Practice and community: reconciling architectural practice development with involvement in community engagement projects

Heuvel, C., 2022. Practice and community: reconciling architectural practice development with involvement in community engagement projects. DArch, Nottingham Trent University.

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This thesis considers how, within the UK context, architectural practitioners may reconcile community engagement ideals with commercial objectives related to business continuity. The problem is that, while professionalism obliges architects to achieve social value through their output, their clients are rarely prepared to sponsor such activity (community architecture being a time-consuming and therefore expensive process). There exists ample literature on business development, and other literature on effective community engagement techniques, but not on their practice-based combination. The thesis therefore aims to provide architectural practices with strategies for capacity-building that reflect sensitivity to the social impact of development proposals.

The wording of the research question – how can architectural practices meet their business development objectives alongside engagement in community-led design projects? – determined investigative approaches that combined speculative creativity (requiring minimisation of preconceptions) with an ethos of inclusivity (in terms of enabling participants’ voices to be heard). The thesis therefore took the form of open-minded exploration rather than identification and defence of a particular viewpoint. The epistemological ideas of Bruno Latour were harnessed in this endeavour, demanding focus upon the material evidence associated with abstract concepts such as community or practice development prior to any ‘assemblage’ for the purposes of meaningful discussion.

The two parts of the research question were first addressed independently of one another. One primary research study investigated how certain practitioners have established a reputation for themselves in the field of community architecture, while a second explored the experience of participants through the course of a specific community project. The first study used narrative analysis in relation to journalistic interviews with practitioners to identify points at which they made unprompted connections between landmarks in the development of their business and specific community-engagement experiences. The second study followed eight cycles of participative action-research (each comprising planning/action/evaluation/reflection) related to developing a viable future for a community centre that Nottingham City Council had earmarked for demolition.

‘Education’ emerged as a theme common to the two research studies: most of the practitioners interviewed were discovered to maintain parallel teaching roles within Schools of Architecture, while the experience of facilitating a community project was observed to resemble that of tutoring students in a design studio. The variety of ways in which practitioners can interact with academia was therefore explored in terms of business strategy, evaluating opportunities for ensuring that practice and community considerations reinforce one another rather than pulling in opposite directions. What emerged was the identification of community-engaged architectural practitioners as valuable ‘internal collaborators’ within Schools of Architecture, helping students achieve social value through their approach to the design process at the same time as providing opportunities for practice-oriented research.

Specifically, the involvement of such ‘internal collaborators’ was identified as critical to the success of the new degree apprenticeships that (in terms of affordability and therefore opportunity) currently represent the most promising form of architectural education for the future. The research concluded that the participation of community-engaged practitioners not only helps anchor a School of Architecture to its local economy (in fulfilment of an institutional strategic function), but also enables community-orientated objectives to begin re-energising architectural practices, helping the profession unlock the construction industry’s ability to achieve social sustainability objectives alongside environmental and economic considerations.

Item Type: Thesis
Description: This research programme has been carried out in collaboration with 2hD Architecture Workshop, Nottingham
Creators: Heuvel, C.
Date: June 2022
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the owner of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Record created by: Laura Ward
Date Added: 22 Aug 2022 09:45
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2022 09:45

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