Smart Practice

By Chris Heuvel, on

Attended the RIBA “Smart Practice’ conference today (taking advantage of the fact that it was held at NTU).  Keynote speaker was Patrick Schumacher from Zaha Hadid’s office, who asserted that the practice couldn’t afford to operate the way it does without its links into academia.  It strikes me this is the case with 2hD also – even for similar reasons: just as a very large practice may wish to engage with PhD students to undertake exploratory work with innovative technology (that can then be wheeled out in response to a competition opportunity), so might a very small one find it useful to collaborate with a School of Architecture in order to involve students in research into specific social or cultural contexts etc.  One shouldn’t/doesn’t go into teaching for the attraction of the income – it’ an opportunity to gather information (at the same time as disseminating it).

I’m struck also by the observation that it’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survive – it’s the most adaptable (another advantage of being a very small practice – providing its members are constantly alert to business opportunities).  The most useful insight, however, was the observation made during a panel discussing ‘seeking new opportunities abroad’ that the key is to identify partner-practices where one is working, with a sound understanding of local rules and expectations, local culture and protocols etc.  The strategy needs to be the same if one is seeking ‘international commercialisation’ (in the name of business expansion) as for when larger practices want to engage in community-oriented design: the key is to collaborate with local practitioners – preferably even undertaking the project in their name (in an international context where fees are relatively low, it may be more appropriate in terms of income to use one’s own more highly respected name).  If the practice is operating through a branch office, of course, it is able to charge only the local going rates.

The lesson is that habits of collaboration with partners may be regarded as a business-like (ie viable) alternative to growth in terms of practice numbers.  The criteria for selecting a partner must be not their design skills or style, but their familiarity with local expectations, methods of working, and the whole context for project delivery.  In the end, the most important aspect of both winning a commission and delivering it successfully is the product of an ability to ask the right questions in order really to understand the clients (including customs, culture and memories) and their brief – this is actually more important than being able to deliver (the usual, expected solutions) in accordance with a project managers’ expectations.

Included in this collaboration must be a whole set of behaviours, it was observed by Elizabeth Kavanagh – the ‘big sister’ for Stride Treglown (to whom I promised to write in conjunction with Research Project 1 – based in their Bristol office): “enabling rather than directing, asking not telling, open and inclusive not autocratic, taking responsibility not blaming”: all this is discussed in the ‘Behaviours for Collaboration’ (Bh4Coll) twitter, which therefore merits exploration.  This kind of behaviour should therefore be taught in architecture schools, being even more important than knowledge and skills – associated with a focus upon relationships rather than the task (a new BS11000 is being developed in relation to teamworking standards).

How Thesis Recommendations might Succeed

By Chris Heuvel, on

Caught Matthew Taylor delivering his annual RSA Chief Executive’s lecture “why policy fails – and how it might succeed” (12.09.16), tagged with ‘community engagement.’  He referred to what Helen Margetts and her colleagues describe as “the chaotic pluralism of politics in an age of social media” (a reference to Margetts, H., John, P., Hale, S., and Yasseri, T., 2016.  Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action.  Woodstock: Princeton University Press).  If my thesis is to conclude with ‘Recommendations’, I’d better read this first.  Taylor’s conclusion is that policy can only work when it’s part of a bigger shift in social attitudes – “a symbol of a renewed belief in the possibility of major advances in the way we live, the way we treat each other, and in what we expect from life.”  It needs to be “shrewdly designed to channel and accelerate a wider civic momentum.”  It’s not just chiming with public opinion, but needs to involve civic preparedness.  Such ideas are based, he says, on Mary Douglas’ theoretical framework and her observation that successful policy needs to work at three levels, based on the social skills of human beings – a) hierarchy: it works functionally and rationally, authority, expertise, rules, robustness.  b) solidarity in terms of values: it appeals to people’s sense of justice and fairness.  c) individualism: people can there’s something in it for themselves, it can be used.

On return from holidays

By Chris Heuvel, on

Back from summer in France, spent reading but not writing: a) Jeremy Till – ‘Architecture Depends’ (2009), good on allowing for the unexpected and disorder within architectural practice; b) J Hughes and S Sadler (eds.) – ‘Non-Plan’ (2000), featuring classic essays on participation in modern urbanism; and c) John Thompson – ‘Critical Hermeneutics’ (1981), concerned with philosophy in relation to language (an intellectually challenging study of Wittgenstein / Ricoeur / Habermas – now on page 118 and hard going).  All to be reviewed in greater detail now that I’m up-to-date in terms of teaching/preparation responsibilities.

Having walked round the ‘Mapping Nottingham’s Identity’ exhibition in Central Library on Monday evening with Dasha, this evening she led a lively and well-attended workshop on the Sneinton part of her work.  Participants were invited to a) identify what resources (based upon who they are or what organisations they represent) they felt able to use or deploy in order to improve the quality of life in the area; b) identify what activities they could engage in, on the basis of these resources; c) describe two specific changes in the future that might reflect progress towards the kind of ‘improvement’ envisaged; and finally d) describe actions that might be taken in order to bring about such changes.  In the final part of this exercise, participants were invited to identify these ‘action’ ideas as either risky/difficult or viable/worthwhile.  Well presented and an opportunity to renew contact with some old friends as well as meeting some interesting new people: eg a) ‘Rich’ from NTU –associated with RSA and citizenship (he will email me tomorrow to say more about himself); b) someone from Backlit Gallery – also interested in public participation; c) Alva from Nottingham Contemporary – who invited me to an event there tomorrow evening related to their ‘City Questions summer school’ (looking at the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre renewal plans in terms of citizen engagement); d) Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad (www.bh-n.com), from RCA claiming an interest in regeneration and community participation and the presenter at Nottingham Contemporary tomorrow (having previously worked on an event for Hyson Green, based in the New Art Exchange: I took his email address and promised to let him know about my own interests before we meet again).  Tom Hughes advised me there is a strong likelihood that Sneinton alchemy will suggest Old School Hall, next to Greens Windmill, as a focus for my proposed action-research – we are to meet tomorrow to discuss this further.  And then Friday/Saturday is to be DArch Workshop 4.1 – no email received yet advising of the proposed programme.

