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Concrete Structure

An Investigation into How Gender Inclusive Architecture and Urban Planning is Changing in Public Spaces


This dissertation explores which public spaces are successful in creating functional and safe environments for women and men. It investigates what we can take from these positive examples, which, theoretically, could be implemented into public spaces globally. It reveals how the historic lack of female focused data has impacted our transport infrastructure, public spaces, and architecture globally. It examines how altering urban planning and implementing gender mainstreaming methods can create gender neutral spaces, buildings and transportation, using Vienna as my main case study. Although this dissertation focuses on the female experience of architecture, it is important to acknowledge that society’s understanding of gender has changed over the years and ventures beyond male and female characteristics. How other genders are impacted by architecture is outside the research of this essay.

Defined simply, architecture is ‘the design and construction of buildings’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, pg 32). While this is true, this definition lacks explanation of architecture’s importance. Renowned architect, Norman Foster explains that ‘architecture is an expression of values, the way we build is a reflection of the way we live [...] architecture is the embodiment of our civic values’ (Rosenfield, 2014). This is because architecture’s societal purpose is to create environments in which people live, move and function. Therefore, architecture is more than just the built environment, but also a vital piece of our culture standing as a representation of society. Naturally, our culture and communities include both strengths and weaknesses, thus, society’s flaws are also reflected within our architecture. Societal flaws are usually a consequence of systemic inequalities, e.g., racism, ageism, sexism, etc. This is acknowledged by the United Nations (henceforth the UN) whose 2030 Agenda ‘calls for ensuring equal opportunity and draws attention to attributes and circumstances that affect access to opportunity, namely age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion and economic or other status’ (World Social Report, 2020, pg. 3-4).

The UN have seventeen ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (Fig. 1) in place, such as ‘No Hunger’, ‘Zero Poverty’, ‘Climate Action’ and ‘Gender Equality’ (UN, 2021) evidencing gender inequality as one of the largest flaws within society. Gender equality is when, ‘Legal, social and cultural situation in which sex and/or gender determine different rights and dignity for women and men, are reflected in their unequal access to or enjoyment of rights, as well as the assumption of stereotyped social and cultural roles’ (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2021).

Examples of progressive improvement in tackling gender inequality since the mid 20th century include, the UK legally implementing ‘women’s right to open a bank account without their husband or fathers’ (GOV, 2011) permission in 1975, and amending the Canada Labour Code in 1978, (PSAC NCR, 2013) eliminating pregnancy as a basis for dismissal, amongst many other great achievements thanks to multiple feminist movements. However, the ultimate goal of feminism is still to be attained and Misogyny persists today. E.g., sexist agenda-setting, where ‘The US supreme court allowed a Texas law that bans the vast majority of abortions’ (Glenza, J., 2021).

A major barrier to reaching gender equality, is the manner through which our data has, and is sometimes still collected. Award-winning feminist, Caroline Criado Perez explains that ‘most of recorded human history is one big data gap, [...] the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall’ (Perez, 2019, pg. XI). Perez refers to this as ‘the gender data gap’ (Perez 2019, pg. XI). This gap exists because research was historically conducted on men, by men and for men, meaning there is a significant lack of female data. This gender data gap leaves us with huge issues. E.g. medicine, where ‘women are more likely than men to suffer adverse side effects of medications because drug dosages have historically been based on clinical trails conducted on men '(University of California, 2020). Research, and data inform design, and therefore this lack of data impacts women daily, even within our public spaces.

Chapter one explores how using male biased data and ignoring sex disaggregated data when planning and designing our architectural systems can exacerbate women’s lives. Chapter two reveals which modern architectural approaches have been more successful in creating gender sensitive public environments.

I decided to include my dissertation in my portfolio because it demonstrates my love for research, and I believe good research informs good design.

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