Mary Carole Overholt 

Thesis Project, Master of Environmental Design (M.E.D.) program,
Yale School of Architecture (2019-2021)

Space-Praxis: Towards a Feminist Politics of Design

Outside of the academy and professionalized practice, design has long been central to the production of feminist, political projects. Taking what I have termed space-praxis as its central analytic, this project explores a suite of feminist interventions into the built envir-onment—ranging from the late 1960s to present day. Formulated in response to Michel de Certeau’s theory of spatial practices, space praxis collapses formerly bifurcated definitions of ‘tactic’/‘strategy’ and ‘theory’/‘practice.’ It gestures towards those unruly, situated undertakings that are embedded in an ever-evolving, liberative politics. In turning outwards, away from the so-called masters of architecture, this thesis orients itself toward everyday practitioners who are grounded in the environment-worlds they seek to reorganize and re-imagine. Though few of the space-practitioners discussed in this work would consider themselves architects, their work at the margin of design meaningfully expands contemporary definitions of architecture. Indeed, they exemplify the ways in which architecture could be retooled as a mode of activist engagement. The diverse array of spaces investigated include a handful of women’s centers in New York City, Cambridge, MA, and Los Angeles; the first feminist self-help gynecology clinic; an empty house in Oakland that was reclaimed by a group of Black mothers in 2019; and a series of pop-up block parties in Chicago.

While this document in no way operates as an encyclopedia of feminist space-praxes, it highlights an array of such projects held together by their mutual investment in building feminist commons and infrastructures of care. In each project, survival is understood as a material practice, contingent on the affective relationship between bodies, space, and technologies. Though the direct object of each project’s intervention varies—from the clinic, to the house, to the neighborhood—each suggests alternative ways of living, surviving, and designing outside of the built environment’s hetero-patriarchal scripts.

You can download a PDF of my thesis here

Images of the Space-Praxis: Towards a Feminist Politics of Design artifact. Research and writing by M.C. Overholt, graphic design by Kathryn-Kay Johnson.