View Full Version : Looking for a "feminine" city design

09-23-2013, 08:02 PM
I'm working on a fantasy story where one of the main countries is a republic that is largely run by women, so I'm trying to find wallpapers, maps, drawings, etc. of fantasy cities that would strike someone as being feminine. The fantasy is high magic but no elves/dwarves, etc., and is set in a medieval time period (swords, bows and the like.)

Any help is greatly appreciated; even a wordy description of what such a city might look like would work.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can help out!

09-23-2013, 08:16 PM
Search for Elven.
Masculine forms tent towards hard, angular and emphasizing mass ... Like much of the Art Deco buildings or Nazi Germany mega structures.

Feminine forms should tend towards the opposite ... soft, curvilinear, light and airy with an emphasis on empty space ... see Katsura Imperial Villa and traditional Japanese architecture ... think sculptures in a park type of forms.

The parks of Fredrick Law Olmstead might serve as some inspiration as well ... he has lots of natural winding paths ... see Central Park in NYC and the Biltmore House gardens.

I hope that helps.

09-23-2013, 08:46 PM
Err, no offence, but... why would it look any different? Especially any city that develops organically for the needs of the populace? But even a planned city. Why would it look much different from what you'd usually expect? Are you expecting to find a "shoe seller's quarter" with heart shaped buildings roofed with pink tiles or something? =P

Specific religious and civilian buildings/complexes might have some quirks depending on the philosophy and culture, but the everyday needs of the people, efficiency, and building costs don't change just because women are in charge. The city will still reflect that.

- Max -
09-23-2013, 09:12 PM
I have to agree with Larb. I don't really see how man or woman rules could really influence city design, which is pretty the result of many things but probably not gender related stuff.

09-23-2013, 09:31 PM
Unfortunately I have to disagree with both Larb and Max – depending on what you mean by ‘largely run by women’ female dominance may be reflected in urban form, albeit likely in very subhtle and nuanced ways. I’m currently writing an archaeology thesis about how gender shaped urban space in 1600s London (which means I can talk/write about this topic until you’re all bored stiff). You will need to be quite imaginative to make it work, though.

First, you say it is a republic, and it is largely run by women. Does that mean that only women can vote? That women are usually more popular electoral candidates? Or do you mean the society is run by women in the sense that households, workplaces, businesses etc are run by women and not men? It makes an important difference which onhe you choose. If the first or second, then Larb and Max are probably right; if the last, then I can make a few suggestions, based on the example from London and my other researches (depending on how far you want to go with this idea, I can recommend various books you might want to read, as well).

Example 1: the simple medieval parish church. A British archaeologist has argued that subtle clues in the architecture of parish churches separate men and women. Mary sits on Christ’s right-hand side, while St John sits on his left. Women would naturally associate more with Mary than St John, so they will sit on the side where he appears. Since churches are often oriented to face west, this means women will generally sit on the northern side of the church. Convents then take this further – an important place in any monastery/convent is the cloister. In monasteries (inhabited by male monks) the cloister is usually on the south side of the main chapel; in convents, it is on the northern side. It is a very subtle difference, but more overt ones might be possible.

Example 2: in London, poor women often had to work to support the household and supplement the husband’s income. However, they were not allowed into the guilds, and so the work they did was usually associated with selling (and buying) goods at market – i.e. men worked in workshops at the back of houses, while women worked in the street and public places. If, in your city, women are equally entitled to participate in various kinds of employment (eg blacksmithing) I can imagine you would have some subtle differences in the city layout.

Perhaps these examples aren’t what you are looking for, though. Fact is, if you are simply switching male/female roles, so that men work in the markets while women work for guilds and that kind of thing, you’ll have virtually no difference; Larb and Max’ll be right. If you have something more specific/nuanced in mind, you can make this city really intriguing and detailed.

- Max -
09-23-2013, 09:35 PM
The things you mentioned seem to make only subtles nuances though and I'm wondering how this will appear on a city map, except if this one is heavily detailed.

09-23-2013, 09:36 PM
I suspect that the culture that created 'women in charge' would be dramatically different from a culture where men and women are viewed as equals and both would be different from a culture where women are chattel. Those innate cultural differences would be reflected in different cultural norms which in turn drive the forms of the built environment.

It is all speculation since we have few matriarchal dominated societies from which to draw data, and those that do exist tend to be pre-industrial ... following tribal and rural dominated building patterns.

... but let me present one very specific speculation:
Let's assume for discussion that the average man is more 'independent minded' and the average woman is more 'social minded'. By which I mean nothing more than the man would, left to his own, gather his wife and family to himself, clear his 40 acres with his mule, and settle down into his home on his land with his family. The woman, by contrast, if left to her own, would gather at her mother's house with her sisters and talk about whatever it is that women talk about; she is more innately relational than a man.

So a city in a male dominated culture would be built around small individual dwellings optimized for the traditional nuclear family, and a female dominated culture might be built around an extended family living in a multi-generational and multi-family setting.

