Feminism is a movement that emerged in response to the inequalities that women faced, advocating women’s equality and rights, and demanding an equal place for women in society. Among the different ideologies and interpretations of feminism, all advocating gender equality and demanding an equal place for women in society, ecological feminism stands apart. Introduced by French feminist Francois d’Eaubonne in the 1970s, ecological feminism, also known as eco-feminism, breaks preconceived ideas about the limited capabilities of feminism as a philosophy.

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Literature on Feminism and Architecture_ © Constanze Flamme

Theory of Eco-feminism

The concept of eco-feminism, first introduced by Francois d’Eaubonne, draws connections between the exploitation of women and nature, and domination by men within a society. Briefly, the term ‘Eco-Feminism’ intends to relate the environmental damage to the exploitation and lack of empowerment of women. Ecofeminism emerged against the capitalistic and patriarchal society that has led to a destructive divide between nature and culture. Ecofeminism as a social movement seeks to eradicate discrimination based on gender, race, class, etc. simultaneously acknowledging the relationship between humanity and nature.

Environmental Degradation and its Impact on Women Drives Ecofeminism Forward

Women being primary caregivers are subjected to challenges and negative effects due to environmental degradation-induced climate change. Women bear the brunt of climate change, for instance, women walk longer distances to fetch water to combat reduced rainfall and prolonged summers in various parts of the world due to climate change. Several surveys and reports claim that women make up 80% of the population who were displaced due to climate-change-related disasters. While climate change is a threat to all humanity, it is precise that women suffer from its consequences most disproportionately and many of these consequences are related to the built environments in some way. Hence there is a need to empower women in the fields related to built environments to alleviate environmental destruction similar to what ecofeminism advocates.

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Impact of climate change on Women_ © Bruce Magun

Addressing the Inadequacies of Sustainability 

It is thought-provoking that the destruction of nature is still prevalent, though reduced, even half a century after coining the term “sustainability”. Interestingly, the concept of sustainability though disguised as “concern over degradation and misuse of nature” was prevalent in the “Declaration of Concern” which was signed in 1966 by the Landscape Architecture Foundation, 20 years before the term sustainability was coined. This paved the way for the current concept of sustainability, which emerged at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and was coined by Norwegian Gro Brundtland in the report “Our Common Future”. However, beyond its noble intentions, the current notion of sustainability is focused more on technological interventions, thus failing to understand the connection between humans and nature and lacking in certain scopes including gender equality, inclusive architecture, socio-ecological perspectives, etc.

According to the 1987 Brundtland Report, sustainability was defined as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This definition leads to the false perception of sustainability being “negatively life-altering” as humans have to make “sacrifices” to protect the environment. Thus, extending and strengthening the perspective of “man versus nature” and leading to “the loss of a holistic perspective”. This also further enforced the “man-nature” dichotomy identified by philosopher Karen J. Warren and its negative impact on women and the environment, suggesting that “women and nature have always been understood as the ‘other’ in patriarchal societies”. Such “dichotomies of man-woman, culture-nature, mind-body, and reason-emotion in Western society have led to a predominance of supposedly masculine characteristics and a logic of dominance”.

Built Environment in the Absence of Ecofeminism

Deconstructing built environments, keeping in mind the negative impacts on nature due to the oppression and lack of empowerment of women, it is clear that both architectural spaces and urban design end up being conceived exclusively from a male perspective. Consequently, the built environment doesn’t meet the needs of the oppressed, both women and nature. For instance, women are often excluded from planning for climate policies and disaster reconstruction, despite being directly affected by natural disasters and climate change as they are primary caregivers.

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After Cyclone Sagar hit Gargaara, Somalia, in 2018, women had to build temporary shelters and rebuild damaged houses_ ©Care-International.Org

Moreover, as observed by landscape architect Elizabeth Meyer, this domination not only leads to the exclusion of women and other marginalized groups but also causes a separation between humans and other forms of life such as animals and plants. This questions the inherent willingness of humans to connect with nature. Also, entitles people with a responsibility of stewardship over nature affirming their ownership of nature forgetting the fact that they are also a part of the ecosystem. In this regard, to address sustainability from a broader ecological perspective, there is a need to define sustainable development from a holistic perspective, moving away from the man-nature or man-woman dichotomy and dominance.

Ecofeminism in Architecture; From Stewardship to Partnership with Nature 

An ecofeminist approach to architecture and the built environment involves adapting inclusive architecture, holistic sustainable development, and social infrastructure to combat the social and spatial hierarchies of the “city-over-ecology” and “man over women” dualisms. In other words, ecofeminism is where both design and ecology co-exist complementing each other. The application of ecofeminism promotes equity, be it social, gender, racial, or environmental, within a public urban space. Consequently, transforms how cities relate to women and the environment by shifting from control and stewardship to communal interaction and partnership. Such an ecofeminist approach in an urban design setting implements communal decision-making, includes nature within the city, and employs sustainable design techniques.

“Building Sustainable Lives, Not Sustainable Buildings” – Architect Joy

“Architectural projects must make people’s lives better, therefore an ecosystem and community-based design process remains the most sustainable model to undertake. In the long term, Peace reigns in the hearts of the people. ” – Maria Lourdes‘ Joy’ Martinez Onozawa

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Architect Maria Lourdes‘Joy’Martinez Onozawa_© global gender

According to Architect Joy, “Architecture was not only about designing spaces, but also about designing lifestyles, experiences, and community relationships”. She always envisioned a beautiful life for the communities living around her projects rather than visualizing the facade of her projects alone. Architect Joy chooses a collaborative approach to design, informing and consulting with the clients, the contractor, the government, and the local communities about her design decisions. Her design philosophy is “creating win-win scenarios for not only the officials but also the local community who live around the construction location with her sustainable architectural designs and resource planning”.

