Why are our cities built for 6ft-tall men? The female architects who fought back

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Fed up living in a world designed by and for men, 80s design activists Matrix declared war on every urban obstacle in their way. And their impact is still being felt today

When Le Corbusier developed his proportional system Le Modulor in the 1940s, the great architect had in mind a handsome British policeman. His system would go on to shape the entire postwar world, dictating everything from the height of a door handle to the scale of a staircase, all governed by the need to make everything as convenient as possible for this 6ft-tall ideal man. Its influence even extended to the size of city blocks, since these responded to the size and needs of the car our imaginary hero drove to work. The Swiss-born, Paris-based architect had originally proposed 1.75m, based on the average height of a Frenchman, but it later grew. “In English detective novels,” said Le Corbusier, explaining his change of mind, “the good-looking men, such as policemen, are always 6ft tall!”

This may have created a dynamic world for the dashing man, pictured by Corbusier with bulging calves, pinched waist, broad shoulders and a huge lobster claw of a hand raised aloft. But this modernist worldview failed to account for women, as well as children, elderly and disabled people – anyone, in fact, who fell outside the statuesque ideal.

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