During our latest Design Training course, this time held at UCL in London in September, three groups were immersed in design for two days that were full of interaction, reflection and hard work. We were delighted to be joined by members of:
- Cemetery Road Baptist Church, Sheffield
- Chichester Development Trust, looking at Graylingwell Chapel
- St Peter’s Church, Chester
The second day of the Design Training is an intensive day for groups to explore their buildings and their vision for the future, and to develop and test ideas for changes that will support this. In mapping how people use and interact with their buildings, it was interesting to see a theme common to many of our earlier workshops predominating. Very often incremental changes over the years can result in a loss of clarity and identity within a building or space and it can be useful to look again at what the fundamental qualities of the spaces are. Many groups will find themselves with the starting point of “why don't we first clear the clutter and make a fresh start?”
Each group worked with EDP team members to create scale models of their buildings using a mix of card, foamboard, coloured paper and glue (lots of it!). For anyone fond of making gingerbread houses, of which there were a few in the group, the walls quickly emerged and we could explore the relationships of spaces, test scale and move objects around to suggest new opportunities and possibilities.
Through the various tasks covered during the course we discovered the wealth of skills waiting to be unlocked and developed in each group. Having been prompted by new experiences and stimuli on the first day, the groups shared and reflected on the values of their own place of worship. There was time for thinking afresh about how those values might differ or be shared between themselves, their worshipping community and also the wider community. Good conversations opened up about who else in their communities might also have the sort of skills that could be brought in.
As the days progressed there was more laughter, togetherness and new dynamics of teamwork emerging. There is certainly benefit in active learning, by working creatively as a team you can test ideas, open discussion and play with new opportunities. In a short space of time the benefits of the teamwork were evident in some striking pieces of work that captured powerful themes to take forward in their projects.
Most encouraging of all, was the way the groups responded to new prompts and ideas; an openness to challenge their thought processes to date, returning to fundamentals and finding new ways forward. Often in the design process there might be something in the brief that takes a little longer to resolve and taking a few steps back to think about what the aim of a certain design decision is useful: either to clarify that this is the right decision or whether alternatives are possible.
For groups that work so intensely and collaboratively within their places of worship, there is certainly value to be gained from stepping into a fresh environment, to work and share and think anew. Working alongside other groups had the benefit of comparing and contrasting where they were in their projects, bouncing ideas off each other and building networks.
The journey to a finished building is rarely linear. There are bumps and jumps along the way, and not always bumping and jumping forwards. We discussed with the group the importance of milestones, celebrating these and finding time to reflect before launching into the next stage. At the formative stage of the design process there needs to be time for this too. Judging by the positive feedback, we hope that these two days of design training will stand as one of these milestones for the three groups.
Architect Stephen Smith is a partner at Wright & Wright Architects and a member of the EDP project team.