PRACTICE AND COMMUNITY:

how may architectural practices develop through involvement in community engagement projects?

 

 

Document 3b – RESEARCH PROJECT 1

(with Minor Modifications –
submitted in November 2017)

 

 

Preface

The Research Project described in this document is the first of two contrasting studies required in conjunction with NTU’s Professional Doctorate programme (leading to a DArch degree award).  Having outlined the research proposal in Document 1 (‘Project Identification and Planning’), Document 2 (‘Literature Review and Conceptual Framework’) identified and explored some of the relevant written material, aiming to derive a suitable methodological context for addressing my main research question.  This Document 3 discusses first where I chose to look for some of the data I needed and how I gathered it, then how I represented the information and proceeded to analyse it, and finally what outcomes the exercise suggested in terms of the relationship between architectural practice development and community engagement.  As previously, I am indebted to my research supervisors, Professor Tom Fisher and Dr Kevin Love, and to the ever-helpful NTU library team, but I must now acknowledge also a wide range of architectural, educationalist and Prof Doc colleagues, who (knowingly or not) provided reassurance and encouragement in the lengthy gestation of this part of my project.  Above all, I must thank the professional practitioners who kindly consented to be drawn more specifically into my research enquiries.  Having entered into dialogue with them in a variety of forms and circumstances, I trust that my presentation of our encounters as a series of parallel ‘case studies’ (following an approximately consistent format) has not unduly influenced my identification of particular ideas for discussion.  Irrespective of the extent to which their observations and ideas have been incorporated into this Document, I am indebted to them all for sparing the time to offer authentic comment upon ‘the realities’ of practice and public engagement.

 

CONTENTS

Preface

1.           CONTEXTUALISATION

2             MOBILIZATION

3             MATERIALISATION

4             INTERROGATION

5             INTEGRATION

Bibliography

Appendix A      Assemble, Bermondsey

Appendix B      Rod Hackney Associates, Macclesfield

Appendix C      RCKa Ltd, Shoreditch

Appendix D     White Design Associates, Bristol

Appendix E      Stride Treglown plc, Clifton

Appendix F      muf architecture|art, South Hackney

Appendix G     Jo Cowen Architects Ltd, Parsons Green

Appendix H     Contribution to the ARB Review 2017

 

 

1.           CONTEXTUALISATION

 “Have you ever met a painter who began his masterpiece by first choosing the frame?”  (Latour 2005:143)

This ‘Document 3’ reflects an attempt not directly to answer but at least to give meaning-loaded ‘character’ to the first part of my research question – originally framed as “how may architectural practices develop in conjunction with involvement in community engagement projects?”  If ‘architectural practices’ are to be the subject of my study, I needed first to identify a suitable sample of them for investigation.  Section 1, accordingly, discusses how I selected potential research participants, and with what expectations in terms of conclusions.

In developing and discussing the disciplinary and academic relevance of my original research question, Document 1 affirmed its timeliness and significance, but primarily as a rhetorical device for launching inductive studies such as this.  I needed to leave myself room to modify objectives if considered appropriate in the interests of validity or clarity.  In the process of making ‘minor modifications’ to this text, for example, simplification of the research question itself (substituting ‘through’ for ‘in conjunction with’) seemed appropriate as a means of enhancing the Document’s receptibility to non-academic practitioners.

My Document 2 argued, on the basis of secondary research, for a specific approach to frame the methodologies adopted in subsequent primary research studies (such as this one): Bruno Latour’s ‘actor-network-theory’ (ANT) seemed to afford a promisingly viable and appropriate tool with which to secure a purchase upon issues likely to be raised – not least upon the grounds both of ethical transparency and of relevance to the topic itself.  As ‘Practice and Community’ is concerned with a relationship rather than with separate self-contained entities, I judged exploration through identifying instances of cross-fertilisation between topics preferable to abstract theorising.

Having thus conceptualised the nature of the information I required for my study, this first section of Document 3 reviews the context for selecting research participants.  Extending the discussion of ‘topicality’ in Documents 1 and 2, current issues and attitudes within the architectural profession suggested initial focus upon the material outputs of a few professional practices with a particular reputation for involvement in community architecture.  Latour’s terminology (2005:107) demands a critical perspective rooted in the physical –adopting a realist (materialist) standpoint which nevertheless permits creative interpretation further to a specific agenda.  In the case of this Study, as Document 2 suggested, that agenda is associated with the democratisation of decision-taking in relation to the design of the built environment.

The latter word ‘environment,’ carrying the implication that context is merely peripheral, immediately raises issues of an ontological nature – demanding re-statement of my standpoint as researcher (the provenance of which was substantially examined in Document 2).  I had originally been attracted to object-oriented ontology (Harman 2002) on the grounds that it offers a philosophically valid alternative to the hubris of an anthropocentric viewpoint.  While it rules out exclusively phenomenological modes of inquiry (involving ‘overmining’ – the construction of interpretivist superstructures upon subjective observations), OOO also deprecates the ‘undermining’ of objects via the reductivist viewpoint associated with modernism and ‘neoliberal’ capitalism, in which only generalised quantitative data are respected.  This Study has located ‘environment’ as a common ground at the intersection of ‘Practice’ (what architects do) and ‘Community’ (what people who live in a particular locality do, further to shared needs and aspirations).

Treatment of environment as indicative of a relationship between potentially verifiable objects, not constraining nor qualifying nor influencing them, but only emerging as an entity in its own right as an outcome of their interaction, suggested a similarly restrained but connective approach through this Study overall.  Having thus anticipated a broadly hermeneutic research methodology – “recapturing the meanings of interacting others” (Cohen et al, 2011:32) but without expecting to recover all the intentions of the actors in a situation – I must explain my choice of methods for gathering, representing and analysing my research findings in order to draw conclusions from them.

As Awan, Schneider and Till (2011) observed in relation to their development of a comprehensive database of “other ways of doing architecture,” frequent contradiction between architects’ declared intentions (as authors) and users’ interpretations of their output provides fertile ground for the exploration of ‘spatial agency’.  As the more mundane aim of this first Research Study was to discover how ‘mainstream’ architectural practices have engaged with communities alongside their business development however, I avoided using the ‘spatial agency’ website as a prime source of ‘actors’ to investigate* (although muf – Appendix F to this document – is included among the practices listed on the website).

*  This was not to diminish the importance of the critique of conventional practice that ‘Spatial Agency’ promotes through its wide range of exemplars of collaborative approaches to changing the environment – generally characterised by endeavours to empower others rather than by the exercise of relative power through one’s privileged training as an architect.  Further discussion of the ideological position advanced by ‘Spatial Agency’ must be reserved for DArch document 5.

Document 2 (section 1.1) observed how ‘community architecture’ re-emerged as a core issue within the profession in 2015, and then proceeded to arouse discussion across a much broader public with the award of the 2015 Turner Prize to the architectural collective ‘Assemble(Higgins 2015) – a practice which was therefore immediately identified as a candidate for participation in this research study (see Appendix A).  Building upon the anti-capitalist protests of the anarchist group Class War (2017) – registered as a UK political party since 2014, and of the global (through reliance upon social media) Occupy movement (White 2016), campaign-groups such as ‘Architects for Social Housing,’ or Focus E15 in the London Borough of Newham (Focus E15 2017), have become increasingly strident in their demands for the democratisation of architectural and urban design processes.  Their activist resistance to the ‘gentrification’ of major London housing estates represents a ‘bottom-up’ response, they claim (ASH 2015), to government-driven policy* in respect of shortages in Britain’s housing supply.

*  Legislative incentives such as ‘buy to let’ (allowing mortgage interest to be offset against landlord’s tax returns), coupled with steady increase in property values – especially in London – against a backdrop of fiscally stagnant ‘austerity’, have favoured programmes of comprehensive redevelopment (involving substantial demolition and replacement of housing, rather than piecemeal refurbishment and infill).

In terms of the residential sector in particular, the current UK situation may be described as strikingly similar to that engendered by 1970s government policy for slum clearance – the context in which ‘community architecture’ originally developed in Britain.  Having been identified by Charles Knevitt (Wates and Knevitt 1987) as the pioneer of this concept, the practice run by Macclesfield-based architect Rod Hackney (President of the RIBA between 1987 and 1989) was selected another rendezvous for this study (Appendix B) – amplified by the comprehensive description of his experience within his own book about it (Hackney and Sweet 1990).

In order to balance the reference to literature dating from the 1970s-80s when ‘community architecture’ had a much higher profile than now (as discussed in Document 2 – pages 43-44), the identification of other architectural practices to be drawn into my research was based more upon their profile* within recent professional journals (based upon articles featuring community engagement in the design process) than within academic studies of ‘alternative’ architectural practice.  The basis upon which participants were identified for this study was neither systematic nor broad-based – my primary aim, in the short time available for the research, being to provide a certain depth rather than (elusive) breadth.  Arguably, serendipity always plays a part in research studies (Foster and Ford 2003, McBirnie 2008, Åkerström 2013, Foster and Ellis 2014), especially in interdisciplinary contexts (Darbellay, et al. 2014).  Researchers, just as much as business-oriented practitioners, need to respond to whatever they identify as opportunities, with the result that chance comes to characterise the context for gathering data.  This may be unreliable as a method – though Foucault’s ‘archaeological’ (1972 [1969]) approach to knowledge represents a reassuringly anti-phenomenological celebration of contingency, but can be regarded as no less authoritative if it produces useful findings.

*  In Britain at least, magazine articles – aiming for impact upon the profession at large – usually represent the outcome of press-releases ostensibly drawing attention to current issues and ways of addressing them, but delicately concealing marketing as a motive (reflecting a traditional culture of architecture as a profession rather than a trade, with the consequent embarrassment about commercial objectives that is embedded in my original research question).  My investigation of the firms selected for this Study found them all particularly skilled in self-promotion.

Irrespective of the number of firms investigated, the selection of practices claiming an interest in community architecture could never have purported to reflect a ‘representative’ sample: I was unsurprised to discover that variations between them (in terms of size, age, location, market positioning etc) far exceed the number of their similarities (in terms of architectural aspirations, beliefs and values).  In the interests of making this Study relevant to a broad spectrum of the architectural profession, however, it was appropriate that the firms selected for research should be as different from one another as my time and space constraints permitted.  Three practices (Architecture 00, Carl Turner Architects, and Studio Geddye) declined to participate in the exercise, leaving me with seven firms to investigate in terms of how they manage to combine practice development with community engagement:
·               Assemble (Bermondsey)
·               Rod Hackney Associates (Macclesfield)
·               RCKa Ltd (Shoreditch)
·               White Design Associates (Bristol)
·               Stride Treglown plc (Clifton)
·               muf architecture|art, Hackney
·               Jo Cowen Architects Ltd (JCA), Parsons Green.

My findings in respect of each of the above are contained in Appendices A-G to this document.  JCA was examined and evaluated in the same way as the other six practices, but – following my conclusion that their operation does not constitute ‘community architecture’ in quite the sense intended for the purposes of this Study, and in the context of a requirement to cut the length of this (modified) Document by several thousand words – further reference to this specific firm has been omitted.

Through my research blog (https://www.2hd.uk/chris/research) and other ‘elevator-pitch’ conversations with individuals (both members of the public and fellow-professionals), some interview respondents (White Design Associates – Appendix D, and Stride Treglown plc – Appendix E, both based in Bristol) were selected on no more than the random basis of interest they had expressed in the research project.  I had considered it appropriate to look outside the London ‘hothouse’ environment, anticipating that in more ‘provincial’ locations ‘community architecture’ might be discovered never to have disappeared completely but to have maintained a steady trickle over the forty years since it originated there (the approach never having been intended as a national panacea for the resolution of built environment issues).  For comparison, I identified a small metropolitan practice (RCKa Ltd – Appendix C) because of their high profile in key professional journals – the AJ, Building Design, and the RIBA Journal.  For improved comprehensivity, I asked research participants to identify fellow practitioners who, in their view, had developed model approaches to community engagement that also yield ‘added value’ in terms of practice development.  It was both Assemble and RCKa Ltd who recommended, accordingly, that I should identify muf (Appendix F) as additional research participants.  The seven cases studied in this Document consisted, accordingly, of a mixture of old and young architectural practices, large and small, London-based and provincial.

My almost random sample of UK practices noted for their ‘community architecture’ enabled me at least to identify a variety of business approaches, each of which had seemed to prove effective in its own terms, therefore qualifying itself as pertinent to my research*.  I can make no significant claim, however, for the comprehensiveness of this Study, which was conducted with no expectation of being able to identify common transactional themes related to practice – my purpose was simply to explore the field, identifying a few landmarks rather than developing a comprehensive map of the terrain.  As I expected to encounter minimal commonality between the firms’ very separate approaches to the integration of ‘practice and community,’ my chosen methodology needed to preclude any such destination.

*  If economic uncertainty generated by the result of the EU referendum on 23.06.16 has now begun to diminish major developers’ enthusiasm for such unsustainable forms of regeneration as comprehensive redevelopment of run-down housing estates (Waite and Marrs 2017), ‘Brexit’ might have been identified as a growth opportunity for practices which champion a more socialistic approach to housing provision.  None of the practitioners engaged in this research professed such ideas, however, suggesting that community architecture is regarded less as a strategic opportunity than as an operational tactic.

 

 

2     MOBILIZATION

When the wise man shows the moon, the moron looks at the finger”  (Latour 2005:235, 2010:42)

Having discussed how I selected my research participants, Section 2 explains my strategy for engaging with them, which needed to reflect their situation as busy professionals committed to running successful practices and therefore unwilling to spare ‘time out’ to help me pursue my research interests.  This section discusses what kinds of relevant information I could expect to gather from them within this context, justifying my adoption of semi-structured interviews as an appropriate means of doing so.  I discuss my identification of topics to be addressed if possible, protocols adopted, and the anticipated significance of data obtained in this way.  Having outlined my plans and expectations, this section concludes with reflections upon my actual experience of securing interviews with the selected practitioners.  

Throughout this Study, I sought to capture and understand the perceptions of my research participants with minimal influence attributable to my processes of interaction with them*.  Mindful of Nieswiadomy’s (2002) requirement that personal experiences should be ‘bracketed’ for a better understanding of those described by the participants in a study, I therefore avoided reliance upon phenomenological evidence (although initially gathered in outline as ‘first impressions’ when visiting my selected practices).

*  In particular, I was concerned to minimise opportunities for bias arising from my own position as a fellow-professional.  Being an ‘insider’ might have reassured participants that I would understand the nuances of any information they provided, but also raised the possibility of conflicts of interest arising from my role as an architect engaged in activities similar to theirs, and therefore a potential competitor for their business – causing my interlocutors to be reticent about certain aspects of their practice.

For consistency with this study’s epistemological foundations in Latour’s thinking, my understanding of how the selected practices reconcile business objectives with meaningful community projects needed to be developed by reference to material ‘traces’ left in the wake of their activities – the buildings they design being of course the most obtrusive and long-lasting.  Being concerned with process rather than product however, my study did not extend to critical evaluation of such architectural outcomes.  Opportunities were nevertheless taken, when they presented themselves, to visit some of the selected firms’ projects, in the event that they might provide grounds for either reinforcing or challenging information obtained largely within the practices’ offices*.

*  Appendix A (page 12) describes a visit to Assemble’s ‘Granby 4 Streets’ scheme in Liverpool, for example, suggesting that some of the Turner Prize-winning publicity may have been ‘hype’, as residents in the area (and even the local postman) were unaware of the location of Granby Workshop.

‘Practice’ can refer both to an organisation and to its activities – both terms capable of being associated with physically observable manifestations.  To reinforce its identity as an organisation, for example, an architectural practice will typically seek to dignify itself with a name capable of distinguishing it from others with similar objectives (LePage 2014).  For business purposes, conventional architectural firms seek to enhance their self-identifying ‘reality’ through registration (with Companies House in UK) as a legal entity, or by joining the RIBA’s list of ‘Chartered Practices’ (RIBA 2015) with the objective of securing inclusion in Directories published as a means of attracting potential clients.  The Assemble case-study (Appendix A) clearly demonstrates, however, that practices (especially when in their infancy) can also exist as merely loose associations of individuals who maintain frequent communication with one another – with no fixed address, no constitution, and perhaps not even a website initially.  Similarly RCKa Ltd (Appendix C, paragraph 1) depict their practice origins as a product of their founders’ gradual independence from other employers, rather than sudden establishment as a new business open for enquiries.

Being concerned with the need for practices to succeed as profitable businesses at the same time as serving ‘society at large’ in discharge of their professional obligations – enshrined most clearly in the RIBA Code (RIBA 2005) discussed in Document 1 (page 5), my research question might have been effectively addressed through reviewing financial data* associated with the selected practices.  Being aware (from my ‘insider’ position) that practitioners can be highly sensitive about commercial information, however, I judged it unwise to seek purely quantitative data in relation to practices’ business development.  Even the process of questioning practitioners verbally would have carried irreducible risks in terms of veracity had I requested financial information.  For smaller architectural practices especially (the size most commonly involved in community engagement exercises), I feared the absence of a dedicated financial manager would make it impossible to obtain reliable information concerning which particular projects had been the most profitable, and where exactly within these projects had such profits been made.

*  Obtaining this kind of data would have required adoption of a ‘mixed methods’ research strategy, demanding analysis of a comprehensive set of research findings through “inductively building from particulars to general themes, and the researcher making interpretations of the meaning of the data(Creswell 2007:4).  My aim was at least not to preclude such a ‘mixed methods’ approach to my research findings – having been identified by Tashakkori and Teddlie (1998) as particularly well suited to social science issues.  I therefore resolved to gather information about the selected practices without thought for the method I would adopt for its analysis, aiming to minimise the risk of data being selected simply on the grounds of ease of processing). 

