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  • Writer's pictureMallika Gupta

Women-centered is human- centered!

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Human-centered design is increasingly being recognized as the key feature for sustainably addressing the needs of the growing population in Asian cities. A critical component of the human-centered approach lies in the architect’s ability to step away from their autonomous vision for a space and propose an empathetic design that responds to the needs of the client while positively impacting their lives. Unfortunately, from Da Vinci’s Vitruvian ‘Man’ to Corbusier’s Modular ‘Man,’ generations of architects have developed spaces using an idealized male form.

Unfortunately in a society plagued with patriarchal biases like ours, the only socially accepted place in India for the woman’s body is within the privacy of the home. Accessing the public space is ‘permitted’ only for domestic duties, with the expectation of returning once the task is complete. Gender insensitive design which does not acknowledge this socialization legitimizes domestication of women while additionally creating physical and cultural barriers for women with strollers or young children, breast-feeding mothers, menstruating women, and women carrying out errands or returning late from work, among others and leads to public spaces becoming inherently male dominated. These issues are further intensified at the intersection of caste, class, community etc. Design of public spaces that inadvertently privileges the life of some humans, over that of others cannot truly be called ‘human-centered design.’

Additionally, the last two decades in India have seen multiple studies, including ground breaking pieces by Kalpana Vishwanath(1) and Shilpa Phadke(2) , which reveal the close links between violence against women and inadequate infrastructures at the local level, such as poor lighting, lack of public toilets, depleted condition of pavements and roads etc. Design that fails to account for women’s risk of being attacked is a clear violation of women’s equal right to public space, and hence- the city. In order to claim their right to the city, women must be able to safely access and have positive experiences in the public domain while feeling that they belong there. This ‘pleasure’ of belonging is enabled by the critical availability of sensitively designed facilities which cater to women’s safety and respond to their unique requirements for sanitation, caregiving, recreation and leisure. It is only when women are able to experience this pleasure in a public space, can its ‘publicness’ be celebrated, and it is only through the existence of this unconditional publicness, can the design of the space be truly declared ‘human-centered.’

Cover Art by Vishnu Vasudevan


1. Vishwanath, Kalpana Mehrotra, Surabhi Tandon. "‘Shall We Go Out?’ ; Women’s Safety in Public Spaces in Delhi." Economic and Political Weekly, April 28, 2007.

2. Phadke, Shilpa, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade. Why loiter? : Women and risk on Mumbai streets. New Delhi, India: Penguin Books, 2011

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