Putting together this proposal...
....has been one of the best and most frustrating things I’ve done in my life. It’s gone through so many iterations and had input by so many different people, the wretched thing has probably been rewritten now about twenty times. After years of tacking words onto the end of my visual projects at the last minute, I’ve realised that this process is in fact not dissimilar to a studio design project, a constant reworking and tweaking that you’re never quite satisfied with. The difference this year is that I have to impose my own deadlines…. much harder!…..
The research has shifted from being broadly interested in the process of activist architects who work in unconventional ways in vaguely ‘other’ locations, to a more focused (I think!) exploration of the modes of communication and exchange the same architects use to inform their participatory design processes.
‘Participation’ is this strange word that bumps around a lot in the field of architecture I’m interested in, referring basically to the empowering of clients and users to play an active role in the design process. It is meant to tap into the contextual knowledge that the architect doesn’t have access to, that which is embedded in the everyday experiences of the client/user. This kind of process is a given in private residential projects where the client and user are one and the same and, since they’ve sought out the architect, likely to be active in the expression of what they want or need. But it is a much trickier process when comes to projects where the client and user are different, large scale development projects or community projects where there are multiple stakeholders. ‘Participation’, where possible, is assumed to be a good thing. But the premise of my proposal is….“Given the multitude of ways in which the input of users can be engaged, the participatory process is really a creative project in itself”……(in other words it is possible for it to be badly designed too)…. “It requires the design of organisational frameworks and communication tools and the negotiation of knowledge and power imbalances, conflicting value systems, multiple agendas and social and cultural divides…..”
In architecture we are trained to use a particular language, a particular set of tools, to talk about our ideas in a particular way and to define our role in a particular way. But the ways in which we communicate and collaborate with other disciplines and non-architects is a subject that receives much less attention. To me, how you set up that collaborative process, particularly with people who aren’t trained in design, is really interesting and not straightforward either. How useful are plans to someone that’s not used to reading them? All the people I am interested in take on this subject in an innovative and creative way, stepping outside the usual frameworks and tools, challenging modes of practice and expanding the ways in which we imagine working as an architect.
My interest definitely stems from my time in Alabama where so many factors caused me to question my preconceptions about the design and production of architecture: how ideas were talked about, the range of people you interacted with on a daily basis apart from your peers and professors, the studio being an old barn right in the centre of town, communicating design ideas with a client from a very different socio-economic background, how the energy of students was harnessed collectively to achieve results that never would have been possible alone, newsworthy architecture suddenly being produced in the deepest recesses of the rural South…
Right now, having got the research to a stage I’m sort of satisfied with, later than I would have liked perhaps, I am in the middle of negotiations about where I’m going, so more details coming soon! Meanwhile reports from the trip back to the Rural Studio next up…..