The Gender Neutralisation of Society

As the genders become more balanced in society, the way the built environment is created and used will shift. As society redresses a history of male dominance, women will take more influential roles, both as practitioners and as consumers.

We live in cities where nearly 100% of the environment around us has been owned, legislated, designed and implemented by men. As the gender balance shifts in society, the way the built environment is created and used will shift with it.

As society redresses an architectural history of male dominance, women will take more influential roles - both as practitioners and as consumers.

What we said in 2016

"A societal shift in the gender balance is set to have a significant impact on our built environment: not only how it is created, bit how it is used."

"Architecture, design and construction should take note: more projects will be handled - or headed up - by more teams of both men and women, which will have an impact on methodology, ideas generation and decision making. And shifting demographics will mean that women will have an ever-larger role as consumers and users of the built environment."

"Patronising gender stereotyping will increasingly seem outmoded and irrelevant as society's attitudes to gender continue to move away from a predominantly male viewpoint."

Looking Back

When we interviewed Dr Victoria Dawson - women's historian at University College London - three years ago, she compared shifting gender influence to a pendulum that had been 'stuck at the male end' and which had begun to 'swing back' to a more neutral position.

We sensed the acceleration of that swing as we saw an increasing number of female architects coming into the industry.

What we didn't foresee was the passing of Zaha Hadid - the 'international star architect' who blazed a trail for women in what has been a male-dominated field. Having inspired a generation, we look forward to seeing both her architectural and societal legacy shape our Future Spaces.

Where we are now

Whilst the 'gender-pendulum' continues to swing away from male domination, it still has a lot of ground to cover.

In the 60 RIBA-accredited architecture schools, the gender split of students is 50:50, but when we count people entering the architecture profession only 39% are women.

And the higher up the hierarchy you go, the fewer women you find. `A 2017 report by Dezeen revealed that just three of the world's 100 biggest architecture firms are headed by women - and only two have management teams that are more than 50% female. If that's not shocking enough, the survey found women in just 10% of the highest-ranking jobs - while 16 firms have no women at all in senior positions.

In an attempt to redress the imbalance, thinkers at the elite end of the industry are looking to move architecture away from the preserve of "old-white-guys". As part of their 'Move the Needle' initiative, in Spring 2918 Dezeen announced that leading international architecture and design awards programmes are 'striving to improve gender balance among judges'. Five out of eight top industry award programmes have policies in place to ensure an more equitable gender split on their juries - but the remaining three awards surveyed still had juries that were more than three-quarters male.

Progress, it seems, remains slow in some quarters.

What's Changing?

In an increasingly conservative political climate, gender neutrality has become a key issue. What we saw three years ago as a positive, evolutionary societal shift is now increasingly subject to restrictive administrative influence. As such, we are seeing a crescendo of women using architecture as a channel for both protest and progress.

We are seeing the emergence of 'feminist architecture' - designs that prioritise the needs women in the spaces they use. At the forefront of this movement is Architexx - an organisation for women in architecture who research, advocate and design 'feminist spaces'.

When we first looked at this subject, we recognised that there are differences in the the ways that women perceive, occupy and use spaces - and Architexx co-founder Lori Brown has this at the forefront of her thinking, saying that she doesn't want to ... create separate spaces for women, but to think about the intersections between people who use the spaces... and, in doing so, create spaces that work for everyone equally.

With equality, choice and respect issues high on the socio-political agenda at the moment, Brown sees feminist design as a way to push equality further onto the administrative and regulatory agenda: "The role feminist designers can play is to speak out and speak out loudly," she says. "It's going to require us to be far more vocal than we have been in quite a while..."

How the story has developed