Would a city made of single family homes look different from a city composed of multi-generational kabutz'?

I think that it is an idea worth exploring.

09-23-2013, 09:56 PM
TheHoarseWhisperer: It's good to hear you have looked more at this in some respects. But as Max said, you're looking at stuff far more subtle and how would that change the overall appearance of a city itself? How would the streetplan or buildings look different? Do stone boxes with peaked roofs stop becoming one of the more efficient building designs? It's hard to say how it would even affect street plans as they vary from region to region and culture to culture.

atpollard: You raise some interesting points but the "nuclear family" is itself a pretty modern concept and in the past multi generational and extended family units were not uncommon. Perhaps residential buildings might be larger? Or maybe a female dominated society might have women who are more independently minded? It is an idea worth exploring but I don't think a city that consists of many Kabutz (the jewish collective complexes, right?) would primarily be down to gender.

09-23-2013, 10:39 PM
I agree that it could easily make no difference at all.

On the other hand, it could make all the difference in the world.
Let's combine some concepts from a variety of sources and link them to a matriarchal society.

For starters, let's abolish marriage as a concept. The fundamental unit in society is the family, now defined as a grandmother (eldest living female), all of her biological daughters and all of their biological daughters. now let's further postulate, that land is inherited by the family and, like the kingdom of Israel, all land reverts (or is redistributed) among the surviving 'grandmothers' every 50th year (the year of Jubilee). Now let us speculate, that like Roman Senators, the women are forbidden from working in a craft ... wealth is measured in agricultural plantations owned by the Grandmother and worked and controlled by the women. Men are, by definition, unmarried craftsmen tied to a matriarchal family by the bonds of a servi (roman slave/family property) until the age of 21, at which point they become full craftsmen and members of a guild ... tied to a matriarchal family by vassal-lady type of social, political and economic bonds.

Men are raised in the Spartan tradition, meaning that at age 6, a boy leaves the household of his mother to be raised in a boarding school-barracks tied to a particular craft guild.

Now let's look at the city:
Around the city are large plantations. Each the seat of economic power for some particular matriarchal family and a large active agri-industry complex - a village in its own right. There are no small farms.

But the seat of industrial and political power is the regional city ... with the great chamber of the Republic at its center. Government power is exercised within the senate chamber and any family that wishes to maintain its wealth and power must be near the senate. So surrounding the senate are the offices and public halls of government, and surrounding that are the great urban houses maintained by the extended matriarchal families. Each clan (group of related families) functions as a political block in the senate and an economic block in the city ... dominating a sector of the city.

Far from the senate, but within the city walls are the great guild houses. Remember than each guild is far more than just a 'union hall' for a trade. It is the boarding school for the young men of age 6 to 21. It is the apartment complex for the guild craftsmen over the age of 21. It is the local community, the neighborhood, dominated by the guild of a particular family or clan and a small community in its own right. Within the city, linked to other neighborhoods and set apart. Perhaps walled.

There are many opportunities for such a social structure to be reflected in the hierarchy of streets, the placement of plazas and guild halls and the numerous isolated and interconnected communities within the greater urban fabric.

Imagination is the only limit to the possibilities.
(... And I still suspect that an all female community and a nearby all male community would develop different urban organizational forms and building character.)

It is not inevitable, but is is a distinct possibility.

09-23-2013, 11:03 PM
This topic’s generating a lot of interest – 9 replies in what, about 2 hours? Anyway...

Yes, the examples I gave are subtle, but I subscribe to the view that subtle worldbuilding is best; and I know that there is a difference between worldbuilding and mapmaking, but they are very closely aligned, especially on a website like this one.

I also think that subtle differences can have a huge impact on street layout and architecture. Stone boxes and peaked roofs (or wooden cylinders, or leather tents or whatever Androidfan wants, really) are still an efficient form, and I expect they’d still exist in a ‘feminine’ city.

I read earlier this year an interesting observation about gender and power – in many past societies, men initially acquire power through martial prowess; women through childbirth and family-raising. A man is at his physical strongest when young (~25-30 years); if he gets too grey in the tooth, some young upstart will oust him. The power wielded by a man is public (i.e. it has an influence on the entire society); his legacy takes the form of the deeds accomplished in his vigour. A woman’s power increases as soon as she has her first child; she is responsible for the child’s education and upbringing – it is a very important role. When the woman becomes a grandmother, her power is even greater – she has a strong influence on her own children, and the children of her children. The power she wields is thus private power (confined to the household) but it increases as she ages, and it lasts longer overall. The woman is excluded from public life, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about her personal legacy, just as the men do. The woman’s family is her legacy.

Many examples of this effect can be seen in past societies – for example, think of the (stereotypical) role of grandmothers in traditional Greek, Italian and Indian households. I’m reminded of a scene from Godfather 2 where Michael Corleone – a powerful male – is troubled; what does he do? He goes to his mother for advice. There are hundreds of other examples, anthropological (yawn) and anecdotal.

