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Ordered Spaces, Separate Spheres: Women and the Building of British Convents, 1829-1939

Jordan, K; (2015) Ordered Spaces, Separate Spheres: Women and the Building of British Convents, 1829-1939. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Over the last forty years, feminist discourses have made considerable impact on the way that we understand women’s historical agency. Linda Nochlin’s question, ‘why have there been no great women artists’ challenged assumptions about the way we consider women in art history and Amanda Vickery brought to the fore questions of women’s authority within ‘separate spheres’ ideology. The paucity of research on women’s historical contributions to architecture, however, is a gap that misrepresents their significant roles. This thesis explores a hitherto overlooked group of buildings designed by and for women; nineteenth and twentieth century English convents. Many of these sites were built according to the rules of communities whose ministries extended beyond contemplative prayer and into the wider community, requiring spaces that allowed lay-women to live and work within the convent walls but without disrupting the real and imagined fabric of monastic traditions - spaces that were able to synthesise contemporary domestic, industrial and institutional architecture with the medieval cloister. The demanding specifications for these highly innovative and complex spaces were drawn up, overwhelmingly, by nuns. While convents might be read as spaces which operated at the interstices between different architectures, I will argue they were instead conceived as sites that performed varying and contradictory functions simultaneously. To understand this paradox my reading draws on feminist theology, exploring in particular the question of women’s role in mysticism. I suggest that the decline of mysticism as a formal theology and its retreat into the private sphere allowed it to be marshalled by women as an organising principal for constructing real and imaginary spaces - those which not only accommodated but actively embraced discordant ideologies. The thesis makes a close reading of seven Roman Catholic religious communities, each representing different vocations and devotional cultures. In so doing the study explores not only women’s localised roles in architecture but also in the emergence of an ‘international’ Catholic aesthetic.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Ordered Spaces, Separate Spheres: Women and the Building of British Convents, 1829-1939
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > The Bartlett School of Architecture
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1470028
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