There is a BIG almost terminal frustration among us architects, (well most of the ones I respect) around the arms length culture in development. Bureaucracy has ballooned over the past two decades, so while there is ever more talk about engagement and participatory design, the walls are forever climbing between us and our natural clients.
Sometimes this just feels normal but then there are moments when you realise what is at stake and can't help but see the tragedy in all its gory detail. Many quangos have motored on spider web diagrams called Design Quality Indicators and instigated complex frameworks and tools to mitigate the risks of natural communication. The reality of these perfect processes of 'community engagement' might not be obvious to those involved but still live on as best practice case studies disseminated through expensive conferences and useful websites.
We want to see architecture happen for people in their everyday settings. Ash Sakula has an interest in a here and now active architecture i.e. helping small organisations reorganise back offices so that they might double up as event spaces. Moving away form static answers and space designation matters both at the intimate and urban scale. Time and audience are the two animators of space; we have to pre-imagine this breadth of opportunity in every project. We like to do this out loud with a healthy friction up against the real future of a place. That future is not a vision, it is a living breathing resource we need to get our hands on; the people who will not resigned to using the space semi passively, but the people who will choose to make it work willing it to grow in strength through the design process, build and evolving occupation.
Our self initiated and funded projects all attempt to break out of the role of the disinterested professional. A street market close to our studio Leather Lane needed more respect from the local authority so we worked with the whole street on an advocacy project http://leatherlanestars.wordpress.com An area we knew well but was unaccountably blighted with negative land values needed a story we worked with people on the ground to invent one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISHlgRRpvL8. An isolated communities on the edge of Olympic regeneration needed a gathering space for bartering skills and goods http://caravanserai.org.uk/. (image above) We want to nurture space and work side by side with local people; paying to do these projects has been our only option to date, we realize that this is not a sustainable form of practice.
Locality Brokership is a new slip stream which promises to cut to the quick and let people with different skills, including architects, to explore the potential of spaces together. This is where we as a practice want to be with our clients; extemporising, working creatively around the absurdities of the property market, coming up with concepts which can be easily shared and also challenged. We want to be scoping projects before they are over defined by misguided or expedient forces outside the community of natural ownership.
We want to learn about asset transfer, alternative modes of funding, new ways of stimulating local commerce. We know from our own practice how often the best projects are complex, involving a mix of uses, stakeholders and investors, each with their needs and timeframes. In this jungle we have found ways to pour our energy into the most useful places championing the 'end product' rather sinking all our pride in the smooth professional journey, that way we leave something behind that everyone feels was worth the journey.