Now, how does any of this manifest in urban form? If men are remembered by their deeds, and women by their families, perhaps you wouldn’t have monumental (not to mention phallic) objects like Nelson’s Column or the Washington Monument in cities; you wouldn’t have grand boulevard’s that culminate in some expression of military glory, like the Arc de Triomph.

The alternative might be closer to Atpollard’s suggestion: large houses that hold many branches of an extended family, presided over by a maternal individual, a grandmother, aunt, mother etc. It isn’t far-fetched – it is the basic model for medieval Italian domestic architecture. It is interesting to compare on GoogleEarth images of an Italian town (like Bologna) with a north European one (like Amsterdam, where, I suspect, family structures are very much more concentrated on the husband/wife/children, rather than the whole extended family). The Italian town has many courtyards, narrow twisted streets, convoluted roofs; the Dutch town has rows of houses with much more straightforward street layouts. You can try this with many other towns from different parts of the world.

Why do these towns look different? Why does Bologna look like other Italian towns but unlike Dutch towns? I think there can only be one explanation, and that is culture (environmental/economical factors also come into it, but culture is the big one). And a big part of culture is the family structure. And a big part of the family structure is the relative power roles of men and women.

The point of all of this is to demonstrate that gender can have a big impact on the way a town looks. I assume that the original poster is suggesting that women hold public power in his/her world, instead of/in addition to private power. His/her task involves figuring out what that is going to mean for the urban form.

EDIT: Atpollard, I didn't see your latest post until after I'd added this comment. You've provided a reasonably detailed and sound possiblity for how a 'feminine' city might look. I have to say it doesn't sound that different from a male-dominated city, but it's still pretty good. And you are absolutely 100% completely and totally right: imagination is the only limit to the possibilities.

09-24-2013, 02:38 AM
Check out Tar Valon, the Aes Sedai city in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Ruled by females for thousands of years, and a distinctly feminine shape if you've got a dirty mind.

09-24-2013, 09:39 AM
EDIT: Atpollard, I didn't see your latest post until after I'd added this comment. You've provided a reasonably detailed and sound possiblity for how a 'feminine' city might look. I have to say it doesn't sound that different from a male-dominated city, but it's still pretty good. And you are absolutely 100% completely and totally right: imagination is the only limit to the possibilities.
The devil is always in the details. ;)

To use your analogy to flesh it out, the feminine core is southern Italian in character, surrounded by a canal with ceremonial bridges to a social quarter where men and women meet, which is in turn surrounded by an Amsterdam dense urban men's section.

It is not the forms which are unique, it is the juxtaposition of forms that is unusual.

[and this was one of many possibilities]

09-24-2013, 10:31 AM
Well, as soon as I read the first post I started thinking... and then as I read onwards I realized that everything I had been thinking had already been said, and with much more thought put into it than I could offer. But I still have two cents to chip in! My first thought was that you could try reading a bit of Jane Jacobs' writing on cities and communities, or, probably better, read about what Jane Jacobs has written. I think that an emphasis on communal spaces might be the way to go, I really like the idea that was mentioned about of having larger extended-family dwellings.

I'm very interested to see what is generated here!


09-24-2013, 05:45 PM
Wow. To say that I'm pleasantly surprised at the amount and scope of the feedback this thread has generated in less than 24 hours would be an understatement. I appreciate all of it. I'm still pretty new at crafting a fantasy world in general, hence why I reached out, and it's quite refreshing to be on a forum where I can ask an honest question and not have to deal with angst-ridden trolls. (Which is more than can be said for a LOT of forums, no matter the subject material, but nevermind!)

I'm still working on the nitty-gritty of how the society itself is run, so I'm not really able to respond just yet on how the more nuanced aspects will play out. However, again, I do appreciate everybody's feedback and would gladly welcome more. I'll be keeping an eye on this thread to see what else is said and all of your feedback is noted.

09-29-2013, 02:36 AM
There is also the plain fact that the structure and planning of a city are directed by those in power either through financial or political means, same thing with public or other significant buildings. I would suspect that the places of power and the areas of interest would differ for women to a great enough degree that it would easily effect a city layout and buildings. It may be subtle as some others suggest, but I think it would be definitely noticeable.

09-29-2013, 11:55 AM
Android fan, a key question to ask yourself while working out the details of your society is why. Why did men dominate early society on Earth? Why is your culture different? If your history has deep-seeded roots, the modern conventions will be derivative. Answering the original difference will give you a reference point to return to whenever you do not know how to proceed. Good luck!

11-25-2013, 01:23 PM
I enjoyed this thread! In designing things with the female in mind, you might change the colors and hues of some things. When designing rooms especially. A lot of the programs out there are pretty dark in colors. While a woman might like the darker tones, many would prefer a lighter color in the home. Such as softer reds and peach colors as opposed to the Dark reds and the Dark navy colors. When designing physically a specific city, you would need to keep those in mind too.

The Roman idea posted previously on this forum was absolutely wonderful and I had not even thought of that. When I saw the original question my thought went directly to colors and hues.