So back into the flow in terms of material for Research Study 2 perhaps, but still some major work to be put into Research Study 1 before I can submit it:  a) complete Appendix A identifying community architecture projects and initiatives.  b) complete the Assemble case study (having received no feedback on my summary of their narrative).  c) contact at least two more practices with a view to interviewing them in order to acquire Case Study material – requiring consolidation of my Appendices on survey questions and protocols, followed by writing up the Case Studies themselves; d) complete Doc 3 text, drawing conclusions from my Case Studies.

Feedback on Document 2

By Chris Heuvel, on

After a long wait, I’ve finally received my feedback on Document 2 (the literature review). To my surprise, I find it has been recommended for a PASS with no requirement for even minor modifications.

I really feel, however, as though I’ve hardly begun to explore the literature: the production of Document 2 has served little purpose beyond identifying what I now need to read and analyse — it has certainly not provided me with what I can confidently identify as ‘a gap in the knowledge’ which my research should therefore address. Worst of all, despite Umberto Eco’s advice in ‘How to Write a Thesis’ (MIT, 2015), I feel as though I’ve simply been playing a game — aiming to show off ‘cleverness’ through pyrotechnics of cross-referencing and rhetoric, rather than seriously laying down a clear and systematic explanation of current ideas about the research topic.

On the other hand, while checking for Eco’s advice, I encountered exactly the excuse I may need for providing a paraphrase rather than a transcription of my interview with Assemble: “if you consult any dictionary you will see that the word ‘exactitude’ is not among the synonyms of faithfulness. They are rather loyalty, honesty, respect, and devotion” (Eco, U.  ‘Dire quasi la stessa cosa: Esperienze di traduzione’ Milan: Bompiani 2003).

Interviewing 'Assemble'

By Chris Heuvel, on

What I found, in preparing for my ‘interview’ with Assemble by first compiling information on them and then using it to frame potential questions to ask them, is that my respondent provided such extensive and detailed answers that some of the questions became redundant, others became irrelevant.  I feel obliged to put inverted commas around the word ‘interview’ as the event was more like a presentation, followed by a question-and-answer session.  It meant that I had to adopt a highly flexible, loose-fit technique, in which some of the questions I would like to have asked were initially overlooked.  It also meant that time ran out for all the pre-prepared questions to be posed (the room had been hired for only two hours).  Fortunately, my planned method involved sending the respondent a transcript of the highly edited ‘interview’ and inviting him to edit it further with corrections, clarifications, suggested additional remarks, and requested omissions (in the interests of commercial confidentiality etc).

Above all, because this was a public event (organised by the Norfolk Contemporary Art Society – NCAS), with me acting as host and inviting questions from ‘the floor’, I had no control over what questions were asked – nor, in the interests of democracy and courtesy, did I seek such control (I could have ‘planted’ questions to be raised by particular individuals, but felt this would be unethical and inconsistent).  As a result, some of the questions asked, and answers provided, have been omitted from the transcript (on the grounds that I immediately judged them irrelevant to my research question), while other questions and answers have been subsumed into the framework of my own ‘pre-prepared questions.’  In other words, the transcript does not purport to be a verbatim replica of what was said (as if such a feat were possible, or even necessary): it is intended merely to capture a selection of the information obtained by reference to a series of preconceived headings, presented not in the order in which the questions were asked, and not quoting actual words used (except where identified in inverted commas).

Because of the ‘in public’ nature of the interview, it was also impossible to record the planned contextual observations (suggested on the grounds that environment invariably influences what is said and how, and may therefore contribute to the interpretation of, or weight given to, ‘information’).  Some circumstantial notes in the immediate aftermath may nevertheless be useful.

The respondent had no control over the shape of the auditorium, the lighting level, or where people sat.  The space was semi-circular, with a projection screen in the centre and lectern with microphone and computer to one side, with a small table adjacent on which water was provided.  I stood up to introduce our guest, he stood up to show and talk about a series of photographs of Assemble’s work, then I stood up again to round the session off and thank him for his presentation.  Two chairs were located on either side of the screen for myself and the respondent to sit down while questions were being asked, and while a member of the NCAS committee thanked us both for bringing the event together.  Our guest spoke confidently and articulately (having no doubt given similar talks many times before); he had a sheaf of paper sticking out of his jacket pocket, but was not observed to refer to it even once.

Afterwards, members of the audience confided to me that they felt this had been the best talk in this year’s NCAS programme – reflecting a combination of the clarity of the presentation, the inherent interest of the material and ideas presented, and the overall professionalism of the event’s delivery.  Which was gratifying, of course.

Research becomes more tightly incorporated into 2hD's business strategy

By Chris Heuvel, on

In today’s 2hD strategic planning meeting, it was agreed that my research activities should be more closely linked to the practice’s blog and website (currently being reconstructed to feature ‘education’ and ‘research’ as additional primary activities being undertaken in 2hD’s name). 

Reassuringly, my co-directors also undertook to involve themselves more deeply in my output as a researcher, offering to comment on my text and to draw any apparently relevant publications to my attention.  In particular, it was suggested that I immediately begin to explore opportunities for the ‘action research’ project to be commenced in September — recording developments in relation to this exercise on the practice’s main blog rather than in my blog of personal reflections on the process of writing the Prof Doc text.

It was also suggested that Tom should come to a meeting with my Research Supervisor in September, to discuss 2hD’s role in relation to the action research exercise I will be undertaking in the practice’s name. In the meanwhile, I am to take responsibility for drafting text for the ‘education’ and ‘research’ pages of the practice’s website upgrade… The latter is to feature a call to any community groups who feel they might benefit from this kind of action-research exercise (with costs effectively underwritten by NTU, who are paying me to carry out my Prof Doc) to make contact with us — the aim being to provide alternative options for the ‘pro bono’ research project. If the people who are not selected for the Prof Doc exercise then express a wish to  proceed in any case, this could even result in a possible paid commission for 2hD — effectively, in fulfilment of my research objective (how practices can grow in conjunction with community engagement projects).

