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Critical reflections on the inclusivity and diversity of live community architecture projects

de Graft-Johnson, Ann; Daniels, Sally; Sara, Rachel; Jones, Matthew


Rachel Sara

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Dr Matthew Jones
Associate Professor & Dean and Head of School, Architecture and Environment


One of the key ways in which architecture students are prompted to connect with clients, users and community groups is through engagement with live projects. Students are invited to work with, and/or for, an external collaborator for their mutual benefit. These kinds of projects are celebrated for the way in which they can introduce students to the complexities and contingencies of working with a range of collaborators, and their potential to facilitate a positive change within the communities in which they operate. However, the inclusivity and diversity of those collaborators and the impact that this can have on the ethics and the process and legacy of the project is often overlooked.

This paper critically reflects on four years of involvement in live community-based architecture projects run through Hands-on-Bristol at the School of Architecture, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, using a framework drawn from the radical transformative pedagogies of bell hooks [1] and Paolo Friere [2]. We define the projects that we engage in as a form of spatial agency which involve a community or not-for-profit organization in collaborating with architects and/or architecture students to co-create a brief, timescale, budget, product and process for their mutual benefit, with the intention of making a positive impact in these communities. The projects have an implicit ambition to assist in empowering community groups to become involved in the co-creation of their space, and to raise awareness of the conditions that shape a community’s place in their world. These projects have shifted over the time from working with more established community groups, already active and engaged; to working in more deprived and diverse communities with often, less established community engagement and inherent social capital. With this shift we have aimed to seek out less vocal minorities to challenge questions of difference and engage in inclusive co-creation.

The impact of working with more diverse and inclusive groups has highlighted a range of issues. These can be conceptualised under three key fields: ethics; process and legacy. The ethics of engagement particularly highlights the risk of working in an imperialistic or patronising way that reinforces rather than challenges questions of difference, and has the potential to be exploitative rather than synergistic. The implications on the process of working to give a voice to disempowered groups raises additional challenges in co-creation. Observations identified an increased tendency for these groups to give passive responses to engagement activities compared to more empowered groups who were more likely to have strong ideas about what should happen and how. This also has an impact on the way in which the projects enable groups to take ownership of the projects: the handover and legacy for the projects in places with less social capital and access to resources. All of these suggest subtle shifts in practice towards working with, rather than for, thereby establishing more carefully developed methods of engaging and longer-term capacity building.

[1] hooks, b. (2003) Teaching Community. A pedagogy of hope, New York: Routledge 2
[2] Friere, P. (1989) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continnuum


de Graft-Johnson, A., Daniels, S., Sara, R., & Jones, M. (2017, September). Critical reflections on the inclusivity and diversity of live community architecture projects. Paper presented at AAE2017: Architecture Connects, Oxford Brookes School of Architecture, Oxford. UK

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name AAE2017: Architecture Connects
Conference Location Oxford Brookes School of Architecture, Oxford. UK.
Start Date Sep 6, 2017
End Date Sep 9, 2017
Acceptance Date Sep 6, 2017
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords inclusivity, diversity, empowerment, community, architecture
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : AAE 2017: Architecture Connects