Matrix Making Space,
London: Pluto Press, 1987 
24/11/19

The first chapter expresses an acknowledgement for how women feel in the city and at home. It is validating our feelings and quite simply quietly pointing out the obvious. The ideals of ‘Home’ are discussed frequently and how this sits with the idea of the nuclear family and the modern fragmentation of this. Matrix refers to Virginia Woolf, she writes that for women ‘responsibilities cannot be shut off by retreating to a ‘room of one’s own’’ (2). Woolf discusses the ‘ideal’ lifestyle and about ‘how it ought to look’ (1), ‘it’ being our home and lives. As women we are supposed to present our families a certain way, and ourselves, and also be able to work. This is the main cause of ‘feminist snap’ (Sara Ahmed). Therefore the home often becomes something that we can control, the external world is out of our control. For men the distinction is clearer ‘Outside it they work, inside it they are at leisure. For women this division is much less clear- the world does not fall into such a neat pattern’ (2) The ideal of home is compacted by Matrix as they state that ‘within the home women have a greater degree of power than they have outside it reinforces the assumption that a women’s place is in the home.’ (2) Later in the chapter ‘Homes fit for Heroines’, Matrix claim that ‘Feminists need to find new ways of organising and designing houses to meet women’s needs without reinforcing oppressive roles for us within the home and family.’ (36) in response to the issues raised at the start of the book.

Consequently it quickly moves on to what feminist design would even look like. The classic assumption is stated, ‘Curvature? While men design phallic towers?’ (8) Although Matrix understand that people want a ‘do it yourself feminist architecture kit’ (8) from them. They explain why this is not so simple. The rules of building are made by men, planning is led by men, urbanism has been designed by men and the cities have predominantly been ruled by men. Matrix highlights how women are blamed for the pitfalls of society. For example ‘If we walk on the streets after dark, we are accused of inviting violent sexual attack from men’ (4) Matrix explain that this is ‘a product of social structures and expectations, not of biology.’ (4) In very plain English the book points out the wrong doings in the way cities and public space is created, which we have accepted as the social norm. There is work to be done in society not just in the way that space is designed.

I enjoy that the book draws on many daily experiences of women, how women in the Yorkshire ripper case requested that men be given the curfew not women. The discussion pulls together parts of writing from various females architects. When discussing Elizabeth Scotts work on the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, the author states that ‘It was conclusive evidence that women were able to perform as well as men in architecture; it did not, of course, challenge accepted ideas about what made good buildings or whom a building of this type was for’ (20). From society, to history, to the growth of women in architecture, the chapter returns back to our beginnings at architecture school. She states that ‘many of us found it was extremely difficult to identify with a future role as an architect because we never came into contact with women practitioners.’(22) Furthermore in practice ‘the pressure is on women to prove that they can do as well as men, not on men to adopt qualities socially defined as feminine. The norm is a male, middle class one.’ (22) When reading this chapter one cannot help but reflect on whether this is still prominent now, Matrix wrote this in 1970, yet it feels so relevant now.

Women and public space discusses how, ‘women tend to have a more ‘local’ existence’ (40) and ‘restriction on mobility has to be taught to girls’ (41), we are taught to be scared from a young age. ‘Girl children are socialised off the street through an implanted fear of men, by restrictions on street games’. ‘Girls soon learn to take up as little space as possible’ (41) other claims such as ‘women hitchhiking or out by themselves somehow deserve to be attacked and raped’. (41) resonate with me personally and helps the reader understand the depth that this societal problem runs.

Matrix discusses the issue of women in public space in relation to specific locations; ‘many estates that are no-mans, or no-womans land’ (49) Furthermore, a woman’s locality can create vulnerability as ‘Many men still perceive women’s sexuality as partially defined by their location, and therefore attempt to enforce and perpetuate those definitions.’(49) Women who stayed home were protected and those who worked were treated as sexual beings. ‘Thus women must appear sexually attractive to the gaze of men outside the home without attracting men sexually and therefore taking the blame for the ultimate enforcing mechanism by which women are still kept in the home-sexual attack by force.’ (51) This chapter captures why women are limited by public space design, which influences their capacity to take up space in the workplace, on our streets and at home. We are kept small by the space we inhabit, the space, which are designed for ‘us’.