I nevertheless provided for commercial sensitivity in initial invitations to participate in my Study by stating that information collected would be fully anonymised if requested, and then submitted for comment and approval before being incorporated into any DArch text.  I also advised practices that numerical data would be used only for illustrative purposes – there being no intention to engage in comparative analysis between different firms, based upon statistical or any other procedures (principally because there was no possibility of – or even point in – manipulating such quantitative variables in order to test alternative hypotheses related to their significance).  In the event, none of my selected practices provided any quantitative information, confirming the wisdom of avoiding reference to financial accounts as a basis for quantitative research (despite their materiality, even figures I succeeded in obtaining might have been incomplete or unreliable* – without my ever knowing which).

*  Reference to Companies House for the public information required in respect of a limited company’s annual accounts is usually unhelpful in respect of the profitability of individual projects.  Simply because it is more convenient for managers to handle aggregated data, a variety of accounting conventions is available for producing depictions of a company’s financial performance – making it possible to pick between alternative ways of manipulating the information (Halliday 2016) according to its intended consumers.  The figures that marketing managers may wish to promote can be quite different to those shared with taxation authorities.  Accountancy is not at all an exact science.  For this reason, some practices might have found it difficult to isolate financial information related to specific projects, but even more difficult to admit having such problems. 

‘Practice’ considered in terms of activities rather than as an organisation leaves readily accessible material ‘traces’ in forms such as drawings, documents and models, which could therefore have been adopted as a more trustworthy focus of research than financial accounts.  I could have looked in particular at drawing revisions undertaken in the name of design development – perhaps in conjunction with the amount of time associated with such processes. 

Whether undertaken by practitioners alone or alongside (community-based) clients, the materiality of change is central to design as an activity, principally because any ‘work’ involves re(al)location of resources – or their re-assembly in Latour’s (2005) terms.  Unfortunately, my own “practical constraints of location, time, money and availability of staff(Hakim 2000:4) permitted neither prolonged ‘live’ observation of practitioners’ activities, nor detailed examination of their physical output.

Reasoning that, in the context also of my research participants’ availability, my study should confine itself to the practitioners’ own accounts of their activities, I was concerned to obtain ‘hard’ data in respect of each practice, rather than matters of hearsay or opinion further to office policy or architectural philosophy.  For best control over the information-gathering process, I quickly dismissed the use of structured or even open-ended questionnaires as principal means for obtaining material: “you don’t know what lies behind the responses selected or, more importantly, answers the respondents might have given had they been free to respond as they wished” (Gillham 2008:2).  To minimise the risk of practitioners providing me with carefully guarded responses* (due to concern for image or for commercial confidentiality), I judged that talking directly with them would represent the most effective way of gathering information of the quality I needed.

*  Inability to observe the context in which questionnaires had been answered (in terms of time taken, quality of participants’ engagement, or reference to ancillary information, for example) would have carried the risk – difficult to verify – that responses might reflect an instinctive desire of respondents to present their firms in an unduly favourable light.  Questionnaire responses can easily be selective (or even creative) – either for well-intentioned but misguided, or for self-conscious and misleading, reasons.

In my initial emails making contact with practitioners and requesting a short interview, I nevertheless outlined my proposed questions about the operation of their practices.  While practitioners’ awareness of my agenda might have coloured some of the responses they provided, it would have been impossible – and unethical – to have set up ‘interviews’ with them without having first outlined the scope of my research.  Anticipating that some might decline their invitation to participate in my study, I requested written answers if they were unable to meet me in person, observing that I might seek to treat their comments as research findings in themselves.  In the event, however, I received no such responses – reassuringly suggesting that it had not been the proposed format for data-gathering that had deterred practitioners from participating in my research.

Taking advantage of my ‘insider’ position with some understanding of fellow-professionals’ interests and priorities, I proposed that my meetings with practitioners should resemble ‘natural conversation:’ I would lead the dialogue (based upon careful self-preparation in respect of specific areas of interest), but with a ‘light touch’ in order to maximise opportunities for spontaneity (and therefore authenticity) on the part of my respondents.  Such a ‘semi-structured interview’ technique demanded maximum use of open-ended and follow-up* questions which, if posed in a relaxed context, might encourage participants to speak sometimes ‘at a tangent’ to what they believed to be the main issues: “the more open-ended the questioning, the better, as the researcher listens carefully to what people say or do in their life settings(Creswell 2009:8).

*  My proposed use of unplanned supplementary questions suggested a data-gathering strategy resembling ‘responsive interviewing’ – in which “researchers respond to and then ask further questions about what they hear from the interviewees, rather than rely exclusively on predetermined questions … working with interviewees as partners rather than treating them as objects of research… maintaining an ongoing relationship with the interviewees, whom we term conversational partners(Rubin and Rubin 2012:xv).

A particular attraction of the ‘natural conversation’ technique was that it required little preliminary development and testing (every dialogue being both relevant and unique), although it risked making later coordination and analysis of responses more difficult (offering choices between pre-selected answers to closed or multiple-choice questions would have made analysis much easier, but at the expense of weakening the practitioners’ voice).  Greater skills were demanded in ‘guiding’ open-ended conversation around topics to be addressed (while maintaining sensitivity to unexpected information), but – even with only a few interviews – I was able to gain richer, more reliable information than would have been possible through structured questionnaires:  “you can send out a thousand questionnaires in the time it takes to do two semi-structured interviews” (Gilham 2008:5-6).

Being able to follow-up in a ‘live’ interview context whatever I recognised as references to unanticipated factors related to practice growth – as if reflecting a ‘grounded theory’ strategy (Strauss 2008) – seemed to represent the most productive environment for obtaining the broadest possible range of information – enabling me then to explore selected topics in greater depth.  This approach promised also to reduce potential for responses based upon (possibly false) consciousness of my research expectations – expressed in a courteously professional (but nevertheless mistaken) desire to ‘help’ by giving answers intended to support particular findings or outcomes.

Recognising that conversations may be shaped by their physical context almost as much as by the cultural perspectives of those who engage in them, I requested interviews in the practitioners’ own workplaces whenever possible.  Despite considering reference to the office environment unlikely to prove relevant in respect of the research question, I nevertheless recorded subjective impressions of the interview environment – as if in tokenistic respect for a phenomenological strategy (Moustakas 1994)*.  Even in this process however, I carefully avoided reference to any checklist, either preconceived or developed between interviews (expanding the range of contextual factors as they were recognised), as I wanted to minimise the possibility of ‘connections’ between participating firms being interpolated by me before being identified by the practitioners themselves.

*  While inclusion of ethnographic evidence (Wolcott 1999) might have been consistent with Latour’s paradigm, I had no expectation of such observations either undermining or reinforcing ideas expressed verbally by my respondents.  My objective was simply to capture nuances that language alone would have been incapable of reflecting (Thompson 1981). Looking and listening (to other people’s conversations also), coupled with occasional maintenance of “an interested silence(Gillham 2008:11), might have provided valuable extensions to relatively ‘unstructured’ interviews, but I aimed to reduce potential for misinterpretation through good preparation in advance of my conversations with practitioners.

Seeking objectivity, my research focus was to be upon connections made between seemingly separate topics within each practitioner’s responses to interview questions rather than upon my own role within the dialogue (characterised by rigid adherence to particular lines of questioning, for example, or by premature checklists of observations to make when interacting with participants).  Latour’s critical realist approach to data-gathering demands maximum open-mindedness in the admission of empirical evidence alongside minimised personal involvement in its generation.  His approach, on which my own was modelled, might be identified as a mixture of ‘grounded theory’ and ‘constructivism’ – except (in terms of interpretation) that it sanctions postponement of the ‘assemblage’ of data into theoretical statements.  Significantly, Latour permits the deflection of attention both from the researcher’s originating questions and from linguistic nuances within the responses (amplified by the kinds of hesitation, body-language or use of accessories that might have been at least partially represented through meticulous transcription of recorded speech).  In my Study, ontological weight was attributed instead to interview respondents’ statements, relinquishing the construction of any explanatory framework in favour of careful empirical attention to the plurality of what the research participants say about what they do.

To practitioners who responded positively to my emailed request for their participation in this study, the form and content of the proposed interviews was fully explained in advance*.  Interviewees were invited to determine the timing and setting of our meetings (reflecting professional consciousness of the value of their time, awareness of my disruptive intrusion as a stranger into their world, and anxiety to make respondents feel as comfortable as possible – encouraging them to provide specific rather than generic information). 

*  What I did not explain in advance either how the information obtained would be analysed and selected for possible further discussion in the context of my research question or how the interviewees’ choice of timing and setting (together with my own experiences of the lead-up to the meeting, of the interview itself, and of its aftermath) might also have been treated as additional research findings in their own right – part of the ‘evidence’ collected for interpretation through this study.  In the event, however, my chosen method of analysis in relation to the practitioners’ own words made it unnecessary to refer to this kind of data.

The democratic ethos driving this Study demanded a consistently self-effacing relationship with interview respondents.  Identification of the latter as research ‘subjects’ would have reflected inappropriate intrusion of power into the exercise, expressed through a “tendency to dominate or ‘colonise’ the research(Banks and Manners 2012) – albeit understandable within the context of time limitations associated both with the interviewees’ availability and with the demands of the DArch timetable).  I therefore made three commitments in respect of data-gathering conversations:
a)      sharing control: interviewees would be at liberty to ‘digress’ in any direction they chose when answering questions or responding to comments.  The admission of seemingly ‘random’ information through this protocol was consistent with Latour’s demand that researchers should “let the actors deploy the full range of controversies in which they are immersed... the task of defining and ordering the social should be left to the actors themselves, not taken up by the analyst…(Latour 2005:23).  In the interests of revealing unanticipated observations, I considered it important to avoid being seen to steer the conversation along a predetermined narrow track: “if all the questions and all the possible answers are determined in advance, the element of discovery is much reduced (Gillham 2008:2).

b)      sharing resources: interviewees were encouraged to visit my practice-based Blog (https://www.2hd.uk/chris/research), which not only maintained a record of reflections upon both the research topic and the writing process, but also provided access to the texts of Documents 1 and 2.  In this way, participants in the research process (and indeed anybody else interested – particularly the two co-Directors of my own architectural practice) could familiarise themselves with the main research question, how and why it had been identified as a topic for further investigation, and the whole context in which this project was being undertaken.

c)      sharing outcomes: interviewees were advised that certain benefits might flow from participation in this Research Study.  I asserted that increased self-awareness of one’s day-to-day activities can often lead to the identification of more effective ways of operating – cultivating what Schön (1983) terms ‘the reflective practitioner’.  Through access to the developing text of this Document, interviewees could also ‘benchmark’ themselves against practitioners engaged in similar work – such ‘inter-firm comparison’ opportunities normally being available only in return for payment.

Making such promises at the outset of the research exercise served not merely to encourage participation but also to demonstrate appreciation of the associated impact upon practitioners in terms of demand upon their commercially valuable time and energy (in terms of intellectual and managerial attention).  My initial requests for an interview always specified a one-hour time-constraint* therefore, coupled with the promise of opportunity to provide feedback upon my written record of what was said.  Following the event, I advised respondents, the first draft of my summary of our meeting (including general description of my experience of visiting their practice) would be submitted to them for comment, with invitations to delete, amend or add to the text wherever they felt it appropriate – in order to preserve anonymity, for example, in the interests of commercial or marketing confidentiality.  In the interests of transparency however, I also advised respondents that their revisions (without identifying particular points unless specifically permitted) might also be treated as research outcomes for the purposes of analysis and interpretation.

Although my strategy had involved purposive sampling (in that only practices with established reputations for community engagement were to be interviewed), securing the engagement even of these practitioners proved to be an unexpectedly lengthy process.  Some three months after first making contact with them, on average, I found myself little nearer dates and times for the one-to-one meetings I sought with the key practitioners*.

*  Speculating on the significance of my difficulty in securing interviews, I wondered whether it might have been more appropriate (in the context of my originally planned time-frame) to have adopted some alternative to my proposed ‘live’ encounter, such as the use of written questionnaires.  Having initially requested a face-to-face meeting, however, I felt this would have undermined the practitioners’ confidence in my ability to connect research question to research method (a questionnaire might have been appropriate had my research question been of a quantitative nature, for example).  Even more worrying, I also began to wonder whether the practitioners’ apparent reluctance to meet reflected lack of interest in my research question, casting doubt in respect of its relevance.

In my initial requests for an interview, I had explained that I regarded face-to-face meetings as essential in order to minimise the risk of words being misunderstood, over-carefully considered, or filtered or influenced in ways beyond either my control or awareness.  I wished to visit the practitioners in their own offices, I had asserted, not so much as a means of obtaining additional information about the way in which they practise (time constraints would not allow such insights). but rather on the grounds that, if they were located in environments where they felt relatively comfortable, their conversation would be more likely to slip freely from one topic to another with minimal prompting from myself.  By ‘empowering the interviewee’ in this way, I had hoped practitioners would feel inclined to be more candid in their responses to my inquiries, enabling me to capture some more authentic (and therefore more telling) instances of ‘connection’ between practice and community.

In order to prompt my respondents to identify differences over time in terms of the character of their output, I had organised my proposed interview questions into an approximately chronological sequence.  I hoped this would help my respondents focus (unconsciously) upon business development, but this plan demanded familiarisation with the practices’ body of work in advance of conversations with them.  While I was aware that such foreknowledge risked making it slightly more difficult to capture the respondents’ own voices (especially when my understanding was acquired through articles by others in the architectural press), I anticipated significant benefits within a time-constrained interview in terms of recognising and understanding practitioners’ references to particular projects.  To ensure I arrived adequately briefed about the firms being interviewed (so that my questioning could be more carefully targeted – if not as a matter of professional courtesy), I therefore undertook preliminary paper-based and web-based research into each of the practices I visited (the results of which are also incorporated into Appendices A-G).

In the event, I found that – when finally engaged face-to-face with practitioners (mostly taking advantage of practices’ winding down in terms of workload towards Christmas 2017), I found myself rewarded (and completely reassured) by the practitioners’ generally enthusiastic support for my research question*.  This took the form not merely of professionally polite expressions of interest in my eventual findings, but – in the case of White Design Associates – reference of the interview material to the editor of the RIBA Journal, who then contacted me (on 15.03.17) with a request for other material from this study also to be submitted for possible publication. 

*  On the other hand, when copies of the original interviews (Appendices A-G) were forwarded to the originating practices for comment and approval prior to non-anonymised inclusion in this study, only two responded with suggestions for amendments to the proposed text (identified by the use of the colour red in Appendices D and E).  The proposed amendments were merely factual corrections, however, and provided no insights in terms of my research question.

I surmised that the reason for practitioners’ initial delay in fixing an appointment had been their commitment to fee-earning activity, which – in their view – had to take priority over an unknown researcher’s queries related to a sector of their business that they possibly regarded as being subsidiary.  The choice of commercially successful firms for interview, and the request to take up an hour’s time of key practitioners within these firms, meant that both the interview and review of the subsequent written record of it represented significant costs for those involved.  They might have regarded the exercise as a poor or risky investment, with loss of income inadequately offset by the promised benefits to the practice in terms of insight or ideas. 

Speculating upon the disjunction between social values and commercial interests suggested by the difficulties I encountered in the data-gathering process (associated even with practices publicly noted for commitment to community engagement), I feared initially my deliberate focus upon material evidence only had led me to a dead-end.  What I had discovered, perhaps, was that there are fewer practices than originally believed who specialise in user-engagement in the design process – or who regard this kind of activity as peripheral to their main business.  Mindful of Alinsky’s (1971:32) suggestion that “concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa,” depressing on the grounds that “a society devoid of compromise is totalitarian(Alinsky 1971:59), I began to suspect that my whole research project might be focused upon something that does not exist – an architectural practice that derives all its income from public engagement projects.  For a short time, it looked almost as though my original research question was redundant. 

Concluding that practice development is fundamentally incompatible with community engagement might have constituted a valid research outcome in its own right.  In the interests of generating more productive insights for the benefit of socially committed architectural practitioners however, I was concerned to avoid over-hasty adoption of such a negative (and already commonplace) observation as a hypothesis to be tested though subsequent processing of the material – the kind of ‘analytic generalisation’ that Yin (2003:50) describes as essential to the design of research testing for replicability rather than for sampling-based logic.  According to Yin, traditional case-study data must be evaluated in terms of ‘rival theories’, requiring the formulation of not one but at least two initial hypotheses: “theory development prior to the conduct of any data collection is one point of difference between case studies and related methods such as ethnography and grounded theory” (Yin 2003:28).

The Appendices to this document cannot be described as ‘case-studies’ in the usual business or medical school sense of a sufficiently detailed history to permit useful lessons to be drawn.  For reasons explained in the next section of this Study, they contain no more than paraphrases of my interviews with selected practitioners.  Even though this Study was intended to be more exploratory than illustrative in nature, Yin would assert that pre-conceived criteria can still be relevant, as they permit the testing of end-propositions rather than initial hypotheses: “every exploration… should still have some purpose.  Instead of propositions, the design for an exploratory study should state this purpose, as well as the criteria by which an exploration will be judged successful (Yin 2003:22).

Having been determined originally to avoid reference to ‘pre-conceived criteria’ (out of respect for Latour’s principles), I came to appreciate that it would be useful to develop a speculative ‘rival theory’ in relation to practice and community.  From my own practice, for example, I had observed that one alternative to engaging only occasionally in community-oriented projects was to supplement architectural practice with teaching-based activities.  In this preliminary Study, I therefore became alert for evidence of architectural education (rather than ‘environment’) serving as the field in which practice and community could productively interact with one another.