Misgivings following Submission of Document 2

By Chris Heuvel, on

Another long period has elapsed since the previous entry.  I managed to submit Document 2 by the revised deadline 19th April, but very conscious that I had not read many peer-reviewed journal articles closely related to my main research topic – Document 2 was largely a rather broad-ranging discussion of the context for my choice of topic and the associated methodology, and perhaps insufficient by way of literature review.  I am aware however, that ‘literature review’ has by no means finished – it will form a key part also of Documents 3, 4 and 5 (and possibly even a small part of Document 6).  While still awaiting actual feedback on Document 2 (now nearly 3 months later), I have nevertheless started in earnest on the actual writing of Document 3 – now strongly aware of the time required not just to commit myself to text but also to insert references in such a way that the Bibliography emerges with minimal need for editing.  Firstly I have devised a 4-part structure for Document 3 (based upon the humours/elements and loosely taking pre-Socratic philosophers associated with each as a starting-point for the relevant section).  Secondly, I have edited all the items in my RefWorks library, combining them in a single folder rather than separating methodology/community/business/practices – but still finding the insertion of citations extremely tedious.  I had considered applying for a further extension for Document 3, as the deadline falls in the middle of the summer holiday while I’ll be away in France, but have been advised that there’s no need for this as I’ll be given six months from the date I receive feedback on Document 2.  Having now written about half the number of words required for Documents 3, however, I’m hoping to complete and submit before the first Workshop related to Document 4 (in mid-September) – ideally even before leaving for France.  The latter seems rather less likely however, as I haven’t yet even started inviting research participants to help with Document 3, I haven’t completed my Ethical Statement for supervisors to sign-off before I start my proposed fieldwork.  What I have written is a justification for my choice of research method, based upon further reading but this time more promptly expressing my ideas in writing.  Hoping that somehow I won’t be required to re-write substantial parts of Document 2 before proceeding, I plan to discuss what I’ve written so far to my supervisors within the next month – Kevin in term of philosophical validity, and Tom in terms of structural acceptability.  I have also become conscious of Umberto Eco’s demand that one writes to argue a case rather than to prove how clever one is – I fear that, due to lack of confidence, I’m still too much in the latter mode.  This is especially brought home to me when I read certain authors’ journal articles etc, in which they succeed in writing in simple language of complex insights: in particular, the book I’ve just finished reading (while away for a long weekend away abroad), ‘Small Change.’  I am aware that I am more and more encountering texts that refer to other texts I’m already aware of, and ‘Small Change’ seemed to offer the particular virtue of bringing together the ideas of numerous authors I’ve already quoted: I interpret this kind of ‘coincidence’ as a sign that I’m now beginning to work at the boundaries of existing knowledge in the field.  On the other hand, I’m conscious that neither of my supervisors comes from my own discipline area, and that a specialist external examiner might find the current state of my knowledge rather trite and riddled with significant gaps.

Language as a Virus from Outer Space

By Chris Heuvel, on

It’s clear why I make these journal entries so infrequently: with the deadline approaching, I spend all my time on the main text rather than on reflections (or else focus upon even more immediate tasks related to my teaching/admin duties).  With no notes recorded at the time however, I must summarise the outcomes of a discussion-event in which I participated at the New Art Exchange, Nottingham, this evening.  Described as “the culmination of months of conversations with artists, institutions and communities across the city” (having previously run similar exercises in Milan and New York I think he said), the Italian ‘curator’ Claudio Zecchi led a series of what he called ‘games’ to “explore how art engages with the local community, and the legacy of these relationships.”

The first exercise required us (groups of 3-6 around half a dozen tables) to identify and model the time-span required for community projects: it emerged that several need to be running concurrently – some extremely short, others much much longer, some mixing both, but above all lots of cross-currents of projects which come to nothing, which come from nowhere, or which develop into other projects (a good model for how a community-orientated practice ought to operate).  The next exercise centred on the use of language in community projects, drawing attention to its role in shaping power-relationships and in enabling people to express their identity (‘self-forming’): my own group picked on William Burroughs’ concept of language as “a virus from outer space” – we think we’re speaking it, but in fact it is the words that are projecting ourselves into the spaces between people (a reminder of Latour’s reference to the Mafalda comic strip – p.55 in “On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods” – and reference to the ancient Greek ‘middle voice’: neither active nor passive, as the boundaries between object/subject, made/maker, acted upon/actor are not so definite).  Zecchi also asked us to consider the relationship between the words ‘long term,’ ‘language’ and ‘sharing’ – revealing that long-term community relationships allow a common language to develop which enables ideas to be shared.  In the final game, about ‘sharing’ (which we distinguished from simply ‘exchanging’ – another insight relevant to the problem of putting a monetary ‘value’ upon community interchange), we identified the word ‘empowerment’ as a key feature – although another group chose ‘blurring’ in consideration of the space between people rather than taking the viewpoint of the individuals themselves as we had done.  When it came to ‘acting out’ our understanding of this word, everyone had recourse to gestures – the most successful being the group who demanded that everyone copied their movements (this being a community-orientated event, after all): the lesson is, just do something – it’s not about talk.  Times English Dictionary (p.1706) defines ‘voice’ as “a category of…verbal inflections that expresses whether the relation between the subject and the verb is that of agent and action, action and recipient, or some other relation” – the latter being ‘middle’, defined (p.984) as “(especially in Greek or Sanskrit grammar)…expressing reciprocal or reflexive action.”  Deeper understanding of the ‘middle’ is available via http://www.greek-language.com/grammar/20.html : omitted from the dictionary description, for example, is the rather inaccurately termed (but commonly used) third alternative of ‘intensive’ action.  There is no equivalent in English, but we tend to use the active voice with a reflexive (“-self”) pronoun or “each other” (if plural); in Hellenistic Greek, no pronoun is necessary, as the middle voice signals that the subject of a sentence represents in some sense the benefactor of the action expressed by the verb.  The subject of the verb is seen as acting upon itself or for its own benefit – eg ‘John bought himself a new car’ or ‘Jane accepted the offer’: in Greek, the middle voice is used mainly to imply that the subject benefits or suffers directly from the action expressed by the verb (it is often the case, though not always, that the subject also represents the cause of that action).

