Scoping study as the basis for more detailed research into wider social participation in the architectual design process

Lead Research Organisation: Landscape Institute
Department Name: ESALA - Edinburgh Sch of Architect &Land


The research poses the following primary research questions:
WHY? / Given the agreed need for wider social participation in the design process, why is there limited communication between research into and practice of the subject?
WHO? - Who gets involved and how does the user/architect role affect the client/architect role, and within this the client-user relationship?
WHAT? / What activities in design are participated in, and to what extent does the architect see this role as guiding the user as opposed to investigating the user's existing interests/awareness?
HOW? / How social and technical tools for participation can be used. How can non-specialised language and tools be used to communicate more openly in the process, and how will this affect use of resources?
WHERE? / Which types of buildings might be more or less suited to participation of users and the general public in the design process?

The research questions identified above will be investigated through:
- a review of past and current trends and examples in wider social engagement in the architectural design process, whether 'community', 'individual' or other
- identification of key social and technical methods of widening participation, drawing from allied areas of the built environment
- identification of good practice case studies and key informants referring to a Steering Group
- identification of key institutions with potential interests
- isolating good practice and possibilities/constraints for wider social involvement in the architecture design process, through case studies
- identifying implications of the research findings for the profession, institutions and the wider public, including issues for future development
- making specific recommendations for research development activities and assisting in setting agendas for future activities to promote more systematic and wider social involvement in the architecture design process

The research methods include:
a) setting up a participatory process, based on a steering group, for confirmation of key issues, identification of case studies and relevant techniques
b) undertaking an international literature review of participation in design of the built environment;
c) implementing in-depth investigation of representative case studies from a broad initial sample where user or wider public participation has been engaged in the architectural design process across the UK, using semi-structured interviews and focus group meetings to identify how these have been assessed
d) undertaking a review of visualisation techniques currently used or in development and their actual / potential role in widening participation in building design
e) implementing a series of interviews with relevant organisations engaged in issues of public interest in design for new and existing buildings concerning initial findings.

The research is speculative in that it seeks to establish a consensual agenda for future research and action by Government and professional bodies. The proposal is essentially exploratory, but the outcomes have the potential to be of particular value to the research community as well as other relevant audiences and constituencies. The study may well assist in challenging existing models of architectural design and perceptions of how wider social participation can be incorporated into these, or change these. In addition it will permit an assessment of the feasibility of tools and techniques (some new and some relatively new to architecture). Finally it is seen as a scoping study for further development work, including research possibilities as well as practical application in the profession.


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