I found myself wondering whether my research strategy had perhaps not taken sufficient account of the habitual claim of architects that their output reflects respect for unquantifiable ‘values’ (Worpole 2000, Loe 1999) – encapsulated in Pevsner’s classic distinction (Pevsner 2009 [1943]) between ‘architecture’ and ‘mere buildings’.  According to the depth of their immersion in ‘the knowledge economy(Drucker 1992:247-268), architects invariably engage in a substantial amount of rhetorical processing that they subsequently disseminate through the articulation of specific assemblies of social, cultural, political and technological ideas.  Their objective is to persuade people of their value, for the purposes of marketing or of professional education, for example: “most think that the architect is someone who has ideas, acts as an author of these ideas, and runs projects to deliver these ideas.  As author, the architect has authority, which at the same time is a prerequisite for one’s credibility as a professional.  It is this supposedly unfettered sequence from idea to final product that is relayed through the media, and also perpetuated through the educational system” (Schneider and Till 2009:97).  The DArch programme might itself be considered to exemplify this form of output, being an architecture-related activity located at some remove from actual construction of a built environment.

Mindful of Latour’s demand that a term like ‘social’ should not be used “to designate a thing among other things, like a black sheep among other white sheep, but a type of connection between things that are not themselves social(Latour 2005:5 - original emphasis), my identification of ‘efficacy in generating a sense of community’ as a core value to be embraced in this Study required me to avoid direct reference to the notion of ‘community architecture’ as an evolving strand of practice when interviewing the selected practitioners – I needed them to give character to this aspect of their practices.  Introducing the casual (Whiggish) assumption of community architecture as a ‘movement’ might – within the context of ‘naturalistic’ conversation – have generated unfortunate leading questions about success factors or other business-based insights.  Rod Hackney’s seminal text (Hackney and Sweet 1990), framed as something of a triumphalist polemic, suggests a broad narrative of how practices which were considered mavericks at the time gradually (with, or perhaps despite, the maverick patronage of Prince Charles) came to represent ‘the establishment.’  Today, on the other hand, when community engagement is widely dismissed as a professional backwater, or an activity better left to specialists, my purpose had to be simply to review some of the ways in which certain practices had achieved resilience through times when community architecture was not in demand, nor in fashion, nor even considered desirable.

Observation that professionals commonly develop and adopt a language “that is almost impenetrable to others(Brookhouse 2013:11) – especially when so often at odds with public perception of the impact of their activities (but effectively contributing to the problem) – seemed further to validate a research strategy based upon practitioners’ own accounts of their output.  It also suggested the representation of these accounts in a format that architects will readily recognise as a conventional means of communication within professional practice – the non-academic kind of ‘case study’ that characterises Appendices A-G of this study.  The next section of this document therefore considers the validity and significance of the format in which my research findings have been reproduced in these Appendices.

 

 

3     MATERIALISATION

‘Who is speaking in the oracle?  Is it the human being or the fairy-object itself?  Is the divinity real or artificial?’
‘Both,’ the defendants reply at once, since they are unable to grasp the difference.
”  (Latour 2010:4)

This section of Document 3 is concerned with the form in which the selected respondents’ accounts of their practices’ development was captured in the seven ‘case-studies’ presented in Appendices A-G of this Document.  The original research question had suggested a strategy of engagement in dialogue first with practitioners (in this Study), followed (in Document 4) by investigation of clients’ experience of what may be labelled (at least temporarily, for convenience) as ‘community architecture’ (Wates and Knevitt 1987).  Both inquiries demand qualitative ‘social research’, which Bryman (Bryman 2015) associates with a mixed methods approach – due partly to the impossibility of separating language from context (Wittgenstein, L. (trans. Anscombe, G.) 1968:s.43) and partly to the need to take a creative role in constructing meaning out of their combination (Ricoeur, P. (trans. Savage, D.) 1970:46).  This Study therefore needed to pay special attention to authenticity and authorship.  The researcher’s involvement in shaping architects’ accounts of their practices needed to be as delicate as possible, at the same time as making it as easy as possible for the practitioners to associate themselves with the texts related to their interviews.  The researcher’s preparation of these texts was constructively based upon what the architects had been understood to say in conversation, but recognising that their words had in turn been influenced by their inevitably separate interpretations of the initiating interview questions and expectations.

Gibbs (2014) has accordingly described social research as “research with people at both ends”, observing how it therefore runs risks of potential bias due to interaction between participants and researcher. Having argued in sections 1-2 of this Study that the first part of the research question should be addressed through careful listening to the architects’ own statements about their practices’ development, researcher intervention was substantially minimised by gathering material about the practices in advance of interviewing them.  Knowledge gained from as broad a variety of sources as the time and space for this study permitted (unsystematically as the objective was to gain familiarity with the practices rather than comprehensive understanding) served to lubricate and inform conversation with the architects, reducing the researcher’s need to prompt them by asking questions. 

My Literature Review (Document 2) had nevertheless suggested potential themes to explore with the research participants – in particular, with the observation (page 40) that the ‘main’ research question could be dissected into sub-questions such as:
·               What might ‘business development’ mean in relation to architectural firms?
·               Which firms in particular have been associated with ‘community engagement’ projects?
·               In what ways have these firms ‘developed’ alongside their community-related projects?
·               What factors (if any) are believed to link the development of these firms with their involvement in community-engagement exercises?

These sub-questions, lightly addressed in sections 1-4 of this Study, had emerged from a process of “defining a research project in terms of current theoretical debates within the academic literature, rather than simply as a response to a specific problem identified by practitioners(Chynoweth 2013:437).  In the interests of academic rigour, and further to the resolve to relegate interview questions to a subsidiary position, this Study sought to avoid reduction to a mere succession of solutions to problems, even though practitioners might have welcomed the outcomes in terms of relevance if substantiated by adequate logic or creativity.  The sub-questions served instead to suggest potentially distinct ‘generative themes’ (Freire 2010 [1970]:74) for use as tools for exploratory data-analysis.

In interpretivist social research, questions and sub-questions are raised not in the expectation of answers but as outcomes of a desire to ‘problematise’ rather than to simplify: “…we have to restudy what we are made of and extend the repertoire of ties and the number of associations way beyond the repertoire proposed by social explanations.  At every corner, science, religion, politics, law, economics, organisations, etc offer phenomena we have to find puzzling again if we want to understand the types of entities collectives may be composed of in the future” (Latour 2005:248 - original emphasis).  Latour encourages researchers to question especially the kind of ‘universal statement’ (Popper 2002 [1959]) that is based, scientists claim, entirely upon assumptions of total objectivity.  Further to Latour’s advice that “any discussion of his philosophy must begin with Irreductions,” it has been observed that “most theories take some primary reality that explains the others and then use that to explain the rest.  Latour decided to reject this notion at a young age” (Harman 2011:27).

Unless performed merely as a rhetorical device, accordingly, the act of breaking a (complex) ‘primary’ question into a succession of (easier) ancillary ones was therefore regarded as corrosively suspect, being associated with the risk that something of critical value might be lost – in Latourian ‘translation’, for example: “the idea that one thing can never be fully translated into another place or time: there is always going to be information loss*, or energy loss,” to quote Harman (2011:28).

*  Such ‘loss’ might be dismissed as an expression of merely aesthetic disappointment if it reflected a view of the whole as being no more than the sum of its parts (Aristotle 1924 [350bce]: book H 1054a.11), but it might also have introduced unwarranted and ethically inappropriate notions of hierarchy: “…the great danger of critical sociology is that it never fails to explain.  This is why it always runs the risk of becoming empirically empty and politically moot(Latour 2005:251).

While the ‘simplistic’ (Gillham 2008:11) assumption that all questions can be neatly paired with answers militates against exercise of the kind of creativity which this Study aimed both to investigate and celebrate, Socratic dialogue was identified as a model which might nevertheless provide a valid and productive structure for opening-up the enquiry.  In contrast to surveys conducted via impersonal questionnaires, ‘natural conversation’ enables researchers to report on responses obtained in practice (‘for real’), gaining in authenticity especially when the information sought or expected was of a different nature.  Such a relatively unstructured or open-ended approach, reflecting ‘emergent’ research design (Cavallo 2004), permitted the introduction of unplanned supplementary questions – which even led to re-framing of the main research question (in the interests of producing findings with greater professional relevance or impact).  The Socratic dialogue model offered the opportunity to merge planned and unplanned information in a smooth, post-rationalised continuum.

The strategy of presenting ‘doctored’ accounts of interviews needs to be carefully defended, as reference to ‘fake’ grounds for developing arguments and insights would normally be considered to undermine the validity of research conclusions.  As noted in Document 2 (page 22) however, Latour (2005) has observed that, etymologically, the word ‘fact’ refers to something ‘fabricated.’  The idea that the course of events might be entirely random has been discussed, if not resisted, by philosophers ever since Empedocles.  Latour encourages a highly relaxed (if not suspicious) attitude towards unifying ideas, insisting upon focus instead upon the material evidence-base*.  It was considered more important to produce interview summaries that practitioners would recognise as valid and professionally appropriate than blindly to follow academic conventions in respect of interview transcription.

*  Reference to Latour provides an apt alternative to research designs that involve problem-solving or constructing by reference to theory rather than to experience, or indeed to any “approach which combines Aristotelian deduction with Baconian induction(Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2011:4).  Latour demands that the researcher should, “when faced with an object, attend first to the associations out of which it’s made and only later look at how it has renewed the repertoire of social ties(Latour 2005:233).  This Study, accordingly, sought initially to identify what operational factors were associated with the growth of their businesses by practitioners themselves.  It therefore seemed appropriate to frame their words, coupled with a few contextual observations, as the ‘cases’ comprising Appendices A-G of this document.

Deliberate use of open-ended questions freed interview participants to respond in whatever terms they wished – as the objective was to capture authentic accounts of experience determined by the speakers’ sense of significance rather than by the researcher’s information-related priorities.  The questions themselves (being regarded as secondary to the responses and therefore selected and framed to suit the perceived ‘natural flow’ of the conversation) were drawn from a bank of topic-areas for potential discussion, which had not only been outlined in advance to the respondents but had been well rehearsed privately immediately before the interviews.  As there was no intention to draw comparisons or to seek parallels between case studies, it was not considered necessary that each respondent should be asked identical questions, nor that all the topics identified in the question-bank should always be addressed.  This superficially relaxed attitude (borrowed from Latour) meant that interviews could be terminated comfortably (without any sense of unfinished business) after exactly one hour, in professional accordance with the original request for a slot within the practitioner’s busy timetable.  In order to make that hour as productive as possible in terms of original case study material, responses were deliberately given precedence, and no emphasis was placed upon the wording of the originating questions either during the interview or in preparing the initial text that emerged from it.

The choice of technique for reproducing material gathered through practitioner interviews was based upon a concern to present the architects’ ideas in a form that they would not only readily recognise as accurate and fair (resembling the kinds of account they would expect to encounter in professional practice), but also that their colleagues would find informative, if not interesting, in relation to approaches to community engagement.  This aspiration suggested a focus upon content rather than form: instead of trying to capture the exact words used in conversation, together with all the accompanying gestures, involuntary sounds, hesitations, gaps or silences (many of which the speaker may not have intended, and would therefore have regarded as unrelated to what they were trying to express), practitioners were given control over the way their ideas were reported.

The ethos driving this Study demanded that creativity should be ‘devolved’ to participants in the exercise rather than reserved for the researcher conducting it.  Participants were therefore invited to review (and to re-word or edit where they saw fit) a draft of their case-study text two weeks before its insertion into this Document as Appendices A-G).  It was hoped that the attribution of specific quotations to practitioners (by presenting the case studies in interview question/response format) might provoke large numbers of requests for textual corrections.  In the event however, comments were received from only two practices (White Design Associates – Appendix D, and Stride Treglown plc – Appendix E) – possibly because others felt they required more time to digest the material provided.  Having generously spared an hour to talk about their work, they may have felt little inclination to read their case-studies carefully, and even less to consider how they might prefer to re-word observations and ideas ascribed to them.  Alternatively, of course, they may have felt that what they had said had been satisfactorily represented by the researcher, and that no further comment was necessary.  One practitioner (muf architecture ǀ art – Appendix F) suggested that the whole experience of having someone document their reflections on practice had been a useful catalyst for future planning, and invited the researcher to present the Document 3 findings to an office meeting.

Interviews were therefore regarded not as a direct means of obtaining answers to the main research question (or to subsidiary questions), but as a context out of which useful insights might be generated.  The integrity of the practitioners’ viewpoint was maintained by representing their responses in the same way as office-based meetings between one professional and another are conventionally ‘minuted’ – through paraphrase rather than ‘verbatim’ transcription.  Interview responses were able nevertheless to serve as a framework for facilitating the forging (by the reader, following the participants’ gaze rather than the researcher’s prose) of critical links in the chain between research objectives and ‘findings.’  

During most of the interviews, accordingly (the one exception being the public event with Assemble), the researcher was overtly engaged in simultaneous paraphrasing of the speaker’s words to his laptop computer.  Two benefits flowed from this choice of approach: not only did the manifest burden of activity on the researcher minimise his opportunity to interrupt the speaker (which would have represented interference with the intended content of responses, so reducing their authenticity), but the very sight of such frenetic activity may have led the respondent to believe their every word was being found both interesting and important – encouraging them to pursue and develop their current line of thinking/speaking.  After the interview however, in order to subdivide the mass of case study material into coherent but self-contained paragraphs (related simply to their content), simulated interviewer’s questions were added retrospectively – based upon the topic addressed in each paragraph.  The alternative might have been the insertion of a simple heading, but framing it as an interrogative made it possible to restore the semblance of an interview format.  There is no loss of authenticity in the adoption of such a technique: as Eco observed in describing ‘how to write a thesis’, “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., trans. Farina, G. and C., 2003)

Because “the interview is a social encounter, not merely a data collection exercise(Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2011:426), any uncertainties in terms of the intended meaning of the participants’ words (or of the researcher’s!) would always have been destabilised by the inevitable loss of at least some contextual information*.  Adding questions retrospectively to the transcription of ‘interviews’ made it possible to compensate for such uncertainty: the injection of elements of fabricated ‘plasma’ provided a context for the generation of meaning.  Recognition that transcription can never capture all the nuances of language or the atmospherics of an interview situation justified the researcher in adopting a relatively relaxed attitude towards interview content (accepting that material recorded is inevitably the outcome of selection and interpretation processes).  Having sought to minimise control over the presentation of conversations with respondents, deliberately avoiding thought for how the information was subsequently to be processed in order to minimise external influence on the text, the researcher’s creativity could be reserved for the (re)construction of some meaning in the case-studies, through the analysis and interpretation of texts that respondents had first confirmed to be an acceptable representation of what they had said.

*  Reference to the invariable contamination of data by all the filters through which it has been strained is not intended to indicate a postmodernist epistemology (allowing even abstract concepts to be treated as ‘real’), but reflects the ‘nonmodern’ standpoint described by Latour (1993), who observes that objects are always irretrievably entangled with discussion about them.  This made it important to cultivate an ‘anthropological symmetry’ between technology and people (or, by extension, between business ‘Practice’ and human ‘Community’).

 

 

4     INTERROGATION

One should never speak of ‘data’ -- what is given - but rather of sublata, that is, of ‘achievements’.
(Latour 1999:42)

Having explained why, in the interests of authenticity and recognisability, the presentation of the seven case-studies (Appendices A-G) was undertaken without prior consideration for ensuring their susceptibility to any particular analytical technique, this section of the Research Study discusses the identification of narrative analysis as an appropriate means of deriving useful knowledge from six of the interview texts.  This section also reviews the very different pictures of the six practices that emerge from the case-studies, showing how little they have in common with one another in terms of their claims to engage with the community as part of their design process.

For consistency with the democratic creativity-promoting ethos embedded within the research question as a whole, Document 3 was designed as an open-ended exploration of certain themes raised by the research question relative to one another.  This approach was intended to reduce the risk both of overhasty extrapolation from some preconceived hypothesis (Wolcott 2009) and of retrospectively anticipated ‘convergence’ (Guilford 1950) upon some connective theory.  In order to generate useful (even if uncoordinated) conclusions to this Study, an appropriately dispassionate (standardised) analytical technique needed to be applied in respect of the material gathered in the case-studies.  The main process of interpretation, finally involving the researcher in creative activity, was postponed to the end of the Study, where it could be based upon an ‘assemblage’ of evidence accumulated systematically and relatively uncontaminated by hypothesis.

The proposed strategy of separating analysis from interpretation was inspired by Latour’s thinking, which would involve arguing against endeavours to identify some external factor (belief, theory, or other deus ex machina or Enlightenment conceit) that might be capable of ‘reconciling’ Practice (as if associated only with competitiveness) and Community (as if associated only with civic cohesion).  Their representation as disparate agonists would have reflected unfounded preconceptions of engagement in a constant to-and-fro exchange, equating Practice to the forces of capitalism, pitched in a Manichaean altercation with Community (equated to a socialistic form of politics).

As an alternative to the relatively unproductive Marxist analysis that might have followed from depicting the prevailing condition as one of a strife-torn relationship, it seemed appropriate to adopt Latour’s suggestion (perhaps building upon more charitable instincts derived from his natal Catholicism) of an inward focus upon connections* within the data gathered through interviewing.  The objective was to explore the extent to which analysis of the material gathered as case-studies might ‘reveal’ relationships characterised (if not coordinated) in terms of harmony rather than discord – further to the principle of privileging (on ethical grounds) democratic consensus over social inequality as a professional obligation.

*  To counteract self-cancelling tendencies towards tu quoque dualism, the case-study texts needed to be examined for objective references to linkages between Practice and Community that partake of the nature of both but exist as separate ‘circulating entities(Latour 2005:237), actively mediating between the topics.  Because of its intended focus upon interaction (between not only people but also ‘things’ if an object-oriented ontology were adopted), this part of the research Study demanded an actively constructivist paradigm – with the researcher’s own identity (also rooted in a questioning Catholicism) not merely included in the mix but interpretively stirring it.