The Referencing Software Nightmare - and Delayed Submission

By Chris Heuvel, on

So this evening the deadline for Doc2 came: I had just about completed Part 1 – the difficult ‘conceptual framework’ exposition (over 5½k words), but a considerable amount of work remained to be done on Parts 2 and 3.  I was asked not to submit Part 1 alone (expecting to be asked to undertake ‘major modifications’), but instead to request an extension for the whole document – so my new deadline is to be 19th April.

Looking back over the last two or three weeks, when I set about transferring my completed work (with many references set out within the text) from my laptop to my NTU student-file, I have had to adjust to the following issues:
a)  I can only gain access to my NTU student log-in via my staff-room computer if I first log-in as a member of staff, then log off and ‘switch user’.  Or vice versa – meaning I cannot move information directly between my staff account and my student account.  My initial efforts to maintain all three folders in parallel (on my staff account, my student account and my own laptop) have therefore been a waste of time: I should therefore delete all the DArch files on my staff account, in order to eliminate the need to keep them updated.

b)  I cannot (yet) pick up RefWorks when I use my laptop to gain access to NTU files, which means that text I write when away from NTU has to have all references included within it.  The problem is that when I transfer information to from my laptop to my student folder, I cannot simply log-in to RefWorks in order to create and save each new reference as I encounter it, returning afterwards to editing the text itself.  I have to log-in to RefWorks each time I switch from editing text to inserting references.  This means I am obliged to go through my text first, identifying several references in succession, and then returning to text editing.

c)  Once I have created a new reference, however, when I return to the text I find I cannot proceed directly to use ‘Write-N-Cite’ to re-insert it into the text in a way that will automatically populate my bibliography.  I have to log off, then log on again, then log-in to RefWorks again, and only then am I able to find the new references created at stage (b) above.  It seems as though the RefWorks software only works efficiently if all the references are created in advance of any of the text to which they are to be related: this is impractical for people who prefer to create and insert references as they proceed. 

d)  When offered, it seemed a good idea to take the advice that RefWorks items could be split into separate folders and sub-folders – with the additional possibility of recording comments on each item deeper within each entry.  Both when creating new references and when using ‘Write-N-Cite’ to select particular entries, the folder has to be opened up in order to expose the sub-folder before it can be selected.  There is also the problem that sometimes items are found not in the expected sub-folder but for some reason (no doubt due to human error) lurking in the main folder instead, or even in the ‘Last Imported’ folder.  When moving items from one folder to another, the same problem is encountered – the main folder has to be opened before it is possible to gain access to any subfolders.

e)  The option of being able to record comments on individual references turned out not to be particularly useful in practice because – in my case at least – there is no foreseeable need to search for items by particular attributes.  It turned out to be more useful to set up separate (Word) files related to each reference item, to summarise their contents, to identify possible quotations, and to add other kinds of ‘margin-notes’.  The advantage of this is that the files can easily be printed and catalogued, whereas the RefWorks folders appear to be accessible on-line only.

f)  Then there is the problem of unreliability.  How items eventually appear in the Bibliography is unpredictable – each needs to be carefully checked for spelling etc.  Reference to a poem by Browning written in 1855 can end up being dated 2007 if that’s the publication date of the latest book containing it.  While they may be dismissed by some people as minor quibbles, the fonts and the meanness of spacings between words in Bibliography entries reduce legibility and are visually unattractive. – and this often does matter to people with an eye for design.  It is also unfortunate that the exact way in which the wording of a reference will appear within the text (if it’s a citation), or within the Bibliography at the end, seems not to be controllable from the Write-N-Cite preview boxes – particularly when three references are quoted together (it seems to be a matter of luck whether or not additional references eliminates earlier ones).

g)  It is also a nuisance that RefWorks does not alert the writer if an item is added twice: duplications only appear when the list is inspected in conjunction with Write-N-Cite.  This can be particularly annoying if the addition of such an item has already involved logging off/logging back on/ logging into RefWorks again.

None of the above can be considered an excuse for late delivery of the work, of course, but time spent resolving issues related to the performance of the software etc is time not spent on more important matters related to the text itself.  The best conclusion is perhaps that some dedicated ‘surgery time’ should be permitted for individuals (related to their production of Document 1), giving them - say - half an hour with an ‘expert’ on RefWorks, Write-N-Cite, or even other tips and tricks related to effective use of Word software etc – perhaps including even the ‘Styles’ function with its relationship to the automatic generation of chapter headings and sub-headings (and page numbers)in a ‘Contents’ section at the start of the document.

In response, Heather Parsonage comes to my desk to help: in media res is not the best way to proceed if using RefWorks, she advises - but this is not my way of working.

Old Men ought to be Explorers

By Chris Heuvel, on

Despite earlier misgivings, I am beginning to appreciate that ‘innovation’ may turn out to be an important theme within my topic.  I discover a highly non-Latourian note amongst my papers to the effect that “the social dimension of innovation can be equally as disruptive as technology or market-led innovation.”  This possibly means nothing, as it is (technological) innovation itself that is disruptive – and society or the market that is disrupted.

“Write a letter to your younger self” – what would I say?  Eliot’s “in my end is my beginning” comes to mind (the last line of East Coker, number two of The Four Quartets) following the Latourian assertion that “Old men ought to be explorers/Here or there does not matter” because the poem in fact started “in my beginning is my end.”  With the submission date for Doc2 rushing towards me, and helpless feelings that there’s so much more to read, that I’ve wasted a lot of time reading the wrong kinds of material in the wrong kinds of way, reinforced by the little Library Support Seminar attended yesterday ‘Searching for Literature – Top 10 Tips’ which would clearly have been much more beneficial back in July or September, I realise that – just as the end of the process is in sight – I at last understand how I should have proceeded.  Do I conclude my Literature Review with the observation that it represents little more than a point of departure, serving merely to identify some of the material to which I will need to continue making references through the remainder of the DArch programme?  Or should I seek permission to submit my Doc 2 later than the February deadline – on the grounds that only now do I feel I have acquired the tools to proceed with my task?  I must have a chat with Tom Fisher, show him all I’ve done to date, and seek his opinion.

