern aesthetics in Post-Colonial Iraq. Marking the pre-modern period from the Abbasid to the Ottoman rule, the traditional courtyard house reflected the apparent agreement between the world view of a traditional society and the accepted status of women in it. This house manifested principles of spatial hierarchy and privacy as a response to the deeply-embedded principles of social hierarchization of sexes and prevailing assumptions about women. Thus the courtyard house came to be "the house of women's segregation" par excellance. In the British colonial era, the upper-middle classes manifested their preference for the Classical architecture of the colonizers and for European lifestyles; however, the selective process and adaptation of the influences of Colonial architecture into house design made the logic behind the design principles inconsistent. The inflexibility of these principles with respect to accommodating concepts of women's privacy, such as principles of axis and symmetry, reveals the inappropriateness of this style to work within the cultural conventions. In the period of post-colonial independence and nation building, the aspirations of the Iraqi architects for a new aesthetic revolution and a social reform was articulated with the state revolutionary politics. Seemingly divorced from traditional methods of building and traditional materials, the architects promoted aspects of modern utopia and positivism in anticipation of an environmentally and socially better world. The architects' intellectual passion for abstraction and their excessive infatuation with technology, culminating in the new aesthetic and openness, were applied primarily in facade treatment and minor details rather than the actual plan of the house. Thus the plan was still confined to the conventional practices of the society based on imperatives of privacy and hierarchy. Moreover, the new aesthetic of openness conflicted with the entrenched social norms and with woman's perception of herself, resulting in a feeling of alienation. The promise of women's liberation was illusive within the limited definition of the politics of that liberation and given the persistent perception of women in society as dependent and vulnerable. The modern house could not carry a new social reform with its new aesthetic. It still faced the dilemma of society marked by the conflict between the desired definition of progressiveness and the existing conventions of identity, thereby revealing the emptiness and the unresolved contradiction between aspirations and actual practice.
Thesis (M.S.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Architecture, 1994.Includes bibliographical references (p. 103-107).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Architecture
Massachusetts Institute of Technology