The ethical considerations providing a sense of direction in relation to interpretation needed to influence the choice of analytical technique.  Exploration of ‘Practice and Community’ therefore demanded not what Popper (2002 [1959]:51) characterised as “nets cast to catch the world, to rationalise, to explain and to master it,” but a process of working with, and responding to, whatever circumstances present themselves.  In this Study, these ‘circumstances’ consisted of the seven practice-related interviews contained in Appendices A-G, in one of which it is asserted that “architects seem to fall into two camps at the moment.  There are those that feel the world is not quite how they want. So they try and impose something.  And there are those that try and understand the world and maybe improve it by working with what is there” (Appendix C, paragraph 10).  The strategy adopted in this Study was based upon the latter camp.  For ‘realistic radicals,’ Alinsky (197112) maintains, “the basic requirement for the understanding of the politics of change is to recognise the world as it is.”

The basis for choosing a technique for case-study analysis had therefore to be based upon concern to prevent the data gathered and reproduced becoming case-hardened or fossilised, thereby rendering it sterile or putting it beyond use as a touchstone against which to consider other information obtained from elsewhere or in the future – the fear that one interpretation might begin to occlude subsequent alternatives.  As noted in Document 1 (page 23), the habit of not ‘freezing’ one’s ideas until the last possible moment is a distinctive feature of the architectural design process, and was therefore both predictable in auctorial terms and appropriate to the research topic (Hakim 2000:4).

As the overall objective of this Study was not to seek any specific recipe for successful integration of practice and community objectives but simply to observe the variety of ways in which practitioners identify links between them, the same relaxed approach adopted for data-gathering was applied to its processing, in anticipation of more intensive reflection upon the assembled evidence.  So far as intellectually possible (facilitated by spreading the workload over several weeks), the interviews and their transformation into case-studies, and subsequent analysis of their content, were therefore all conducted independently of one another.  In order to generate a respectable number of original insights through this Study, the risk of cross-fertilisation of ideas was reduced through the minimisation of researcher interventions first in the interview questioning, and then in the production of texts based upon the participants’ responses.  As recommended by Nieswiadomy (2002), having minimised the initial agenda for conversations, interpretation could then be postponed to as late a point in the process as possible.* 

*  In retrospect, this ‘open-ended’ approach to data-gathering was rooted in my own “basic set of beliefs that guide action(Guba 1990:17), holding that – in the interests of achieving the best possible design proposals that circumstances permit – architects must always respond to as many parameters and opportunities as possible before ‘freezing’ their ideas.  Inasmuch as my own discipline-area includes architectural education, it is reassuring that a social constructivist worldview has been widely affirmed (Berger and Luekmann 1990 [1967], Lincoln and Guba 1985, Crotty 1998, Guba and Lincoln 2011) as being essential to good teaching practice also.

Bias due to precipitant expectations had been recognised as an inherent danger in interpretative approaches to research, especially when hoping to develop a synthesising hypothesis from the very outset of a study.  In particular, analysis of the text related to Hackney (Appendix B) was deliberately postponed to the end of this research exercise, as the firm were pioneers of the original ‘community architecture movement’ of the 1970s-80s (Wates and Knevitt 1987, Awan, Schneider and Till 2011), with the consequence that its ‘insider’ views might have been regarded as somehow definitive or superior in terms of ‘authority/authenticity’  If examined first, Hackney’s experience might (inadvertently) have become regarded as some kind of yardstick against which his successors might have been evaluated.

Qualitative exploration of architects’ perceptions of the ‘Practice and Community’ relationship inevitably required entanglement with the very environment in which the data-gathering process occurred: “qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” (Denzin and Lincoln 2000:3).  Being concerned principally with the material symptoms of organisational formation and management, analysis needed to focus upon rearrangements of people, materials, technology, funding or information (generically instrumentalised in the construction industry as ‘resources’ and collocated as ‘projects’) that were specifically mentioned by practitioners when discussing their community-oriented projects.  So far as possible, the researcher had to avoid personal involvement in the identification of such material factors through imaginative speculation or interpretation.  Instead, the objective was to identify instances in which the research participants themselves (unprompted) made connections between seemingly disparate ideas within their open-ended conversation. 

Three kinds of concern arose concerning the validity of the proposed approach to gathering and exploring the material:
a)      that responses from one practice might influence the questions posed in interviewing another (suggesting that the order in which practices were interviewed might affect findings or even conclusions – as observed on page 19 above).
b)      that any kind of ‘thematic analysis’ of responses would merely reflect the questions that had generated them.
c)      that each practice would be found to follow such different processes or to be involved in such different kinds of project that it would prove impossible to identify any ‘common themes’ that might be of interest to other practices who have yet to develop reputations for community-oriented work.

In terms of Latour’s methodology, the data-gathering process had involved capturing whatever the ‘actors’ (research participants) said about how they work – supplementing their words with contextual observations so far as possible within the broader constraints of this document’s production, but taking care always to avoid reference to any conceptual ‘superstructures’ that might be used as explanations for activity.  Instead of deliberately seeking coordinating ideas that might offer to integrate project management with business goals, the strategy was simply to isolate a portion of the heterogeneous plurality of evidence that architects generate in the course of their work, so that it could categorised as indicative of concern either for community or for business growth, and then begin to observe where interactions had been identified.

Having been personally involved in steering the conversation through which the case study material was gathered, it would have been futile – not to say, dishonest – for the researcher to attempt to distance himself from the ‘constructed’ data while seeking to discover meaning within it.  The validity of the data had been confirmed through returning to the original participants for verification of draft interview transcripts.  Analytical techniques involving counting or scoring the occurrence of particular ideas or themes in a conversation were dismissed as inappropriate – not because of the limited number of interviews conducted (undermining the value of a positivistic approach) but out of a desire to synthesise rather than to fragment the data.  Even the idea of attempting to classify and then cluster particular narratives (in the generic name of ‘content analysis’) was considered prejudicial to the objective of maintaining integration between analysis and interpretation.*

*  Decontextualising the data in order to permit reductivist games with it was judged to be inconsistent with the spirit in which it had been gathered.  The purpose of the interviews, and of the case-studies constructed out of them, was never to enable identification of specific patterns that might be assembled into cohesive explanatory theory, as if there existed some logical chains of causality or inference.  Even the phenomenological procedure advocated by Hycner (1985) involves distinguishing ‘units of general meaning’ (using the participant’s own words) which would then have needed to be clustered on the basis of relevance to the research question.

Latour’s anti-phenomenological stance demands scrutiny of what participants actually do rather than vaguely seeking to share their understanding of business objectives: in the case of this Study, accordingly, the focus was upon the practitioners’ own approved narratives, treated as material entities in consequence of the way in which they had been processed.  The outcome (section 5 of this Study) could then represent a cumulatively interpretative ‘assemblage’ based upon the architects’ accounts of the way they practice: the case-study had been constructed out of the interview / the analysis was constructed out of close examination of the case study (relating selected content to the research question) / ‘conclusions’ could be constructed as the rhetorical product of a creative ‘will to connect’ – the identification of points at which practice and community objectives were perceived to have coincided.

The decision to examine the case studies through narrative analysis proved to be an effective way of ensuring that any vaguer application of mere ‘thematic analysis’ did not simply catalogue responses in terms related directly to the questions that had generated them.  When the responses were transcribed as lengthy paragraphs, they were found to provide exactly the kinds of unsolicited combinations of ideas that had been sought from the outset.  Bearing witness to the required thematic disjunction between question and response, some narratives were identified as extending over successive paragraphs, while other (single sentence) responses were found too short to be independently associated with any particular ‘narrative’.  The (unexpected but most welcome) success of this strategy may be attributed largely to the chosen sequence of operations – transcription (or rather, paraphrasing) of participants’ words in advance of breaking them down in terms of responses to particular questions, and completion of all the case studies before commencing analysis of any of them.  If the case-studies had been faithfully based upon sonic recordings of the interviews, or if the conduct of the interviews had been more rigidly structured, it would have been found impossible to separate interview questions from respondent answers, resulting in the latter being ‘excessively’ coloured by the former. 

The predicted differences in terms of approach to community-led architecture found in each of the seven practices interviewed were easy to identify within the overall narrative provided in each practitioner’s responses to questioning.

Hackney’s ‘story’ (presented very much as a journey from obscurity to limelight – both for himself and for the community architecture with which he became associated) is driven by a sense of moral outrage – against modernist architecture and against government policy, and so also against many members of the architectural profession.  Against such seemingly monolithic institutions, he pits a few pioneering individuals (such as himself), bravely and energetically willing to initiate action rather than depend upon public policy: “so it became a war.  And in the end, only one winner” (Appendix B – paragraph 1.01).  Having risen to fame (and therefore earning-power for his practice) by presenting himself as an angry but influential activist*, Hackney proceeded to advocate community engagement in architecture as a means of preventing inner city riots by disaffected young people, siding with Prince Charles in identifying urban decay as the cause of a worryingly ‘divided Britain’.  From such a position of authority, unplanned in terms of career development but the product of unwavering self-belief and fierce loyalty to a moral cause, it was but a short step to presidency of the RIBA and to the associated potential for influence over government policy.  This came just at a time, however, when urban decay began to fade as an issue, due to the 1988-89 building boom – characterised by Hackney as being marked by a “hotch-potch approach and complete lack of coordination, combined with the injection of too much money too quickly… as damaging environmentally as the old mass-housing programmes(Hackney and Sweet 1990:161), but seized on by architects as an opportunity for returning to prosperity.  Musing on his achievement, Hackney prides himself on how, under his presidency, community architecture “came of age and became accepted as one of the normal ways of practising rather than just a ginger-group activity(Hackney and Sweet 1990:164).  In terms of legacy however, Hackney admits that his own practice has subsequently “branched out into other areas – primarily refurbishment of old properties and building good-quality new housing – so that (his) current spread of work is around 25% community architecture, 35% refurbishment and 40% new construction(Hackney and Sweet 1990:177).

Hackney’s message is that the appropriate attitude to adopt is one of righteous anger, expressed in as public a manner as possible, unafraid of trespassing on etiquette or convention: “most of the best questions come from young people – ‘how can we do this?’  I say, by getting together, getting a plot of land, and persuading your council that you’re worth talking to – and then do, and be proud, and then tell others how you did it: spread the word.  Just have the guts to do it” (Appendix B, paragraph 1.04).  Hackney observes that “it was the threat from an outside source that brought my activities together” (Appendix B – paragraph 4.08), arguing that ‘community’ is formed when people take action “to break down the natural barriers between local government and local people” (Appendix B – paragraph 5.11).

In more recent times, the rise to success of ‘Assemble’ may be attributed more to its members’ exuberant thirst for creativity, almost for its own sake, than to noisy determination like Hackney’s to fight the “official vandalism(Hackney and Sweet 1990:59) of local authorities intent on comprehensive redevelopment schemes.  What the two practices share, however, is respect for “self-help building construction, running in conjunction with small unit contractors(Hackney and Sweet 1990:75).  For Assemble, the key to securing community engagement is collaboration in processes that involve making and (in conformity with their very name) assembling construction materials.  In their early projects, which were usually temporary (‘pop-up architecture’), separate teams took responsibility for different elements of the buildings they erected, based upon ‘found’ or recycled or imaginatively re-purposed materials in the interests of keeping costs to a minimum.  Members of Assemble worked alongside volunteers they recruited through social media, which also enabled costs to be minimised.  When commissioned to become involved in more long-term or large-scale projects, Assemble began to make more use of specialist consultants and qualified contractors in place of volunteers – in the context of charging appropriately for the work involved.  Assemble continue to regard craft-based creativity located within the community as the most appropriate foundation for the regeneration of a neighbourhood*, arguing that “the involvement of artists can add ‘value’ in excess of the costs involved” (Appendix A, paragraph 6.4).  Assemble’s preference for working alongside members of a community in order to help them become productive is expressed not only through direct engagement in the fabrication of material for use elsewhere but also through a) involvement as part-time teachers in architecture schools (in the Universities of East London, Westminster and Nottingham and at Central St Martins), and through b) the establishment of communal studio-space – both their own (now relocated from Stratford to Bermondsey) where they share facilities with a carefully selected range of ‘makers,’ and on behalf of others (such as the Blackhorse Workshop in Walthamstow, for whom Assemble developed a management strategy – a precedent for their Turner prize-winning Granby Workshops in Liverpool). 

*  Projects led by Assemble may therefore be said to reflect its members’ belief that the most effective way of achieving the economic revival of a neighbourhood is through first securing its indigenous cultural development (in contrast to architects’ traditional preference for something similar to the ‘Bilbao effect’ (The Economist 2013) in which the revival of a depressed urban area is attributed to brave investment in a prestigious building designed by a star architect.

The origins of Assemble’s approach may be traced to the mentoring they received at the outset from muf – established six years earlier as a self-consciously maverick practice with a commitment to public realm projects that inspire people’s affinity with the spaces they use.  Having worked closely with an urban theorist for their first six years, the characteristic that mostly clearly distinguishes muf from the other practices interviewed for this Research Study is their principle of seeking always to gain first an extraordinarily deep understanding of the social context of each project, achieved through inquisitive immersion and constructed out of numerous fragments of ideas, knowledge and opinion: “only by looking carefully can you reveal the complexity of a situation.  Once you have understood this complexity, your proposal gets much stronger and more accurate.  Of course, it also makes the project much more complicated, because instead of hovering on your cloud above a situation now you have to work with all these little bits and pieces” (Appendix F, paragraph 1.06).

muf admits that their standard practice of going beyond the brief is not always financially sustainable: “we always make research that no one pays for.  It’s a terrible business model” (Appendix F, paragraph 3.03).  On the other hand, this is said to be what “makes our work much more interesting, valuable and kind of sustainable.  If you identify existing initiatives and interests and bring them into your project, it becomes a real, viable long-term investment in public space” (ibid).  The spin-off in terms of muf’s reputation, however, is that the firm (now with 17 staff) is regularly invited by both local authorities and commercial developers to “deliver something meaningful” (Appendix F, paragraph 4.06) – enabling them to produce fee proposals that more accurately reflect the extent of their involvement in a project.  At the same time, the intellectual strength developed through the research that consistently underpins muf’s ideas qualifies the firm’s staff to contribute usefully and influentially to academic pedagogy: Katherine Clarke used to teach at Chelsea School of Art, and Liza Fior teaches regularly at Central St Martins, where the Programme Director for Architecture is herself a former member of muf.  The firm is also cited extensively in the academic literature related to spatial practices – in particular, a whole PhD study (Kenniff 2013) has been dedicated to muf’s Barking Town Square project.

Stride Treglown plc distinguish themselves from the other practices in this Study – unsurprisingly in the context of their size, being some 300 strong – for their development of a highly robust quality assurance system geared to ensuring comprehensive engagement with stakeholders in conjunction with appropriate costing.  It was partly in recognition of their effective management tools that Stride won the national Town Planning Consultancy of the Year award last year.  Stride differ from the other practices considered in this document, however, in terms of their definition of the ‘community’ to which they relate their activities.  They use a ‘communications matrix’ which identifies all the stakeholders involved in the major projects in which they become involved, aiming “to maximise inclusiveness, but without reference to any nebulous body claiming to represent ‘the community’ ” (Appendix E, paragraph 2.03).  When submitting the mandatory ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ in conjunction with a major planning application, accordingly, it is the issues raised by the combination of stakeholders, rather than merely by the local inhabitants, which are described and addressed.  By carefully identifying all the parties considered relevant or important in relation to development proposals, and the costs associated with all the planned actions or outputs (‘deliverables’) required for engagement with them, Stride ensure the financial viability of the exercise.  In the interests of securing a commission in the face of competition, they sometimes under-charge for masterplanning services in the expectation of being able to compensate through the higher-value fees associated with architectural production.  More importantly, Stride will structure a report in such a way that it can easily “act as an ‘audit trail’ to assist the preparation of planning applications” (Appendix E, paragraph 2.08) – reducing the workload associated with part of the design process in the interests of business efficiency.

In contrast to Stride’s approach which involves identification of a community after being commissioned to undertake a project, RCKa tend to begin with a community-based initiative, and have developed the skills required to make it financially viable (including in terms of their own fee-income) by combining the project with commercially attractive elements.  In the context of London’s desperate shortage of housing, it is usually development in the residential sector that makes it possible to pay for community-oriented projects, but it is RCKa themselves who perform the associated financial calculations.  The project that launched the practice nine years ago (winning the biennial Europan housing competition for a canal-side site in Stoke-on-Trent) was “distinctive by virtue of ideas that are not wholly related to architectural design but which reflect the multi-faceted approach now associated with RCKa – a curious blend of architect, consultant, and social entrepreneur” (Appendix C, paragraph 3).  In terms of how RCKa regularly goes ‘beyond the brief’ (utilising the diverse backgrounds of its 16 members of staff), the practice might be compared with muf, but RCKa specialise in analysing and taking the local economy* into consideration, whereas muf tend to focus upon context-related social and cultural ideas.  The practice’s ‘signature project’ (The New Generation youth and community centre in Lewisham, completed in 2014) resulted from RCKa’s identification of a vacant site next to Sydenham Wells Park, coupled with their awareness of an imminent MyPlace funding stream (a Labour government scheme for injecting Big Lottery finance into capital projects in deprived areas), which they brought to the attention of a regular client within Lewisham borough council.  While the consequent community engagement process was fraught (“the architects had no guidelines as a fallback position that might have enabled them to reconcile over 30 different stakeholders’ conflicting suggestions” – Appendix C, paragraph 7), making the design development unprofitable in terms of income to the practice, RCKa demonstrated their inventiveness again by piggybacking on local community events organised by other people – and then producing an award-winning building that has been described as “tough, utilitarian and elegant, done cheaply without at any point looking cheap(Kucharek 2016).  Most importantly, the building is still buzzing with activity due to the large number of different groups it is able to accommodate next to one another – performing its true function in promoting communal interaction, due partly to the internal layout of its spaces and partly to the way the young users of the facility have responsibility for programming what happens in it.