What grounds for postponement could I possibly cite?  The truth is, I’ve simply been too slow – long-ingrained habits of being rigorously methodical in organising and examining my material, hopelessly illiterate with regard to taking advantage of IT, and ridiculously painstaking with the formation of sentences.  If my aim is to stick to the deadline, I need to lighten up, proceed chaotically rather than systematically, write first and enrich with references afterwards rather than vice-versa.  How serious am I about the quality of this research?  Do I sacrifice standards in order to satisfy a timetable?  Which matters more – quality or speed?  I feel I know myself well enough to admit that, even if I were permitted more time, I would be quite likely to find myself in an identical position as the deadline approaches – spending ages looking up obscure and possibly irrelevant references, panicking over trivia, exceeding my wordcount and then having to make difficult cuts, etc.  Even writing these reflections, instead of getting on with the job.  Tomorrow, I tell myself, and for the next six weeks, I’ll work frenetically in Boots library – on my main text 6.30-8.30am each morning, and extending my literature search 5.30-8pm each evening, and only attending to emails, admin tasks, teaching preparation, feedback etc during ‘office hours.’  In the evenings at home, I can continue to sort, filter, and reflect on my material in the slow and steady manner with which I am more familiar, but the point is to set my alarm each night for a 5.30am start.  Let’s see how that goes.  New year’s resolution, then.

Coordinating the Random

By Chris Heuvel, on

Having failed to maintain a ‘day-book’ exclusively related to DArch material, I find myself having to go through nine separate notebooks in order to ensure I am losing nothing of value.  The nuggets I discover are therefore quite random:

a)         Descartes is said to have maintained that the chief cause of human error is the prejudices picked up in childhood: everyone is a prisoner of their own experiences.  I discover some deep philosophical reflections on this in Toulmin, S., (1990).  Cosmopolis: the Hidden Agenda of Modernity.  Chicago: Chicago University Press (pages 41-2), where it is suggested this individualism laid the foundations for today’s lack of civic consciousness.

b)        When visiting NTU on 20th October, Adrian Dobson spoke of a formercouncil member Tim Bailey as a Newcastle-based architect keen on locally rooted work.  I see he is principal of Xcite Architecture LLP (established in 2000 – Foundry Lane, NE6 1LH).

Summary of workshops attended in conjunction with Literature Review (organised by NTU Boots Library):

a)             14.10.15 : Tackling your Literature Review

b)            14.10.15 : Managing your References

c)             29.10.15 : Staying Current – Tips and Techniques

d)            12.11.15 : Research Tools and Apps

e)             07.01.16 : Searching for Literature – Top 10 Tips

Nottingham Trent University's Support for this Research

By Chris Heuvel, on

Suddenly NTU appears to provide a highly supportive context in which to research ‘Practice and Community.’  Among the 5 strategic themes the institution has developed as its ‘vision’ are:
a)  ‘valuing ideas’ – concerned with promoting research and innovative pedagogy.

b)  ‘enriching society’ – concerned with civic impact (which is interpreted rather narrowly as “fostering key civic and employer stakeholder partnerships”, under the guidance of Garry Smith, assisted by Peter Westland).

c)  ‘empowering people’ – a merely inward-focussed objective, said to be concerned with valuing staff ideas (though unclearly reflected within the architecture section, where colleagues complain about the inhuman ‘smart working’ regime imposed on them and lack of involvement in the choice of a new Head with clear vision and managerial courage).

NTU is keen to maintain a high profile in respect of employee volunteering, working with Business in the Community (BITC, calling itself “the Prince’s responsible business network”) in the hope of winning Responsible Business Awards.

Back on Track - journal resumption

By Chris Heuvel, on

So... In something of a panic, ‘Document 1’ was submitted shortly before the 23rd June deadline.   My Journal suddenly stops at that point, and I must now resume it.  In the first Workshop related to ‘Document 3’ this weekend, I am reminded (by a recent DArch graduate who came to speak of her experience of the programme) how important these reflections are – and indeed, glancing through the pages completed to date, I see what a long way I’ve come (and I mustn’t forget to revisit these pages to pick up valuable tips and references for incorporation into Document 2 in a couple of months’ time).

Two months to go, and I’ve only written about 2000 words out of the 15,000 total required: very anxious about when I’ll find the time to do this.  I’ve had only two supervision tutorials (having had nothing to show that would have made additional ones worthwhile), but neither Tom nor Kevin seem to share my anxiety.

The tutorials were very helpful, of course, and I realised that I were to arrange more of them, I’d give myself a tighter framework of deadlines within which to achieve the overall target.  Writing this journal now, of course, represents another instance of postponing the main job of getting on with the writing, but it feels appropriate – just before I tackle the main drag upwards – to review what I’ve produced and read since July:

19.05.15: Google Scholar search – an initial foray into the domain to practise gathering some references (with notes on each reading).

11.06.15: Bibliographies – a print-out of articles saved in RefWorks (pending attachment to text via Write-N-Cite software).

13.07.15: Literature Review 1 – a false start, comprising some 960 words on the use of Latour as the basis for selection and critique of literature (suggesting in particular that I should be able to construct my Document 2 out of this Blog – had I only maintained it): I tell myself it’s not too late – this catch-up exercise I’m now undertaking marks the belated start.

15.07.15: Spare material – some text that could not be accommodated in Doc1, notably a paragraph attempting to locate Latour within postmodernist approaches to social research.

17.07.15: Doc2 structure A – another false start, using the template required for the final product but getting no further than suggesting a six-part structure based entirely upon Machi and McEvoy’s ‘The Literature Review – Six Steps to Success’ before actually reading the text: it turned out that only the sixth ‘step’ actually described the process of reviewing literature – most of the remainder of the book related to a systematic way of gathering the information, speed-reading first (a highly linear approach, quite alien to a slow and steady reader like myself though a good suggestion).

August: Holiday reading (in addition to Latour’s ‘Reassembling the Social’ and Machi & McEvoy) consisted of a) Latour, Harman and Erdélyi: The Prince and the Wolf.  b) Harman: Prince of Networks.  c) Wates and Knevitt: Community Architecture.  I also took a whole pile of hard-copy articles which were never tackled.

