In the U.S., garages did not really become a part of the “typical” American home (if we can say such a thing) until the start of the 20th century. Certainly garages existed; but they weren’t seen as a necessity. Two things you’d probably guess drove garage production initially: the increasing presence of cars owned by individual families and suburbanization. But, suburbanization was also accompanied by a renewed interest in a sort of “do-it-yourself” lifestyle, and garages played a role in this history. There’s some disagreement concerning whether a “do-it-yourself” zeitgeist prompted suburban retreat or the other way around. But, the important bit is that they are related.
Industrialization and suburbanization brought about fantastic transformations in family life and gender relations. Men and women began to rely upon one another in new and unprecedented ways. Divisions between work and leisure became more pronounced for men and this same boundary was probably blurred more than ever before for women. The same forces that led Lasch to call the family “a haven in a heartless world” were inequitably distributed between family members. This fact is reverberated in our design and use of home architecture.
If you have a home built in the early 20th century that hasn’t been remodeled, it’s likely that you have a fairly closed-off, small kitchen and probably only one centrally-located bathroom. These are just two examples but they’re a powerful illustration of an important issue to do with gender and space. Small kitchens, structurally isolated in homes are a remnant of a particular set of gender relations in families. When architects were designing homes for my grandparent’s generation, kitchens were small and segregated because few people were thought to have reason to inhabit them. Multiple bathrooms seemed a waste of space until the hustle and bustle of dual-earning couples’ morning routines became a national norm.
Garages, basements, and more, have historically served as spaces to which men retreat to work on projects around the house, hobbies, to read, watch television, or “to tinker” as my grandmother-in-law says of her husband. Continue reading