Women’s occupational health has not really been very well understood

News - 11 January 2023 - Communication BK

What implications does office design have on gender equality? The project Dr. Amy Thomas is currently working on is through an NWO Veni grant and it’s called ‘Her Office’. It’s a historical investigation of how workplace design was somehow gendered or had implications for gender equality. Thomas is conducting historical research on this topic and was interviewed by TU Delta for this purpose.

 “I came to TU Delft in the Summer of 2017 for a tenure track position in the Department of Architecture (Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment). I’m an architectural historian and what I find interesting is how political economy, so politics and economics, interface with the built environment. How do big words and ideas like neo-liberalism, capitalism or deregulation actually manifest in the design of a desk or the layout of an office. I’m interested in the mundane, day-to-day lived experiences of the built environment, the grey matter of architecture, if you like. 

I don’t want to focus too much on the present-day implications of my work because I don’t want that to lead the research too much. I want to find what I find. I have spoken to various groups and organisations that want to know more about this topic. It’s really about creating a level playing field for women. How can we create a comfortable working environment for women? There are some key things like breast pumping and breast-feeding rooms. You’d be surprised how many organisations have very bad facilities for women. There’s a whole science of breast feeding explaining what it takes to be able to lactate and most of the existing spaces don’t give that.

With this project, I often get asked how we can solve gender inequality through design. People want it to be a design problem with design solutions, but it’s not. The social and political aspects are so deeply interconnected with the design that we can’t really separate them. I think it’s about looking critically at things, having an eye for the nuance of situated realities that people experience, and not assuming that science is neutral territory because it certainly isn’t.” 

More information

This is an abridged version of the interview previously published in TU Delta in the Humans of TU Delft section written by Heather Montague. The full interview can be read here.

  • Amy Thomas is a researcher in the department Architecture of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment.
  • View the Her Office research project page here.