…based on traditional arrangements, “dwellings, neighbourhoods, and cities designed for homebound women constrain women physically, socially, and economically” (Hayden, 1981: 25)…..”

World War: The effect on housing design

The Post-World War II cities began redeveloping areas to reinvent their identity. Cities that were reconstructed centralized the administration to emphasize public centrality, while residential layouts were pushed towards the periphery. The development boom greatly favoured the creation of suburbs – with a focus on accessibility through vehicular mobility, forcing the working-class population to move out of city centres. 

There was a shift in housing trends due to the shortage of living spaces. This resorted to the idea of “dormitory cities” that evolved with the concept of maximum accommodation with minimum space requirement. New housing societies were developed accordingly due to a lack of resources and the need for space. The creation of physical distance between residential layouts and city cores, and the suburban settings strengthened the differences between wage earners and homemakers – with the father working outside the home and the mother working inside the home as a caregiver rearing their children..

Gender in housing design

The new housing societies were designed to meet the needs of mainly the working class men, with almost little or no regard for the needs of the women. In Paris, for example, Haussmann demolished most of the old Paris and replaced it with a modern urban centre that emphasized public governmental and administrative space, causing large-scale gentrification. Archival maps of Paris between the span of 1836 to 1864 demonstrate the drastic transformations the Île de la Cité underwent. Post-war housing typologies focused on building for a nuclear family. Household and care responsibilities were not designed. The failure to provide childcare is exacerbated by the design of the government’s new complexes. Huge car parks were given, despite very few people having cars, and playgrounds lacked maintenance, making it unsafe for use. Transitional spaces were kept to a minimum or were barely even designed for. Due to lack of space, areas like the kitchen and laundry, ideally used only by women, were extremely small to save space. Rooms for sleeping and gathering, mainly used by men, were large and spacious for comfort.

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The long, straight avenues that continue to dominate Paris (pictured here around 1870) were a key feature of Baron Haussmann’s rebuilding plans_© Alamy

Women Work City (Vienna) – An attempt at removing gender biases

In the 1970s and 1980s, Vienna was one of the first cities to highlight women’s issues in public and private spaces. Through the years, various attempts were made to address women’s experiences and safety concerns, which resulted in open public participation from the women in the city. Renate Brauner, the City Councillor for Women’s Issues, recalled that thousands of ideas were submitted, many of which focused on making small changes to their surroundings. This knowledge led to re-evaluating the city’s long-term urban planning approach, focusing on improving accessibility, safety, and ease of movement. 

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Detailed requirements in terms of urbanism, open space, walkways, access zones and flat layouts was the focus for The Frauen-Werk-Stadt competition_© N Palit | Medium

After widespread engagement, The Frauen-Werk-Stadt competition was initiated by the government in an attempt to redevelop housing societies in Vienna through a woman’s perspective. The projects aimed to build large social and subsidized housing developments designed for women’s needs, including play spaces, nurseries, doctors, and pharmacists. The project site was a 2.3-hectare lot in the northern part of Vienna, near a densely built area. Women managed the process, and only women officers were chosen to be involved in the project.

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A children’s play area pushed to the edge of the development of the Frauen-Werk-Stadt_© N Palit | Medium.

The Frauen-Werk-Stadt housing society

The city chose four different land pieces for the development, focusing on pedestrian needs and integrating nearby public transport points and convenience stores. The development is oriented around central pedestrian spaces, creating a safe and secure environment for families and children. The focus is on the city-neighborhood-home relationship, with multiple play spaces spread across the designated area. Interactive opportunities are provided by transparent staircases eye and call contact from living rooms/balconies to toddler playgrounds. Access to public facilities is structured around main pathways and numerous free spaces. Kindergarten spaces are designed with visual connections to the outside and inside of the building, ensuring independence and safety for children. The communal laundry facility was placed on the top floor, adjacent to the shared roof terrace, creating a light-filled space adjacent to a pleasant outdoor space. Public utility zones are designed with visual connections, constant lighting, and ventilation. Staircases are transparent and well-lighted, reducing the impression of being surrounded by inactive frontages. The facades are built in natural surveillance, with kitchen areas and living rooms with views of the playground or public spaces.

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Large spacious playgrounds and garden, overlooked by balconies and staircases to maintain visual connection and act as natural surveillance_© N Palit | Medium
Flexible flat layouts to cater to different family needs _© N Palit | Medium

Impact of the initiative 

The follow-up project, “Assisted Living and Gender-sensitive Planning for Safety in Everyday Life,” aimed to improve living situations for elderly women and youngsters in Vienna. The project was based on future demographic and social challenges, with a housing complex of 140 flats, including 42 for the elderly, constructed in 2001. Gender-specific playgrounds, sports grounds, and parks were also established in the Vienna district. Vienna faces high housing density, resulting in limited space for recreation, sports, playgrounds, youth hangout areas, and elderly meeting places. Suitable spatial designs were used to create well-balanced parks to address this issue. Two parks, “Ensiedlerpark” and “St. Johann Park,” were reconstructed, with various architectural offices collaborating. The project was coordinated by the “Leistelle” and involved interviews with housing institutions, social organizations, youth liaison police officers, and teachers. The second model project, “Frauen-Werk Stadt II,” was completed in 2004, and the third sequel, “Frauen-Werk-Stadt III,” is still in the development process. The flats are dedicated to single mothers, elderly women, and women who want to join a social community. The project is part of the “Fair Shared City” program, which feeds into the City of Vienna’s Gender Mainstreaming Planning Strategy.


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Presse-Service (2008). Archivmeldung: Frauenberger und Ludwig präsentieren Frauen-Werk-Stadt II + III. [online] Presseservice der Stadt Wien. Available at: https://www.wien.gv.at/presse/2008/04/16/frauenberger-und-ludwig-praesentieren-frauen-werk-stadt-ii-iii [Accessed 19 Aug. 2023].

Whitzman, C., Legacy, C., Andrew, C. and Al, E. (2013). Building inclusive cities : women’s safety and the right to the city. London ; New York (N.Y.): Routledge, Cop.

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Zibell, B., Damyanovic, D. and Sturm, U. (2019). Gendered Approaches to Spatial Development in Europe. Routledge.


Hi, My name is Sneha Anand and I am a designer by profession, specializing in heritage conservation. Curious in nature, I like to explore through various media that include writing, reading and illustrating. I absolutely love traveling to different places and documenting my experiences through photography.