Architecture, Participatory Design and the Sustainable Communities Agenda in UK Urban Policy

Dr. Carl O'Coill,
Derek Cottrell
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This paper explores the relationship between sustainability and user participation in architecture, asking to what extent the new 'sustainable communities' agenda in UK urban policy can support a revival in participatory design practice. The practice of participatory design in architecture predates contemporary concerns with the social dimensions of sustainability. It first emerged in the 1960s and was rooted in the values of community action and the radical social movements of that time. Today attitudes to participation within the profession are characterised by disinterest, or worse, by downright hostility. Social concerns barely register in the reductive understandings of sustainability expressed by the profession's leading practitioners, who tend to equate sustainable design with environmental design. This contrasts with the broader scope of the debate occurring outside the profession in the context of recent changes in UK planning policy. The Government's 'Sustainable Communities Plan' links sustainability in architecture and urban design with questions about the quality of life in cities, and calls for greater public participation in the planning and design of the built environment. Drawing upon the authors' recent experience of participatory design in public-sector initiatives this paper argues that the architectural profession is not prepared to take up the challenge of delivering sustainable communities and that the legislation itself is too weak to drive this change.

Keywords: Architecture, Participatory Design, Sustainable Communities
Stream: Social Sustainability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
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Dr. Carl O'Coill

Senior Lecturer, Lincoln School of Architecture, University of Lincoln

Dr Carl O'Coill studied architecture at the Hull School of Architecture and at the University of York, gaining a Doctorate in Architecture in 2001. His research interests are diverse but are related by a consistent concern with social and cultural issues in architecture. Areas of exploration include the cultural politics of architectural design, the political economy of urban development, focusing on the UK context and East Africa, public participation in architecture and urban regeneration as well as architectural visualization and virtual reality as they relate to user involvement in the design process. Dr O'Coill is also a practicing participatory designer and has been involved in a wide range of community-based architecture and urban design projects in the UK over the past five years, from small-scale urban landscaping schemes to larger estate regeneration initiatives.

Derek Cottrell

University of Lincoln

Ref: S06P0414