The glory of modern public space is that it can pull together all the different sorts of people who are there. It can both compel and empower all these people to see each other, not through a glass darkly, but face to face.” – Berman -1986
Open-Minded Public Space – Marshall Berman –Taking it to the streets: Conflict and community in Public Space
The politics of power between the genders has always been the topic of discussion, especially when it comes to architecture.
If we look back over the past decades, the women and the LGBTQ+ section have tirelessly fought for their rights, acceptance in society, freedom of speech and expression and much more. Architecturally, the wall of Gender difference between the ‘typology of spaces’, ‘representation of genders’ can still be witnessed in the pages of history.
But as we enter the new era of ” embracing the differences”, people have become more tolerant and acceptable, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. The real question that arises here is: – Have our spaces evolved with time, accepting the role and requirements of different genders? If so? Why don’t we see more women and the LGBTQ+ communities hanging out freely, interacting, expressing, loitering in the streets, as we see our men do?
As much as we hate to accept the depth of gender biases in our society, we also fail to acknowledge that it is also the responsibility of an architect to understand “user -as Gender being“. Humans not only make connections with other humans but also with the built environment. Our interaction with the spaces around us plays a dominant role, knowingly or unknowingly, affecting our consciousness – Creating what we call a “sense of a place”.
This interplay of architectural design elements makes the user feel invited and wanted in a space. Thus, it is imperative for an architect to design inclusively, understanding the nuanced gender history, emotional connections and concerns, needs and requirements etc. But our failed acknowledgement of the topic has led to the visible gender imbalance on streets & public spaces.
Public spaces play an integral role in human life. These are the spaces that allow us to blend in with the outer world. Some public spaces allow leisure time, for example, parks, public squares, malls etc. And the other public spaces are categorized as ‘Important public spaces’ like streets, metro stations, bus stops, etc., connecting built to the built, communities to communities and communities to the built. These public spaces hold the most potential of becoming flexible eventful spaces and fulfilling the missing requirements of basic amenities that add to the required inclusive environment needed, yet these spaces are the most neglected ones facing various concerns related to Gender-gatherings. The reason why most of the public space failed to achieve Gender inclusivity is because of our -Lack of understanding of physical as well as the psychological needs and requirements of genders.
Men, women, gender minorities, and people of different abilities tend to use the public space in different ways. We all have different needs and requirements, routines when it comes to access to the city. The way our cities and our built spaces are structured – there are near to none, non-accessible amenities for women and other gender minorities, which is the major reason why cities work best for men ((Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land,2020). Spaces vividly show the lack of agility to welcome any new changes contributing to physical and social inclusivity in the public realm, and the so-called labelled spaces add to the taboo: calls for the failure of space and thus the failure of a society.
Gender Richness Inclusivity Framework
Bringing diverse people, whether it be communities, race, different age people, genders etc., is a challenging task. And so is, making them interact with each other and built an environment, harmoniously, without the question of who is more superior or powerful.
” Commonality is the Super Glue of Human Bonding”- Wouter Corduwener.
No matter what race, gender or country the person belongs to, it is always the common interest, opinions or issues that have the power to unite diverse crowds. Proceeding with “commonality” as a step forward- a structural framework is designed to create a Gender rich space. The parameters mentioned are based on the understanding of the common issues and concerns of all genders and are discussed in three categories: Firstly, the physical parameter is responsible for creating an accessible mobile and safer environment, which would allow more aged people, physically challenged, children and mother’s or father’s caring of a baby to access the space comfortably. As a result, space will create an image of familiarity, creating an essence of safety, comfort and warmth in a built environment. Secondly, the psychological parameter takes a phenomenological approach, creating a “sense of a place”. It focuses on various factors that would affect the consciousness and letting the users connect to the built environment psychologically. And last but not least the programmatic or social parameter would depend on the social construct of the built-up space, allowing space to become more flexible accordingly as per the needs and requirements of the user w.r.t time. This parameter will help in the upliftment of the individual, communities, different genders etc., allowing them to interact, learn, earn express and grow.
These parameters collectively fall under the ” Common concerns” like safety, comfort, hygienic spaces, climatically responsive space, privacy etc., of every gender. Each and every parameter is interconnected to each other playing, back and forth relations affecting the inclusivity of a space.
Apart from Physical and Psychological parameters, space programs must attract diverse crowds, especially aged people and kids, as they help in instigating the ‘feeling of safety and comfort’ adding the emotional essence in space. To bring a change in a society, the programs must instigate learning, communicating and expressing. And with a logical approach and design interventions, small gathering spaces can be designed for activities like theatre, dance, music, outdoor games, small libraries etc. (creating pauses and events). These spaces can be built anywhere, ranging from plazas to parks to streets.
It is also important to understand that every user in a public space doesn’t want to interact. Some need space and privacy for meditation, reading or even as a necessary activity like breastfeeding. So as an architect, it becomes our responsibility that it should not be the space that reshapes the users, but it should be the user who reshapes the space moulding safely- as per the need.
The missing dimension of inclusivity
“Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable environment. “
–Sustainable Development Goals
The parameters discussed are the small efforts towards evaluating and designing a space that can be close to being Gender Rich. Each and every parameter in itself opens a larger possibility towards psychological and physical requirements of different genders, allowing the elements of architecture to control actions, consciousness and other activities that could lead to possible design outcomes for inclusivity. Our small actions as an architect can invite a huge possibility of a positive change. It becomes our duty to spread awareness among the clients, users, students etc. and find more significant ways for creating Gender rich spaces.
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