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Retrofitting Utopia

Gabi Watkins

Milton Keynes, England


MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design



It is perhaps unsurprising that some of the earliest examples of utopian fiction were written by women daring to imagine an equitable society. In 1405, ‘The Book Of The City Of Ladies’ offered women of “virtue and morality” refuge from patriarchal society. Milton Keynes Development Corporation were committed to utopian principles, such as “equality of accessibility” during the design phase in the 1970s. However, their belief in the utopian vision’s validity produced a masterplan unquestioning of existing social norms.

The Plan for Milton Keynes assumed 100% car ownership, resulting in an over-rationalised grid-road. This not only restricted an estimated 82% of women who did not have regular access to a car in 1976, it widened the access gap. While journeys for car owners improved, women and other less-mobile groups were hindered by isolated bus stops, underpasses, and disorganised bus services. Inside the home, outmoded small kitchens compounded women’s isolation, especially since the idea of ‘home’ is widely viewed as a leisurely sanctuary, resulting in a dismissal of their grievances.