19.09.15: Reflections on Workshop 2.2 – Workshop 2.2 reflections contain a good quantity of other material that it would be appropriate to review before proceeding any further with the main text of Doc2 (including my programme for its production, in relation to which I am now about 2 months behind). Also containing some material that could usefully have been posted immediately in the Blog:

Unsure about how to organize the content of Doc 2, I have very carefully read Machi & McEvoy ‘The Literature Review – 6 Steps to Success’ (which I found quite tedious and incomprehensibly repetitive for the most part, but persuasive in terms of the recommendation not immediately to start writing but to spend a lot of effort first identifying and organizing my data). What the book omitted to address, however, is the integration of the required epistemological or philosophical base – where am I coming from?  In this respect, the book’s recommended approach presents me with one major, seemingly insurmountable, obstacle.  My chosen theoretical paradigm is the French sociologist Bruno Latour, whose ideas have struck me with a shock of recognition: here’s someone who’s saying exactly what I’ve been thinking for years, occasionally suggesting verbally, but which I’ve never before encountered in writing: two ideas in particular – first, the inadmissibility of connections between cause and effect, and secondly unwillingness to take for granted any such nebulous totalitarianising ideas as ‘society’, ‘community’ etc (one ought instead to be identifying combinations of factors, without presuming to coordinate them under the umbrella of some theoretical, non-material concept).  On reading Latour, I experience Fredric Jameson’s ‘postmodern sublime’: its appalling and terrifying and gloriously exciting all at the same time.  It’s rooted in materialism pragmatism, realism – but it requires me to avoid the habitual temptation to make logical connections between evidence and thesis.  I worry that I will find it difficult to be critical about an author whose thoughts coincide so closely with my own, and whose every well-chosen word commands both respect and enjoyment: how will I critique my own paradigm?

21.09.15: Machi and McEvoy guidance – detailed notes on how to proceed with the literature review (which seem to have substituted for actually doing it).

02.10.15: Chronology – the beginning of a timeline related to the development of ‘community architecture’ as a phenomenon, based initially upon Wates and Knevitt Appendix 3.  I need to add events this year (which should have been identified in Blog reflections), as the ‘movement’ now seems to be experiencing something of a resurgence.

07.10.15: Quotations – a few random quotations that might be inserted into text (mostly related to parallel instances of a Latourian approach).

07.10.15: Refs – a record of some key words used for a database literature search, and some up-to-date books published on the subject (seen on a visit to RIBA bookshop).

In an effort to impose a more coherent structure upon my assorted false starts, collections of references and quotations, and detailed analysis of selected (but perhaps unhelpful) texts, I have grouped subsequent material into five main folders, corresponding to my RefWorks headings:

a)             Methodology
b)            Community (in general)
c)             Community Architecture / Innovation (in particular)
d)            Practice / Business (in general)
e)             Particular Firms / People.

The proposed three-part structure for Document 2 remains as identified on 19.09.15 (except that I’ve dropped the silly names!):

Part 1: Aglaia - gifts of FAITH (5000 words by week 12 – early Oct)

Identity (biases & assumptions / ethics / insider or outsider) – validity: my professional context and research question (and prof’l bodies to be impacted by this)

Philosophy – Latour as the paradigm, and why I’ve joined his gang (problems with it)

Epistemology – with literature critiquing Latour

Part 2: Euphrosyne - embarking with HOPE (6500 words byweek 21 – late Dec)

Arguing for the chosen research methods from the literature: locate proposed research and possible methods within the literature, identifying how these ideas may impact on own research question.

Approach:

  1. using Latour (ANT) as basis (what are theorists saying about possible research methods?), select literature and identify what methodologies and methods have been used to get similar research questions answered.
  2. using Latour as critique, review of the literature: who has tried what, why, and with what authority/outcomes – identifying the current tensions and debates within the subject.

Part 3 : Thalia – rendezvous with CHARITY outcomes (3500 words – end of Jan)

Conclusion: what/whose methods do I propose to adopt for docs 3 / 4, and why?
Using Latour, how will it be analysed (why this way)? Where is this research expected to sit in relation to all the literature out there? What good may come of this?

To date however, I’ve got no further than part-way through section 1, related entirely to Methodology.  I feel confident about what has been written to date, as it has at least launched the whole exercise in accordance with my proposed structure.  The plan now must be to complete at least this first section before Christmas (within the next week!), to send it off to my supervisors for review next month, and to spend the Christmas holiday on section 2.  I am so desperately short of time, however, that I propose to launch sections 2 and 3 immediately, to give me somewhere to locate relevant material (if I encounter it) before editing the text more carefully.  It’s not comfortable, as I prefer to write slowly and steadily from my start-point within the structure I’ve set myself.  I foresee already the panic at the end of this process...

 

Nervousness about the Hidden Agenda

By Chris Heuvel, on

As I begin to draft ‘Document 1’, I find myself constantly revising my text, trying to replace all (habitual) reference to causal relationships with less presumptuous terminology. The logical part of me keeps constructing text in terms of consequences – something leads to something else, or one thing results in another; I must work hard to spot such lazy connections (taking nothing for granted) and replace them with more anodyne forms of wording such as something ‘becomes associated with’ something else, or one thing ‘is consistent with’ another. I find myself wondering if this great effort is simply a matter of playing with words, tricking the reader. In my desperation to avoid imposing meaning, I am in fact relying upon a hidden agenda.

Engagement as a 'third way'

By Chris Heuvel, on

Jemma Browne suggests an external examiner for my final thesis: Flora Samuel, head of Sheffield School of Architecture – I need to start reading whatever she has written on Practice and Community.  But what about Jeremy Till?

Sam Jacob, former FAT director, writes in AJ241/16 – p.59 (01.05.15):  “If we trace the history of democracy back to its Athenian origins we find the city and its citizens were all intertwined in the idea of the polis.  And maybe, even in the 21st century, this is where the real political arena lies: not in the institutions and mechanisms of democracy, but in the world that they try to shape.  The city and the landscape we inhabit: that is the living force of politics, the real shared space of democracy; that is where everyday life and abstract ideological, economic and social ideas intersect.  Could we imagine the city as the map and the territory of democracy?  The product of and also the site of participation, discussion, and engagement, the common ground of the collective polis?  This, I would argue, is the real design project of democracy: to make our cities places of open engagement where we come together and actively participate in society.”

