Op ed: Building Queer Space

Place of Pride, Number TEN Architectural Group

Queer Space is somewhere we can celebrate the diverse dimensions of queer identity and community – where members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community can be their most authentic selves. Located in Winnipeg, Place of Pride, Canada’s first 2SLGBTQ+ campus combining deeply affordable housing with community and programming spaces in multiple buildings, aims be a space that will feel inherently safe and welcoming.

As a gay architect working on this project, I have been challenged to think about purpose-built queer space, what that space might look and feel like, and how to design for such a diverse community. The idea of Queer Space raises many questions about architectural purpose and intention. For example, what specific elements of architecture create inclusive and affirming spaces? Do these spaces already exist, or is this a new typology that needs to be explored more deeply? It troubles me to wonder if, in any of my past designs, someone hasn’t felt welcomed or able to navigate a space freely, and as their true, authentic selves.

Queer Architecture blurs the boundaries of design—like how the 2SLGBTQ+ community blurs the boundaries of gender expression and chosen family dynamics. Through an exploration of the architectural typology of queer spaces and engaging with the local 2SLGBTQ+ community, we can understand how to design inclusive and affirming spaces for such a diverse and beautiful community.


Place of Pride is a partnership with Rainbow Resource Centre and Westminster Housing Society, and is situated in downtown Winnipeg on Treaty 1 territory. The Rainbow Resource Centre is Canada’s longest running 2SLGBTQ+ resource center, and has been on the frontlines of advocacy for the last 50 years. Place of Pride will be a comprehensive hub where people of all ages and stages of life can access programs and resources, build a supportive community, gather for special occasions, and find affordable housing when they get older. The development will include Canada’s first affordable housing for 2SLGBTQ+ older adults—as many older members of the community entering communal living often go back into the closet for fear of discrimination and personal safety. With the housing portion nearing completion, it’s now our task to develop phase-2 and the public programming areas.

Place of Pride, Number TEN Architectural Group


I recently organized an event that asked: what is queer space? Held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as a prequel to Pride month, Rainbow Resource Centre hosted a PechaKucha format event addressing spaces and places that represent the queer community. Five design professionals—representing architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, and planning—spoke about the typology of spaces and experiences, while five community members—representing community activists, artists and health and wellness promoters—spoke about the different dimensions of queer identity and community in Manitoba and beyond.

The speakers were able to articulate how they create community in these spaces, or rather, how they engaged in the act of queering spaces that were not built for them. They were also able to show that the queer community builds spaces almost daily and is at the forefront of what the future of inclusivity looks like.

I’ve been asking myself the same questions about what queer spaces were, and how they might help me understand the many perspectives of the community. Recently, I presented at the Alberta Association of Architects’ Banff session 2024, sharing my experience in working with, and for, the 2SLGBTQ+ community. I was able to share ways in which design professionals can help shift ways in thinking of traditional spaces to be more inclusive and affirming.

Queer Space Event – Pitikwé Skatepark (Photography: Ally Gonzalo)
Queer Space Event – Pitikwé Skatepark (Photography: Ally Gonzalo)

So, what is Queer Space? Queer Space refers to spaces that are consciously or organically created to be inclusive, affirming and supportive; space where people feel joy and safety. There’s an intangible element to Queer Space that someone from the queer community comprehends as they enter a space.  Queer Space is also not only for the queer community but rather meant for all. If a space is inclusive for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, then its welcoming to all. Often people think of these spaces as bars and nightclubs or resource centres—but they can be so much more.



In understanding the purpose of Queer Space, the question remains: how does one create it? During the Queer Space event, many speakers inadvertently talked about ‘queering’ spaces, or transforming a space to meet the needs of the queer community. This can be done through physical representation, signs, flags, or more importantly, fellow community members.

Adam Nathaniel Furman and Joshua Mardell’s recent book, Queer Spaces: An Atlas of LGBTQ+ Places and Stories, is a contemporary perspective that presents a collection of spaces that have been either been designed as queer spaces, or created through queering spaces, and are either subversive or open for all to see. As I looked at this collection of places and stories, I continued to ask myself: “What is it about existing queer spaces around the world that can be used to formulate a purpose-built space—one that was designed solely with the intent of being occupied by the 2SLGBTQ+ community?”

There are recently built projects where this very question has been explored. Victorian Pride Centre, (2021) located in Melbourne Australia and designed by Brearley Architects & Urbanists and Grant Amon Architects, has a large program that groups together several initiatives and organizations. Their questions around creating space speaks about fluidity and hierarchy, and how to challenge norms of planned spaces. Similarly, the Los Angeles LGBT Center (2019), designed by Leong Leong and Killefer Flammang Architects, creates a campus that functions to support the queer community, but is also subtle in its contemporary design without waving a proverbial rainbow flag. Neither of these projects have a clear visual cue that signifies the building as a space for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, but they still perform as spaces built for and by the queer community.

