Let’s play house 2018/2019

Annual Theme

‘Der Zuschnitt der Wohnungen – die großen Räume für Repräsentation, Freizeit, Ruhe und Erholung, die kleinen für Hausarbeit und Kindererziehung – orientierte sich an männlicher Lebenswelt und privelegierte sie, obwohl der Mann außerhalb des Hauses tätig und viele Stunden nicht anwesend war. Das Leitbild der bürgerlichen Kleinfamilie, in der der Vater als Ernährer der Familie galt und die Mutter als zuständig für Heim und Kinder, wurde in den Nachkriegsjahrzehnten im wörtlichen Sinne versteinert, zementiert oder in Beton gegossen. Die Wohnarchitektur spiegelte die gesellschaftlichen Zuordnungen der Geschlechter.’ (Dörhöfer 2007: 48)

The housing question is deeply linked to social, political, economic, psychological and design understandings and norms of how society should be organised. Traditionally, the family provided one form for such organisation of society. Even children see a close connection between the ‘family’ and the ‘house’: the English language refers to the well known family role play as ‘playing house’. Yet Ripley argues that ‘for children, playing house is never about the house. It’s always about gender and sexual roles. It’s about pretending to be something you can’t.’ (Ripley 2017: 98) Feminist theorists have argued that such quasi-natural definitions (‘you can’t’) point to the deep seated symbolic androcentric order that, despite many changes and improvements, still remains powerful in its naturalisation and biologisation (Terlinden 2010: 21). One expression of this underlying order is the single-family house that organises the gendered functions of the family members materially.

The history of the nuclear family – father, mother and child(-ren) – is at once the history of the modern, western city and its governmentality. The concept of the nuclear family is a social construct that originates in capitalism and became the prominent subdivision of society from industrialisation and onwards. ‘Family’ figures as capitalism’s staple entity: it guarantees the social production and reproduction of society, social order and norms, the division of labour into productive and reproductive activities and property relations. It is characterised by the male role of ‘earner’ and the female role of ‘housewife’ with all its problematic and unequal reverberations (see, for instance, Federici 1975). The nuclear family is closely related to and indeed the driver of suburbanisation and the industrially (pre)fabricated single family house: ‘As much as the industrial suburban house is a product for the nuclear family, the nuclear family is a product of the industrial suburban house.’ (Ripley 2017, 96) Ripley takes the pun even further, claiming that ‘the nuclear family would not have been imaginable as a concept prior to Hiroshima’ (ibid.). But even if the nuclear family in its traditional form and expression no longer presents the only form and expression of possible understandings of family, why is it that the detached, single-family house still provides the (sometimes unconscious, yet often overt) visual representation of ‘having made it’?

George Teyssot unravels the deep connection between the emergence of national family policy and housing policy in the 19th Century. Both are part of a larger conceptualisation of social policy as technocratic system that devises strategies for the governance of human relations in the western societies (Teyssot 1989: 31). Architecture, he argues, underwent a moralisation process: rather than trying to meet existing social needs, architects started to change the routines of future users. Whereas architecture in the 18th Century aimed to ‘speak’ and cater to a social consciousness, 19th Century architecture displays a tendency to behave like a ‘reform’ (cf. Teyssot 1989: 48). To write the history of the ‘house’, Teyssot argues, ‘is to relate it to the genealogy of the great axioms of modern society. Such axioms are, for instance, leisure that has nothing in common with classic idleness; housing that has no resemblance with the poetic domicile of mortals and gods on earth and under the heavens; school that is no place for children’s’ play and lastly, the realm of public hygiene that is a population technology as opposed to what would guarantee an individual health and wellbeing’ (Teyssot 1989: 68). The conception, organisation and realisation of housing the family with its underlying power relations becomes an intricate conglomerate of social policy architecture at the time of industrialisation and nation state building.

If the family today seems to be an increasingly outdated model, its materialisation in floorplans and urban planning remains locked in the idea of the single-family house that spreads into urban flats. Even as the slightly increasing birth rate hints at the fact that starting a family is once more en vogue, the number of single and two-person households is growing to a much larger extent, especially in cities and urban areas. While the classic, nuclear family is by far not the largest group entering the housing market, what is being built ‘is designed and constructed from within [the] hegemonic tradition, using models that assume heteronormativity in its users’ (Ripley 2017: 96). According to Becker, ‘the social gender relations are inscribed into the spatial structures and spaces are gendered’ (2008: 798). 200 years ago, Baudelaire mused on a related aspect, the disposition of the house, and wrote of ‘the great malady that is horror of one’s home’ in his Intimate Journals (1947, LVIII). This brings Freud’s Unheimliches and Vidler’s Architectural Uncanny to mind; the homely and its opposite are at once a result of the domicile, the actual place in which humans are at home and simultaneously repress anxieties, insecurities and desires. Clearly, the unquestioned gendered functions and roles play important parts in the construction and expressions of ‘the home’ and its counterpart ‘the uncanny’, as much as it features in notions of ‘private’ and ‘public’. How can these aspects be taken into account in the discussion around housing and family?