It’s not simply an simplistic duality (ie questionable because suggesting a binary opposition) between socialism and capitalism, but there is a common ground – eg life in the built environment.  This might be presented not as two intersecting circles, accordingly, but more like Ebenezer Howard’s ‘three magnets’ diagram: with practice / community / engagement pulling ‘the people (who don’t wish to go anywhere) – how will they influence/control (the development of) their environment?’ in different directions.  This could be my DArch poster – resolving issues of what is materially ‘real’ and what is merely a ‘social construct’ (as if different), though perhaps not actually answering the question I wish my research to address.

This idea of engagement as ‘a third way’ seems to be offered in Manuel DeLanda’s lecture ‘Assemblage Theory, Society and Deleuze’ (European Graduate School, 2011) – a clear expression of ‘speculative realism’ voiced by an ex-professor from Columbia University School of Architecture, New York.  On the other hand (at 1.04hrs in this talk), DeLanda identifies the ‘double self’ – a binary opposition of the kind to which he earlier raised objection: a) the (private) self acting as an observer/listener, the perceiving/contemplating persona, structuring experience (eg I suggest, deployed in undertaking objectified quantitative research), in contrast to b) the same (but public) self acting as a participant/speaker – the persona who interacts with others (eg I suggest, deployed in undertaking action research), who has ‘the other’ as a pole to which the persona is presented, constructing/expressing the persona in relation to other people via choice of subject/words and tone (giving information about the kind of person one is).

Floundering: how does one approach 'literature review'?

By Chris Heuvel, on

In order to be able to demonstrate mastery of the subject-area in due course, I need to develop a consistent and searchable method for tracking my critique of the literature I now need to start reading (so that it’s not all about attaching coloured Post-It notes etc on hardcopies of everything, and then trying to find them).  Can I combine the identification of my sources via RefWorks software with comments upon the texts?  I need some headings for such comments – eg:

Ÿ          type = methodological / professional / academic material

Ÿ          quality = form, status, or validity of source

Ÿ          author = academic / practitioner / other (and their philosophical standpoint)

Ÿ          subject = business development / community engagement / reflections

Ÿ          summary of arguments

Ÿ          comment on arguments

Ÿ          useful quotations (incl. definitions)

Ÿ          references to other texts

My initial instinct is to set up an Excel spreadsheet for this, enabling me to re-order the data whenever I need lists of similar information.

Initial Philosophical Reflections

By Chris Heuvel, on

For presentation to professional doctorate colleagues, I have been obliged to put together a statement describing where I’m coming from (personally and philosophically) in framing an approach to my proposed research.  My starting-point is my role as architect/teacher: perhaps this reflects a perennial conflict within the RIBA – whether its mission is to promote architects (with business objectives) or architecture (with a social dimension).  Accordingly I lead a double-life as both Director of 2hD Architects, a small firm seeking to grow its business in the interests of spending proportionately more time on design than on administration, and as a Senior Lecturer in NTU School of Architecture seeking to enthuse and equip a new generation of practitioners.

What I teach – consistent with how I practise – is the importance of taking nothing for granted / questioning everything (eg challenging the brief) but instead always applying creative imagination in the exercise of the required sensitivity (design and management skills) and in the deployment of technical and professional knowledge.  This habit of ‘making strange the familiar’ (I must locate the origin of this quotation – slide 80 in today’s workshop) turns out also to be an essential ingredient in approaching the DArch research: I am required to identify a ‘methodology’ suited not only to my research question but also to my beliefs (‘ontology’) and values (‘axiology’).  It is a remarkable and fortunate coincidence that my practice, my teaching, and now my research also, all permit me to express the same characteristic – rooted somewhere deep in my personal identity / psyche.

Not objectivist but objectionable: I am aware that I habitually adopt and express a deliberately oppositional or sceptical stance in immediate (unthinking) response to every idea I encounter, which I then seek to post-rationalise – often masking any antisocial negativity through an idiosyncratic kind of fanciful logic that I describe as ‘experimental hermeneutics’ (a surrealistic cabaret performance in the tradition of Alfred Jarry).  Clearly, this reflects what educationalists would term a ‘social constructivist’ ideology – suggesting that individuals should be permitted (and encouraged) to create their own world-views.   A fundamental democratising ‘mission’ underpins my teaching objectives, my design concepts, and my aspirations for the role of architecture in relation to society: as a child of the 1960s, I remain committed to ‘power to the imagination’ – my core belief is that people should be empowered to re-make the world around them in accordance with their needs and aspirations.

The same instinct must therefore shape the approach I now adopt to my research: its relevance must stem from an emphasis upon making a change rather than merely observing, upon re-framing rather than simply explaining – demanding a focus upon the future (and how we can influence it) rather than a retrospective (as if hoping at least to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past).  Such an open-ended attitude to the future, aiming to provide maximum room for potential action, demands the ‘suspension of disbelief’ that characterises what I promote as the most effective kind of design processes: this involves not taking decisions until as many parameters have been taken into account as programme and budget permits, in order to accommodate and reconcile as many conflicting requirements and considerations as possible, so that nothing needs to be added afterwards as an ‘afterthought’ – the model being a classical definition of aesthetic integrity (Aristotle ‘Poetics’) as the condition where nothing can be added or removed without spoiling the whole).

In the same way, my research process must (in its initial phases at least) involve consideration of evidence before the formulation of coordinating theory - an ‘inductive’ approach.  How one selects this evidence must therefore proceed upon the basis of something that might be called ‘non-theory’ (I must find out if it is!) – borrowing an appropriately sceptical and paradoxical concept from postmodernist thinkers such as Bruno Latour (in the attractively disreputable ‘continental philosophy’ tradition).  I would propose to adopt an essentially pragmatic approach, temporarily accepting whatever material becomes available ‘at face value’ and not closing down options for its interpretation until the last possible moment – perhaps I need to call this ‘delayed interpretavism’, and perhaps this also represents ‘speculative realism’.

