Visible Women

Meet the spatial designer who puts feminism at the heart of her work

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Moya Crockett
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Stylist’s Woman of the Week is spatial designer Lucy Sanderson, whose beliefs about equality are integral to her work. She’s part of a team of women and non-binary people working on the redesign of London’s Feminist Library.

The Feminist Library in London first opened its doors in 1975, at the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement. The iconic institution is home to a vast catalogue of books, journals and magazines concerned with gender equality from 1900 to the present day, and serves as an inclusive space for women of all backgrounds to meet, conduct research and share ideas.

But now, the Feminist Library is under threat. Its current home in Lambeth is due to be redeveloped, and all of its contents will have to move out by spring 2019. The women behind the library are currently fundraising for a move to a new building in Peckham, an endeavour which is expected to cost at least £30,000.

It’s a big undertaking, but Lucy Sanderson – one of an all-female team currently working on the design for the library’s new home – is confident that they can make it happen. The Feminist Library “always pull it out of the bag” in terms of finding funding, she says. And she is hugely enthusiastic about what the move could mean for the institution. In its new location, the library will have room to exhibit its extensive collection of feminist art and ephemera, as well as enough space to run a programme of evening events.

“More talks, more discussions, lectures, film screenings,” Sanderson explains. “There’ll be a study area, a group area… It’s all underway at the moment, and it’s really exciting.” 

A spatial designer and artist-in-residence at Somerset House who has worked for brands including Uniqlo, Facebook, COS and Moschino, Sanderson says her feminist beliefs lie at the heart of her design practice. “I was brought up by a single mum, and being surrounded by lots of strong women all my life has given me the courage to challenge the ever changing role of gender in society. It makes made me realise that I’m really fortunate to have been raised in that way.”

But she emphasises that her view of feminism is just as concerned with wider issues of equality – “notions of accessibility, nationality, age, culture, cultural capital [and the] recognition of white privilege” – as it is with gender.

Evidence abounds that the design industries aren’t as diverse as they should be. Just three of the world’s top 100 architecture firms are headed by women, while only two have management teams that are more than 50% female. Earlier this year, research by the Design Council revealed that men make up 80% of workers employed in the field of architecture and built environment in the UK, and many experts have argued that this gender imbalance has created a world that is overtly or subtly designed to suit cisgender, able-bodied men.

“I don’t think that white privileged men should predominately be designing all spaces,” Sanderson agrees. At Studio Lucy Sanderson, she endeavours to support other designers and makers who might not have opportunities handed to them on a plate. 

“With any work I do, I want to give a leg-up to people who could be deemed [less privileged] – in terms of race, gender, culture, sexuality or nationality – if I can.”

Sanderson initially studied film, photography and sociology at university, before doing a masters’ degree in interior design at the Royal College of Art. After graduating, she worked as a set designer and then as an interior designer. But she found that spatial design – a discipline that criss-crosses the boundaries of architecture, interiors, art and service design – made most sense for her as a career path.

“I’m interested in redefining space and how spaces can be made inclusive if they’re currently inaccessible,” Sanderson explains. She cites the examples of gyms, which can be intimidating places for transgender and non-binary people.

“In most gyms you have male-only and female-only changing areas. Where do you get changed if you don’t identify as either?” She explored the idea of a ‘post-feminist gymnasium’ in her MA thesis project, and says that “redesigning the landscape of the gym” would be her dream project.

“I’m stereotyping for the sake of this argument, but by analysing the landscape of exercise you have predominately gorgeous women performing yoga and predominately hyper-masculine men lifting weights,” she says. “But if you don’t fit [neatly] into those gender categories, how can you access a gym?”

Exercise “is so integral to maintaining physical and mental health,” she continues. “Why should some individuals be excluded from this basic need?”

Co-designing the new Feminist Library site is something of a passion project for Sanderson. She regularly visited the current building to conduct research while doing her MA, and overheard that they were moving to a new site during one of these trips. She asked if she could work on the redesign, and the rest is history.

“I love the Feminist Library. It has such an important legacy as an institution, and it’s helped me a lot within my academia,” she says.

Studio Lucy Sanderson is working alongside Hi-Vis! Feminist Design Collective on the redesign, while all the furniture and fittings are being made by the Power Project, a metal and wood workshop for women and girls.

If the Feminist Library can raise all the money it needs, they’ll bring together a diverse team of female and non-binary architects, designers, makers and engineers.

“We’re a design team working together collaboratively, which I love, because it’s a group of really powerful, strong women and non-binary people coming together and designing a future space for the Feminist Library,” says Sanderson. “It’s been an immense learning experience.”

The Woman of the Week series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. See more Visible Women stories here.

Studio Lucy Sanderson and HI-VIS! Feminist Design Collective and are the design team bringing The Feminist Library to life. The space will be made and assembed on site using the Power Project workshops. 

Main image: Gabby Laurent