Space x Belonging: Impacts of Design on Gender and Inclusion

Learning environments and
students’ sense of place

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As researchers and active participants, we seek to address and engage with societal issues and crises through design as activism. During design charettes, avenues of research can manifest from a deepened understanding of cultures, identities, and perspectives.

Guiding Questions / Shaping the Study

In receiving feedback during the design of a school with the award-winning design and architecture firm Gould Evans, wheels were set in motion for a relatively uncharted research stream to be undertaken by FLDWRK Research and Design Lead Julia Pascutto: Gender inclusion in learning environments.

Now a FLDWRK research stream under Pascutto, the Gender Inclusive Design Study (GIDS) explores the extent to which people with varying gender identities feel a sense of belonging in learning environments, the research ultimately addresses a built environment’s deep roots in culture and identity.

Following on the work of researchers including Sapna Cheryan’s study of gendered messaging in space decoration with Classrooms matter: The design of virtual classrooms influences gender disparities in computer science classes, Gould Evans’ initial school design revealed how permanent elements of space construction and design in learning environments could become objects of study: Physical environments could be seen as key determinants in the choices and expectations that students experience, where the removal of elements such as stereotypes from classroom design could raise students’ sense of belonging.

Passing this research through FLDWRK’s New Apertures lens, we ask: How can we identify unjust and marginalizing gendered patterns in the pursuit of cultivating a more comprehensive sense of belonging, inclusivity, and equity in built environments?

The Instrument + Research in Practice

Out of the team’s research stream, the Instrument took shape.

A measuring scale developed to collect comparable data over large ranges of geography and age, the Instrument is a questioning reaction arising from visual stimuli to quantify and explore to what extent people with varying gender identities feel a sense of belonging in learning environments.

While this research is currently ongoing, the Instrument’s initial studies have observed, measured and identified correlations with intriguing relationships between spaces and a sense of belonging. With the overarching goal of increasing awareness across all space typologies and applying informed understandings in design practices, the GIDS can affect tangible change in the world by making gender and inclusion foundational considerations when creating space.

Impacts

Even as higher education continues to experience funding cuts that have been only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, post-secondary education institutions are resolved to bolster applicant and admission rates of women in STEM.

This is one among many challenges that can be addressed by the GIDS’ research, and the implications of research through the GIDS is unrestricted to learning environments, acting as a launch point for broader conversations; for example, the Instrument’s findings can also be applied to workplaces seeking factors and effects resulting from male dominant workforces.

The GIDS has demonstrated through action that it provides a necessary catalyst for achieving more inclusive and equitable built environments.

 

Julia Pascutto is a licensed architect with over ten years of experience in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, and San Francisco with a focus on thoughtful design of education, community, residential, and healing spaces. Driven by informing and improving the public experience, her placemaking is channeled through an understanding of context and with the goal of creating inclusive, resilient, and responsible designs. Raised in Hong Kong through to her graduate studies at Cornell University, she is inspired by the value of diversity and growth through experience. A leader fully integrated into the project design and delivery methods, Julia concentrates on team collaboration and efficiency. She has been co-leading the Gender Inclusive Design Study (GIDS) inspired by her drive for equitable design.