Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative

Group – London, United Kingdom

1980 – 1995

Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative was set up in 1980 as an architectural practice and a book group that grew out of the Feminist Design Collective, itself an off-shoot of the New Architecture Movement's feminist group. They were one of the first architectural groups in Britain to take an overtly feminist stance in their way of working and designing, and in the projects they took on. The practice was run as a workers' co-operative with a non-hierarchical management structure and collaborative working. Their work explored issues surrounding women and the built environment, but also the relationship of women to the architectural profession and to the procurement of architecture. One of their first moves as a group was to publish the book, Making Space: Women and the Man Made Environment, where they explored the socio-political context of designing the built environment, and traced the implications of feminist theory and critique on urban design, such as the viewing of domestic work also as a form of labour. In the book they set out one of the fundamental guiding principles of their work, the idea that 'because women are brought up differently in our society we have different experiences and needs in relation to the built environment'.

Matrix worked in two main areas, design projects that were all publicly funded social projects and technical advice. During the late 1970s and early 1980s governmental funding was available for voluntary organisations in the form of technical aid, which could be used for advice on design and other technical issues related to the built environment; Matrix was heavily involved in this, operating as a Community Technical Aid Centre. This work resulted in a number of publications produced for community groups, such as A Job Designing Buildings, that addressed women in the construction industry. Here Matrix acted as spatial agents by giving advice to women's groups and individual women that allowed them to take control of their own environment. This could take the form of small meetings to identify sources of funding or the production of large-scale feasibility studies.

As an architectural practice, Matrix developed participatory design methods, acknowledging that architects' ways of working needed to be adapted in order to make the design process more understandable and engaging for clients and users. For example, they tried to adapt the conventional architectural drawing and made use of models that resembled doll's houses. Publications also arose out of this work such as Building for Childcare, which was the result of a consultation process. Here again Matrix's work was about empowering women through deliberately choosing to research and design the sorts of spaces that had been ignored by a male-led profession, such as women's centres and nurseries, and also by developing tools which could involve women in the design process itself.

Other Work

Matrix, Making Space: Women and the Man Made Environment. (London: Pluto Press, 1984).

Matrix, A Job Designing Buildings: For Women Interested in Architecture and Buildings. (London: Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, 1986).

Dwyer, Julia and Anne Thorne, "Evaluating Matrix: Notes from Inside the Collective," in Altering practices: Feminist Politics and Poetics of Space, ed. Doina Petrescu (London: Routledge, 2007).

References About

Grote, Janie, "Matrix: A Radical Approach to Architecture." Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 9(2)(1992).

Swenarton, Mark, "Guiding Lights." Building Design, (940)(1989).

Quotes

'The Feminist Design Collective, a group of about twenty women was started in 1978. Its title was consciously assembled: the use of the word "feminist" was contentious; no architectural practice in Britain had previously stated their political position so overtly. The use of "design collective", rather than "architectural practice", indicated the group's intention to value non-architects as highly as architects and was influenced by contemporary critiques of professionalism and of architects' professional institutions by groups such as NAM.'

- Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne, "Evaluating Matrix: notes from inside the collective," in Altering Practices (London: Routledge, 2007), 42.

'We believe that, precisely because women are brought up differently in our society we have different experiences and needs in relation to the built environment which are rarely expressed.'
- Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne, "Evaluating Matrix: notes from inside the collective," in Altering Practices (London: Routledge, 2007), 45-46.

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