New research lab into space, design and gender announced by Monash University Art, Design and Architecture (MADA)

Nicole Kalms

Identifying hotspots where female commuters experience sexual harassment and developing solutions is one of the key design challenges being tackled by MADA’s new XYX Lab, officially launched on Sunday 26 March at the National Gallery of Victoria.

The XYX Lab, led by MADA’s Dr Nicole Kalms, will focus on the way space and design impact on equity and access for women and girls in a range of urban and public transport spaces.

Dean of MADA, Professor Shane Murray, said the Lab was a significant initiative.

“The XYX Lab highlights the translation of Monash research excellence into real-world solutions. It brings together leading Monash researchers in partnership with industry, NGOs and government to positively impact the access and safety of women and girls in public spaces,” Professor Murray said.

Sexual assaults of females on Victorian public transport spaces account (Vic Pol stats 2013/14) for one in 11 sexual assaults in public spaces, with the figure likely to be much higher due to under reporting. One of the Lab’s key projects, Women and girls only: understanding the spaces of sexual harassment in Australian public transport, aims to address this largely hidden issue.

The project will examine public transport spaces and propose policies and toolkits not only for women themselves, but for project partners and policy makers also.

Dr Kalms said the Lab initiative would be the first to examine public transport spaces solely through the experiences of women and girls.

“This project will reduce risk and fear for women and girls in Australian public transport spaces. It will move beyond simply plotting the incidence of sexual harassment in Australian public transport spaces to examining the fundamental qualities of the types of spaces and contexts in which sexual harassment is conducive.”

In association with Plan International Australia, the Lab is also undertaking a project titled ‘Free to Be / Design Thinking’, which aims to develop an inclusive, resilient and sustainable city for all. The project will advance Plan’s ‘Free to be’ map into its next phase. The map is a cloud-synced data map marking the places where women and girls do and don’t feel safe.

It will engage young women as co-designers with architects and urban planners, as well as those working in public policy and social services to develop effective solutions and approaches to the design of public spaces.

Through a range of key projects and other work with organisations, including the Victorian Pride Centre, MADA’s XYX Lab offers new perspectives on communication, design and public space.

About Nicole Kalms

Dr Nicole Kalms is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture and founding director of the XYX Lab. Nicole has a PhD in Architecture from Monash University. She obtained her Bachelor Degree in Architecture from RMIT and practiced architecture for several years before undertaking a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture (RMIT). Nicole is currently a full time member of Monash University's Faculty of Architecture where she leads the Interior Architecture program and has established the Program's design-based initiatives with a focus on cross-disciplinary studios and architectural theory. Dr Kalms’ book Hypersexual City (Routledge 2017) examines sexualized representation and precincts in neoliberal cities. Dr Kalms regularly writes for a diverse academic and non-academic audience, and is frequently invited to speak to the public about sexuality and urban space at major national and international cultural institutions.