MatriArch: Looking forward | Alice Grant and Rosa Turner Wood

A+R: MatriArch is a feminist collective which facilitates discussions on architectural education and practice, campaigning for a better and more accessible learning and professional environment. Set up while we were students at Sheffield School of Architecture, now, as we have moved from university into practice, we are at a point where we can reflect on the journey so far.

A: MatriArch’s work so far has tried to challenge the rhetoric that practicing and studying architecture must be an arduous, isolating and gruelling pursuit. Elitism in architecture is rife, but our cities must be built by a diverse group of people if we are to create buildings and spaces that suit everyone and their specific needs. 

R: This cannot be achieved unless we change the flawed narrative that this profession is built on the shared – and equal – financial, mental and domestic sacrifices of its practitioners. 

A: Now MatriArch has become a vehicle for us to do our own research work, and we are working on a number of different projects which work with a feminist agenda but move more into the realm of design. 

R: The collective has existed in some form or another for 3 years, in which time it has greatly advanced from the initial conversations we had about its objectives and content. Since its founding we have hosted several feminist symposiums, spoken at events, written thought pieces and submitted design proposals. Our prime aspirations for this work have been to expand conversations within the architectural field, and use this as a vehicle to campaign for a more equitable studio culture and profession.

A: We have come a long way in those three years, in the beginning it was a response to a frustrating studio culture and it did run the risk of becoming a platform for ‘overheard in architecture school’. I don’t want to overlook the need to expose microaggressions but MatriArch, for me, has very much developed into a lens of viewing and seeing how you ‘do architecture’. And that working method is centred around collaboration, critique and an intersectional approach.

R: In creating the MatriArch platform we have been exposed to both praise and critique. It took time to become accustomed to, but ultimately the critique we have received, and alterations and corrections we have consequently made – be it in language, tone or content – have been most constructive to our process. It has ensured MatriArch’s work is appropriate, contextual and equitable. 

A: I think when we tried to get other students to continue MatriArch within the school, part of it was that they needed to, and should, forge their own way. Saying that I do think that SUAS have really been incredible this year, with their lecture series, events and campaigns they are really fulfilling their role to represent the whole student body. I would like to think that MatriArch has, in a small way, put pressure on SUAS to take this role within the school. 

R: Although disappointing in a sense that we weren’t that successful in opening it up to current students it has given us the freedom to be completely taking it in a direction guided by our interests. We are starting to do more design bids, more writing, more collaborations and I’m really excited to see what happens next. I think we just need to continue with as much energy and motivation for it as we both have right now. 

A: For example one current project includes working with Rosa Tully in disseminating the knowledge gathered in her dissertation which looks at Sheffield as a city of Care. We are working towards publishing a manifesto/newspaper which we can distribute in local networks in a digestible way. I’m really excited for what we can do under the umbrella of ‘MatriArch’ as an ever changing and hopefully reflexive collective.

R: We don’t see what MatriArch does as being static, so it will be interesting to see how the collective evolves and adapts – we can’t predict the conversations that will be initiated in the future. Having now graduated from our master’s, and operating as architectural practitioners, we are looking to engage in more of a symbiotic relationship between traditional practice, architectural education, and activism. 

Alice Grant and Rosa Turner Wood