*  RCKa have therefore been identified as ‘austerity architects’ (McLachlan 2014) - not by virtue of their deliberate use of cheap, undecorated materials, which Till (Till 2017) would argue reflects a tactic related to scarcity rather than austerity) – but in tribute to their entrepreneurial attitude: “you can’t just sit back.  We know what is important to us and it gives us the tenacity to go out and get work and make projects happen” (Appendix 3, paragraph 2). 

Continuous awareness of funding streams, changes in government policy and legislation, and the development of financially viable business models is also a critical feature of the work of White Design Associates, who are associated in particular with the LILAC (‘low-impact living affordable community’) co-housing scheme in Leeds.  White’s view is that “the architects of the future need to be familiar with financial modelling, building systems, community-led design and engagement techniques for interaction with real people” (Appendix D, paragraph 2.10).  The reference to building systems relates to White’s development of the ‘ModCell’ prefabricated straw-bale and timber-frame construction method (which was chosen for the LILAC development as a way of minimising its environmental impact).  In addition to interacting with a research team at Bath University on the performance of ModCell in their pioneering ‘BaleHaus’ (“featured in an episode of Kevin McCloud’s ‘Grand Designs’ programme” – Appendix D, paragraph 1.04), White is also deeply involved with MArch students at the University of the West of England, where he leads a unit called ‘#LiveWorkMake’ (UWE 2016) – working with a community in the Knowle West area of Bristol to explore how citizen-led housing might not only be designed by the community but community-financed also.  Involvement in both teaching and making (White is currently director and company secretary of ModCell) suggests a parallel in terms of approach between White and Assemble, but the major difference (apart from the scale and sophistication of the technology involved in ModCell, and its associated penetration of the construction market) is that White is also seriously involved in seeking viable options for community-led housing in the future: “the solution proposed for Custom-Build is to create new entities called ‘Home Manufacturers’ consisting of designer/supplier partnerships bringing forward ideas that will represent a financially secure model of housebuilding that people can invest in” – Appendix D, paragraph 2.08).  Following a competitive procurement process, White with ModCell was selected as one of the six teams on a government-supported ‘Pathfinder’ project for what will be the largest private-sector custom-build development in the UK – the ‘Homemade@Heartlands’ scheme (Carillion Igloo 2016) on the site of a former tin-mine in Cornwall (by coincidence, further to a masterplan developed by Stride – see Appendix E).

The diversity of approaches revealed here (despite having endeavoured to ask each firm the same kinds of question), though a predictable consequence of a research strategy involving separation both within and between interviews and analyses, seemed initially disappointing in terms of the provision of insights that members of my profession would find useful.  This inconsistency might be attributed to the variety of modes in which ‘community architecture’ is practised, but – as the practitioners’ responses revealed – it may also reflect significant differences of professional opinion* in respect of what ‘community architecture’ either is or ought to be.

*  Such differences are even more pronounced, of course, in relation to ‘architecture’ itself, as every practitioner takes a slightly different view of their role, and deploys their varying skills with vastly differing results.  The individuality associated with architectural practice is deeply embedded in the culture of the discipline, which holds that every site has unique features demanding specific response – to quote Neave Brown, “I’ll use standardised plans if you show me a standardised site” (Astbury 2017:50): clients and building users all have unique combinations of requirements and expectations.  My original research question had been founded on this belief, and it was the purpose of this Study to explore the deeper implications of such a view within socially sensitive practices (where commercial pressures – and even ‘inclusiveness’ to some extent – seem often to favour the minimisation of variety or responsiveness).

In the interests of providing more productive responses to the practice-related half of my research question, I clearly needed to engage in closer, interpretative examination of the practice/community connections identified through narrative analysis of my case-study texts.

 

 

5     INTEGRATION

 “ ‘Truth’…is not a given, but rather something that can exist beneath layered and shifting meanings.  Routine ways of seeing, feeling and thinking render truth elusive, but when the senses are awakened, a flicker of grace occurs and new ways of experiencing the world allow us to glimpse it.”  Jasper Johns (2017) – ‘Something Resembling Truth’ (Royal Academy, London)

In this final section of Document 3, my objective was to draw some integrating conclusions from the narrative analysis that had been applied in respect of my case-studies as a means of identifying key features of the relationship between architectural practice development and community engagement projects.  Being an essentially creative act, I had to trust that instinctive rather than systematic attempts to ‘assemble’ my material into thematic packages would not excessively detract from their validity and authenticity*.  For all the reasons rehearsed in previous sections of this Study, I can at least claim that these conclusions were reached without reference to transcendental or extraneous factors.

*  From a practitioner’s viewpoint, the professional doctorate context of this study should have lent it immediate advantages in terms of credibility, due to focus “(less) on the theoretical preoccupations of an academic audience than on the actual concerns of its purported end-users in the profession(Chynoweth 2013:436).  Some bias might remain, however, because of my position as an ‘insider:’ being a fellow-architect might have obstructed achievement of objectivity equivalent to the positivist approaches associated with traditional ‘scientific research’ with its claim to validity derived from “maintaining the academic detachment and rigour which is essential to generate truly universal knowledge(Chynoweth 2013:437).  In the course of this study, the research question itself was criticised on the grounds of professional preconceptions: according to Hackney, “it’s not about money, it’s about legacy” (Appendix B, paragraph 3.02).

Knowledge may be regarded as an infinite network of slippery relationships, depicted by Deleuze and Guattari (1987 [1980]) as a “rhizomatic structure” or by Umberto Eco (2014 [2007]) as a semiotic labyrinth (in contrast to Neo-Platonist models of knowledge simply as a tree with branching categories and sub-categories).  This epistemological standpoint justified my use of ANT to create meaning out of unanticipated connections.  For this Study to provide a workable starting-point for future practice-based research, evidence gathered was therefore evaluated not as representative of ‘potential’ awaiting realisation (in the form of recommended methods of operating commercially, for example) but in creative recognition of immanent features already expressing themselves productively (representing precedents for further consideration).

In seeking common ground between ideas about ‘Practice’ (in terms of business development) and notions of ‘Community’ (in the sense of public engagement in decision-taking), I found it appropriate to adopt Latour’s idea (2005:232) of identifying specific ‘mediators’ – operating not as universalist or theistic ‘prehensions’ (Wolf and Whitehead 1931), nor as Kantian products of human intellect, but taking the form of occasional, non-privileged relations capable of binding ‘actors’ together in a coordinating ‘network’.  In Harman’s words, “Latour’s philosophy is a kind of secular occasionalism…  It’s a philosophy where you have to ask how things interact on a local level without appealing to some all-powerful super-entity that’s hidden somewhere from us.  He does not flee from the problem of translation, but makes it the central theme of his philosophy(Harman 2011:33).

Treating my case-study interview responses as a series of ‘objects’ enabled me to focus upon relationships between ideas expressed in them by identifying narratives – the stories that practitioners tell (themselves, albeit prompted by the researcher) about the development of their businesses.  My constructivist role as researcher, accordingly, was to assemble and interpret connections that I could confidently attribute to my interviewees (rather than being invented by myself as listener).

So long as the medium is fluid, the material can assume an infinite variety of forms – the stories are endless whilst an interviewee continues speaking.*  As soon as words are frozen as text however, it becomes possible to identify connections within clusters of ideas.  In the previous section of this Study, I identified some of the broader narratives emerging from the six practices interviewed:

Table 1 (not reproducible here): Summary of interviewees’ distinctive approaches to community-led architecture

* For example, Hackney describes how he was originally charged with malpractice by RIBA fellow-practitioners for his development of ‘community architecture’ as an ethical (and pragmatic) imperative, but proceeds to observe how this work laid the foundations for his practice to take a more commercial turn: “You don’t make money out of Community Architecture, but if you can solve such difficult problems, guess who comes crawling to your door?  Middle class people wanting swimming pools in their manor house basements!”  (Appendix B, paragraph 4.02).  Almost cynically, he regards community architecture as a stepping-stone (with benefits in terms of moral self-satisfaction) towards more profitable projects.

Within each interviewee’s responses to individual questions, however, it was also possible to identify numerous further narrative connections between practice- and community-related topics, which this section of my Study seeks to link up and apply to the professional context. 

Assemble, for example (Appendix A, paragraph 5.2), note that growth in amounts of work to be undertaken comes to be associated with increasing division of responsibilities between team members and the regularisation of activity-patterns (alleviated by a culture of social eating).  They also suggest (Appendix A, paragraph 6.1) that encouraging people to make things is an effective alternative in business terms to engaging with them in endless debate about matters of taste or opinion.  The overall picture is one of sociable self-reliance, which reflects the spirit in which the practice launched itself.

Hackney (Appendix B, paragraph 5.55) advocates that architects begin by embedding themselves (geographically, economically and socially) in the neighbourhoods of their projects as a means of making the planning system more locally accountable and of identifying local construction resources in terms of skills and materials.  While only 25% of his practice’s workload is now concerned with community architecture, he claims that “it still operates on the same basic principles I learned when I first started out” (Appendix B, paragraph 5.52), and he proceeds to link these principles to description of the kind of skills involved: “the architects I employ must, of necessity, have a rare mix of qualities; it is essential that they are good at handling people, as well as being able to explain projects in a clear, straightforward way.  They also have to be adept diplomats and able to cope with the considerable amount of negotiating that always has to be undertaken with local councils, which leaves no room for prima donnas” (ibid.).  He also states that the practice employs its own builders – just as Assemble did at the start of its activities, although they have subsequently adopted the more conventional architects’ role of acting as ‘contract administrators’ (ensuring that construction proceeds in accordance with what has been designed and that clients pay the builders in accordance with the amount of work completed on site).

RCKa (Appendix C, paragraph 9) observe how engagement with multiple stakeholders results in the design of buildings with highly flexible spaces, which are therefore more vibrant because they are occupied more continuously by a greater variety of users.  RCKa also observe (Appendix C, paragraph 10) how their characteristic use of income-generating development to fund community projects is helpfully matched by the more entrepreneurial attitudes that are increasingly encountered within cash-strapped local authorities.  Both muf and RCKa speak of going ‘beyond the brief’ as a means of ensuring successful architecture, while Stride embed forward-thinking in terms of architectural production into their standardised masterplanning processes that include a measure of community engagement.

White (Appendix D, paragraph 2.02) argues that business success requires architects to maintain constant vigilance in respect of national policy initiatives and legislation: recognition that self-build schemes offer a partial solution to Britain’s current ‘housing crisis’, it is asserted (Appendix D, paragraph 2.03), suggests that architects need to align themselves with manufacturers in order to win work upon the basis of specialism in particular ‘modern methods of construction’: “we cannot wait for communities to imagine themselves as developers – we need to be able to bring forward the sites ourselves, along with hardware solutions such as… toolkits that can help predefine the pathways for community-led housing” (Appendix D, paragraph 2.07).  White’s entrepreneurial attitude combines the interest of Hackney and Assemble in the ‘making’ of built environments (although without community engagement) with RCKa’s alertness to government initiatives and policy opportunities.

Stride (Appendix E, paragraph 2.10) champions the use of carefully organised and documented ‘consultation’ as a means of ensuring not only adequate fee-income but also a smooth passage through the planning system for large-scale, complex masterplanning proposals.  Representing almost the antithesis of self-build and interest in the use of physical materials for making, Stride are also strong advocates of the use of digital technology (looking towards the next generation of Building Information Modelling) as a means of ensuring efficient communication between stakeholders in a development – Appendix E, paragraph 3.01.  The notion of ‘smart cities’ based upon harnessing data in order to provide what Krolikowski has described as “a feedback mechanism that allows us to inform change in the city quite fluently and directly, not top-down but bottom-up” (Headford 2016:93) is increasingly being discussed as a means of democratising city governance, but did not feature in the conversations of any of the participants in this Study.

muf takes almost the opposite approach – as if seeking not to harness information but to disperse it through ‘live’ rather than virtual interaction with communities.  muf begins from recognition that, as the exercise of community responsibility is not usually a developer’s priority, it becomes the role of the designer to lead in terms of making projects socially valuable (Appendix F, paragraph 4.04) – requiring personal commitment and energy that cannot usually be matched by cash-flow.  The firm’s output must therefore be capable of extension to other contexts, such as publication or education, it is suggested, which other parties may be willing to support financially.  Assemble have inherited muf’s approach, but have proceeded to develop into a more conventional architectural practice running design projects in accordance with industry-standard procedures.

Both Hackney and RCKa have recognised that there is potential for activism in the name of community interests, to be undertaken primarily as a means of advancing an architectural firm’s own commercial interests.  Architectural practitioners always have this opportunity, of course – they consistently and confidently regard their work as an enhancement to existing built environments, and are adept in identifying ways in which such enhancement may be associated with ‘social’ benefits.  The focus of this Study, however, is upon process rather than product – how architects can work in a commercially viable way ‘with’ people rather than ‘for’ people. 

Considered in conjunction with one another (noting that the above narratives represent only a selection from the themes that practitioners linked together when interviewed), it was difficult to discern any comprehensively coordinating leitmotif.  A few unexpected connections between the firms were discovered: Assemble originated as a spin-off from muf; White Design have been engaged to implement part of a Stride Treglown masterplan; and Hackney has argued that “all architects should be community architects” (Hackney and Sweet 1990:209).  At first glance, however, there seemed to be more antitheses than similarities between different practices’ approaches to community engagement.  RCKa use residential development as a vehicle for making community projects financially viable, for example, whereas White harnesses community objectives to residential projects.  Assemble involve the residents of a neighbourhood in manufacturing construction components, whereas White have worked with engineers on the development of a sophisticated product which is manufactured commercially.  Hackney adopts an aggressive, abrasive attitude in relation to local authorities (and even fellow-professionals), whereas muf have successfully won the trust of local authorities through their soft-spoken commitment to the public realm and modesty in relation to their practice’s achievement.  muf also pride themselves on avoidance of consistency in the way projects are approached (Appendix F, paragraph 4.06), whereas Stride distinguish themselves through their adherence to standardised processes (related to a definition of ‘community’ that deliberately excludes non-representative individuals, and certainly with no intention of engaging stakeholders in the design process itself).

Narrative analysis nevertheless revealed also some telling connections within practitioners’ accounts of their firms’ development.  Hackney concludes that, practice growth involves an initially courageous spirit* to overcome uncertainty and inexpertise (“even Rod the architect was making it up as he went along,” one of the original Black Road residents has observed – Appendix B, paragraph 1.03), which then needs to be coupled with energetic self-publicity.  Through his architectural activism, Hackney actually created the communities that proceeded to become his clients – gradually developing a reputation on the grounds of special ability (distinct from traditional architectural skills) to help groups define and achieve objectives related to their built environment: “I often think of us as being rather like missionaries – going into an area to solve problems, boosting the confidence of the people we are working with, and passing on skills.  Breathing new life into an area is not achieved by simply refurbishing or building – it runs much deeper than that, encompassing everything from teaching practical skills to encouraging people to stand up for themselves and instilling a sense of pride in their environment(Hackney and Sweet 1990:174).

*  Hackney provides a particularly strong storyline by depicting himself as “the man who led an entire street to take back control,” a lone warrior pitted in a moral battle against the establishment – requiring identification of an external threat, enabling ‘community’ to emerge as a product of separating ‘us’ from ‘them’ (“I was later able to send the authorities a Christmas card saying thanks for hiring those thugs – they gave us a reason to unite” – Appendix B, paragraph 4.08).

One activity shared by nearly all the practices interviewed in conjunction with their approaches to community engagement – as a feature giving character to their operation rather than merely as a supplementary source of income – is their involvement in mainstream architectural education (as revealed in Table 1 above).  This observation might be regarded as unsurprising, as working with members of the public on the development of design ideas can resemble working with architecture students (especially in the early years of their studies): the same teaching skills are required, the same knowledge of factors that need to be taken into account is applicable, and the same creative ethos, imaginative enthusiasm and sensitivity needs to drive the interaction.  This perception is consistent with Hackney’s long-established view (Appendix B, paragraph 5.54) that the future should involve “teaching architecture students to appreciate small-scale projects and giving them practical knowledge of traditional building skills and materials (as an alternative to spending time training them to cope with legal disputes involving designers, clients and builders).”  As White does, Hackney also identifies legal skills as a requisite for successful practice as a community architect: “it is often these bureaucratic tangles which have produced the main deterrents to residents lacking both legal knowledge and the cash to pay solicitors, so the community architect has to be able to tackle the law as part of the job(Hackney and Sweet 1990:87).  It is clear that part of the response to the research question – which clearly remains relevant but which has not yet been answered adequately – will be concerned with the integration of community engagement into architectural education.

The current (modernist) paradigm involves teaching architecture students that the design of buildings needs to be related first and foremost to the site on which they are located.  Unsurprisingly (given its focus), this Study has suggested architecture students should be taught – from the very outset of their training – to embrace the local community within a more humanistic definition* of the ‘context’ of every design project they undertake.  If their needs and aspirations are ignored, local people will inevitably regard most new development as ‘alien’– and therefore alienating, being symbolic of their disenfranchisement. 

*  Students are taught that scientific ‘site analysis,’ which needs to determine ‘design strategy,’ requires them to consider mostly abstract factors such as geology and topography, orientation (in relation to microclimate and views), local natural and manmade features (including transportation and services infrastructure), and neighbouring buildings (in terms of their age and appearance, their past, present and planned future use, and their character and detailing).

As the Stride (Appendix E) case-study demonstrates, architects sometimes use community engagement to help secure planning permission for proposed development – ‘community’ being (in theory – especially under the terms of the Localism Act 2011) synonymous with the local government authorities through whom consent is usually awarded.  An insensitive practitioner may even regard the community as an ‘alien’ culture – being not only perennially resistant to change (resulting in accusations of NIMBYism) but particularly hostile to ‘new’ architectural design ideas (qualifying them for abuse as philistines): architects commonly regard planning permission as something to be ‘won’ as an outcome of a battle.  The most obvious strategy for developing a culture in which architects and local people collaborate on an equal footing is to incorporate such activity as a ‘standard’ feature of the design process – which suggests providing first experiences of this interaction while still at architecture school.

