Mississippi Rebuilding

By Andrea Gollin

Once upon a time, space was male. That was a very, very long time ago - before the advent of the Container Store, before the kitchen expanded exponentially and co-opted huge portions of the interior, and even before the invention of the doily (which causes a shriveling disease in older males). The Male Space Age was not necessarily a better time, but it was a well-defined time. It's a time difficult for us to even imagine, living as we do in the Female Space Age.

It's all the broom's fault, according to Andres Duany, who presented his research findings on Male Space to a packed audience, an exploration complemented by Sandy Sorlien's interpretive photographs on the topic. Before the broom as we know it was invented in the 18th century, it was customary to live in harmony with dirt. In Male Space, people didn't know there was another way to live. (They may not even have had a word for dirt.) As Space evolved, there was a brief period in which it was gendered balanced. That apotheosis of that balance was the Victorian country house, with its gender-specific rooms: billiard room, smoking room, drawing room, sewing room, and even a growlery where men would retreat when they needed to….yes, growl (according to information provided to Andres by Pat Pinnell).

By the 20th century male space inside the home was much reduced, leaving males relegated to the den, a room with paneling, furniture on the verge of being discarded, a television set, and "probably dead animals on the walls," Andres said.

But were the women satisfied to have the whole house except the den? No - they kept expanding, sweeping men out of the house and into the garage. This might have been a good arrangement for everyone, except that three things happened that collectively feminized the garage: 1) sheetrocking, 2) the emergence of the storage industry, and 3) home association requirements to keep garage doors closed. In fact, Andres's research has revealed that the storage industry has resulted in men "who are essentially neutered, with all of their stuff in cabinets. It's completely insidious."

The loss of the garage has left today's man with only the driveway and the alley to call his own, in most of America. And, this is where the New Urbanism has erred, Andres said. New Urbanism has a tendency to create environments that are too tidy, too manicured, with little to no Male Space, a realization Andres came to after observing the happiness of men in messy alleys at work on their motorcycles. New Urbanists need to be human, they need to remember that "life is imperfect and the pursuit of perfection really deadens things," Duany said. "And we shouldn't design alleys too much."

Sandy Sorlien presented a visual exploration of the topic - she has traveled the country in search of this endangered space. She identified several examples, including teenage boys' bedrooms, baseball games, sheds, barbecues, alleys, trucks, and more. She even went into her next-door neighbor's shed for the cause as well as into the storm sewer that a male friend spends one night a month in "to get away."

The presentation concluded with the distribution of that quintessential Male Space accessory, the cigar, and with the promise of more to come - both more cigars ("we have 500 this year and we'll have 500 a night next year," Andres said) and more discussion of Male Space, an ongoing conversation that all are invited to contribute to.