Housing and Feminism
Self Build Housing
Training and Technical
Shelter and Service
Planning and Design
Case Studies of Women's Self Build Housing
Making women's history, experience and culture visible has long been a task of feminism. This primary research project continues these traditions. This project draws largely on feminist social research for its methodology. It will function as a pilot investigation, which aims to develop a methodology appropriate to the participants and the topic while producing results that will be valuable in their own terms and for future research.
This research will document the work of seven women in Australia building their own housing. The practice is referred to variously as self-build or self-help housing by different authors. The project also draws upon material published in books and journals about the experiences of people involved in self build housing from many countries. This project can be located at the intersection of the two international fields, self build housing and feminist research.
In Australia the term owner-builder is used extensively. This term is inappropriate to this project as the occupier of the building is not necessarily the owner. For the purposes of this project I will use the term self-build to describe the housing under consideration. This term correctly identifies the dominant feature of the sample, housing built by the occupant for their own use.
The central aim of this project is to study women who have built houses to meet their own need, women not trained as practitioners in the building industry. That is not to say that the women contributed all of the labour required to construct the house. The common thread is that a woman took on many of the managerial, design and supervision roles normally filled by an architect or builder.
The building industry and associated professions conform to the patterns of sex segregation typical of the Australian workplace. Women have disproportionately low representation in these occupations. Traditionally it has been men who earn their living from working in the construction industry and have access to relevant training programs and develop the skills needed to construct a house. The structure of the Australian work force has been shaped by gender roles which have been fundamental in maintaining the construction industry as a male domain. Women who build challenge the industry and society's gender roles. This is one reason why a woman building a house is remarkable.
There is another remarkable aspect to this practice. The women who will be discussed in this project have not only acted to challenge the exclusion of women from the construction industry but they have challenged also the role of the industry. Like other self builders these women challenge the institutions which provide and regulate housing. By acting themselves as builder, architect or both they have drawn upon and developed their personal and community resources.
There is here a source of speculation on the links between the two. Have women found that these areas of skill are more easily acquired outside the industry? Are gender roles so entrenched that women's skills remain unrecognised by the industries usual credentialing systems? Are the services offered by this industry appropriate to the needs of women?
This project will present the experiences of women who have built for themselves. It will compare the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods and highlight the commonalities. Ultimately there are bound to be many more questions raised than can be answered.