House design and women’s roles; shows how housing has evolved, yet the way it has evolved almost segregated women’s work further. Through studying the evolved modern council house, ‘a sharp division between master and servant and between women and men’ (64) emerged in the 1864 urban house design. Howards Garden City of 1898 which included the housing in the ground of the factory, this reinforced the ideology of women as keepers of the domestic sphere in the ‘natural’ setting, unsullied by the noise, grim and ugliness of the urban environment.’ The fish and chip shop is discussed as a need for convenience food, and then later state provided meals. There was fear that this threatened family life and reduces the woman’s role in the home. Post world war two, women work was being centralised & therefore perceived to be ‘levelled to the same as a man’, it become a career for a woman. The threat here is that this does not lift her status to be ‘working woman and equal to men’ but actually reduces her status in the home to the ‘alternative strait-jacket for women' (118)- the only jobs we are allowed to do are housework, but at least they will pay us for it.

Housing the family discusses the top down, male led planning structure of today. This is interesting as We Made That (female director), Dinah Borat and Muf are working a lot of design guidance for the public realm. The question remains as Matrix’s focus- who undertakes the housing design guidance? Housing design guidance is creating ‘minimum space in the city’. Matrix highlight how for women ‘The privacy, and in Virginia Woolf’s words, ‘a room of ones own’ that everyone needs to establish any kind of independent identity in the nuclear family, seems to be denied to her.’ (84). Modern planning needs to provide more as ‘Mr and Mrs average and their children have become emblems in plan and elevation’ (84) as much guidance and legislation to this day still only ‘refers only to the ‘nuclear family’ which is not a reality for most people anyway.’ (85)

Finally we look to how we could evolve design to work better for women as ‘women working in Matrix (and in the Feminist Design Collective between 1978 and 1980) have been attempting to develop a way of designing buildings together, which values women’s involvement in all the stages of the evolution of a building.’ (89) Matrix argue that ‘’If women design buildings, will the buildings be different or better?’ If women collectively organise, design and make buildings that suit their needs rather than having to fit into what exists already (buildings created by a patriarchal culture then the buildings are bound to look and feel different. We have to begin by being clear about our needs and not just wanting building to look different.’ (90) It is the platform to take this approach which remain the problem as ‘We have al been trained conventionally by and with men who have often devalued or ignored our work, describing it as ‘emotional’ or ‘confused’.’ (89) I have experienced this personally.

So Matrix ask; How do we use our skills as architects to further the liberation of women? Firstly ‘we needed to find a language accessible to everyone involved’ (94). In Matrix’s design process they measured with the women they worked with the space they met in and drew it to relate how the space relates to a drawing. ‘Making buildings where people can feel at home involves changing who controls buildings’ (100)- Matrix reached out to the people who are leading these womens groups and made sure they were the key stakeholders to all discussions of the building. A practice upheld b Muf today, Liza Fior discusses ‘intense hanging out’ (RA Lecture) whereby to ensure the practice are accessing the groups really using the building & controlling it, they spend intense periods of time in the space. On site the issues remain, as ‘the conventional relationship between architect and builder, where the builders are all men is an uncomfortable one for most women architects.’ (102) As a female architect you have authority of male labourers, this is against the class system and ‘women’s socialised role is to sympathise with people and to understand and be supportive to the problems of others’ (102) Making Space for women has to be lead by women, Matrix discuss the magic of women working together and its success as we must be seen to be working in a ‘sisterly way’ 104. Furthermore ‘women want it to be really good because they do not have mother and grandmother who have done it before and who prove they will be able to do it too’ 104. Therefore it feels that when constructing spaces in the city, women, men, children and all must contribute the open and accessible discussion in safe, warm and supportive spaces.

Sarah Ackland


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