This month, Making Space: Women and the man-made environment was re-published by Matrix, one of the UK's radical feminist design collectives of the 1980s. Here we share our reflection on reading it.
TW: This blogpost refers to sensitive matters around the subject area of women and queer people and the built environment, including violence. Please note that all of our workshops will contain content warnings.
The essays within Making Space are undoubtedly influential on the thinking seen today around gender spatial equality. It is both interesting and slightly disconcerting that a multitude of the issues discussed within the essays are still relevant to architecture in the UK; from the way that architecture is often taught in academia as a silo piece in a landscape, through to the ways in which basic spatial qualities have been designed with a presumption that everyone uses space in the same way as middle class men, highlighting issues such as accessibility and inclusivity in public space perception.
The book is a successful summary of the many areas which feminist design can work across from the personal and professional experience of researchers and practitioners within the Matrix network;
1. Women, architects and feminism, Jane Darke.
2. Homes fit for heroines: housing in the twenties, Barbara McFarlane.
3. Women and public space, Jos Boys.
4. House design and women's roles, Jos Boys et al.
5. Housing the family, Sue Francies.
6. Working with women, Frances Bradshaw.
7. Private kitchens, public cooking, Marion Roberts.
8. House and home, Benedicte Foo.
Is the writing still as forward thinking now as it seemed when it was originally published? The societal shift towards accepting women in the workplace, as well as a less common occupation of traditional gender roles, does make Making Space feel slightly like a book of its time, particularly when it comes to topics of families, the home, etc. That being said, there is still a lot of work to be done in the area of workplace equality, and the intentions set out within Making Space provide a solid grounding to the research being done more currently.
Current work that is supported by the thinking raised by Matrix at this time can be seen reflected across practice, from the participatory and adaptable design of the East End Women's Museum by Manalo & White, through to the analysis of women and homelessness by feminist organisation Engender, and implementation within the third sector crisis services. However, one of the most inspiring thing about this book can be found in the introductory piece about the history of the book's publication, as well as the Here&Now exhibition. Making Space was written based on a series of informal conversations between a group of likeminded people, and the fact that most feminist urbanist research still refers to Matrix as an exemplar in practice is fascinating in itself.
We wanted to share our reflections on Making Space not only because the work of Matrix has had a big impact on feminist design in the UK, or that the How We Live Now exhibition at the Barbican last year brought their work back to mainstream dialogue, but also because their writings provide insight into what feminist architecture really means. It is not just designing better spaces for women and femme people, it is a wider belief that spaces should be for everyone. Feminist design intersects inclusivity of different accessibility needs, different sexualities, genders and cultures, grounded in a recognition that communities should be at the forefront of discussions around urban development. At HerCollective, we strive to make community participatory design accessible to architects and urban designers, in response to the work of previous collectives such as Matrix, as well as encouraging designers at all levels to be critical in their analysis of who is and isn't using public space, and why. More on the workshops we are developing to aid in this can be found here.
If you've read Making Space yet, what were your thoughts? Drop a comment or send us a message!
Some further resources that helped us in writing this include:
Buxton, P. (2021) Work still to be done: Jos Boys on the continuing campaigns of Matrix. UK: The RIBA Journal. [online] Available at: https://www.ribaj.com/culture/matrix-feminist-design-co-operative-barbican-inclusion
Grote, J. (1992) Matrix: A radical approach to architecture. Journal of Architecture and Planning Research. Vol 9, No 2. Page 158-168. US: Locke Science Publishing Company, Inc. [online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43029072?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Matrix. (1984) Making Space: Women and the Man-made Environment. Republished 2021. UK: Verso.