What If Women Built The World?
We asked female architects and designers to imagine what 3 things would look like had they been made by and for women.
You know how the song goes: This is a man’s world.
The adage is especially true in the physical world we inhabit daily.
“The world has been designed by men and the standard of measurement for that design was themselves. It's a huge blindspot; men don't realize this is an issue because they feel so comfortable in the world,” says Danielle Kayembe, an entrepreneur who works on projects at the intersection of women and social impact. “Everything from buildings, to technology, to advertising — it's been male decision makers designing products, businesses, experiences and how they're marketed.”
But more and more businesses are waking up to the fact that women are the single largest disruptive economic force, working and making more money than they ever have in human history. And these women want to buy into a world that’s built for them.
"At the start of every project, we talk about how we're going to make the space female-friendly. Women spend just as much time and money as men in these establishments. The best spaces give consideration to both a female and male experience," says Kristen Lien, a partner at the all female partnered Canadian architecture firm FRANK.
As it turns out, the classic long bar lined with beer taps isn’t what Lien would call female friendly. "We like to break up spaces into smaller experiences, rather than having a big wide open zone for a bar. That's a more feminine way of designing space.”
On the same note, Lien says seating should consider the kind of clothing women wear on a night out. (Who really likes climbing onto a high bar stool in a dress and heels?) In their designs, they tend not to put bar stools next to dining seats. "When we design, we're really conscious of the condition of someone sitting in a chair in a nice dress or in a shirt that may have their back exposed. We find women also feel a lot more comfortable in chairs that don't have open backs on them."
Another change is lighting. Not bright lights that make you feel like you’re on stage or in a conference room, but enough light so you can see who you’re talking to, what’s going in your drink, or where the bathroom is. Also: acoustics so we don’t scream to be heard. "Women love to speak face to face, and we're attracted to conversations in spaces where we can see one another’s facial expression, Lien says"
The common complaint about the office is that the temperature is wrong: It’s freezing for women in these spaces designed for men in suits.
Turning up the heat is just step one. "It's about creating spaces where women feel comfortable and safe. As a woman, it's very common to feel like you are being observed," says Alda Ly, who runs her own architecture firm and is the designer behind The Wing.
Ly’s firm designs workspaces where women have personal space, and don’t feel gawked at. Her team also goes to their millworker for Fit Tests to make sure all furniture pieces are sized for women’s bodies. Bathrooms, pumping rooms, and closets are also optimized. The idea is the normalize female bodies and behavior.
"For such a long time, putting on makeup was something to do at home in private. Public spaces that encourage you to feel comfortable to sit down, do your makeup or get your hair done — and that's completely normalized, not something you have to do behind closed doors." says Daisy Hook, who works with Ly.
Additionally, Amanda Carroll of Gensler suggests offices add changing rooms so that women who want to work out before work, or go to an event in the evening, don’t have to be barefoot in the bathroom or think about how awkward it is to change when their boss could walk in.
Further, echoing Ly, Carroll says that safety should be top of mind : Create and a culture where a woman never has to look over her shoulder.
The most famous example of how cars have failed women has been the lack of crash testing. It wasn’t until 2003 that that automakers were required by federal regulators to test with female dummies (and until 2011 for petite female dummies) for safety tests. This is pretty awful, since women have lower bone density and structure than men. Cars that were tested “safe” for men didn’t end up being so safe for women: One study found that women were 47% more likely to suffer injuries in a car crash.
That’s the first thing a car designed by and for women would fix: safety.
But there are other essential features, too, from ergonomic seats for women’s bodies, minivan advantages that don’t sacrifice style, better mirrors, car seats would go in seamlessly, and a trunk that’s both secure but automatic. (And in a dream world, a regenerating tire!)
“I’m always carrying a ton of things wherever I go,” says Nora Arellano, Toyota’s senior manager of design. “I’ve always got two or three bags. It’d be nice if I could approach the door and [the trunk] just opens up.”
Jacqueline Reeve, a color and trim designer at Nissan, says she’d also make the driver seat headrest fit an updo or bun (something man bun dudes would appreciate, too, she notes). She’d also like a mode that would warn passengers of upcoming bumps, “Basically, just an autonomous mode that is aware of what passengers are doing and lets you know what to expect and pay attention to — even maybe opening the sunroof on a bright sunny day.”