When I first read this question the hackles rose on the back of my neck. “Sexist [nonsense]!” The premise here is that women do not already shape their built environments, that they may just take a role if and when they wish or are cajoled into an affirmative stance, that the shaping of the built environment is an inherent masculine pastime. The man as provider and the woman as nurturer. Is it because women are perceived as the nesters, the cushion fluffers, the “home makers” not the makers of homes?This is not a question of permission, of “can” or “may”. The question should be what role do women play in helping shape their built environment. What is the inherent creative worth of nurturing, of home making, of women’s business? I write a blog about pretty rooms and the people who create them, photograph them or style them. In all honesty I write a blog about pretty rooms. Shallow, frou frou nonsense. And yet we have a monthly audience in the millions, the vast majority of whom are women. Our platform may be inane but our readers’ desire to be inspired by these spaces is not. These are women who crave to create beauty, harmony, a “perfect” nest. Create and crave. Desire and design. They start with the basic element of our built society, the individual dwelling space, the family unit and create a firm foundation on which we all can shape our built environment.
A survey was once conducted to find out what teenagers, girls and boys, feel about their built environment. Predictably, it found that many teenagers dislike schools, corporate and hospital buildings. However, surprisingly, it also revealed that neither are they fond of places like museums, theatres and art galleries. They find them boring and associate them with stale, restrained and hierarchical traditions.I refer to this example as the results of the survey reveal a problem we have with much of our contemporary environment, namely that it reinforces dated traditional values rather than fosters modern, exciting ones. And many of the traditions that our environment strengthens are patriarchal ones. In other words, male dominance has not only shaped architecture but architecture has also supplemented male dominance.This is why much of our built environment today does not cater to the needs of women. Take for instance, the comparatively long queues that women often meet when visiting a public space’s restroom. Or more gravely, consider maternity wards, where women are crammed into formal and emotionless spaces in which they must experience one of the most intimate, humbling and frightening experiences that a woman may go through.Like all technology and development, architecture needs to be more inclusive and modern in the 21st century. Architecture must work for women not against them. As professors, architects, community leaders, politicians and other professionals, women have to get more involved in the act of creating space. We can exercise our power by choosing environments that cater to female sensibilities. Whether it’s buying and decorating homes, choosing universities, hospitals, grocery stores or making mundane lifestyle choices like which restaurant to visit; wherever possible we should go for environments that cooperate with our visual and practical comfort as well as with our safety and we should articulate why we make these choices. The more voice we give the issue, the more the market will respond accordingly.
As an interior designer and business owner, I feel very strongly about the role we women can play in my industry. I am pleased to report there are many female interior designers working very successfully in my field. One of my goals is to help raise the image of women in the building environment: women are perfectly capable of overseeing projects and construction, understanding plumbing and talking shop. Our attention to detail and ability to multitask allows us to manage complex design projects from start to finish. We have a big role to play in team work as team work is essential in the building industry. Diplomacy and smooth communication are key in a successful project.Vendors in my industry are really taking the time to take us on factory tours, demonstrate their design processes so we can better understand the latest technologies and products and materials out there. It is essential women be able to travel to go to industry shows and educate themselves on what’s out there. Of course the difficulty for women with children is juggling long hours of work and travel, but with the right spousal and childcare support I believe this can be attained. I do wish there were more women architects and female contractors to work with, and my suggestion would be for designers to consider associating with these as much as possible to help encourage and support women in these industries.On a design note, of course men and women equally have the ability to design beautiful environments as long as they are able to have the artistic vision. However, I do feel that women can complement men in the building industry by adding a different perspective to some construction scenarios. Example: something as simple as tub selection for a bathroom. One should consider the different uses of the tub and take in consideration parents trying to bathe a little one. Ergonomics will have to be thought through so that an adult kneeling against the tub to assist a child would not be too uncomfortable. Hence the importance of the shape and height of the tub.Another example might be lighting and sound parameters. All the little details count and it will be critical to take these in account in creating a kitchen or a living room. Women are very sensitive to ambiance and work hard to create spaces that are inviting and intimate. Sound proofing is a must, as well as the consideration of different types and locations of lighting in a room.
So what do you think?
What role can, and do, women play in helping to shape their built environment?