In Copenhagen, a new gender inclusive tech lab is designed for all kinds of boys and girls. We talk to the designers behind the room and hear about the rational for aiming to create a more inclusive lab setting.
In a room with the blinds down and not yet open to the public, a brand new tech lab quietly hides away at the Experimentarium science center. Yet, in a couple of months, the place will be deeming with school children experimenting with and getting a grasp on technology.
“Experimentarium has worked on several gender projects over the past years with the aim to develop more gender inclusive activities and exhibits. We wanted to use this experience along with our knowledge from Hypatia to develop not only the activities but also the lab itself,” says Sheena Laursen, Program Manager at Experimentarium.
“One thing that we saw as vital was that we created different physical ways of engaging with science and technology. We wanted the lab to work for both schools and family guests with an open atmosphere that would make everybody feel welcome. This should be done by creating different physical ways of engaging with science and technology. One aspect of this was to avoid letting the interior and design of the room defining what technology is.”
With this ‘Hypatia mindset’ Sheena Laursen approached two designers to ask if they would work with Experimentarium on this initiative.
One of them was Bine Jo Mortensen. She recalls:
“We looked at quite a few labs today before we started designing our own, and most of them were plastered with planets, gears and all sorts of things that boys might be naturally attracted to. Our mission from the beginning was to avoid this.”
Together with designer Jonas Westberg they set out to create something much more gender inclusive and open-minded than the traditional science center lab.
That was not an easy task, though.
Talked to the girls
The two designers started out by interviewing school girls on how they could fancy a lab – if everything was possible design wise. But whenever they really got started, the girls steadily reclined knowing anything about the subject and having any opinion at all.
“We don’t know”.
“That doesn’t really sound like a place for us”.
“We don’t really care”.
The designers had to change tactics. Instead they started to talk about what could be fun doing, when visiting Experimentarium with school. That was something the girls could relate to. A lot of topics came up, like dissection, experimenting with technology and other quite surprising answers.
“Talking to the girls made us aware that we should avoid being focused on the end result, competitiveness and final answers to everything. Keeping things more abstract and with lots of room for interpretation was the way to go,” recalls Bine Jo Mortensen.
A different look
The tech lab (which actually consists of two adjoining rooms) took shape during 2017, and today the place is ready to meet the visitors with quite an unusual look:
“We ended up with a room with bright colours. Not the classical clinical white seen in many labs. Actually, there is not a whole lot of things reminiscent of other labs. No planets, no tech-gizmos or other things like that. Instead the holes in the wall between the two rooms are our planets. The colours and symbols on our wall represent tech and so on,” explains Bine Mortensen
Body-on in the lab
One thing was the design of the room, but the way the school kids should behave in the room was also re-thought.
The designers – along with Hypatia project manager Sheena Laursen – were inspired by the EDGE design recommendations, which points out how a science center exhibition might be designed to make it as gender inclusive as possible. The EDGE-project was carried out in collaboration between three American science centers and lead by the San Francisco science centre Exploratorium. The recommendations are based on the observations and interviews with thousands of school children.
EDGE and Hypatia in real life
In the Danish tech lab the designers along with the EDGE recommendations and Hypatia gender criteria wanted to create a body-on experience, which could further emphasize the non-traditional way of lab-thinking.
The tables are hung from the ceiling with wires. In that way, they can sway slightly from side to side. This is thought to influence how you work and not least how you work together. The workshop participants can also sit side by side on the room-long bench with nice, comfortable pillows. They can lie down on body-sized pillows in order to contemplate about tech and get new ideas. Holes in the wall between the two rooms that make up the lab can be used as quirky constructions between the rooms, like a ball track and other fun constructions.
If you by chance get to Denmark step in and enjoy something quite new!