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Designing Buildings with Women in Mind

Gender perspectives on building design and operation; what does ‘designing a building with women in mind’ actually look like?

March 8th is a special day for everyone – not just for women – to acknowledge the incredible strides being made and highlight the continued hinderances to gender equality. This International Women’s Day, I’d like to consider the practical ways in which we can bring gender into the conversation about our sustainable built environment.

It can be an uncomfortable conversation, because we’d like to think we are conscious of gender bias and the days of inequality are in the past. But still, there is little in our fast-changing world that is not linked to gender. And on the flip side, there is little in our world that is not linked to our built environment.

Our cities, towns and buildings within them are broadly shaped by our experiences attached to gender. People of different genders may experience a late-night commute home down poorly lit streets differently due to disparities in vulnerability. Gender also plays a factor in how we choose to travel through our cities. For example, use of cycling routes in the UK is hugely gender-skewed towards men, with studies1 showing that women prefer to cycle on safer cycle paths that are protected from the road. Despite London’s Cycleways2 transforming bike routes in the capital, many cycle lanes in the UK are still deemed ‘unsafe’, are used less by women and are therefore exacerbating existing access and health inequalities. Experiences are of course different for every person identifying as a woman. But still, gender imbalance in the built environment sector has meant our cities were designed through a male lens.

While the prospect of being treated equally dangles in the foreground, what lies behind it is being mindful of the differences. Catering for these differences allows for equity and inclusivity to be created. When it comes to buildings, designing for inclusivity is not a new concept and many aspects can be found in national building codes. Inclusive design is also featured as a component of the World Green Building Council’s (WGBC) Health & Wellbeing Building Framework3, which suggests we should plan for access and use by as many people as possible, considering disability, age, and also gender.

In that case, considering gender perspectives, what does ‘designing a building with women in mind’ actually look like?

  1. Safe spaces – lighting at entrances and in outdoor spaces around buildings after dark contributes both to the increased perception of safety and the actual reduction of crime. Designing more open outdoor spaces, with fewer dark places and corners, also increases visibility. In a world where women are advised to cover their drink on the dancefloor, safety plays a consistent part in the average woman’s choice of behaviours. Studies4 show this is a main contributor to the reason why women globally walk disproportionately fewer steps each day than men. Light up building fronts, remove the dark hiding spots and help to create safer spaces.
  2. Accessible routes – from entering a site to arriving at a building’s top floor, the ease at which people can move around depends on how accessibility has been designed in. Routes designed for people with limited physical ability should also be mindful of carers who may be walking with a pram or with someone who is in a wheelchair. Around the world today, socially assigned gender roles means that women are typically more likely to be in caring positions for children and adults5, causing them to be disproportionally affected by buildings with inaccessible features. Issues can be avoided by thinking about access plans throughout the entire visitor experience6, integrating design features like ramps at every level change, automatic doors, designated car park spaces for those with pushchairs or with mobility issues, and clear and even pedestrian pathways.
  3. Equitable loos – for many physiological and cultural reasons, women spend more time and take more frequent visits to the bathroom than men. Reasons for this include pregnancy, menstruation, breastfeeding, or requiring nappy-changing facilities. It also takes longer when using a cubicle, and even more so for the elderly, who are disproportionately female. Allocation of toilet facilities in buildings should be proportioned with this in mind. Accessible facilities should also include upgrades to the Changing Places7 standard, incorporating adult changing tables, screens and more space for carers.
  4. Lactation rooms – the highest scoring point on the scorecard of the healthy building certification Fitwel8 is the inclusion of dedicated lactation rooms. These dedicated spaces, incorporating an electrical outlet, seating, a table, a sink and a fridge, allow breastfeeding mothers to have a private, comfortable and hygienic space to pump, which can contribute to improved mental and physical health outcomes for mothers. It is arguably the most equitable feature within a building, giving breastfeeding women the option to return to the workplace with one less thing to worry about.

The WGBC’s Health & Wellbeing Building Framework recommends how we, as built environment professionals, should ensure inclusivity is integrated throughout the building lifecycle. Design strategies should incorporate dedicated populations (e.g. women, elderly, disabled), and potential users should be involved and consulted as early as possible to help identify barriers to inclusion. Throughout operation, a culture of accessibility should be created through physical environments, as well as social and attitudinal factors that can result from well-integrated company policies to support diversity.


