OLIVIA AHN /// Gender Performativity in the History of Suburban Architecture

Conversation recorded with Olivia Ahn in New York on April 13th 2014.

This conversation focuses on the research Olivia Ahn has been conducting these last two years in the relationship design and bodies develop with each other in the architectural typology of the suburban house. We examine together the historical and political logic that created the American suburbia after the second world war. One of these logics consists in the (re)invention of the female gender to whom the suburban house was destined. Olivia describes how the plan of the suburban house, including its compartmentalization into specific rooms, has allowed codified behaviors to enact themselves. We talk about how the control and production of a heteronormative sexuality takes part into this design scheme (through the development of the contraceptive pill, for example). We conclude the conversation by looking at Olivia’s effort to “queer architecture” by her multiple-medium interventions within design itself, questioning the foundations by which such architectures were formed and challenging their limits unto today.

Olivia Ahn is engaged in an inter-disciplinary research, design, and artistic practice that emerges from her interests across architecture, art, and queer theory. Ahn’s current work reflects her desires to both disrupt and unravel the collective narrative written by the politics of history, sexuality, and space within domesticity. Her examination of domestic archetypes and family structures are influenced by her beliefs that classifications of gender and typologies of architecture have created preconceived notions that become symptomatic in our societal understandings of them. Evoking the tensions that reside unseen, Ahn’s work locates the inherent relationships that underwrite convention in order to provide the disruption necessary towards their de-narrativization.


– http://www.cargocollective.com/oliviaahn


– “From the Highway to the Pill: Counter-History of the American Suburbia” (April 16, 2014)


– Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge, 2006.
– Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.
– Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drug and Biopolitics, The Feminist Press, 2013.

LISTENER PARTICIPATION (call for participants by Olivia):

Currently, Olivia has been elaborating on the nuances of mother-daughter relationships in her recent projects, through studying storytelling and cross-generational re-performance. If you would like to contribute by answering the following question, please email your answers to oliviaalexandria@gmail.com , subject line: “What My Mother Taught Me” with responses in the body of the email. Thank You.

  1. Recall anything that your mother has taught you.


– All following documents are courtesy of Olivia Ahn:

 image 01A picture of a suburban Levittown house before assembly, Tony Linck for LIFE Magazine, 1947

image 02 A picture of a family infront of their Levittown house (Cape Cod design), Tony Linck for LIFE Magazine, 1947

image 03 Lincoln Homes Collection Advertisements, 1951

image 04 “En/House, Floor Plan”, Olivia Ahn, graphite on paper, 25 x 25 inches, 2013

image 05 “En/House, Axonometric”, Olivia Ahn, graphite on paper, 25 x 25 inches, 2013

image 06 “Untitled (Double Vanity)”, Olivia Ahn, graphite on paper, 8 x 13 inches, 2013image 07 “Correspondence”, part of The Games We Play series, Olivia Ahn, 2013

image 08 “The Decision of the Book”, part of The Games We Play series, Olivia Ahn, 2013

image 09 “Questioning the Green”, Video Still, Olivia Ahn 2013 

image 10 “From There to Here”, Olivia Ahn, Video Still, 2013

image 11“From One Place To Another”, Olivia Ahn, Video Still, 2013

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. - 2014