In the coming year, Canada will welcome a purpose-built queer space in Thunderhead, a 2SLGBTQI+ national monument in Ottawa. Thunderhead was designed in concert by Public City Architecture, artists Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan, and Two-Spirit advocate Albert MacLeod, to commemorate the LGBT Purge. As a future place of memory, celebration, and protest, the site will be a queer space and act as a safe and inclusive place out in the open. Queer space is not only about creating enclosed buildings, but also extends into the urban fabric.

Thunderhead 2SLGBTQI+ National Monument, Public City Architects


I’ve come to realize that there are common themes in understanding what queer spaces achieve, and how they might be optimized to suit the community. Queer Space needs to accommodate all generations, abilities, and backgrounds as the 2SLGBTQ+ community is represented by a broad global population. I’m sure there are many other possibilities in exploring purpose-built queer space, but for Place of Pride, the conversation started at the proverbial threshold of the site itself: how one enters the campus or building, and immediately takes in cues to determines if it’s a space where they feel safe and comfortable.

These themes were also evaluated through a lens of trauma-informed design, as defined by Shopworks Architecture in their “3 Cs of Designing for Health and Healing”.[1] These design principles include Choice (emphasizing individual access, agency and ownership), Community (the ability to respond to how people may engage with others or staff), and Comfort (which speaks to the quality of space through materials, sensory experiences of light, sound and smell). Many people who visit queer spaces will have experienced some form of trauma in their lives as being part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and this needs to be considered.

The following are some of the common themes that I’ve recognized from precedent projects and from engaging with the 2SLGBTQ+ community in designing for the Place of Pride project:

Flexibility and Fluidity

Spaces should allow for organic growth and expansion and be designed to respond and evolve with the community which uses it. There should be a lack of hierarchy in spaces, and the planning should allow for continuous movement and a coexistence of different functions. Sites should act as a supporting background for multiple purposes, programs, and life events that support activation and protest, to help uplift the community in times of inequality.

Historically, architecture has played a strong role in creating gendered spaces that act in binary ways. Thus, architects and designers have a responsibility to create and celebrate non-confirming and affirming spaces for transgender and gender diverse people.

Loud and Quiet Moments

In designing inclusive spaces, its important to remember that people are at different stages and comfort levels in their life journey. Spaces should have loud and proud moments where they celebrate unabashedly with the community, while embracing the surrounding neighbourhood and connection to the surrounding urban fabric. There should also be quieter nooks and niches for people to be insular, while still being part of the celebration. Using the analogy of the introvert and extrovert at a party, these two individuals may appear opposing, but they both work in harmony to create spaces where people can be together on their own personal terms.

Visibility & Inclusivity

There is an inherent pride in being able to take up space and in owning one’s voice. This includes physical space and its presence in the surrounding community. Transparency and visibility through buildings and spaces creates a sense of safety and presence that is meant to capture the diversity of the community. Representation should include all that fall under the 2SLGBTQ+ community—as well as recognizing the lands we occupy as settlers—in creating fully accessible spaces that clearly signify an openness and acceptance for all.

Place of Pride, Number TEN Architectural Group

Colour & Artwork

Often, the first instinct when designing queer space is to adopt the colours of the pride flag. But the queer community is made up of more than its symbols. Colour plays an important role in any spatial design, and it is important to celebrate the vibrancy of the community, while balancing those subtle and quieter moments. Colour can also act as an educational tool that celebrates certain aspects of the queer community, or uplifts those that have been referenced negatively over history in a  new and fabulous light. Local artists also bring another contextual layer that celebrates inherent talents of the community, while educating and giving visibility to all who visit.


Inclusive and affirming design isn’t limited to the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Architects have a responsibility to keep people of all abilities, ages and experiences safe in the spaces we design. It’s important to educate ourselves and our clients on how folks of all perspectives and backgrounds navigate spaces. You do not have to be queer to design or promote queer or safer spaces—rather, allyship can come from understanding how to design for all. We continuously ask a lot from architecture and the spaces we live in. Let’s demand architecture that empowers the 2SLGBTQ+ community—and all—to not just survive, but thrive.


Aaron is an Associate and Architect with Number TEN Architectural Group. He brings a wealth of knowledge to cultural, community and multi-use projects in Winnipeg and beyond. Aaron is an active member of the Winnipeg design community and a proud advocate for social change through his volunteer work with Rainbow Resource Centre and Victoria Hospital Foundation.


[1] Grabowska, Sam, et al. 2021. Architectural Principles in the Service of Trauma-Informed Design. Denver, CO: Shopworks Architecture, Center for Housing and Homelessness Research at the University of Denver, and Group 14 Engineering