Fortunately, there exists a mechanism readily available for ensuring the requisite modification to the curriculum occurs throughout all UK architecture schools (currently 54 in number).  If an architecture course is to lead to qualification as an architect (being a title protected under the Architects Act 1997), it is required to comply with specific learning ‘criteria’ prescribed by the Architects Registration Board* (ARB 2002).  By coincidence, the ARB is currently undertaking a cyclical review of its ‘criteria’ and has been seeking feedback from stakeholders.  One immediate outcome of this research Study was therefore an independent representation to ARB (Appendix H), proposing minor modifications to the wording of certain of their criteria in order to reinforce the significance of community engagement within architectural education.

*  The criteria are replicated within both the national ‘Subject Benchmark Statement’ (QAA 2010) – describing what university-level institutions are required to teach in relation to the discipline, and the RIBA Validation Criteria (RIBA Education Department 2017) – defining the standards for exemption from the institute’s examinations in architecture.

This Study has also indicated the value of enhancing reference to the local community within planning applications.  Most submissions for planning permission are required to be accompanied by a ‘Design and Access Statement,’ which must “demonstrate how the proposed development’s context has influenced the design.  The Statement must explain… any consultation undertaken in relation to access issues, and how the outcome of this consultation has informed the proposed development” (Planning Portal 2017).  An amendment to the enabling legislation (HMG 2013:4(3)(d)) could expand this requirement by demanding a ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ (of the kind described by Stride – Appendix E, paragraph 2.03) in conjunction with the proposed design, rather than in relation only to access issues.  The associated Planning Portal guidance could then clarify that ‘community involvement’ refers to the facilitation of creative public engagement in the design process rather than mere liaison with a cross-section of representatives selected by the applicants themselves.

Even before community engagement becomes embedded in this way as a standard feature of planning applications, architectural practices could usefully develop quality assurance procedures that ensure their community engagement is deeply rather than superficially democratic.  Tellingly, the international standard for Quality Management Systems - ISO9001:2015 – has amongst its objectives helping businesses to “satisfy more customers” and “work effectively with stakeholders” (BSI 2015).  A template similar to Stride’s ‘communications matrix’ could be an effective instrument for documenting how a firm complies with such standards.

This Study has revealed that initial decisions in respect of research tools based upon personal preference for freedom of choice (on ethical grounds related to the democratisation of architecture) can be consistent with the essentially ‘pragmatist’ viewpoint championed by Cherryholmes (1992) and Morgan (2014).  Having adopted a strategy rooted in the ethics of a professional focus upon the issue raised by the research question (Rossman and Wilson 1985) – using whatever means seemed to promise the most effective combination of commercial and social utility, rather than confining my inquiry to one particular mode of identifying and gathering data in the interests of academic rigour (Patton 1990), I have arrived at some practical insights that fellow-professionals may find interesting.  A pluralistic attitude that required occasional loosening of links between the research question and the findings has demonstrated how usefully “mixed method studies may include a postmodern turn, a theoretical lens that is reflective of social justice(Creswell 2009:11) – generating practical conclusions that have been grounded in an emancipatory paradigm.

Having considered the ‘Practice’ half of the research question, Document 4 must proceed to explore the perceptions of non-specialist members of ‘the community’ who find themselves engaged in collaborative design exercises.  In order again to ensure that the voice of participants is heard rather than the musings of an external observer, and so to sustain the emancipatory paradigm, it is proposed that this next study should deploy a research design based upon what Kemmis and Wilkinson (1998) term an ‘advocacy/participatory worldview’ – being appropriate to situations where research study becomes entangled with live political issues.

 

 

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DArch Document 3a - Research Study 1 (submitted in April 2017)

 

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever met a painter who began his masterpiece by first choosing the frame?”  (Latour 2005:143)

The four elements embraced within this ‘Document 3’ reflect a deliberated attempt not directly to answer but systematically to give ‘character’ to the research question raised at the outset of this Professional Doctorate study – “how may architectural practices develop in conjunction with involvement in community engagement projects?”  For consistency with a democratic creativity-promoting ethos embedded in the question itself, this study takes the form of an open-ended exploration of themes raised by the research question relative to one another, rather than by overhasty ‘convergent’ (Guilford 1950) reference to some preconceived hypothesis or in anticipation of some cohesive explanation.

Document 1 developed and discussed the disciplinary and academic relevance of the original research question.  While the research proposal argued that it had not been inappropriately or prematurely framed, the seminal question is nevertheless regarded as a merely rhetorical device for launching an inductive study such as this, serving to permit modification of objectives if appropriate in the interests of validity or clarity.  Document 2 then argued, on the basis of secondary research, for a specific methodology to frame the approach adopted in subsequent primary research studies (such as this one): it was suggested that Bruno Latour’s ‘actor-network-theory’ (ANT) affords a promisingly viable and appropriate tool with which to secure a purchase upon the issues likely to be raised.  Document 2 justified reference to ANT upon the grounds both of ethical transparency and of relevance to the topic itself.  As ‘Practice and Community’ is concerned with relationships rather than with self-contained entities, exploration through identifying ‘traces’ of cross-fertilisation between topics was considered preferable to abstract theorising.  For ‘realistic radicals.’ Alinsky (197112) maintains, “the basic requirement for the understanding of the politics of change is to recognise the world as it is.”  Exploration of ‘Practice and Community’ demands not what Popper (2002 [1959]:51) characterised as “nets cast to catch the world, to rationalise, to explain and to master it,” but a process of working with, and responding to, whatever circumstances present themselves.  In this Study, these ‘circumstances’ consist of the seven practice-related interviews contained in Appendices A-G, in one of which it is asserted that
“architects seem to fall into two camps at the moment.  There are those that feel the world is not quite how they want. So they try and impose something.  And there are those that try and understand the world and maybe improve it by working with what is there” (Appendix C, paragraph 10).
The strategy adopted in this study is based upon the latter camp.

To be precise, the focus of this study is upon connections made between seemingly separate topics within practitioners’ responses to interview questions rather than dialogic relationships between researcher and participants.  Latour’s critical realist approach to data-gathering demands maximum open-mindedness in the admission of empirical evidence alongside minimised personal involvement in its generation (through rigid adherence to particular lines of questioning, for example, or through premature checklists of observations to make when interacting with participants).  The approach might be identified as a mixture of ‘grounded theory’ and ‘constructivism’ – except (in terms of interpretation) that it sanctions postponement of the ‘assemblage’ of data into theoretical statements.  Most importantly, Latour permits the deflection of attention both from the researcher’s originating questions and from linguistic nuances within the responses (amplified by the kinds of hesitation, body-language or use of accessories that might have been at least partially represented through meticulous transcription of recorded speech).  Instead, ontological weight is attributed to interview respondents’ statements, relinquishing the construction of any explanatory framework in favour of careful empirical attention to the plurality of what the research participants say about what they do.

Fine-tuning this document as a research instrument therefore involved listening hard to practitioners’ statements about their own work (gathered from as broad a variety of sources as time and space permitted – interviews, web-sites, videos, and texts of all kinds).  Attentive listening, informed by the understandings gained through Document 2, made it possible to modulate between what were identified as distinctive key-themes – the practitioner ‘notes’ reassembled as ‘tones’.  Applying the term ‘temperament’ in this context, its medieval connotations (linked to the four ‘humours’ determining one’s disposition) suggested an apt alternative to research designs that involve problem-solving or constructing by reference to theory rather than to experience, or indeed to any “approach which combines Aristotelian deduction with Baconian induction” (Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2011:4).  The anticipated outcome was that this Document should represent a well-tempered exercise, reflecting the adjustment of temperament in such a way that relationships ‘discovered’ are characterised (if not coordinated) in terms of harmonies rather than discord, privileging (on ethical grounds) democratic consensus over social inequality as a professional obligation.

The first section of this Document, accordingly (taking its melancholic cue from Socrates’ last words – a final injunction to examine one’s earthly situation dialectically), reviews the context for the proposed study.  Extending the discussion of ‘topicality’ in Documents 1 and 2, current architectural issues and attitudes suggest initial focus upon the material interests of a few professional practices with a particular reputation for involvement in community architecture.  Section 1 discusses how potential research participants were selected, and justifies the use of semi-structured interviews as a prime means of gathering information from them.  Topics to be covered, and associated interview protocols adopted, are discussed in the context of the anticipated significance of data obtained in this way.  Having outlined expectations, Section 1 concludes by commenting upon the actual experience of securing interviews with the selected practitioners.  

Section 2, characterised by the more sanguine optimism of Empedocles (exemplifying the possibility of action upon the airy basis of philosophical confidence), considers what particular methods of reproducing information gathered through interviews would be the most effective in generating relevant research information.  Such relevance has to be constructed, making the analysis or interpretation of data a creative act on the part of the researcher – although the ethos driving this study demanded that creativity should be ‘devolved’ to participants in the exercise rather than reserved for the researcher conducting it.  Interviews were therefore regarded not as a direct means of obtaining answers to the main research question (or to subsidiary questions), but as a context out of which such insights might be generated.  The integrity of the practitioners’ viewpoint was maintained by representing their responses in the same way as office-based meetings between one professional and another are conventionally ‘minuted’ – through paraphrase rather than ‘verbatim’ transcription.  Interview responses were able nevertheless to serve as a framework for facilitating the forging (by the reader, following the participants’ gaze rather than the researcher’s prose) of critical links in the chain between research objectives and ‘findings.’  Awareness that data is invariably contaminated by all the filters through which it has been strained is not intended to indicate a postmodernist epistemology (allowing even abstract concepts to be treated as ‘real’) but reflects the ‘nonmodern’ standpoint described by Latour (1993), who observes that objects are always irretrievably entangled with discussion about them, making it important to cultivate an ‘anthropological symmetry’ between technology and people (or, by extension, between business ‘Practice’ and human ‘Community’).  Ethical issues associated with conduct of this research enquiry are therefore also identified and addressed in this section, alongside comment upon limitations imposed on this study by “the practical constraints of location, time, money and availability of staff” (Hakim 2000:4).  Section 2 of this document thus justifies the approach adopted in framing the text of the seven interviews (Appendices A-G) around the objective of ensuring their susceptibility to an appropriate analytical technique.

Section 3 exhibits a more choleric temperament, reflecting the heated frustrations and anxieties, and exhilaration, associated with data analysis.  In the background lies the researcher’s constant endeavour to prevent data gathered and reproduced becoming case-hardened or fossilised, thereby rendering it sterile or putting it beyond use as a touchstone against which to consider other information obtained from elsewhere or in the future – the fear that one interpretation might begin to occlude alternatives.  As noted in Document 1 (page 23), the habit of not ‘freezing’ one’s ideas until the last possible moment is a distinctive feature of the architectural design process, and therefore both predictable in auctorial terms and appropriate to the research topic (Hakim 2000:4).  Extending the previous section’s discussion of research ethics, the impact of the interview process upon the professionals involved in it is also critically evaluated – conscious in particular of promises to fulfil participants’ expectations in respect of emerging insights.  Section 3 therefore reviews the technique chosen for analysing the seven interviews, identifying how particular themes were drawn from them.

Section 4, finally, is thus enabled to adopt the more phlegmatic attitude appropriate when drawing conclusions from data without reference to transcendental or extraneous factors – recalling the kind of coherent yet fluid vision developed by Thales when originally raising “the question whether everything can be regarded as a single reality appearing in different forms” (Burnet 1932:21).  Human knowledge may be regarded as an infinite network of slippery relationships, depicted by Deleuze and Guattari (1987 [1980]) as a “rhizomatic structure” or by Umberto Eco (2014 [2007]) as a semiotic labyrinth (in contrast to the Neo-Platonist model of knowledge simply as a tree with branching categories and sub-categories).  Such an epistemological standpoint justifies the use of ANT to create meaning out of unanticipated connections.  For this document to provide a workable starting-point for future practice-based research, evidence gathered is therefore evaluated not as representative of ‘potential’ awaiting realisation (in the form of recommended methods of operating commercially, for example) but in creative recognition of immanent features already expressing themselves productively (representing precedents for further consideration).  Document 4, the corollary to this Research Project, may then begin to apply such insights, testing the extent to which observed effects are incidental rather than predictable and commonplace, and perhaps permitting more confident reflections upon the value of Latour’s approach in generating such conclusions.

 

1     CONTEXT : Earthing the Apparatus

Κρίτων, τῷ Ἀσκληπιῷ ὀφείλομεν ἀλεκτρυόνα: ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσητε
“Critic, we owe a debt to the physician – so it should be paid rather than ignored.”
Plato: Phaedo 118a

When the wise man shows the moon, the moron looks at the finger
(2005:235, 2010:42)

 

Loosely translated – or rather ‘transformed’ in Latour’s terminology (2005:107), Socrates’ last words commend a critical perspective rooted in the physical – the adoption of a realist (materialist) standpoint which nevertheless permits creative interpretation further to a specific agenda.  In the case of this Research Study, as Document 2 has outlined, that agenda is associated with the democratisation of decision-taking in relation to the design of the built environment.

The latter word ‘environment,’ carrying the implication that context is merely peripheral, raises immediate issues of an ontological nature – demanding re-statement of the researcher’s position (the provenance of which was substantially examined in Document 2 of this study). Object-oriented ontology (Harman 2002) was initially identified as a philosophically valid alternative to the hubris of an anthropocentric viewpoint.  While it rules out exclusively phenomenological modes of inquiry (involving ‘overmining’ – the construction of interpretivist superstructures upon subjective observations), it also rules out the undermining of objects via a reductivist viewpoint, in which only quantitative data are respected.  The purpose and ethos of this study demands that ‘environment’ be regarded as a common ground at the intersection of ‘Practice’ (what architects do) and ‘Community’ (what people who live in a particular locality do further to common needs and aspirations).  Environment is therefore treated as indicative of a relationship between potentially verifiable objects, not constraining or qualifying or influencing them but only emerging as an entity in its own right as an outcome of their interaction.

The strategy adopted for studying ‘Practice and Community’ therefore takes the form of a pincer-movement, approaching a currently unformed middle-ground (Document 5) from its two conceptual extremities – taking ‘Practice’ first in this Document 3, and postponing exploration of ‘Community’ through action-research to be described in Document 4.  In the interests of ‘loose fit’ (Gordon 1974) pragmatism, both ‘practice’ and ‘community’ are accepted as interim ‘place-holder’ assumptions, neither of which are considered to require (or even to be susceptible to) comprehensive identification or justification.  Instead of seeking merely to define these two concepts by reference to their content, the primary purpose of the overall research project will be to identify and investigate material features that effectively link them.  It is anticipated that ‘effectiveness’ in this context may ultimately (in Document 5) be evaluated in terms of the impact of these features upon both ‘practice’ and ‘community’ – thereby providing economically viable models for practitioners’ future engagement in community design projects.

Document 2 (section 1.1) discussed how ‘community architecture’ re-emerged as a core issue within the profession in 2015, and then proceeded to arouse discussion across a much broader public with the award of the 2015 Turner Prize to the collective ‘Assemble’ (Higgins 2015) – which was therefore immediately identified as a participant in this research study (see Appendix A).  Building upon the anti-capitalist protests of the anarchist group Class War (2017) – registered as a UK political party since 2014) and of the global (through reliance upon social media) Occupy movement (White 2016), campaign-groups such as ‘Architects for Social Housing’ have become increasingly strident in their demands for the democratisation of architectural and urban design processes.  Their activist resistance to the ‘gentrification’ of major London housing estates represents a ‘bottom-up’ response, they claim (ASH 2015), to government policy in respect of shortages in Britain’s housing supply.  Legislative incentives such as ‘buy to let’ (allowing mortgage interest to be offset against landlord’s tax returns), coupled with steady increase in property values – especially in London – against a backdrop of fiscal stagnation, favour programmes of comprehensive redevelopment (involving substantial demolition and replacement of housing, rather than piecemeal refurbishment and infill).

In terms of housing in particular, the current UK situation may be described as strikingly similar to that engendered by 1970s government policy for slum clearance – the context in which ‘community architecture’ originally developed in Britain.  As the Macclesfield-based architect Rod Hackney (President of the RIBA between 1987 and 1989) was identified by Charles Knevitt (Wates and Knevitt 1987) as the pioneer of this development, his practice was identified another rendezvous for this study, amplified by the comprehensive description of his experience within his own book about it (Hackney and Sweet 1990).

If economic uncertainty generated by the result of the EU referendum on 23.06.16 has now begun to diminish major developers’ enthusiasm for such unsustainable forms of regeneration as comprehensive redevelopment of run-down housing estates (Waite and Marrs 2017), ‘Brexit’ might be identified as a growth opportunity for practices which champion a more socialistic approach to housing provision.  A further eight firms perceived to share such values were therefore targeted for the purposes of this research, in the hope of persuading a majority of them to agree to participate on the grounds that the findings might be of interest to them – if not of value also to other practices wishing to emulate their successes in the future (in the event, three of these practices declined to participate in the exercise – Architecture 00, Carl Turner Architects, and Studio Geddye).

For consistency with this study’s epistemological foundations in Latour’s thinking, an understanding of how these different practices manage to combine business objectives with meaningful community engagement needed to be assembled from some of the material ‘traces’ they leave in the wake of their activities – the buildings they design being of course the most obtrusive and long-lasting.  Being concerned with process rather than product however, this study did not extend to critical evaluation of such architectural outcomes (although opportunities were taken, when they presented themselves, to visit some of the selected firms’ projects on the grounds that they might provide a basis for challenging information obtained largely within the practices’ offices).

