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Rising Star: Martha Summers

Words:
Pamela Buxton

Architect and artist designing queer and feminist community spaces as personal projects

Architect, Martha Summers, Part 1: 2012 Part 2: 2016

‘I’m always keen to be working with people I’m already in community with,’ says Martha Summers of the many queer and feminist projects she has taken on in addition to her day job at Feilden Fowles. 

These include co-founding the Feminist design collective HI-VIS!, which provided design services for Feminist Library’s new home in Peckham. She recently designed INTRA - Depend On Me Bby – an exhibition raising funds for low-income tickets to Camp Trans. Designed on a material budget of £200, it included a flatpack stage and canopy, tent and projection screen and is designed to be reused at the camp year after year.

Summers also volunteered on the creation of the LGBTQ+ Community Centre, a temporary installation on London’s  South Bank, assembling an all-queer construction team from architect to plumber. The initially six-month pop-up has since been extended to five years. 

‘It felt like a really radical construction site,’ says Summers, who is autistic, from a working-class background and identifies as a butch lesbian. ‘It was really healing for me to be respected automatically.’

She particularly enjoys the creative freedom of these pro-bono projects, and the opportunity to relax and ‘take your guard down’ in a way that might not happen at other sites and workplaces. 

‘Projects are more hands-on and experimental,’ she says. ‘It’s a really joyful process, often working with people who are your friends.’

Judges were impressed with the breadth of her activities and in particular her lean design approach when working with limited budgets.

‘Martha’s quietly assured work is holding space for queer communities,’ said Betty Owoo. ‘Martha’s been properly busy,’ added Nick Hayhurst. ‘She’s been founding collectives, creating exhibitions, building pop-ups – all based around creating queer and feminist community spaces along a theme of material reuse.’

At Feilden Fowles, she previously worked on Charlie Bigham’s campus in Somerset and is now working on a proposed rural satellite venue for the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne - just announced. Her referee, practice associate and Rising Star herself Ingrid Petit, praised Summers’ leadership skills, design flair and championing of EDI issues both in her own work and through her advocacy at the practice.

  • Camp Trans in Leighton Buzzard.
    Camp Trans in Leighton Buzzard. Credit: Martha Summers
  • Out and About exhibition at Barbican’s The Curve gallery (2022).
    Out and About exhibition at Barbican’s The Curve gallery (2022).
  • Summers made this TOOLbelt-come-sculpture.
    Summers made this TOOLbelt-come-sculpture. Credit: Martha Summers
  • Feminist Library, Peckham.
    Feminist Library, Peckham. Credit: Martha Summers
  • London LGBTQ+ Community Centre.
    London LGBTQ+ Community Centre. Credit: Martha Summers
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What existing building, place or problem would you most like to tackle?
It’s been really devastating to see the backlash against gender desegregated public toilet provision over the last few years. Fighting for everyone to be able to use public toilets without hostility or violence isn’t the most exciting spatial issue; it’s the pursuit of a simple and basic right. But it’s vital at a time when the safety of gender-neutral spaces is being so frequently and disingenuously attacked.

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