Modern architects and designers imagined not only new buildings and objects, but also the bodies that would inhabit and use them. This gallery explores two seemingly opposing yet complementary design tendencies that developed after World War II: the invention of narrowly defined “average” human figures intended to support universally applicable designs; and an urge to challenge the belief that such simplified constructs could encompass the full range of bodily variation and embodied experience.
In the 1940s and ’50s scientific disciplines like anthropometrics and ergonomics—which sought to establish objective principles for measuring the body and improving its performance—informed the creation of normative figures, from Le Corbusier’s Modulor to Henry Dreyfuss’s Joe and Josephine. However, in the 1960s and ’70s, the civil and disability rights movements, second-wave feminism, and the rise of environmentalism propelled critiques of universal design and its limitations. Anything but neutral, the body emerged as a contested site from which to examine modernism’s frictions with questions of gender, race, and disability that persist in architectural practice today.
Organized by Evangelos Kotsioris, Assistant Curator, and Paula Vilaplana de Miguel, Curatorial Assistant, with Joëlle Martin, 12-month intern, Department of Architecture and Design.