Rucha Newalkar — Architecture of Care, by and for the Urban Public Space: A philosophical inquiry into ethics of care to inform the experiential nature of the public space

My Masters of Science in Architecture dissertation focusses on an ecofeminist inquiry for shaping the urban public space. At Luce Irigaray’s 2016 seminar at the University of Bristol, I presented my paper as a part of my research concentrating on sustainability and public urban spaces. The experience was an effort to strengthen the definition of sustainability by investigating Irigaray’s writings concerning feminism, female subjectivity, ecological essentialism and a global culture of co-existence. I tried to maintain two prominent approaches to dealing with the question of feminism, sustainability and the urban public space, one focussing on the practicality of the subject in the narrower sense of immediate effects and the other in the broader sense of possible philosophical implications of this relationship in the long term course of humanity and the environment.

The conversation and co-relation of feminism and the urban public space for my thesis and for me are extremely critical. Especially being from a developing country which is still in very strong shackles of patriarchy along with a rigorous struggle in development, gender perspectives and sustainability are two terms that ought to integrate together. Public spaces, in such densely populated cities, can play a crucial role in affecting this development and social transformation if blended with this integration of philosophies. Essentially, reading feminist and ecofeminist philosophical works of Luce Irigaray helped me thoroughly investigate sustainability and the urban public space.

Luce Irigaray’s philosophy of sexual difference and respecting that difference in all the realms of life was an important point I elaborated in my presentation. This also invigorated the dialogue around equity with regards to accessibility, relatability, comfort and safety of the different gendered and aged users of these spaces. Discussing questions concerning mobility, patterns, and experiences of different users if the architectural design can enrich the experience equitably. There are still very few examples of public spaces that completely accommodate and enhance the spatial experience of women, mothers, and their children together depending not only on the social structure around the place but also the designer’s perspectives, priorities, and considerations. There has been very evident and apparent trend of narcissism adhering to masculine values of ownership, capitalistic development, and obsession with technology in the urban environment which not only compromises with ecological sustainability but also equity in the functional and perceptual experience of the spaces. Reading and discussing the Irigarian philosophy on sexuate difference and the subjectivity and objectivity of genders relating to the spatial experience of spaces helped to establish and strengthen this dialogue which is a detrimental factor in designing the experience of these spaces.

The discussion also helped to elaborate the question of hospitality and whether a universal culture of hospitality in the urban public space is possible. Luce Irigaray’s Sharing the world and How can we live together in a lasting way lead the dialogue that shed light on the global culture of hospitality, transcendence, and co-existence.

Another critical question that was thoroughly discussed was concerning the global ecological perspective inclining towards urban design and urban revival. While there have been significant movements in urban theory that have shaped in support of sustainable urban development, reading Luce Irigaray’s work ecologically or in the direction of ecofeminism helped to enhance my standpoints for design considerations. Reading and discussing Irigaray’s recent work in ecological phenomenology and her elaboration on sexuate difference as a way of appreciating an elemental belonging can help us analyze the spatial world which is still so phallocentric in its morphology, perceptual image, and psychological impacts. This ecological standpoint is one of the crucial perspectives I want to maintain throughout my dialogue discussing urban public spaces and sustainability.

Post seminar, my thesis has developed an acute focus on informing the ethics of care through Irigaray’s ethics of sexual difference. I have specifically referred to Irigaray’s text in Speculum and Ethics of sexual difference that particularly reflect on women as political agents, subjectivity and civil rights and responsibility that prominently overlay the social equity question in environmental sustainability.

I sought an inquiry in ethics of care and ethics of justice with their application to the public sphere asking their effects on sustainable environments and equitable community. I sought Irigaray’s interpretation of Antigone, which particularly relates to the equation of female care, politics and responsibility thus complying to a political and ethical subject position as a woman. I reflect on her interpretation of the character of Antigone belonging to a very sustainable culture of subjectivity which recognizes the familial connection and I see this as care. This care is recognizing not only our own subjective self but also respecting the mutual sexual difference that we share with the other. This difference when extended to our familial connection to our counterparts within the natural ecosystem i.e plant and animal species means recognition of their subjectivities and respecting them. I, therefore, see care, obligatory to the public spheres or public spaces which can further the language and culture of sustainability that we all need for today and our future.

This associate directly with the movement of placemaking that has already begun to acknowledge the potential of public spaces’ integral contribution to the city’s social and environmental sustainability. This placemaking today needs a thorough perspective on the ethics of sexual difference and thus care. Luce Irigaray’s theory of sexual difference highlights the different ways men and women think, move, love, desire, play, work and form culture. While talking about the sexed subject, in her work Speculum, Irigaray highlights the significance of sexed origin of passages or ‘in between’ spaces, re-interpreting Plato’s idea of a cave and passage as a more dynamic, multiple sexed spaces of positive material and fluid transformation. Reflecting the concept of material and subjective fluidity in public spaces would mean opening up the city to be more cohesive spaces which ultimately establish their connections to the extended ecological environment. Engaging the community through participation and interaction with nature nurturing activities can counter the disconnect in different communities through communal caring. Through fluidic spaces that help sexed subjects actively connect to their inside and outside environments through various sensory experiences can create an atmosphere of care that can sustain for an equitable future. Irigaray’s model for care is an intense model that challenges the boundaries for an ethic of care.

For me, care is not just about places for mothers and women by concentrating on women’s morality and in a way reductively essentializing their existence. It is to acknowledge a basic sexuate difference and create a transition, transcendental common space that is mutual, shared and cohesive with our maternal genealogy which essentially the natural ecology. This model of care, if applied to public spaces, can project towards a future ecology of care and thus social and ecological sustainability.