What Does a Workspace Built for Women Look Like?
By Betsy Morais
12 April 2018
College of Environmental Design alumna Alda Ly (B.Arch ‘02) is a New York City based architect and founding principal of Alda Ly Architecture & Design. Born in New Zealand, where her parents fled to as Vietnam War refugees, she moved to Los Angeles in the late 80s and was inspired to pursue architecture after her father became a contractor. Ly put herself through college at UC Berkeley, and later went to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. “I’ve always been a really visual and spatial person growing up, so it just made sense for me,” she said. “Everything is a problem to be solved.”
A few years ago, Ly worked as an architect for a co-working space called The Wing, an organization that aims to be a “network of co-working and community spaces designed for women.”
Creating a space strictly for the benefit of women was unchartered territory for Ly and the entire industry. “Nobody had done a women-only co-working and event space before,” Ly said.“It was a lot of sitting around the table and brainstorming, ‘What does that look like?’”
The materials Ly included in the women-oriented work spaces were selected to optimize female comfort. It was decided that the spaces would give room for some to socialize and others to retreat. There would be a beauty room separate from toilets that would be designated for “relaxed primping,” and all the locations are kept at a temperature of 73-74 degrees, “appreciably higher than New York’s mandated temperature of at least 68.”
The Wing’s first location was established in 2016 in Manhattan's Flatiron district. The Wing met an emerging market need of creating design centered around women, who are a much more dominant presence in the workforce now more than ever. Today’s women are “likelier than those of previous generations to have attended college, and to take on white-collar jobs” and therefore women “are filling a rising share of seats in new kinds of work spaces.”
However, despite more buildings taking into account and reconfiguring women in the architecture of a space, only a quarter of all architects in the United States are female; a recent survey by Dezeen found that among the world’s hundred biggest firms, women only run three.
“There’s a lot of partnerships—men and women, husband and wife,” Ly said. “But there’s not that many firms run by women without partners.”
Even those women who do ascend to the most prestigious levels of the male-dominated field must cope with sexist criticism. “Five years ago, Zaha Hadid—the first woman to have won the Pritzker Prize, the top honor in architecture—was forced to respond to public criticisms that her mock-up for Qatar’s Al-Wakrah stadium, which will host the 2022 World Cup, resembled a “vulvic bulge.” (The inspiration was a dhow, a boat traditionally found in Qatar.)
Due to such obstacles, it is important to Ly to “bring a feminist’s eye to a new array of spaces.” Ly has recently been helping The Wing in a westward expansion: a Washington, D.C., site is opened April 12th, to be followed by clubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, among other cities.
Ly has also been involved in a project at the University of Pennsylvania known as the Pennovation Center which is aimed at inspiring innovation. The site has “a bar, open-plan offices for Triple Canopy, an arty-intellectual magazine supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation; a shop for a bespoke 3-D-printed headphones; and communal housing,”
Another client Ly is working with is Bulletin, a millennial-run store that sells products from female-owned online vendors. Ly has been commissioned to design Bulletin’s brick-and-mortar headquarters in Manhattan’s Union Square. To accommodate feminism in the workspace, Ly believes an important factor is making room for choice. “It’s having areas for women to have privacy, or to work in big groups,” Ly said.
However, the downside if female oriented spaces, is that they raise concerns of discrimination. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has launched an investigation into The Wing on the basis of possible discrimination. However, Ly counters that there are some design features that are explicitly female: “Like having a pumping station,” Ly said. “Those are the obvious things that help.”
“We’ll see how long this trend lasts,” Ly said. “But for me, it’s not the pink, it’s not the curves. It’s about offering a variety of spaces in which women feel comfortable. This is different from the man-cavey environments of certain start-ups,” she added. “There are other things that get them excited. Foosball tables, beanbags, beer pong. For us, it’s not about toys. We’re not trying to give you free food. We’re just trying to make you feel comfortable.”
Read the full article here.