Community Led Design

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Architectural Studies


Research Project Context
The design of a neighbourhood, community building or play area can be driven by the needs of the surrounding community. Many architecture and regeneration projects fail to engage communities fully, creating places and spaces that are remote and disjointed from the needs of the people they are aimed at. However, examples of architects who consult with the community or projects which are actually driven by the users show phenomenally different results. Rod Hackney, in his pursuit to battle the local council's plans for demolition areas in Macclesfield states that 'success lay in recognising the idiosyncrasies of areas, in understanding the people and in learning about the various ways in which local councils worked.' (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Hackney, R and Muller, F. 1990). Christopher Alexander concurs that 'towns and buildings are not able to come alive unless they are made by all the people in society' (A Pattern Language. Alexander, C. 1979). Some architectural practices understand just how vital community led design is, but there is currently very little information available which explains good participative working methods and policy through which to apply them.

The importance of community led design has been reiterated by recent government policy and the creation of 'big society'. This project is a timely opportunity to investigate what role community led design could have in the future and how a community led approach can be supported by the Glass-House, policy makers and design practitioners.

Aims and objectives
The main aim of the research is to investigate the impact of community led design processes on communities that engage with them to design buildings, places and spaces that make up their neighbourhoods. The research will focus on case studies of groups which have received Glass-House support and explore the Glass-House approach to providing them with skills to enable a long-term involvement in the design process. The project will therefore aim to appraise the impact of community led design approaches in terms of benefits to;

The built environment - design quality, facilities and aspiration
Communities - cohesion and networking, robustness, health and interaction
Individuals - skills development, learning opportunities and job prospects

The principal objective of the research will be to create a suite of multi-media guidance material for designers, policy makers and communities to facilitate the effective involvement of communities in shaping their surroundings.

Potential applications and benefits
Previous policy on involving communities in design has suggested how important interaction is, but provided little information on good practice and how to implement and support such activities. This has led to a range of different approaches with varied levels of success and effectiveness. Many approaches merely consult communities rather than really engaging them within the design of their surroundings. Raising awareness of the range of impacts achievable through sustained engagement will help promote the real benefits achievable for not only the communities themselves, but developers, housing associations and local authorities working on regeneration schemes.

By developing guidance material on community led design, policy makers could provide a framework for a more engaged and integrated design process. If such guidance was incorporated into statutory legislation, benefits would be felt by designers and communities alike and ultimately contributing to creating communities that are connected through the shared creation of their built environment. Guidance for communities would benefit groups directly, providing them with comprehensive information to inform their decision making and planning. Designers would benefit from a set of guidelines and approaches that

Planned Impact

This project is inherently social in addressing the potential for communities to engage in the design of their built environment. More specifically this project could have a major impact on community members' ability to engage and connect with others; through the process of engaging in the design of places and spaces or the benefits to their community that new facilities and better built environment could bring. Indeed, engaging communities in the design of their surroundings has the potential to create informed, robust and active neighbourhoods. Successful community led design processes can play a crucial role in community development when carried out in an informed and transparent way, coupled with support continuity. Fragmented community led design can lead to communities hopes being raised and people becoming disillusioned and fatigued by the process, particularly when results are not forthcoming. This research and its outputs would enable more effective community engagement to be undertaken and help to ensure that higher quality community engagement processes are undertaken.

Direct economic impact of community led design to a community can be measured in terms of additional income and investment through building projects. It can also provide a catalyst to attracting new people to the neighbourhood. Community led design processes can also lead to individuals involved moving on to further education and training. Community led design approaches embrace the notion of lifelong learning, providing new skills and opportunities. This can empower groups and individuals to take an active role in their communities.

This research aims to investigate good practice community led approaches and enable lessons to feedback into guidelines for future development. These guidelines would help inform the work of The Glass-House enabling a strategic review of practises which could feed directly into services. The non-academic partner would also be able to disseminate the importance of community led design to policy makers and professionals, influencing projects and providing an evidence base. It is envisaged that the research would influence the policy and guidance offered by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Homes and Communities Agency. In turn, the results would enable commercial architects, landscape architects and urban designers to instigate and support community led design approaches with the knowledge and confidence that it enriches the design and realisation of the built environment. As The Glass-House are a third sector organisation their influence can be brought to bear here as well, and in particular this research could influence and support the Architecture Centres in their support of community involvement and influence in the design of the built environment. Although the work of the Glass-House is UK based, wider international implications of this research should be considered. Community involvement in the design of the built environment are undertaken throughout the world and although associated with developed countries and driven by governmental policy, developing countries and places that lack resources and education opportunities are prevalent. The Glass-House has already delivered workshops and seminars for international scholars organised both by the Korea Institute for Human Settlement and the Max Locke Centre, London.

The direct impact of this research will be felt by community groups through the design training and support delivered by the Glass-House. It is envisaged that the Glass-House will also raise interest and disseminate findings through their open public debates and inform policy makers and professionals through its website and exhibition events.


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