Women's Design Service (WDS) was set up in London in 1984 as a worker's co-operative dedicated to improving the built environment for women. Its initial members were working for the Greater London Council (GLC) as part of Support Community Building Design (a community technical aid centre), where they identified a need for an organisation that could promote women's interests. WDS was thus founded as an overtly feminist organisation in the belief that women's voices were not being heard, and that women were having to live and work in environments that were unsuitable for them.
Initially funded by the GLC, the group's remit was to provide an advisory service to community groups, write feasibility studies and assist in applying for funding. With the abolishment of the GLC in 1986, funding was harder to come by and WDS restructured itself and set out to establish a coherent body of work on women and the built environment. The organisation became a resource and information centre as well as providing pre-feasibility studies for community projects. At this time WDS produced some of their most important work, publications such as It's not all Swings and Roundabouts and At Women's Convenience, which dealt with specific issues such as women's safety in public places, children's playgrounds and the lack of public toilet facilities. This work has left a lasting impact on the built environment in the UK, for example the requirement by law of baby changing facilities is a direct result of the work the group carried out.
From the outset WDS has led a precarious existence relying mostly on governmental funding and grants with a supplementary income from consultancy. The group are currently involved in regeneration schemes, acting on behalf of residents and although community technical aid has long since ceased, their work embodies the same ethos.
Cavanagh, Sue, "Women and the Urban Environment," in
Introducing Urban Design: Interventions and Responses,
eds. Clara Greed and Marion Roberts (Harlow: Addison Wesley
Walker, Lynne, and Sue Cavanagh, "Women's Design Service: Feminist Resources for Urban Environments," in Design and Feminism: Re-visioning Spaces, Places and Everyday Things, ed. Joan Rothschild (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1999).
WDS, WEB: Newsletter of Women in the Built Environment, various issues (from 1987).
---, It's Not all Swings and Roundabouts: Making Better Play Spaces for the Under-Sevens. (London: WDS, 1988).
---, At Women's Convenience: A Handbook on the Design of Womens' Public Toilets. (London: WDS, 1990).
---, What to do about Women's Safety in Parks. (London: WDS, 2007).
In partnership with Queen Mary University of London, Geography Department: www.gendersite.org
Berglund, Eeva, "Building a Real Alternative: Women's Design
Service." Field: A Free Journal for Architecture 2, no. 1
---, Doing Things DIfferently: Women's Design Service at 20. (London: Women's Design Service, 2007).
Karpf, Anne, "Venturing into most public ladies' loos takes nerves of steel: Desperate Measures." Guardian, November 7, 1990.
Melhuish, Clare, "Material Quality is Key to Reasserting Women's Role in the Built Environment." Blueprint, no. 272 (2008): 74.
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