Lots of long words, but perhaps academically appropriate in clarifying one’s philosophical standpoint before the research process begins.  It is not a standpoint that emerges from the material, but one that (I hope) may serve to shape what kind of material we look for, and will certainly determine how we analyse the evidence we gather.  After that, perhaps, one may reflect more productively on whether or not the initial ontology/axiology/epistemology was a useful tool for unlocking new insights.  In this sense, the research may be regarded as testing not some hypothesis but a methodology.

I arrive at last at a research strategy.  The next step is to undertake a review of the literature – a) to explain and support my proposed methodology, and b) to outline the scope of my study-area by defining key concepts and demonstrating where further work is required (in order to justify the need for my proposed contribution to the field).  In terms of my DArch programme, this will be ‘Document 2.’

I will then (in DArch ‘document 3’) seek answers to the question ‘who has managed to combine community ethos and practice development most successfully, and how have they done this?’ – looking in particular at the techniques deployed in relationship to community engagement.  I have a hunch, however, that the overall conclusion to my research will be that it is not actually these techniques that matter the most in terms of business growth, but other ‘secondary’ activities associated with community projects – such as the opportunities for publicity and marketing that such projects represent.  My methodology at this stage will be the objectivist case study, concluding with comparative evaluation of the firms’ facts and figures, in order to discover whether there are any common factors characterising the best/worst performers in terms of business growth.  The topics covered by the case study will have emerged from my review of the literature (commenced in ‘document 2’ but continuing in the interests of maintaining currency).

DArch ‘document 4’ will then test the ‘success factors’ (but not the ‘failure factors’ – on the grounds that this would be practically unrealistic, being commercially undesirable, if not also socially unethical).  The testing would involve me in Action Research, using one or two 2hD projects as an opportunity to try out certain community engagement techniques (and perhaps some of the other ‘secondary’ activities associated with them) in order to double-check their effectiveness as tools for business growth.

At some point in what currently feels like a long-distant future, I will finally be able to draft some conclusions in respect of what works, what kinds of approach or activity to avoid – DArch ‘document 5.’  If summarised in terms of recommendations for the profession (whether as ‘principles’ to be adopted, or as a ‘process’ to be followed – perhaps in a form suitable for insertion into a practice’s quality manual).  Perhaps at that point, I will at last have begun to bridge the great divide in the profession between the private pursuit of commercial interests and the public exercise of social responsibility.

“In the profession” only?  This is surely what yesterday’s election was all about – a choice between whether we should govern ourselves in accordance with socialistic or capitalistic values.  Does this make me a ‘liberal democrat’, I begin to wonder?

The collaborative economy as cradle for social innovation

By Chris Heuvel, on

An essay on ‘the internet of things’ by Rakesh Ramchurn in a recent AJ (03.04.14 – vol.241, issue 13, p.55) introduces a term not previously encountered – the collaborative economy, the rise of which is said to mirror “the interconnectivity of social media by allowing resources to be pooled for mutual benefit... ‘a sharing economy is essential for the creation of new ideas’, says Nic Clear, head of the department of architecture and landscape at the University of Greenwich.  ‘Reliance on the market brings none of the supposed benefits that are often claimed; markets do not foster greater innovation, competition, efficiency or equality.  Only cooperation and collaboration achieve those goals.’  Here, perhaps, is a link between the ‘social innovation’ that Tom Fisher is suggesting I investigate, and the situation of small architectural practices – “studio culture will still exist but in a reconfigured form, where small practices or freelance individuals share physical resources such as premises, IT infrastructure, specialist technologies and technical support.”

And this week’s AJ (17.04.15 – vol.241, issue 13, p.47) features a new architectural practice ‘Lateral North’ :

“Our work is mainly community-based, developing a project from the business plan all the way through to completion, ensuring that all the time the community’s interests are at the heart of the project... Our biggest marketing tools are presentations, workshops and exhibitions...this has ensured we get new work delving into different disciplines.  We also use social media a lot to get our work out there.”

A good precedent for the proposed seminar I organise at OTS, which Tom Fisher has endorsed this week.

UK architecture's political location moves closer to 'community'

By Chris Heuvel, on

Further evidence of the new topicality of ‘community’ in relation to architecture?  I read in AJ 27.03.15 (p.18) Paul Finch reporting on a rumour that – as a result of the Farrell Review – governmental responsibility for architecture is to be moved from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the (more powerful) Department for Communities and Local Government, where it will sit alongside housing, planning and sustainability: just weeks before the election but good, from the profession’s point of view, as it was DCMS who scrapped CABE in April 2011, whereas DCLG were relatively supportive of CABE (aiding its merger with the Design Council “where the flag is still flying for architectural and urban quality.”

In the same issue (p.22), it is noted by Hattie Hartman that the Newcastle University MArch students’ ‘Stargazing Pavilion’ in Stonehaugh (recently shortlisted for the AJ Small Projects award) was “noteworthy for the students’ extensive engagement with local villagers throughout design and construction.”

And on p.51, Meredith Bowles (of Mole Architects, Cambridge) observes that “for centuries buildings were made as they were required, which Paul Oliver describes as ‘by the people, but not for the people.’  The resulting houses, streets and neighbourhoods are delightfully human in scale.  It is these places that people seek while travelling – places that are good to walk in and for meeting and observing others...  Unfortunately, the author proceeds to argue that “good design can only be achieved by good designers, and then only if they are employed early enough to make a substantial difference...” – the technocratic (designing around the principles of walkable neighbourhoods – as advocated by Jan Gehl and the New Urbanists) returns to displace the democratic.

'Ladder of participation' theory

By Chris Heuvel, on

Talking to Brian Smith about the similarities between the community engagement/practice relationship that I am interested in, and his work on political engagement (now just started in the purdah period leading up to the election) / civil service policy development, he refers me to Sherry Arnstein’s ‘ladder of citizen participation’ concept’ first outlined in American Institute of Planning (AIP) Journal July 1969:

Ÿ          Ÿ citizen control            user-owned

Ÿ          delegated power       user-led                      degrees of citizen power

Ÿ          partnership                  user-partnered

Ÿ          placation                       user-involved

Ÿ          consultation                user-consulted          degrees of tokenism

Ÿ          informing                      user-informed

Ÿ          therapy                          user-placated             non-participation