Arup study calls for ‘queering’ of public space

28 May 2021 3 min. read

A new paper from engineering consultancy Arup has argued for civic planners to help ensure cities are safer for LGBTQ+ people. In order to facilitate this, designers should consult with marginalised communities when designing spaces.

The movement for LGBT+ civil rights has won a great many victories in the UK, over the last half-century in particular. While there is a good deal of progress to be celebrated, though, the UK must avoid resting on its laurels if it is to provide a truly inclusive environment for LGBT+ citizens in the years to come.

According to a new study from Arup, many LGBTQ+ people ‘switch’ or hide their identities in order to feel safe in the majority of public spaces – and the fact many of the community’s heritage sites are under threat of being lost contributes to that. To this end, the report stated that LGBTQ+ heritage must be ‘highlighted and preserved’ to help people understand more about queer experiences and communities, adding that this may “help undermine hostility and misunderstanding which continues to be widely expressed towards these groups.”

Arup study calls for ‘queering’ of public space

Arup also pointed out that simply depending on the existence of hubs for the LGBT+ community in certain cities was not enough.

Citing cities like as Barcelona, Berlin, San Francisco or Sydney – which have become renowned for their support of the LGBT+ community in recent decades, the study suggested that “despite the visibility of queer urban spaces” in such locales, their popularity has jeopardised their inclusivity.

Along with the huge numbers of tourists those cities have attracted with their inclusivity, they also “attracted property developers and investors who have found economic opportunities,” and now the process of “gentrification and urban renewals” means many of these spaces have become unaffordable to the queer communities who shaped them – if they aren’t erased altogether.

Ammar Azzouz, an architect at Arup and short-term research associate at the University of Oxford, said, “The cities we live in are made of layers of history and memory. Through cultural heritage sites, memorials, statues, streets’ and buildings’ names, we read the story of our cities spatially. But often the history and struggle of queer communities is absent from this story. We need to break this silence and to face this absence with innovative and creative ways to make our cities more inclusive.”

One simple method of boosting LGBT+ heritage in civic design Arup suggested was statues and commemorative plaques. As monuments “contribute to building narratives in the city,” and the world is currently “witnessing more critical thinking about the representativeness and diversity of these monuments across the world,” it pointed to examples including a small Alan Turing Memorial which was unveiled in the Gay Village of Manchester in 2001, and a 2-dimensional steel statue of him now standing near Paddington in London.

At the same time, Arup also suggested that attention to a number of design techniques can help promote inclusion and, through passive surveillance, prevent hate crime. These include the scale of mass of buildings, lighting features, colours and façades of buildings, as well as the addition of curvilinear aspects to buildings. Meanwhile, the researchers suggest that LGBTQ+ inclusion and safety should be incorporated into equality impact assessments, while designers should consult with marginalised communities when designing spaces.