References

  1. https://www.sustrans.org.uk/media/2930/2930.pdf
  2. https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/routes-and-maps/cycleways
  3. https://worldgbc.org/sites/default/files/WorldGBC%20Health%20%26%20Wellbeing%20Framework_Exec%20Report_FINAL.pdf
  4. http://activityinequality.stanford.edu/
  5. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/ageing/articles/livinglongerhowourpopulationischangingandwhyitmatters/2019-03-15#who-is-providing-unpaid-care
  6. https://www.sensorytrust.org.uk/resources/guidance/access-chain-an-inclusive-design-tool
  7. http://www.changing-places.org/
  8. https://fitwel.org/

Health and Safety: The legal risks of ignoring it on small projects

Despite having been introduced four years ago, there is still limited understanding in the building services sector of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM 2015) and the new obligations it has placed on building owners.

The 2015 regulations switched the balance of responsibility for health and safety from a CDM co-ordinator (a role which has now been abolished) to those paying for the works (ie clients). This places direct responsibility on property owners and landlords.

Anyone who has any kind of construction work carried out for them is considered ‘clients’ and are held legally responsible for ensuring every project, undertaken on their behalf, is suitably managed and ensures the health and safety of all those engaged on the project, as well as the members of the public.

CDM 2015 applies in every circumstance, whether it is a category A or B refurbishment or even just the ongoing maintenance of facilities, including remedial repair works.

A refurbishment project doesn’t have to involve any structural changes for CDM to apply. In short, CDM applies to every aspect of works being carried out on a property.

The fines for non-compliance are unlimited and directors can be jailed.

As an example, in 2016 a construction company was removing a roller shutter door on the boundary of a site and in the process, the door fell onto the pavement and badly damaged a market stall. The principal contractor was fined £45K for a CDM breach after the HSE’s investigation found:

  • there was no risk assessment for the task of removing the roller shutter door
  • the site manager was not on site when the incident occurred meaning there was no supervision of the workers
  • the site issues could have been rectified by appropriately planning, managing and monitoring the construction work.

It’s also worth remembering that the obligations apply to the design stage of works as well as actual construction. In fact, the creation of a ‘principal designer’ role in the regulations is supposed to ensure health and safety planning is an integral part of the design stage.


So who is responsible for what under CDM 2015?

Virtually everyone involved in a construction project has legal duties which can be defined as follows:

  • Client– Anyone who has construction work carried out for them. The main duty for clients is to make sure their project is suitably managed, ensuring the health and safety of all who might be affected by the work, including members of the public.
  • Principal designer – A designer appointed by the client to control the pre-construction phase on projects with more than one contractor. The principal designer’s main duty is to plan, manage, monitor and coordinate health and safety during this phase when most design work is carried out.
  • Designer – An organisation or individual whose work involves preparing or modifying designs, drawings, specifications, bills of quantity or design calculations. Designers can be architects, consulting engineers and quantity surveyors, or anyone who specifies and alters designs as part of their work.  They can also include tradespeople if they carry out design work. The designer’s main duty is to eliminate, reduce or control foreseeable risks that may arise during construction work, or in the use and maintenance of the building once built. Designers work under the control of a principal designer on projects with more than one contractor.
  • Principal contractor – A contractor appointed by the client to manage the construction phase on projects with more than one contractor. The principal contractor’s main duty is to plan, manage, monitor and coordinate health and safety during this phase when all construction work takes place.
  • Contractor – An individual or business in charge of carrying out construction work (e.g. building, altering, maintaining or demolishing). Anyone who manages this work or directly employs or engages construction workers is a contractor. Their main duty is to plan, manage and monitor the work under their control in a way that ensures the health and safety of anyone it might affect (including members of the public). Contractors work under the control of the principal contractor on projects with more than one contractor.
  • Worker – An individual who carries out the work involved in building, altering, maintaining or demolishing buildings or structures. Workers include plumbers, electricians, scaffolders, painters, decorators, steel erectors and labourers, as well as supervisors like foremen and chargehands. Their duties include cooperating with their employer and other duty holders, reporting anything they see that might endanger the health and safety of themselves or others. Workers must be consulted on matters affecting their health, safety and welfare.

Architects and engineers are often reluctant to take on the role of principal designer under the regulations because of a lack of expertise in the area of health and safety. At EVORA EDGE we are skilled mechanical, electrical and public health consultants able to take on the principal designer role and ensure health and safety is an integral part of all planned and designed works.

Take a look at our work acting in the principal designer role during the implementation of a large scale photovoltaic installation across multiple buildings in the UK, here.

For more information on how EVORA EDGE might be able to help you please contact Sadie Hopkins (0)1743 341903 or shopkins@evoraglobal.com