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Gender Segregation in Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Educational Buildings

Part 2 Dissertation 2007
Janet Direen
Edinburgh College of Art Edinburgh UK
Educational space in Scotland was characterised until the late 19th century by the exclusion of women, to be followed by architectural segregation in varying degrees according to gender. This dissertation analyses Glasgow School of Art and Scotland Street School by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, both of which were built at this time of change.

Gender is an important theme throughout Mackintosh’s work; this is demonstrated by the significant collaboration with his wife Margaret Macdonald (a talented artist and designer in her own right) and the use of light, dark, colour and symbolic motifs in a number of his buildings. After a general exploration of this theme in Mackintosh’s work, the two educational buildings are examined in detail by investigating the role of the brief, the ‘gendered’ spaces themselves and points of interaction between them. All of these elements had a significant effect on the design and use of both buildings by women and men.

Both buildings architecturally separate male and female in some or all of their spaces and though spatial segregation can result in an increased dichotomy within a space by controlling access to knowledge and resources, it could be argued that despite this segregation, Mackintosh managed to achieve an equality and quality of space for women by pushing these restrictions to their limits. Within the strict required framework of the time, Mackintosh did not allow the concept of segregation to dominate the design in a way which would negatively reinforce the existing inequality between women and men; instead, both schools utilise the requirement in a way which celebrates the qualities of both, achieving original design solutions.

Mackintosh had a definite commitment to not only redressing the balance of ‘male’ and ‘female’ spaces, but beyond this to giving these spaces a strong importance and quality of design as not seen before. It could be argued that this more balanced approach helped create improved possibilities for, and perception of, women in Glasgow in the early- to mid-20th century.

Janet Direen


Although the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh has been studied extensively, Janet has brought about a new insight into some particular gender aspects of his work. She supported this through thorough research not only into Mackintosh’s work but also into parallel ideas about the education and financial autonomy of women, from other sources, and with research into the educational experiences of three generations of women in her own family.
She sheds light on an important period in the beginnings of change in women’s education, especially art education, which Mackintosh helped to support through his plans, forms and symbolic decoration.

2007
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