Finalist 2023

Consenting Cities

Monash University / European Cultural Centre Italy

The Consenting Cities wall graphic explores, documents, and visualises international research concerning gendered experiences of safety in our cities.

Operating as an extension of Monash University XYX Lab’s ongoing global engagement, 'Consenting Cities' explores, documents, and visualises international research concerning gendered experiences of safety in our cities. Coded symbols are enmeshed in a wall-sized graphic, each connected to a set of typologically categorised data points that reveal the high percentages of women and gender-diverse people who feel unsafe in public spaces. These spaces include the physical typologies of streets, bars, and public transport, as well as those spaces we inhabit online. The data is revealed through Augmented Reality and an associated website.

Design Brief:

The brief required its designers to make public data related to the urban safety experiences of women and gender diverse people. This data is powerful and persuasive and needs to be addressed by urban planners, designers and policy makers. However, its frequently silenced, hidden within government reports, academic journals and other locations not readily accessible. The work draws together the research of XYX Lab with that of other scholars and a broad range of sources into a singular, inventive and digitally engaging wall graphic. The wall needed to be visually appealing and sit comfortably with other exhibitors at the “Time Space Existence” exhibition in Venice, but simultaneously challenge the continuum of gendered city violence that occurs amid, within and around the build form.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The Design process gathered together a disparate collection of research data pertaining to the (unsafe) lived experience of women and gender diverse people in urban environments from around the world. The challenge was how to make the data engaging and immersive and simultaneously reflect the ‘hidden’ nature of the data and challenge the familiar promotional narrative of cities as safe and liveable. A wall of pattern was devised as a way of achieving this ambition.
The data was curated and coded into particular typologies of city spaces that present the most challenging experiences for women and gender diverse people. The typologies include ‘bars and nightclubs’, ‘public spaces’, ‘the street’, ‘after dark’, ‘educational institutions’ and ‘online cyber spaces’.

Each typology is represented through a particular geometric shape so that, visually, gallery visitors can see the impact of particular spaces in their cities. For example, Public Transport, is represented through the repeated circle motif that dominates the pattern and in doing so reveals itself as one of the most problematic safety experiences for women and gender diverse people.
Ten individual shapes were specially ‘coded’ to respond to particular statistics, that when viewed through a smart phone would reveal the relevant data via a web-based Augmented Reality app. Not every shape is coded in such a way, but every shape responds to a piece of data that is revealed through the accompanying website

Design Excellence

The wall opposes the traditions of presenting disturbing information in aggressive and confronting ways. We know this approach has little impact, frequently turning audiences away from engaging with the message. Instead, it is deliberately colourful and visually enticing. In order to draw the audience in, the surface aesthetics deliberately disguise the statistics until the Augmented Reality or website is activated. The intention is to slowly engage the audience and build their trust and confidence with the work as it progressively alerts them to the urban challenges of women and gender diverse people. The allure of good design so often used to sell a city, is deployed to reveal the realities of (un)safety in cities for approximately 50% of their residents.
Through augmented reality, ten specially coded panels reveal the stark and confronting statistics related to gendered urban safety. For example, the shockingly high “87% of victim survivors of sexual assault in Australia do not report to police” triggers a virtual cube to draw out of the wall to 87% of its depth. This effect is repeated across the wall, encouraging visitors to seek the remainder of the data through digital engagement.

Takeaway elements have also been considered. A poster explaining the project is hidden within the wall, as are cards that allow people to utilise the augmented reality outside the exhibition. Small badges are also available to take away, each one hiding a statistic along its edge. The takeaway elements present the audience with a means to continue to engage with the work outside the gallery, and ensures the audience commitment to addressing the challenges of urban safety for women and gender diverse people in our cities.

Design Innovation

The brightly coloured wall hides the grim reality of city experiences for women and gender diverse people from its audience, much like the commercial narratives of tourism. Promotional campaigns frequently present their cities as welcoming, unique and exciting destinations. Venice is a key tourism asset and during their Architectural Biennale, becomes host to the world’s urban makers. Hung within Venice’s European Cultural Centre’s “Time Space Existence” exhibition, 'Consenting Cities' operates as a provocateur to the celebration of architecture and urban planning, and a challenger to the inclusive tourism narrative often evidenced by the built form. Despite its world famous appeal as a beautiful city, Almost half of Italian women, including those in Venice, do not feel safe in their urban environments after dark.

Simultaneously the exhibition was staged in Melbourne as Part of Melbourne Design Week through a replica wall presented at No Vacancy Gallery and an accompanying series of street posters. Like Italy Australia has similar challenges with public space, with over 50% of women feeling unsafe when alone in them.
The confronting statistics pertaining to assault, rape, leering and other forms of sexual harassment need to be considered as part of the future of city planning. We should not just celebrate the structures of cities, but encourage the methods through which they might alter behaviour, educate citizens and generate safe spaces for all of their inhabitants.

Collectively the icons on the wall graphic generate an understanding of repeating patterns of behaviour that impacts the urban experiences of women and gender-diverse people across the globe. Consenting Cities invites its audience to engage with the data, and a provocation: What can we do collectively to address gendered urban inequality so acutely evidenced by the data and improve the situation for those most vulnerable to it?

Design Impact

Unwanted sexual attention, and the threat of this occurring, pervades women’s and gender-diverse people’s experience of public space. The transgression of personal space without consent in public can include leering and catcalling, intimidation and following, physical harassment, gender-based violence, sexual assault, rape, and murder. This continuum of violence is experienced globally on a daily basis, and it restricts women’s and gender diverse people’s access, participation, mobility and social behaviour in cities. Through inaction our institutions, societies, and cultures consent to this violence.

Data is a powerful tool that can help inform designers, planners, policy makers, local governments, and other stakeholders about the challenges that women and gender-diverse people experience while navigating the cities in which they live. Consenting Cities reveals this data through an interactive augmented reality, triggered by the iconography of geometric shapes.

This brightly coloured and visually appealing graphic uses coded symbols that connect to a set of typologically categorised data points that reveal the high percentages of women and gender-diverse people who feel unsafe in public spaces, including: streets, crowded bars, spaces after dark, public transport and institutions. Gallery visitors can use their smartphone to hover over and ‘scan’ the graphic exposes the problematic underbelly of spatial inequality in stark black and white statistics. Collectively these icons generate an understanding of repeating patterns of behaviour that impacts the urban experiences of women and gender-diverse people.

The exhibition also encourages its audience to reveal the opposite. Through an Augmented Reality ‘tag’ the work asks its audience to tell (and show) where they feel safe and why. By tagging a space as safe and posting it to social media platforms the audience themselves are providing the exemplars of urban safety across multiple city locations, therefore directly contributing to the conversation in an accessible and positive way.

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