Celebrating the timely work of a radical feminist design collective

Matrix: How We Live Now exhibition view. Image by James Rafferty.

Matrix: How We Live Now is a new exhibition that explores the essential work of the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, a radical feminist architectural practice active in London from 1980 to 1996.

Curated by Dr. Karen Burns and Sophie Adsett, supported by Professor Dan Hill, the exhibition centres the work of the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, alongside contributions from researchers of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning across all disciplines including landscape, architecture, urban planning, construction and engineering.

The collective focused on dismantling hierarchies in architecture, enacted through social justice initiatives and participatory design practices. Its bottom-up approach led by a multiracial group of women responded to the needs of community. It is a timely topic for an exhibition in the current social and economic context of Melbourne.

Dr Karen Burns, who recently co-wrote the foreword for the 2022 reissue of the Matrix book Making Space: Women and the Manmade Environment (1984), is lead curator for the exhibition. She believes the work of the collective is appealing to a younger generation of architects and designers because it offers an alternative way forward.

“Emerging practitioners are socially and environmentally conscious. By building a community of like-minded individuals, they can find opportunities to push forward and create more sustainable forms of design practice,” Dr Burns said.

In line with this ethos of collaboration and the questioning of hierarchal structures, 20 researchers from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning were invited to exhibit projects on gender, bodies and ecologies.

Professor Sarah Bell worked on a co-authored piece Engineering Comes Home, which is an extension of a project with residents of the Meakin Estate in London to understand how communities engage with co-designed local infrastructures to improve resilience.

Other key works include a drawing by Simona Castricum, Research Fellow in Architecture and winner of the 2023 Chancellor’s Prize, that analyses acts of transphobic violence in public space. Dr Hannah Robertson’s piece is drawn from her partnership with the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation to realise their vision for a Cultural Centre on Country.

Dr Robertson’s piece highlights “the greater representation of Olkola women in the management team and as the CEO, as well as four women engineering volunteers from their partner Arup. The project has directly contributed to the formation of a women’s Olkola Ranger team”.

During the exhibition a series of floor talks and panel discussions will be held on Feminist Thought, Gendered Pedagogies, Bodies and Cities, Architecture and Community, and Writing Diverse Histories of Architecture.

The exhibition is open now until Friday 20 October.

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Fiat billboard from Spray It Loud (1982). Image by Jill Posener.