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Gendered Spaces

An inclusive approach to redefining public architecture

by Chandrima Modgil

Abstract: Since we have very little control over the presence of men in our environments, and cannot function in a state of constant scare, we displace some of our fear onto spaces, alleyways, subway platforms, or darkened sidewalks (where we perceive real or imagined danger)[1]. Cities have been the testbeds for political and social experiments, most of which are manifested in urban planning and architecture that were penned by great thinkers and architects. The primary question, however, is this: who are the cities conceived for? Were these thoughtfully designed with the intention of inclusivity? Certain inequalities prevalent in our social structure, be it disability, or gender discrimination, among others, have been overlooked by the same artists. The focus on women’s safety presents a critical framework to redress a wider spectrum. This article is an outcome of comparing the relationship (social, cultural, political and economic) between the history of the transformation of women and the development of the built environment. Our objective is understanding the implications of what is already built, what is presently being built, and eventually, how we can salvage it for the future - taking Regents Canal sidewalk as a case study with a more day-to-day occupied space. This paper analyses the canal side, and offers guidelines for safer and accessible usage at different hours. 


[1] Kern (2021), p.149

Regents Canal Sections and Typographies

[Image 1] Various sections of the Canal showing different typographies.
Image by the author (2022).


Most traditionally patriarchal societies were initially designed to envelope the white male gender, catering to their every need.

For women, as well as other under-represented genders, the built environment is dictatorial, imposing a set of rules with varying degrees of oppression that change with time and place. Moreover, the experience of these spaces often changes according to class, race, personality and sexual preference [2]. The difference between the mindset of a man walking home at night, and that of a woman, is often worlds apart. Yet, this fear of crime has not restricted women to their previously confined spaces, but instead, shapes how they experience and inhabit cities.

“One is not born but rather becomes a woman” 
- Simone de Beauvoir [3].

There are guidelines and policies being implemented, like the GICP working towards ‘Ending Violence Against Women’ [4]. which contest the built fabric and suggest reforms to make spaces more accessible. This paper aligns with various ongoing guidelines, studies, strategies, and interventions on similar topics. 

The research site is London’s Regent’s Canal towpath. Originally for horses to pull the boats up and down in the 1820s, the site is now popular as a scenic route for pedestrians and cyclists. However, there is a huge difference between various sections of the canal, and the pathway during the day and after nightfall. 




The 8.6-mile-long Regent’s Canal traverses five London Boroughs. Recent regeneration projects have revitalised parts of the canal to attract locals and tourists, like the King’s Cross Redevelopment in Camden. However, the majority of the canalside remains narrow and shabby, with restrictive topographies of varying degrees. [Image 1]

These canals hold vital historical value for London, both physically and culturally. They are imbued with the stories of women empowering themselves as early as WWII. Cobblestone paths, slanted towpath sections, and inhabited narrowboats are remnants of London’s past. Reimagining inclusivity and accessibility is essential, while harmonising with existing historical elements.

To enhance our research,  a 500 m section of Regent’s Canal in Camden Borough was chosen. Overhead bridges cap both ends, and access is solely via these bridges, creating a two-dimensional path. One side features a blank facade, while residential blocks line the other. A 3D model, constructed using LiDAR scanning, aids in understanding urban dynamics, architectural inclusivity, and safety. Three segments are highlighted along this stretch of the canal for an in-depth analysis of the urban fabric and possible design interventions. [Image 4]





1. Physical Access and Connectivity 

The public realm flourishes with well-connected design. The Canal idewalk offers a 24-hour alternative connection, however, it wasn’t originally designed for pedestrians. Access routes followed warehouse, lock, and industrial locations. As the Canal was renovated for public use with limited space, accessibility was overlooked, sometimes due to the unyielding urban fabric. The towpath is preferred by pedestrians and cyclists, especially during the day, but nighttime footfall differs significantly. As a primary London public space, it should be accessible and well-connected. The canalside, due to its waterway, feels directional with limited manoeuvrability, making it less inviting, especially at night.

Enhancing public realm access via staircases and ramps, minimising barriers, and activating secluded canal areas at night can revitalise space. 

Repurposing blind facades and connecting towpaths to public spaces reduces confinement. 

Unlike other historic structures, the canal’s existing ramps offer accessibility. Leveraging this feature can improve walkway access. 

Tactile treatments can slow down bikes, affecting safety perception.  

Mooring options for boat owners create a unique community accessing the towpaths. Nearby 24-hour stores can serve liveaboards and activate the space. 

Lighting, while not a complete solution, is crucial for nighttime safety and inviting spaces.

2. Sightlines and Perception of Safety (Spatial)

In nighttime strategies, sightlines are crucial. Safety perception hinges on visibility. Walking along streets with visible windows feels different from paths flanked by dense foliage. Large trees often limit sightlines, especially when not well-maintained. Fences and barriers restrict physical accessibility and visibility.

