The third Parlour Reading Room considers the built environment through a feminist lens, with a focus on accessibility and the importance of noticing the “diverse perceptions and experiences of occupying built space”, as Jos Boys puts it.

Maryam Gusheh and Sara Chesterman to reflect on the ideas discussed and their lived experiences in the built environment. Watch the recording via our Vimeo on Demand channel.

Accessibility within the built environment and built environment disciples is explored through Jos Boys’ essay, “The Disordinary architecture project”, Judith Butler’s walking conversation with Sanuara Taylor, David Gissen’s essay, “Why are There so Few Disabled Architects and Architecture Students?” and Anna Leahy’s essay, “The Universal Design Ideal”.

Engage with the recommended reading, get together with your reading group to discuss the ideas using our facilitation prompts and watch the video to explore these ideas with Maryam Gusheh and Sara Chesterman!

Recommended materials

  • Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor, Examined Life, YouTube video (6 October 2010).
    Approximate watching time: 15 mins

Supplementary materials

  • Sara Ahmed, "The Same Door", Feminist Kill Joy blog (31 October 2019)
    Approximate reading time: 30 mins

Book stack discussion prompts

Book Stack facilitator to go first and pass around the group. Move through the questions as required, allowing other questions to arise naturally and allowing everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts. 

  • Do you feel your body is accommodated by our current built environs? Where do you feel design prejudices against your body?
  • Jos Boys describes the disabling assumptions and barriers that come from people without disabilities viewing their own bodies as ordinary, and viewing disability as a problematic “individual personal tragedy” (Boys, 2018, 37). How do these assumptions, what Boys refers to as the social model of disability, manifest in architectural practice and the built environment?
  • Jos Boys advocates for the questioning of ableist attitudes and practices. In what ways do you think you can start to challenge your own ableist attitudes and practices? Do you think your education has equipped you with the necessary skills?
  • In his 2018 essay, David Gissen talks about the importance of diversification in architecture as “ideas about race, gender, ability and disability are formed and reproduced in the design and construction of buildings and urban spaces”. How can we start to break down the structural barriers that “prohibit people with disabilities from envisioning a future in which” they can participate in built environment disciplines? How do you feel universities can better welcome students with disabilities to study the built environment?
  • In Anna Leahy’s essay, "The Universal Design Ideal" she quotes Iris Bohnet, “There is no design-free world” and states that “as marvellous as universal design can be in practice, it addresses disability by hiding it.” In what ways do you think design “hides” disability?
  • Leahy also addresses the intersectionality of gender, sexual orientation, race, class or age, in addition to disability and the "mismatches" between the body and the everyday.  She states that “responsibility for ensuring a community’s diversity sometimes falls to those who’ve traditionally been excluded through bias and design". In what ways can we enable inclusion in designing and teaching that ensure diversity does not always fall to the person who experiences exclusion?

Our Reading Room conversationalists

Sara Chesterman

Sara Chesterman comes to the Parlour Reading Room with 25 years of lived experience of quadriplegia and making it work. Informed by her study of architecture, she has a keen insight into how the built environment can support or handicap certain people and their ability to participate in society. Her study and work as both an able and disabled bodied dancer inform the way she thinks about how different bodies move through and experience space. Her art practice explores models of the body and dance practices as ways of understanding her experience of being-in-the-world.

Maryam Gusheh

Maryam Gusheh is Associate Professor in Architecture at Monash University. She is a researcher and design educator with a specialisation in twentieth-century architectural culture, extending to the contemporary period. She has a particular interest in bridging academia and industry and is skilled at conceptualising and realising projects that span these worlds. Currently, Maryam is the coordinator of Better Life @ Home research platform at the Monash Urban Lab.