How We Live Now: designing feminist cities

A new installation at the Barbican explores a series of important questions about our public spaces and designed environments, and who they serve.

Date: 21 May 2021

How We Live Now: Reimagining Spaces with Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, a new creative installation at the Barbican considers who our buildings and shared spaces are designed for, who is excluded from our designed environment, and what effect this has on the communities who live there.

A jumping-off point for these questions is an unseen archive of work by the radical 1980s feminist architecture co-operative Matrix, of which Dr Jos Boys, Visiting Professor in Diversity and Creative Practice at London Met's School of Art, Architecture and Design, was a founding member. 

In a manifesto written at their inception in 1981, Matrix wrote: "Consciously or otherwise, designers work in accordance with a set of ideas about how society operates, who or what is valued, who does what and who goes where.

"Through lived experience, women have a different perspective of their environment from the men who created it. Because there is no 'women's tradition' in building design, we want to explore the new possibilities that the recent change in women's lives and expectations have opened up."

Speaking to the Guardian about the installation, Dr Boys said to question how a city designed and built by women would be different, was to miss the point. Rather than promoting a feminist aesthetic, Matrix favoured a way of looking, listening and designing that took account of people's different needs and desires; "the richness of our multiple ways of being in the world".

The installation introduces archival and contemporary approaches to design that aim to empower groups often excluded in the design of buildings, including Black and Asian women's organisations, community and childcare groups and lesbian and gay housing co-operatives, to explore more inclusive ways of designing, building and occupying spaces.

It will feature rare films, drawings, photos and architectural models from the Matrix archive, presenting their use of radical methods across a range of projects, past and present.

How We Live Now will run at the Barbican from 17 May - 23 December 2021.

woman struggling up stairs with a pram


Level G, Barbican

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