An Arup study on Perceptions of Night-Time Safety [5] Lighting the Way found that brighter lights might not enhance safety; in fact, spaces with intense lighting were perceived as less secure. Brightness can hinder movement and create contrasting areas. Analysing the safety of brightness correlation requires understanding its interaction with urban surfaces and colours. Instead of uniform lighting, diverse strategies like uplights for seating, wall lights for continuous surfaces, and feature lights for risky areas can be applied. 

3. Maintenance and Amenities 

On the one hand, graffiti is widespread expressive art in London, within designated areas for it. On the other hand, this cultural representation can also make spaces seem shabby. Canal walls are covered in art, but lack of maintenance diminishes the joviality. Public amenities cluster near markets or locks; the rest of the canal is perceived as a thruway, not a destination or recreation spot.  These forms of cultural artistic expressions along the canal are either ignored by the public or receive a mere fleeting glance owing to the utter neglect of this perceived thruway, which, through the suggested improvements, could potentially turn into an attractive social space. The following are ways the canal could be improved [Images 5-6]:


  • Canal and River Trust could identify grotty areas based on vandalism and litter.

  • Edge treatment can vary based on space needs; strip lighting highlights edges, railings add safety in narrower stretches. 

  • Overhangs gather rainwater, causing pathway puddles; gutters can alleviate this. 

  • Benches, bins, signage, and cycle paths enhance accessibility. Transforming spaces into occupied places adds character and static footfall. 

  • Historical elements like towing grooves on bridges or commemorations can be integrated into furniture design.


This project begins and ends with a myriad of everyday struggles and endeavours faced by the female collective. 

“Patriarchy written in stone” is a simple statement that reflects the fact that the built environment mirrors the societies that create it. It is not surprising that in a world where everything - from medication to crash test dummies, bulletproof vests to kitchen counters, smartphones to office temperatures - is designed, tested, and set to standards with respect to men’s bodies and needs. The built environment caters to the same [6]. Urban designers appear to have been stymied by this complexity. 

Over the last sixty years, women have been asked to ‘go home’ at three major moments in time. The first was after the First World War when women’s role in war relief struck as temporary; next was after the Second World War, when they were once again pushed back to work at home full time, to care for their husbands, homes and children. Third, was during the recession in the early 1980s, when women were asked to leave paid work to men, as they belonged at home [7]. The societal position of women is now very different from what it was through the 1970s. In the present context of the canal, there are women working, living, earning and occupying this space that was previously dominated by men. This exercise has been an effort in visualising what equitable landscapes look like when people are not constricted by fear, and intersectionality and inclusivity are considered as the fundamental concepts of design implementation. 

[2] Making Space (2022), p.12

[3] Schrupp (2017), p.44.

[4] Whitzman (2013), p.76.

[5]  Yang (year of production unknown).

[6] Kern (2021), p.14. 

[7] Richardson (1988), p.41.

Regents Canal by day

[Image 2] Collage. Photographs of Regent’s Canal during the day. 
Image by the author (June 2022).

Regents canal by night

[Image 3] Collage. Photographs of Regent’s Canal during the night.
Image by the author (June 2022).

 LiDAR Scanner of The Selected Regent‘s Canal Stretch

[Image 4] Collage. The depictions 1, 5 and 9 are segments taken from the LiDAR scanner of the selected Regent‘s Canal stretch with a segment highlighted. The corresponding images in the respective rows show the existing condition and a proposed intervention for the same. 
Image by the author (2022).

Rejuvenation of The Regents Canal - Before
Rejuvenation of The Regents Canal - After

[Images 5-6] An intervention showing the rejuvenation of a space when basic guidelines are followed in design implementation.
Image by the Author (2022).

All Images



Darke, Jane, ‘Women, Architects and Feminism’, in Making Space: Women and the Man Made Environment (London: Pluto Press, 1985).

Kern, Leslie, Feminist City: A Field Guide (Toronto, Canada: Between the Lines, 2021).

Kern, Leslie, ‘Feminist Geography,’ in Feminist City: A Field Guide (Toronto, Canada: Between the Lines, 2021).

Richardson, Pat, Linda Peake, and Jo Little (eds.),  Women in Cities: Gender and the Urban Environment (London: MacMillan, 1988).

Schrupp, Antje,  A Brief History of Feminism (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017).

Whitzman, Carolyn  and Kalpana Viswanath (eds), ‘Gender Inclusive Cities Programme: Implementing Change for Women’s Safety,’ in Building Inclusive Cities: Women’s Safety and the Right to the City (New York: Routledge, 2013).

Yang, Hoa, ‘Lighting the Way for Women and Girls: A New Narrative for Lighting Design in Cities’, Arup. (accessed 8 September 2022). 

Chandrima Modgil is a practising residential site architect in London. She has diverse working experience in India, Germany, and the UK. She is committed to focus on architecture with a sensitivity towards spatial equity, gendered spaces, urban renewal, and architectural heritage protection.

Junior Site Architect, Verdi Systems Ltd., London, UK since 2023
MA, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, London 2022 Junior Architect, Artur Gärtner Architektengesellschaft MBH, Berlin, Germany 2019-21
BArch, National Institute of Technology, Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, India 2019


Published in Issue 2024

Dis-Ruptive Horizons


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