Citizen Architects recognises the essential contribution people without a formal design background can make to the architectural process. To allow this contribution to be made, we must open up the design process to the community right at the beginning of a project, even before we draw up a brief. This communal effort continues through the design stages right up until the project is completed. Identifying and involving all critical stakeholders requires patience and ingenuity. But ultimately it leads to solutions that truly address local needs and buildings that are loved and cared for by their communities.
We all carry biases with us. Our cultural, educational, professional and individual background influences how we make decisions. For example, if we see informal settlements predominantly as slums and focus entirely on a lack of sanitation, we miss an abundance of economic activities, specialised skills and community networks. Being aware of these factors is the first step towards preventing them from clouding our perception and judgement. To do this, we have to continuously question both the process and the outcome of Architecture. Who is the client? Who else will be affected by our intervention? What are the requirements of the project? And how do these differ from the stated brief?
We have grappled with these questions in a wide range of contexts, from Oxford to Botswana, from Accra to East London. We have collaborated with local authorities, charities, social enterprises, developers and community groups. We explore these issues in our teaching, passing on the tools for meaningful engagement to the next generation of architects.
Our considered and thoughtful approach to each new project is based on a practical understanding of the potential strengths and pitfalls of these processes, and a passion for empowering communities.