Universities, as quasi-public agents, have a civic responsibility towards the cities and communities of which they are a part. This is typically operationalized through Outreach and Engagement activities, which aim to share and apply the expertise and knowledge generated by the university with communities that are facing similar challenges. This model is typically conceived of as a one-direction path from the University to communities, but there is real potential for the engagement to take on more of an action-oriented two-way collaboration, in which there is a transformative intent to make positive changes in these communities.
This paper reflects on the practice of the hands-on-bristol collective, a platform bringing community members, architects, trainee architects, and academics together to co-create spatial outcomes that make positive changes within the city. The practice of the collective is conceived as a form of spatial agency that empowers a community or not-for-profit organization and local people to participate in making and re-making their places.
The paper reflects on the 20+ live community architecture projects that the collective have facilitated in the last 2 years to tease out the impact that the work has on addressing societal challenges. Projects typically involve an ongoing process of community engagement, participation and co-creation through physical interventions in the city. This brings into consciousness the conditions that shape a community’s place in their world and by taking advantage of unforeseen opportunities can catalyze possibilities that seemingly cannot otherwise be unlocked. This participatory approach questions the primary focus of education as provider of practice-ready graduates and makes a place for the University as civic agent.