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Joy Onozawa’s bamboo home in Cebu_ © philstar

In projects whose surroundings housed native women who possessed handcrafting expertise, Joy included them in her projects for their amazing handcrafting abilities. While Joy was designing and building the resorts, local women were involved in producing light fixtures made with local bamboo. Joy would send her team to fetch the finished work from their home in an attempt to not disturb their roles at home. The native women find pride in their work, make an income, and also fulfill their duties as mothers at home. Architect Joy brought about social change by empowering these women in addition to creating eco-friendly products. Joy strongly believes that as a female architect, she is using her nurturing instinct in aiming to make people’s lives better. She strongly believes that “female architects should think outside the box and use their motherly instinct to take the lead in their practice, thus providing the world with a perspective different from men” and this is one of the primary reasons for ecofeminism in architecture.

The Humanitarian Works of an Unannounced Ecofeminist, Architect Yasmeen Lari 

Unidentified as an ecofeminist, Architect Yasmin Lari designs projects to be “systemic, locally specific, and conscious of the needs of society’s most vulnerable – women and nature”. Architect Yasmeen Lari believes in local building technologies and indigenous knowledge of women. The Pakistan Chulah was one of her projects which she called the “Barefoot Architecture Project”. The Pakistani Chulah intended to alleviate the burden of conventional stoves on women and nature and the intense labor involved in operating them. It was a smokeless, elevated, low-cost mud and lime plaster stove that could also serve as an outdoor communal space for women. The use of indigenous practices was crucial to the success of this project.

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Architect Yasmeen Lari at Green Women’s center, Khairpur_© Yasmin Lari Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

Through Lari’s Heritage Foundation and Zero Carbon Cultural Centre, women are trained to make ceramic tiles, bricks, and chulahs which are later used in Lari’s projects. The architect’s humanitarian efforts supporting indigenous feminist knowledge enhance the social and economic resilience of women, empowering them. By collaborating with Architect Lari, they help regenerate their communities to facilitate care for the environment with eco-architecture and local materials, formulating themselves to be ecofeminists. Architect Lari is not only an architect but also an activist as her work serves as an act of expiation to the oppressed; both women and nature. She aims to democratize architecture and inspire fellow practitioners to utilize their design skills to tackle pressing social issues, regardless of the cause and hence doesn’t consider herself to be an ecofeminist.

Makli Zero Crabon training center_© Yasmeen Lari Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

Sustainability as Reconceived by Ecofeminism

Based on the current notion of sustainability, people are locating themselves outside their ecosystem, no longer perceiving that they rely on it for their daily needs, and viewing themselves as the guards who sacrifice to protect nature. On the other hand, it is Women and Nature who are oppressed due to the logic of dominance and masculinity. Women are further subjected to challenges due to the oppression of nature. To truly achieve sustainability, reformulating humanity’s relationship with nature and view on women is necessary. This is precisely why ecofeminist criticism is so vital. By re-evaluating the relationship between humans and nature and empowering women can identify and address the root causes of environmental destruction. Moreover, Sustainability is not as easily achieved as the technology sector promises, and thus, sustainability must be defined as a socio-ecological issue rather than a techno-managerial issue. True sustainability will require a cultural revolution, not merely a technological one. Valuing women’s knowledge and caliber, empowering women, and expanding our understanding of human-nature relationships, within the ecology will result in a much-needed upgrade of sustainability and a built environment for better and equal standards of living for all.

Reference list
  1. Deitz, P. (1993). A Feminist View of Landscapes: A Partnership With Nature (Published 1993). The New York Times. [online] 29 Apr. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/29/garden/a-feminist-view-of-landscapes-a-partnership-with-nature.html.
  2. dormakaba Editorial Team (2023). Ecofeminism in Architecture: How Green Buildings Can Facilitate Gender Equality. [online] EN – dormakaba Blog. Available at: https://blog.dormakaba.com/ecofeminism-in-architecture-green-buildings-can-facilitate-gender-equality/#:~:text=Ecofeminism%20in%20architecture%20is%20an [Accessed 13 Oct. 2023].
  3. Ghisleni, C. (2023). Ecofeminism in Architecture: Empowerment and Environmental Concern. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/1000291/ecofeminism-in-architecture-empowerment-and-environmental-concern [Accessed 13 Oct. 2023].
  4. Napawan, N.C., Burke, E. and Yui, S. (2018). Women’s Work: An Eco-Feminist Approach to Environmental Design. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330304257_Women%27s_Work_An_Eco-Feminist_Approach_to_Environmental_Design.
  5. Vuuren, A.V. (2019). Environmental Rehabilitation Through Architecture – An Eco-Social Sustainable Hub For Durban Cbd. [online] Available at: https://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10413/20660/Van%20Vuuren_Alexandra_2019.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
  6. Warren, K.J. (1990). The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism. Environmental Ethics, [online] 12(2), pp.125–146. doi:https://doi.org/10.5840/enviroethics199012221

Valliammai Tirupathi is a budding architect. She has an immense passion for research and writing, mainly in Architectural Theory and the History of Architecture. She believes that Architectural Journalism can bring about a change in the profession. She loves to analyze and break down heavy information and complex ideas into simple sentences.