‘Practice’ can refer both to an organisation and to its activities – both terms being associated with a spectrum of manifestations ranging from the physically observable to the intellectually notional.  To reinforce its identity as an organisation, for example, an architectural practice will usually seek to dignify itself with a name capable of distinguishing it from others with similar objectives (LePage 2014).  For business purposes, conventional architectural firms seek to enhance their self-identifying ‘reality’ through registration (with Companies House in UK) as a legal entity, or by joining the RIBA’s list of ‘Chartered Practices’ (RIBA 2015) with the objective of securing inclusion in Directories published for the benefit of potential clients.  As the Assemble case study (Appendix A) clearly demonstrates, by contrast, some practices (especially when in their infancy) exist only as loose associations of individuals who regularly communicate with each other – with no fixed address, no constitution, and perhaps not even a website.  Being concerned principally with the material effects of organisational formation and management, the focus of this research was therefore upon rearrangements of people, materials, machinery, funds or information (generically instrumentalised in the construction industry as ‘resources’ and collocated as ‘projects’) that were specifically identified by practitioners when engaged in conversation.  So far as possible, the researcher deliberately avoided personal involvement in the ‘assembly’ of such material factors through imaginative speculation or interpretation.  Instead, the objective was to identify instances in which the research participants themselves (unprompted) made connections between seemingly disparate ideas within their responses to relaxed, open-ended questioning.  Semi-structured interviewing was therefore identified as an appropriate means of gathering initial data.

Practice as a set of activities may be similarly described in terms of material outputs such as drawings, reports and models.  For convenience within the time constraints associated with the production of this document however, this study sought to consider only practitioners’ own descriptions of their objectified production: interview prompts therefore avoided questioning about belief and opinion.  While it is unusual for architects to be directly responsible for actual construction, most of their activities are required to result in observable (and quantifiable) output – principally in order to provide a basis upon which to charge clients for ‘services rendered’.  Such output is either tangible (paper-based documents and physical models) or intangible (digitised information), or more commonly a mixture of both, serving in different ways to model aspects of the built environment as a development process (Groák 1992:121-9).

The notion of change is central to design as an activity (whether undertaken by practitioners alone or in conjunction with members of a community), simply because any ‘work’ involves relocation of resources – or their re-assembly in Latour’s (2005) terms.  The time-constraints of this study did not permit prolonged ‘live’ observation of practitioners’ activities, nor detailed inspection of their drawings or computer-based images (looking perhaps at revisions made to them in evidence of design development).  In order to encourage respondents to identify differences over time in terms of the character of their output, therefore, interview questions were organised into an approximately chronological sequence.  This required some familiarisation with the practices’ body of work in advance of conversation with them – making it slightly more difficult to capture the respondents’ own voices, but perhaps easier to recognise references to particular projects within some of their responses.  Above all, it was considered good professional practice, if not common courtesy, to arrive adequately briefed about the firms being interviewed.

Despite its intentional focus upon material evidence only, the research strategy adopted for this study has inevitably been influenced by the consideration that architects traditionally claim that their output expresses respect for unquantifiable ‘values’ (Worpole 2000, Loe 1999) – encapsulated in Pevsner’s classic distinction (Pevsner 2009 [1943]) between ‘architecture’ and ‘mere buildings’.  According to the depth of their immersion in ‘the knowledge economy’ (Drucker 1992:247-268), architects invariably engage in a substantial amount of rhetorical processing that they subsequently express through the verbalised dissemination of a combination of social, cultural, political and technological ideas – with the objective of persuading people of their value, in the interests of marketing or of professional education, for example:
most think that the architect is someone who has ideas, acts as an author of these ideas, and runs projects to deliver these ideas.  As author, the architect has authority, which at the same time is a prerequisite for one’s credibility as a professional.  It is this supposedly unfettered sequence from idea to final product that is relayed through the media, and also perpetuated through the educational system”  (Schneider and Till 2009:97)
The DArch programme might itself be considered to exemplify this form of output, being an architecture-related activity located at some remove from actual construction of a built environment.

Having determined the propriety of a qualitative methodology, efficacy in generating ‘a sense of community’ has been embraced as a core value – notwithstanding respect for Latour’s demand that a term like ‘social’ should not be used “to designate a thing among other things, like a black sheep among other white sheep, but a type of connection between things that are not themselves social(Latour 2005:5 - original emphasis).  Observation that professionals commonly develop and adopt a private language (especially when so often at odds with public perception of the impact of their activities) validates a research strategy based upon practitioners’ own accounts of their output, represented in a format that they readily recognise as a conventional means of architectural communication within professional practice.

As Awan, Schneider and Till have observed in relation to their development of a comprehensive database of “other ways of doing architecture” (Awan, Schneider and Till 2011), frequent contradiction between architects’ declared intentions (as authors) and users’ interpretations of their output provides fertile ground for the exploration of ‘spatial agency’.   Because the more mundane aim of this first Research Study was to discover how ‘mainstream’ architectural practices tend to engage with communities in the performance of their services, however, the ‘spatial agency’ website was not used as the prime source of names from which to select interview respondents (although muf architecture|art – Appendix F to this document – is included among the practices listed on the website).  This is not in any way to diminish the importance of the critique of conventional practice that ‘Spatial Agency’ promotes through its wide range of exemplars of collaborative approaches to changing the environment, characterised by attempts to empower others rather than by the exercise of relative power through one’s privileged training as an architect.  Further discussion of the ideological position advanced by ‘Spatial Agency’ is reserved for DArch document 5.

Preliminary identification of architectural practices to be drawn into this research was therefore based largely upon their profile within literature related to community engagement in the design process (rather than within the literature on ‘alternative’ architectural practice).  Particular weight was attached to the names of firms provided in recent architectural press articles (in the interests of currency), but it was considered important also to refer to literature dating from the 1970s-80s when ‘community architecture’ had a much higher profile than now (as discussed in Document 2 – pages 43-44).  In Britain at least, magazine articles – anticipating impact upon the profession at large – usually represent the outcome of press releases ostensibly drawing attention to current issues and ways of addressing them, delicately concealing marketing as a motive (reflecting a traditional culture of architecture as a profession rather than a trade, with the consequent embarrassment about commercial objectives that is embedded in the research question generating this study).  Because of the possibility that the selection of practices for interview may have been influenced by publicity designed specifically to enhance the firm’s reputation for social ethos, one of the pre-planned interview prompts therefore concerned the firm’s management of public relations.

In the event, the basis upon which participants were identified for this study was neither systematic nor broad-based – the primary aim, in the short time available for the research, being to provide a certain depth rather than (elusive) breadth.  Arguably, serendipity always plays a part in research studies (Foster and Ford 2003, McBirnie 2008, Åkerström 2013, Foster and Ellis 2014), especially in interdisciplinary contexts (Darbellay, et al. 2014).  Researchers, just as much as business-oriented practitioners, need to respond opportunistically to whatever they identify as openings, with the result that chance comes to characterise the context for gathering data.  This may be unreliable as a method – though Foucault’s ‘archaeological’ (1972 [1969]) approach to knowledge represents a reassuringly anti-phenomenological celebration of contingency, but can be regarded as no less authoritative if it produces findings.

Through the researcher’s blog (https://www.2hd.uk/chris/research) and other ‘elevator-pitch’ conversations with individuals (both members of the public and fellow-professionals), some interview respondents (White Design Associates - Appendix D, and Stride Treglown plc – Appendix E, both based in Bristol) were selected on no more than the random basis of interest they expressed in the research project.  It was considered appropriate to look outside the London ‘hothouse’ environment, anticipating that in more ‘provincial’ locations ‘community architecture’ might be discovered never to have disappeared completely but to have maintained a steady trickle over the forty years since it originated there (the approach never having been intended as a national panacea for the resolution of built environment issues).  For comparison, two metropolitan practices were identified through deliberate searching of the professional literature (RCKa Ltd - Appendix C, and Jo Cowen Architects Ltd – Appendix G).  In the interests of consistency, it was resolved that questions of precedents and exemplars should be asked of all interview participants: to stimulate reflection on what processes had contributed to or detracted from practice growth, respondents were to be invited to name particular practitioners and to identify specific aspects of their approach which were believed to have ‘added value’ in terms of practice development.

Irrespective of the number of firms interviewed, the selection of practices claiming an interest in community architecture could never purport to reflect any kind of ‘representative’ sample: the variations between them (in terms of size, age, location, market positioning etc) far exceed the number of their similarities (in terms of architectural aspirations, beliefs and values).  In the interests of making this Study useful to a broad spectrum of the architectural profession, it was appropriate that the firms selected for interview should be as different from one another as the time and space constraints of this research exercise permitted.  The seven cases examined in this document involve a mixture of old and young architectural practices, large and small, London-based and provincial – generally ensuring relevance of this research for firms with a range (albeit non-representative) of profiles and operational characteristics.  The study was conducted with no expectation of being able to identify common ‘how to’ themes in terms of practice – the purpose simply being to explore the field.

Overall, the objective of this research exercise was not to seek any specific recipe for successful integration of practice and community objectives but simply to observe the variety of ways in which practitioners identify links between them.  So far as intellectually possible (facilitated by spreading the workload over several weeks), both the interviews themselves and the subsequent analyses of their content were therefore conducted independently of one another.  In the interests of being able to identify a maximum number of original insights generated by the practices interviewed, the aim was to minimise the risk of cross-fertilisation of ideas first in the researcher’s questioning, and then in the processing of texts based upon the responses.  Bias due to precipitant expectations is recognised as a danger common to interpretative approaches to research, especially when a hypothesis is planned (even if unknown) from the outset of a study.  In particular, analysis of the text related to Rod Hackney Associates was deliberately postponed to the end of this research exercise, as the firm were pioneers of the original ‘community architecture movement’ of the 1970s-80s (Wates and Knevitt 1987, Awan, Schneider and Till 2011), with the consequence that its ‘insider’ views might have been regarded as somehow definitive or superior in terms of ‘authority/authenticity’  If examined first, Hackney’s experience might (inadvertently) have become regarded as some kind of yardstick against which his successors might be evaluated.

To play down the researcher’s original questions in favour of what practitioners said in response, this Study deliberately sought not so much to reject as to ignore the whole notion of ‘community architecture’ as an evolving strand of practice (reinforced by its identification as a ‘movement’).  Arguably, such an unjustified assumption might – within the context of ‘naturalistic’ conversation – have generated leading questions about success factors or other business-based insights.  Rod Hackney’s seminal text (see reference to (Hackney and Sweet 1990) within Appendix B), framed as something of a triumphalist polemic, suggests a broad narrative of how practices which were considered mavericks at the time gradually (with, or perhaps despite, the maverick patronage of Prince Charles) came to represent ‘the establishment.’  On the other hand, ‘community architecture’ continues to be dismissed today as a professional backwater.  Steering a course between such extremes, this Study sought simply to review some of the ways that practitioners achieved resilience through times when community architecture was no longer in demand.

Out of ten architectural firms known for their association with community projects and therefore invited to participate in the research project, seven finally agreed to be interviewed, providing the data (Appendices A-G) which this document proceeds to analyse, aiming to expand the relevance, if not authority, of this Research Study. 

 

 

2     METHODOLOGY : Air on a Theme

ἔστιν Ἀνάγκης, χρῆμα θεῶν, σφρήγισμα παλαιόν, ἀίδιον, πλατέεσσι κατεσφρηγισμένον ὅρκοις
There is an oracle of necessity, an ancient decree of the gods, eternal, sealed with broad oaths
(Empedocles fragment ref. B115.1-2, quoted by Hippolytus Elenchos VII.29.23).

‘Who is speaking in the oracle?  Is it the human being or the fairy-object itself?  Is the divinity real or artificial?’
‘Both,’ the defendants reply at once, since they are unable to grasp the difference.
”   (Latour 2010:4)

 

The idea that the course of events might be entirely random has been discussed, if not resisted, by philosophers ever since Empedocles postulated “the life of the world” (Burnet 1932:73) as a continuous flux and reflux of love (philia – unifying) and strife (neikos - dividing): “at one time one thing grew to be just one from many, at another many grew from one to be apart” – (Empedocles (trans. Leonard ).  The respiratory analogy, naturalistically linked to the systole and diastole functions of the heart, offers a highly familiar (albeit simplistic) model of relational possibilities – “the overseeing laws of harmony make it certain that the created arrangement is not randomly dissolved, but kept as long as the interplay of the two equally strong forces allows them to exist” (Drozdek 2007:75).  If, for the purposes of this study, the “two equally strong forces” are identified as ‘Practice’ (associated with competitiveness) and ‘Community’ (associated with civic cohesion), the image emerges of some kind of constant to-and-fro exchange between the two ideas.  By the same dyadic token, Practice may be equated to the forces of capitalism, pitched in a Manichaean alternation/altercation with Community (equated to a socialistic form of politics).

Latour would argue against seeking to identify some external factor (belief, theory, or other deus ex machina or Enlightenment conceit) that might be capable of ‘reconciling’ Practice and Community – as their representation as disparate agonists would reflect an unacceptable preconception (that the prevailing condition is one of a strife-torn relationship).  Instead, perhaps building upon more charitable instincts derived from his natal Catholicism, Latour would suggest an inward focus upon evidence of unifying factors – objective linkages between Practice and Community that partake of the nature of both but exist as separate ‘circulating entities’ (Latour 2005:237), counteracting tendencies towards tu quoque dualism by mediating between the topics.  Because of its intended focus upon interaction (between not only people but also ‘things’ if an object-oriented ontology were adopted), the research study demanded a constructivist paradigm – with the researcher’s own identity (also rooted in a questioning Catholicism) not merely included in the mix but interpretively stirring it.

In terms of strategy, the original research question suggested engagement of the researcher in dialogue first with practitioners and then with members of the public about their experience of what may be labelled (at least temporarily, for convenience) as ‘community architecture’ (Wates and Knevitt 1987).  This study therefore took the form of qualitative ‘social research’, which Bryman (Bryman 2015) would assert demands a mixture of methods – due partly to the impossibility of separating language from context (Wittgenstein, L. (trans. Anscombe, G.) 1968:s.43)and partly to the researcher’s creative role in constructing meaning out of their combination (Ricoeur, P. (trans. Savage, D.) 1970:46).  Accordingly, this study was based entirely upon interpretations of how the selected research participants view the world around them – beginning with what they were understood to say in conversation, but recognising that their words had in turn been determined by their inevitably separate interpretations of the researcher’s initiating questions and expectations.  Gibbs (2014) has therefore described social research as “research with people at both ends”, raising issues of potential bias arising from interaction between participants and researcher.

Conscious of the practical constraints upon respondents’ availability within the time-frame of this study however, the researcher felt obliged to minimise the potential for phenomenological interpretation (particularly at the data-analysis stage) arising either from subjective impressions of how participants responded to the invitation to engage in the research, or from selective observations of their behaviour while being interviewed – by constructivist reference to gesture or tone, to the chosen meeting environment, or to the imputed alterity (Henare, Holbraad and Wastell 2007:13) of contextual objects.

From a respondent-practitioner’s viewpoint, the professional doctorate context of this study may have lent it immediate advantages in terms of credibility, due to focus “(less) on the theoretical preoccupations of an academic audience than on the actual concerns of its purported end-users in the profession” (Chynoweth 2013:436).  Suspicions of bias might have arisen, however, because of the researcher’s position as an ‘insider:’ being a fellow-architect might have obstructed achievement of objectivity equivalent to the positivist approaches associated with traditional ‘scientific research’ with its claim to validity derived from “maintaining the academic detachment and rigour which is essential to generate truly universal knowledge” (Chynoweth 2013:437).  In the course of this study, the research question itself was criticised on the grounds of professional preconceptions: according to Rod Hackney, “it’s not about money, it’s about legacy” (Appendix B, paragraph 3.02).

Latour demands that the researcher should, “when faced with an object, attend first to the associations out of which it’s made and only later look at how it has renewed the repertoire of social ties(Latour 2005:233).  This study, accordingly, sought initially to identify what operational factors were associated with the growth of their businesses by practitioners themselves.  For this reason, it seemed appropriate to frame their words, coupled with a few contextual observations, as the ‘cases’ comprising Appendices A-G of this document.

Qualitative exploration of architects’ perceptions of the ‘Practice and Community’ relationship, as demanded by the original research question, engendered inevitable entanglement also with the very environment in which the data-gathering process occurred: “qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them(Denzin and Lincoln 2000:3).  As Nieswiadomy (2002) has recommended, having minimised the initial agenda for conversations, interpretation was postponed to as late a point in the process as possible.  To ensure that participants spoke as freely as possible, with minimal prompting from the researcher, the style of obtaining information from ‘the field’ had to appear relaxed and informal.  Within the constraints of the time allocated for conversations, the researcher permitted departures from the pre-planned question/answer method of data-gathering, and encouraged what might initially have appeared to represent digressions from the topic of central interest.  In the interests of revealing unanticipated observations, it was thought important to avoid being seen to steer the focus along a predetermined narrow track: “if all the questions and all the possible answers are determined in advance, the element of discovery is much reduced” (Gillham 2008:2).

Such an approach was judged entirely consistent with the researcher’s own “basic set of beliefs that guide action” (Guba 1990:17) that – in the interests of achieving the best possible design proposals that circumstances permit – architects must always respond to as many parameters and opportunities as possible before ‘freezing’ their ideas.  Inasmuch as the researcher’s discipline-area involves education also, it is appropriate to observe in addition that good teaching practice has often been said to demand a social constructivist worldview (Berger and Luekmann 1990 [1967], Lincoln and Guba 1985, Crotty 1998, Guba and Lincoln 2011).

