One of the instruments the EDP project had anticipated using to explore certain research questions and generate ideas for future steps was that of the design studio. A design studio is typically a space for collaborative enquiry where participants go through a learning journey together by engaging in creative design activities.
In May we held our first design studio to explore Live Projects. Live Projects are educational initiatives in which university students work on real practical projects for a designated period of time as part of their study. By the time of our design studio, the EDP project had already supported five different Live Projects with historic places of worship in collaboration with the University of Sheffield School of Architecture and University College London (UCL) and so this was a good stage to pause for reflection. We also wanted to open up the conversation with other initiatives from other universities and provide a creative space to share and discuss Live Project experiences from various perspectives (academics, community members, students and practitioners), and take stock of the future of this type of activity.
There is already a lot of literature around the value of Live Projects for students, establishing, for example, how they help them gain practical experience and build important skills in project management, communication and team working. Live projects also have a social value and as our project’s emphasis is on community-led design, we were also interested to focus on the collaborative working process and particularly to explore the impact Live Projects have on participating communities.
The design studio took place at St Luke’s Community Centre in London and brought together some leading Live Project initiatives in architecture across the UK, from the University of Sheffield, the University of West of England, Cardiff University, University of Nottingham, London Metropolitan University and UCL. We also had community representatives from Bow Church in London, Cemetery Road Baptist Church in Sheffield, Brandon Trust in Bristol, and Grange Pavilion in Cardiff, as well as students who worked with them, and other communities not present in the room, such as ISRAAC Somali Community Association in Sheffield, St Peter’s Church in Chester, St Peter’s Church Congleton and a built project in South Africa.
In the first part of the day, each live project group was paired with another to share their experiences and discuss key features of their projects, but also key challenges they encountered and things that were important to their success. The task of each grouping was to use various crafts materials provided to create a shared representation of those key aspects.
The session concluded with a plenary discussion on the benefits of live projects for communities, which brought out some important points about the significance and value of live projects. Here are some key points:
- The energy and enthusiasm of students is an asset. Live projects bring in inspiration and can help communities/clients consider a wider spectrum of opportunities and ideas for a place.
- Live projects provide a space for enquiry and reflection and can help articulate the needs and specialness of a particular context.
- The live project activity can help build momentum, and be a catalyst for change.
- The value of live projects rests more in the process rather than the product (the outcomes). They promote mutual learning and help build infrastructures and a community's capacity and confidence to deliver projects.
The second part of the day focused on future opportunities. This time participants reflected from their unique position as students, community representatives or academics, to identify ideas for activities or resources that can promote or improve live projects in the future. These ranged from good practice guidelines on how to develop collaborative briefs for live projects, to ideas for the development of new tools and resources (such as an app for aiding communication), to more strategic objectives such as setting up a live projects network and promoting further collaboration across institutions and sectors.
The EDP project has set an objective to further explore the mechanisms and potential of live projects as vehicles of empowerment, so we hope to follow up some of these actions within the realm of EDP. In the short term, we are supporting two more Live Projects this year in collaboration with our partners at the Sheffield School of Architecture. For now, I will close the blog with a huge thanks to everyone who took part in the design studio for being so generous with their time and knowledge.