Not only in terms of housing types available, there is a discrepancy between what is offered and what is needed, and this discrepancy is growing (Holm et al. 2018). There are discrepancies in terms of flat sizes and floorpans, affordability and location. And there is the tendency that the activities and practices traditionally located and acted out in homes are relocated, veraushäusigt, removed from our own or rented four walls: ‘women’s work, relocation of the elderly and the sick in old people’s homes and hospitals, accommodation of children in kindergartens and schools or the waiver of children all together, the development of technical and social infrastructures and of personalised services, the increasing mobility for leisure activities, the development of the hotel and restaurant industry as well as leisure facilities, and in general the increasing market- and state-driven organisation of ever more areas of life – all this has resulted in a situation in which nobody inevitably relies on their own flat.’ (Häußermann and Siebel 2000: 14) Despite the realisation that housing and dwelling could be organised in totally different ways – indeed, in very different spatial typologies – people hold on to their desire for their own home: their living rooms, bed rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, their imagined privacy, their decorations, their domestic behaviour (see Hannemann 2014: 37). In the course of the academic year 2018/19, Urban Design students and staff will be concerned with the family and its materialisation in floor plans and property relations, with lived spatial practices and household everyday life, with the always gendered production of space and the representation of social order in the built environment. We will engage with data and preconceptions, urban and rural differences, feminism and politics, ideologies and demographics, unpacking relationalities and tendencies to shed light on an issue that concerns literally every body.




Baudelaire, Charles. 2006. [1947]. Intimate Journals. Translated by Christopher Isherwood, introduced by W.H. Auden. Mincola: Dover Publications.

Becker, Ruth. 2008. Feministische Kritik an Stadt und Raum. In: Ruth Becker, Beate Kortendiek (eds.): Handbuch Frauen- und Geschlechtserforschung. Theorie, Methode, Empirie. Wiesbaden, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, p. 798-811.

Dörhöfer, Kerstin. 2007. Wohnarchitektur: Abbild und Reproduktion von Geschlechterverhältnissen. In: Altenstraßer, C.; G. Hauch; H. Kepplinger (eds.): Gender housing. Geschlechtergerechtes Bauen, Wohnen, Leben. Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen: Studien Verlag, p. 39-58.

Federici, Silvia. 1975. Wages against Housework. Montpelier, Bristol: Falling Wall Press.

Freud, Sigmund. 1982 [1919]. Das Unheimliche. Studienausgabe, Bd. IV. Psychologische Schriften, hg. von Alexander Mitscherlich, Angela Richards, James Strachey. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, S. 241-274.

Hannemann, Christine. 2014. Zum Wandel des Wohnens. Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 20-21, p. 36-43.

Häußermann, Hartmut; Walter Siebel. 2000. Soziologie des Wohnens. Eine Einführung in Wandel und Ausdifferenzierung des Wohnens. Weinheim / München: Juventa.

Holm, Andrej; Henrik Lebuhn; Stephan Junker; Kevin Neitzel. 2018. Wie viele und welche Wohnungen fehlen in deutschen Großstädten? Die soziale Versorgungslücke nach Einkommen und Wohnungsgröße. Düsseldorf: Hans-Böckler-Stiftung.

Ripley, Colin. 2017. Strategies for Living in Houses. Footprint 21, p. 95-108.

Terlinden, Ulla. 2010. Naturalisierung und Ordnung. Theoretische Überlegungen zum Wohnen und zu den Geschlechtern. In: D. Reuschke (ed.) Wohnen und Gender. Theoretische, politische, soziale und räumliche Aspekte. Wiesbaden, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, p. 15-26.

Teyssot, Georges. 1989. Die Krankheit des Domizils. Wohnen und Wohnbau 1800 – 1930. Braunschweig: Vieweg & Sohn.

Vidler, Anthony. 1992. The Architectural Uncanny. Essays in the Modern Unhomely. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


Prof. Dr. Ingrid Breckner


Urban and Regional Sociology

Prof. Dr. Monika Grubbauer


History and Theory of the City

M.Sc. Dominique Peck


Academic Staff, Ph.D. Candidate

Dr. Anna Richter


Post-doctoral Researcher