10 Jul 2019 • Tokyo
‘Nowadays you can be a gay architect, but you can't do queer architecture’
To British designer (and Frame Awards 2020 jury member) Adam Nathaniel Furman, the current rejection of post-modernism in interior architecture also cloaks a dismissal of the gender-bending aesthetics associated with queer spaces. As gay nightclubs in Europe are dying of real-estate and Grindr-induced malaises, Furman’s Nagatacho apartment is a tribute to those formerly safe femme spaces.
For a community that has fought so hard for mainstream acceptance, it sure knows how to self-discriminate: many a Grindr profile will bluntly state 'no chocolate, no spice, no rice' in order to stop in its tracks any interest from black, Hispanic and Asian men. But those are racial boundaries; the (purportedly) absolute worst are those who indulge in (purportedly) self-inflicted damage: 'no fats, no femmes.' In the now normalised #masc4masc gay hierarchy, a feminine man sits at the bottom of the totem pole.
Apps such as Grindr have largely replaced the equal-opportunity eyeball fest that was cruising, but they have also played a part in shutting down the spaces that used to celebrate and be inspired by feminine gay men: as the nightclub industry as a whole languishes, the softly hued and suggestively curved dancefloors where everything went have also gone out with the bathwater. That means that, today, interior design has been deprived of its femme spaces — and many professionals seem to have taken that deprivation as validation. 'So nowadays you can be a gay architect, but you can't do queer architecture,' explained designer Adam Nathaniel Furman. Queerness, he sees, is accepted as a lifestyle... but one has to conform in terms of what one produces and how one acts. ‘There is a visual and manneristic disallowing,’ he added. In other words: today you can design spaces like Tom Ford, but not John Waters.
That makes Furman's recent Nagatacho Apartment project such an outlier: it is a residential space that proudly reclaims and celebrates the softly hued and suggestively curved aesthetic that many fellow gay professionals seem to dismiss as unprofessional.
His clients, a Tokyo couple, wanted something ‘outré and outside the expectations of good taste,’ laughed Furman, who admits that his portfolio tends to put people wildly off. ’They are not queer, but just extremely unusual in how they relate to aesthetics. Upon approaching me, they effectively bought into the kinds of interiors that I was interested in designing.’
The ensuing proposal is a referential continuity to the gay scene of his early adulthood in London, a series of spaces that shut down and now only exist in memories. ‘Those were one of the few safe spaces where difference could be expressed… but now queerness is normal in Britain, and you don’t have to be in a separate bar to not be beaten up. So the desire to be proud and the political necessity to express oneself in aesthetics has diminished,’ he remembered. It’s 160 sq-m, three bedrooms and two bathrooms full of ‘ambiguous, bulbous and voluptuous’ shapes that many don’t notice, but some really do — and it makes them uncomfortable. ‘But of course, they’re the type of people who tell me I should be more Tom Ford.’
The desire to be proud and the political necessity to express oneself in aesthetics has diminished
On an earlier project, a client had asked him to make his proposed space less feminine. Here, he was given carte blanche — and jaune and vert and bleu and rose — to use the flat as a channel for the discovery of the body and the construction of identity. It’s a post-modernist proof of concept where the kitchen counter is gunkily gossamer and ends in a Moomin-shaped wooden shelf. It is a physical space that brings to life what has so far been a mostly digital thirst for colour and sensuality, expressed in the 4D renders of creators such as Wang & Söderström and Space Popular and collectors such as Studio Lapeche.
But who has had the loudest responses to the project, so far? Just like 90s fashion nostalgia, it is Gen Z who is latching on to an aesthetic that was originally tied to a larger political environment but today has, at least upon first reading, no reason to exist — unless you take into account reports that predict the imminent return of the slacker after a decade of intense hustling. ‘Younger queer people have approached me, and I’m starting to have these conversations with designers still in university,’ Furman explained. ‘They find that there are questions they’re not able to raise through their current projects. So I see there’s now a desire from younger people to explore identity and aesthetic through design. And that’s exciting.’
The design industry has a blind spot regarding the inclusion of a wider range of aesthetics not just in the gay community, but in many other minorities. As every large fashion house is introducing diversity directors to address this, will architecture follow suit?