How to design for safety and inclusion in a fast changing city

Rail precincts don’t always feel like the safest places to be for women, girls and the gender diverse, particularly after dark. 

Alert and constantly on guard, it’s a relentless navigation of sightlines, lighting, exposure, surveillance and positioning for safety. 

We live in a world that is not equal and that gender bias and inequality affects the built environment… leading to messages that are both subtle, but also not very subtle, that we don’t belong in public space, particularly if you’re a woman,” says Associate Professor of XYX Lab, Dr Nicole Kalms.

As designers, we believe we can do more than simply meet the governing standards and technical requirements demanded of rail stations — we can change the way people feel while using them, creating a more equitable and prosperous society. 

Hassell partnered with the team at Monash University’s XYX Lab to gather data and a better understanding of the design elements that shape women’s perceptions of safety. What we discovered was that through materiality, better lighting design, wayfinding, sightlines and even access to toilets - we can make a big difference into how safe many parts of our population feel.

The importance of this research lies in the fact that women and gender diverse people are limited in their capacity to participate in public life and in their working lives, and to access health and well-being.”

To explore the findings and see how Hassell is embedding them into our design process on our projects, we brought Principals Alix Smith and Chris Lamborn together with Dr Nicole Kalms for an episode of Hassell Talks.

Listen to the podcast via the player below. You can find and follow Hassell Talks on Apple, Spotify, iHeart, PodBean or on your favourite podcast app.


Season 4, Episode 2


Alix Smith, Hassell


Dr Nicole Kalms, Associate Professor XYX Lab
Chris Lamborn, Principal, Hassell


Brett Winstone


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The research challenges some of the common thoughts and perceptions that are out there about what safety actually means and helps to improve that outcome through design.”

Chris Lamborn, Principal Hassell

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