Gender Inclusive Design for our Built Environment

Architects generally want people to feel comfortable around their buildings or interior spaces; however, architects aren’t perfect and may overlook some simple design solutions that can put people at ease. The World Bank Group has released a handbook for urban planners, architects, and anybody shaping our physical environment to use when making (or renovating) spaces. The handbook is all about designing for all genders and ensuring that the built environment is useful and welcoming to all regardless of their gender.

Urban planning and design quite literally shape the environment around us — and that environment, in turn, shapes how we live, work, play, move, and rest. This handbook aims to illuminate the relationships between gender inequality, the built environment, and urban planning and design; and to lay out a menu of simple, practicable processes and best practices for urban planning and design projects that build more inclusive cities – for men and women, for those with disabilities, and for those who are marginalized and excluded.

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We can Still Learn from Traditional Approaches to the Built Environment

Forest

In a new book about how humans build and shape the environment around us, Julia Watson, argues that traditional indigenous techniques are the most efficient. Forget techno-carbon capture, smart cities, and other buzzwords; the best approaches already exist and we just need to use them. In her book, The Power of Lo-TEK, she looks at communities from Peru to Iran and how their indigenous approaches to building homes, farms, or other places has been honed over hundreds of years to find the best way to build.

Lo-TEK explores 18 indigenous communities, organizing them by the type of landscape each inhabits: mountains, forests, deserts, or wetlands. Case studies include the living root bridges created by the Khasi in Northern India; the waffle gardens of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico; aquaculture around the floating villages of the Tofinu people of Benin; the qanat underground aquifers in Iran; and the mudhif reed architecture of Iraq. Watson approaches each of these case studies like a cultural anthropologist and an architect, laying out the different spiritual relationships each community has with its environment, the history of how they created their engineering techniques, and detailed diagrams that explain how the techniques work. 

Watson sees her book as today’s version of the Museum of Modern Art’s influential Architecture without Architects exhibition of 1964, which discussed the merits and sophistication of vernacular design from the past—design that architects at the time had dismissed in favor of modernism.

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How Architects are Responding to the Climate Crisis

Montreal

Architecture is all around us and most of us don’t even think about it. The built environment shapes how we think and provides (or denies) us with options on how to navigate the world and engage with it. This means that if we change the built environment we can change the planet. Years of thoughtless car friendly development have contributed greatly to the climate crisis and now architects are doing what they can to mitigate harm.

The Architects Declare Movement is Founded

In May, some of the world’s leading UK-based architects joined forces to call for industry-led action on the twin issues of climate change and biodiversity loss. The “Architects Declare” group includes firms such as Foster + Partners, David Chipperfield Architects, and Zaha Hadid Architects.

Utrecht’s 300 Bee-Friendly Bus Stops

In July, we reported that the City of Utrecht Council, in collaboration with advertising agency Clear Channel, has transformed 316 bus stops across the city into “bee stops.” The adaption involved installing green roofs onto the bus stops, creating bee-friendly spaces for the endangered species.

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Download This Home

the suburbs

The standard North American home (pictured above) is horrible inefficient and quite bad for the environment. As the climate crisis conies to worsen we need to change the way we provide shelter for people: and that’s exactly what Phoenix, Arizona did. Arizona is experience such extreme heat that everyday objects are melting and car tires explode, sometimes the airport can’t function either. This led the City of Phoenix to launch a competition for making the most affordable and environmentally friendly home.

The winning home building plan is available for free online from the city, meaning you can download a home.

The winner of the contest, Marlene Imirzian & Associates Architects, went even lower. The studio’s affordable, three-bedroom home, dubbed HOME nz, has an impressive HERS rating of zero. A $100,000 prize went to Imirzian’s firm, and the design is now available for widespread use; the City of Phoenix has made the construction plans for HOME nz available for free to encourage the public to build more eco-friendly homes. “The city of Phoenix has a very visionary sustainability director and department who are looking for leadership for built work in the Phoenix area,” says Imirzian. “[The] goal was to show how simple moves could result in significant [environmental] changes.”

Since Phoenix’s dry, sun-bleached environment involves extreme heat, the design incorporates high-performance glass, which reduces heat transmission from outside, and retractable fabric screens for greater shade and passive cooling without the help of an AC unit. But HOME nz is a useful and applicable model no matter the climate. “If the volume performs well in terms of the separation of the interior and exterior then no matter where you build your house, it will be managed optimally by what you’re surrounding the house with,” notes Imirzian. “It would do just as well in a very cold climate or [a place] where you need conditioning or heating.”

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How Trent University Preserves Canadian Architecture

Like other art forms styles come and go in architecture; and when styles go in architecture it can result in demolition of buildings (and thus history). In Canada university and college campuses sprung up in the 60s to accommodate the influx of baby boomers so the style of these campuses reflect the style of the times. Trent University captured the Canadian architectural style the best and, unlike other schools, has embraced their buildings as a reason students should attend. Hopefully other institutions can find the value in their older buildings – even if they look “ugly” today.

Today, Trent is engaged in a careful renovation of its original Bata Library, while new projects – including a new student centre by Teeple Architects – are being guided by attention to the original campus.

In this way, a small institution is setting an example for the entire country: how to retain Canada’s modern heritage, which is both critical and in a moment of real danger.

No wonder. Thom and his talented colleagues blended careful attention to the site, beautiful materials and fine craftsmanship. The buildings, crafted by Thom’s team, including Paul Merrick, are full of complex spaces and details that echo and rhyme with one another. Walking through the original campus is a sensory feast of complexity and nuance; if you ever had the idea that modernist architecture had to be inhumane, this place will cure you of that notion. In the Great Hall at Champlain College, the buttresses and high ceiling make it seem “Hogwarts-like,” as one student told me; but the structure is a lattice of very modern concrete that weaves together skylights and wood slats.

Even the landscape, often overlooked in modern sites, has been well conceived. The pathways across campus are paved with an orange brick, which feels right under your feet.

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