Members of Matrix (L-R): Mo Hildenbrand, Sheelagh McManus, Raechel Ferguson. Front (L-R): Janie Grote, Annie-Louise Phiri, Julia Dwyer. Photo by Jenny Burgen. Image courtesy of the Barbican

The 80's collective still helping to shape our cities

A new exhibition looks at how the work of feminist architecture group Matrix reveals the flaws in a manmade world

Jane Hall’s book, Breaking Ground: Architecture by Women doesn’t just feature the makers of towering skyscrapers and iconic houses. It also “describes the work of others who have contributed to architectural discourse in what can be thought of as maybe quieter, but equally influential, ways,” Hall writes in the introduction.

For example, the UK-based feminist design cooperative MATRIX, a product of the women’s liberation movement in the 1980s, worked together to empower women to take control over their built environment by exploring the belief that the social construction of gender had led to fundamentally different design needs for women.

"The cooperative’s legacy is most effectively seen in its teaching and publishing of that period, and can now be found in the ongoing work of subsequent groups like Taking Place," Hall writes.

That legacy can also be seen in a new series of events, on now at the Barbican in London. Entitled How We Live Now: Reimagining Spaces with Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, this widely varied exhibition programme includes an installation, publication and events programme.

“Using the previously unseen archive of the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative as a jumping-off point, the project will explore a series of important social questions: who are our buildings and shared spaces designed for? Who is excluded from our designed environment, and what effect does this have on the communities who live there?”

Matrix ceased activity in London back in 1994, which might lead some to assume that work addressing the British capital might not be the most useful in thinking about today’s pressing concerns.

Not so. This new programme, co-curated by Matrix founder member Jos Boys, uses both archival and contemporary approaches to design ”that aim to empower voices and groups often excluded in the design of buildings, including Black and Asian women’s organisations, community and childcare groups and lesbian and gay housing co-operatives, to propose and explore more inclusive ways of designing, building and occupying spaces."

With the Covid pandemic sharpening existing inequalities within our cities and homes, the question Matrix began to explore of how we can reimagine these spaces in more equitable ways, feels increasingly urgent.


Breaking Ground by Jane Hall
Breaking Ground by Jane Hall


To find out more Matrix and their place within architecture, order a copy of Breaking Ground. For more new and challenging approaches to our built environment, consider Radical Architecture of the Future; and for more from Jane Hall, look out for her forthcoming book on female designers, Woman Made.


Radical Architecture of the Future by Beatrice Galilee
Radical Architecture of the Future by Beatrice Galilee