In terms of Latour’s methodology, the data-gathering process involved capturing whatever the ‘actors’ (research participants) said about how they work – supplementing their words with contextual observations so far as possible within the broader constraints of this document’s production, and taking care always to avoid reference to any conceptual ‘superstructures’ that might be used as explanations for activity.  Instead of deliberately seeking coordinating ideas that might offer to integrate project management with business goals, the strategy was simply to identify and map a portion of the heterogeneous plurality of evidence that architects generate in the course of their work, categorising it as indicative of concern either for community or for business growth, and observing where interaction occurred.

For these reasons, coupled with awareness that the research revolved around judgements and opinions rather than statements of ‘fact’, the use of structured or even semi-structured questionnaires as principal means for obtaining data was dismissed from the outset: “you don’t know what lies behind the responses selected or, more importantly, answers the respondents might have given had they been free to respond as they wished(Gillham 2008:2).  Inability to observe the context in which questionnaires might have been answered (in terms of time taken, quality of participants’ engagement, or reference to ancillary information, for example) would have carried the risk – difficult to check – that responses might reflect an instinctive desire of respondents to present their firms in an unduly favourable light.  Questionnaire responses can easily be selective (or even creative) –either for well-intentioned but misguided, or for self-conscious and misleading, reasons.  Accepting that some practices might decline the invitation to engage in this research study however, the initial email making contact with them nevertheless rehearsed some of the proposed questions – the responses to which could be treated as research findings in themselves.

In order to obtain more spontaneous (unguarded) responses, and thereby to achieve greater authenticity, the most suitable strategy for obtaining practitioners’ views was confidently identified as the face-to-face interview – simulating natural conversation but in the context of specific areas of interest.  This technique permits a predominance of open-ended questions, posed in a relaxed, conversational context in which participants can be encouraged (via unplanned supplementary questions) to speak sometimes ‘at a tangent’ to what initially appear to be the main issues raised: “the more open-ended the questioning, the better, as the researcher listens carefully to what people say or do in their life settings(Creswell 2014:8).  The strategy corresponded to what has been called ‘responsive interviewing’ – in which “researchers respond to and then ask further questions about what they hear from the interviewees rather than rely exclusively on predetermined questions … working with interviewees as partners rather than treating them as objects of research… maintaining an ongoing relationship with the interviewees, whom we term conversational partners(Rubin and Rubin 2012:xv).

Another attraction of the ‘natural conversation’ technique is that it demanded little preliminary development and testing by the researcher, although it eliminated any possibility of pre-selected answers to closed or multiple-choice questions in the interests of making responses easy to collect and analyse.  On the other hand, greater skills were demanded in terms of ‘guiding’ open-ended conversation in the general direction of questions to be addressed (while maintaining sensitivity to unexpected information), recording responses comprehensively, and analysing the findings.  In consequence, fewer interviews could be conducted, but with the expectation of gaining richer, more reliable information than possible through structured questionnaires.  According to Gillham (2008:5-6), “you can send out a thousand questionnaires in the time it takes to do two semi-structured interviews.”

Being able to follow up what the researcher recognised as references to unanticipated factors related to practice growth – as if reflecting a ‘grounded theory’ strategy (Strauss 2008) – was felt to provide the most productive environment both for first obtaining the broadest possible range of information and for then exploring selected topics in greater depth.  At the same time, this approach served to reduce potential for respondents’ false consciousness of the researcher’s expectations (expressed in a courteously professional but nevertheless mistaken desire to ‘help’ by giving answers intended to support particular findings or outcomes).

Recognising that conversations may be shaped by their context almost as much as by the cultural perspectives of those who engage in them, the researcher sought to conduct interviews in the practitioners’ own workplaces whenever possible.  Analysis or evaluation of the office environment was considered unlikely to prove relevant in respect of the research question, but – in tokenistic respect for a phenomenological strategy (Moustakas 1994) – the researcher nevertheless recorded circumstantial observations and subjective impressions in respect of the interview environment.  Even in this process however, it was considered important to avoid either reference to any preconceived checklist, or the development of such a guideline between interviews (expanding the range of contextual factors as they were recognised), in order to reduce the possibility of ‘connections’ between participating firms being introduced by the researcher rather than being identified by the practitioners involved in them.  Inclusion of ethnographic evidence (Wolcott 1999) was judged at least to represent ‘good practice’ in relation to Latour’s paradigm, but there was no expectation that such observations would either undermine or reinforce the ideas expressed by the interviewee verbally.  The intention was simply to establish a framework for capturing potential nuances that language alone would have been incapable of reflecting (Thompson 1981).  Looking and listening (to other people’s conversations also), coupled with occasional maintenance of “an interested silence” (Gillham 2008:11), merely represent extensions to the ‘unstructured’ interview.

To those who responded positively to the emailed invitation to engage in this research study, the proposed form and content of the face-to-face interviews was fully explained in advance – together with (partial, because as yet undecided) description of how the information obtained would be analysed and selected for possible further discussion in the context of the research question.  Interviewees were afforded the opportunity to determine the timing and setting of the meeting (reflecting professional consciousness of the value of their time, awareness of the researcher’s intrusion as a stranger into their world, and a desire to make respondents feel as comfortable as possible in the interests of obtaining specific rather than generic answers to questions).  What was not explained in advance was that the interviewees’ choice of timing and setting, together with the researchers’ own experiences of the lead-up to the meeting, of the interview itself, and of its aftermath, might also have been treated as research findings in their own right – part of the ‘evidence’ collected for interpretation through this study.  Instead, respondents were promised that, following the meeting, the researcher’s written record of the whole event would be submitted to them for comment, with an invitation to delete, amend or add to the text wherever they felt it appropriate in the interests of preserving anonymity (in order to maintain strict commercial or marketing confidentiality).  The researcher’s own experiences of the meeting were included alongside his initial feedback to practices.  In their invitations to adjust the researcher’s text, respondents were advised that their revisions (without identifying particular points unless specifically permitted) might also be treated as research outcomes for the purposes of analysis and interpretation.

In an effort to temper what might otherwise have constituted a purely qualitative study, interviewees were also invited to provide numerical evidence related to any practice changes they described.  While there was no expectation that it might become possible to compare practices with one another on any such quantitative basis, the aim was at least not to preclude such a ‘mixed methods’ approach – identified by Tashakkori and Teddlie (1998) as being particularly well suited to social science issues.

The combination of research methods utilised for this study thus reflects not merely a personal preference for freedom of choice in respect of research tools, but the essentially ‘pragmatist’ viewpoint championed by Cherryholmes (1992) and Morgan (2014) – rooted in the ethics of a professional’s concern to focus upon the issue raised by the research question (Rossman and Wilson 1985), using whatever means promise to offer the most effective combination of commercial and social utility, rather than confining the inquiry to one particular mode of identifying and gathering data in the interests of academic rigour (Patton 1990).  Such a generously pluralistic, not to say sanguine, attitude required occasional loosening of links between the research question and the findings, but with the benefit that “mixed method studies may include a postmodern turn, a theoretical lens that is reflective of social justice” (Creswell 2014:11) – thus pointing a way forward to the emancipatory paradigm that must underpin Document 4.

The democratic ethos driving this Study demanded careful handling of the relationship between researcher and interview respondents.  Description of the latter as research ‘subjects’ would reflect the undesirable intrusion of power into the exercise, expressed through the researcher’s understandable (within the context of time limitations associated both with the interviewee’s availability and with the researcher’s own Professional Doctorate timetable) “tendency to dominate or ‘colonise’ the research(Banks and Manners 2012).  Three commitments were therefore proposed in the initial arrangements for data-gathering conversations:
a)      sharing control: interviewees were advised that they would be at liberty to ‘digress’ in any direction they chose when answering questions or responding to comments.  The admission of seemingly ‘random’ information through this protocol is consistent with Latour’s demand that researchers should “let the actors deploy the full range of controversies in which they are immersed... the task of defining and ordering the social should be left to the actors themselves, not taken up by the analyst…(Latour 2005:23), echoing Empedocles’ suggestion that we should “note by all ways each thing as 'tis revealed(Empedocles (trans. Leonard ).
b)      sharing resources: interviewees were invited to visit the researcher’s practice-based Blog, which not only maintains a record of reflections upon both the research topic and the writing process, but also provides access to the texts of Documents 1 and 2.  In this way, participants in the research process (and indeed anybody else interested – particularly the two co-Directors of the researcher’s own architectural practice) were positively encouraged to familiarise themselves with the main research question, how and why it was identified as a topic for further investigation, and the whole context in which this project is being undertaken.
c)      sharing outcomes: interviewees were advised that they might derive certain benefits from participating in the Research Projectpartly on the grounds that increased self-awareness of one’s day-to-day activities can often lead to the identification of more effective ways of operating – cultivating what Schön (1983) terms ‘the reflective practitioner’), and partly through access to fellow-practitioners’ responses to similar questions (through the provision of open access to the developing text of this Document, enabling interviewees to ‘benchmark’ themselves against colleagues working in similar situations – such ‘inter-firm comparison’ opportunities normally being available only in return for payment).

The process of making such promises at the outset of the research exercise was intended not merely as an inducement for interviewees to participate in it; it served also to demonstrate professional awareness of the associated impact upon practitioners in the form of demand upon their commercially valuable time and energy (in terms of intellectual and managerial attention).  For this reason, initial requests for an interview always specified a one-hour time-constraint, coupled with a promise that the interviewee would be given the opportunity to provide feedback upon the written record of what was said.  The researcher’s own time-constraints, associated with a stipulated deadline for the submission of this Research Project, determined that there would be no possibility of a follow-up session in the form of a second interview or some other mode of re-engagement (either participatory or merely observational).  If necessary however, such further conversations might be organised in conjunction with Document 5 – a year hence.

The main risk associated with the proposed questioning of practitioners was an ethical one related to the veracity of some of the data obtained.  For smaller architectural practices in particular (the size most likely to be involved in community engagement exercises, perhaps), reliable information about which particular projects were found to be the most profitable, and where exactly within these projects were such profits made, proved difficult to obtain for a variety of reasons:
a)      Reference to Companies House for the public information that is legally required to be provided within a limited company’s annual accounts is usually unhelpful in respect of the profitability of individual projects.  Simply because it is more convenient for managers to handle aggregated data, a variety of accounting conventions is available for producing depictions of a company’s financial performance – making it possible to pick between alternative ways of manipulating the information (Halliday 2016) according to its intended consumers.  The figures that marketing managers may wish to promote can be quite different to those shared with taxation authorities.  Accountancy is not at all an exact science.  For this reason, some practices may find it difficult to isolate financial information related to specific projects, but even more difficult to admit having such problems.  Even when the requested data is provided however, there is a strong risk that some of the figures will be the result of guesswork or judgements rather than based upon completely accurate records of income and expenditure.  No doubt a clever accountant, given access to all the data (assuming that were possible) and adopting a positivist methodology, might be able to suggest ways of manipulating certain quantitative variables in order to create the appearance of profitable community projects, but such gerrymandering would not answer the research question in terms of practice growth – even for RIBA members prepared to overlook the democratic deficit.]
b)      Even practices that boast more democratic managerial arrangements such as cooperatives or collectives tend to regard their financial data as commercially sensitive.  Similarly, publicly funded trusts and charities dislike revealing detailed information on all their costs and income. 
c)      In the absence of a clearly identifiable ‘client’ for a community project, firms may have felt unable to enter a formal agreement in respect of fees for the work or staff-time involved.  As this might be regarded as an infringement in relation to certain principles within the Codes of Conduct (ARB 2009, RIBA 2005), there would not only be some anxiety about revealing such a situation (for fear of prosecution and a tarnished reputation if publicised), but the researcher would be obliged to omit reference to the case on the grounds that it would not qualify as an exemplar to the profession.  For this reason amongst others (in particular, a desire to maintain credibility), the initial invitation to participate in the research exercise included reassurance that, at any time before a specified date (representing about a fortnight before the submission deadline), respondents could themselves choose to withdraw from the research, with no further questions asked and with all material (both data and opinion) provided by them immediately removed from the text.
d)      Alternatively, an architectural practice might not have needed to make an agreement on fees for a community project because it had been undertaken further to the firm’s Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) policies or in response to a Business in the Community (BiTC) initiative.  Larger practices commonly log and cost staff-time (and other resources) spent on such projects, which might have represented indirectly useful data for this study, but were considered unlikely to suggest business-based recommendations of a kind that might prove useful to professionals interested in the original research question.  For the latter reason in particular, because BiTC offers annual awards for community engagement under a variety of headings (accompanied by a blaze of publicity usually welcomed by practices’ marketing teams), there was a slight risk of misinformation arising from practitioners’ understandable desire to exaggerate the financial value of their contributions to a project.  In the interests of verification, the most appropriate way of checking would have been for the researcher to make contact with lay-members of the communities involved, seeking their views on the costs and benefits of the project: the researcher’s own constraints required that this kind of follow-up exercise be postponed to Documents 4 or 5.
e)      all information collected would be fully anonymised if requested and then submitted for their comment and approval before being incorporated into any other document.

Being concerned with the need for practices to succeed as profitable businesses at the same time as serving ‘society at large’ in discharge of their professional obligations – enshrined most clearly in the RIBA Code (RIBA 2005): Principle 3.1) as discussed in Document 1 (page 5), the research question might have been partially answered through the provision of certain financial data by the practices interviewed.  Had such information been made available, a ‘mixed methods’ research strategy would need to have been adopted, and provision for this was made in the initial invitations to participate in the exercise, on the grounds that collective analysis of the research findings would involve “inductively building from particulars to general themes, and the researcher making interpretations of the meaning of the data” (Creswell 2007:4).  Practices were advised that any numerical data would be used only for illustrative purposes – there was no intention to engage in comparative analysis between different firms, based upon statistical or any other procedures (principally because there was no possibility of – or even point in – manipulating such quantitative variables in order to test alternative hypotheses related to their significance).  There was no need for information requests to be standardised, accordingly, as responses were not expected directly to be compared with one another.  In the event, no numerical information was provided however, with the consequence that data analysis could relate only to the practitioners’ descriptions of their businesses.

A prime concern of this study was to reduce to a minimum any opportunity for bias arising from the researcher’s own position as a fellow-professional and therefore an ‘insider’ in terms not merely of understanding the nuances of issues discussed (providing something of an advantage in reassuring interviewees that their words would be interpreted correctly) but also risking conflicts of interest due to the researcher being an architect involved in a practice similar to that of the respondents, and therefore a potential competitor for their business.  It therefore became necessary to ignore Nieswiadomy’s (2002) requirement that personal experience should be ‘bracketed’ in order better to understand those described by the participants in a study, justifying the exclusion of phenomenological evidence (although initially gathered) from the data analysis process.

It was nevertheless suggested to respondents that overall findings from the research might contain imitable or transcribable ideas that might be found useful to their own practices.  Respondents were therefore invited to review (and to comment upon) a draft of this text two weeks before it was finalised and submitted.  In the event, no comments were received – possibly because the practices felt they required more time to digest the material provided.

The study had adopted purposive sampling, in that only practices with established reputations for community engagement were interviewed – perhaps for the benefit of other practices who might be considering deeper or more frequent involvement in ‘community architecture’ (further to the aim of encouraging more practitioners to engage in socially responsible architecture).  It nevertheless proved enormously difficult pinning down practitioners even for an initial interview (as a result of which submission of this study was postponed from 7th February to 29th April 2017).  In the absence of the anticipated data, having decided not to begin processing any of it until it had all been gathered (for consistency in terms of the content and representation of interview responses), the empirical moment – when an appropriate methodology for its analysis could finally be tested – had to be delayed until worryingly close to the final deadline.

At first, it was suspected that the problem might be that there are fewer practices than originally believed who specialise in user-engagement in the design process – or who regard this kind of activity as peripheral to their main business.  Mindful of Alinsky’s (1971:32) suggestion that “concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa,” depressing on the grounds that “a society devoid of compromise is totalitarian(Alinsky 1971:59), there was initial concern that the whole research exercise might be focused upon something that does not exist – an architectural practice that derives all its income from public engagement projects.  For a short time, it looked as though practice development is in fact incompatible with community engagement – making the research question redundant.  If so, this speculative observation could at least act as a hypothesis, it was thought, which might serve as the kind of ‘analytic generalisation’ that Yin (2003:50) describes as essential to the design of research testing for replicability rather than for sampling-based logic.  According to Yin, traditional case study data must be evaluated in terms of ‘rival theories’, requiring the formulation of not one but at least two initial hypotheses:
“theory development prior to the conduct of any data collection is one point of difference between case studies and related methods such as ethnography and grounded theory”
(Yin 2003:28).
The Appendices to this document cannot be described as ‘case studies’ however (consisting largely of no more than paraphrases of interviews).  As this document is more exploratory in nature, Yin would assert that it should still be related to pre-conceived criteria and involve testing end-propositions rather than initial hypotheses:
“every exploration… should still have some purpose.  Instead of propositions, the design for an exploratory study should state this purpose, as well as the criteria by which an exploration will be judged successful”   (Yin 2003:22).

While determined to avoid reference to ‘pre-conceived criteria’ (out of respect for Latour’s principles), there was at least momentary speculation about what ‘rival theory’ might be adopted in relation to practice and community.  Perhaps one alternative to engaging only occasionally in community-oriented projects might be to supplement architectural practice with teaching-based activities.  Consideration of this possibility must be reserved for Document 5.

In the event, it was found that – when finally engaged face-to-face with practitioners – there was actually considerable enthusiasm for the research inquiry, taking the form not merely of professionally polite expressions of interest in its eventual findings, but – in the case of White Design Associates – reference of the interview material to the editor of the RIBA Journal, who then contacted the researcher (on 15.03.17) with a request for other material from this study to be submitted for possible publication.  On the other hand, when copies of the original interviews (Appendices A-G) were forwarded to the originating practices for comment and approval prior to non-anonymised inclusion in this study, only two responded with suggestions for amendments to the proposed text (identified by the use of the colour red in Appendices D and E).

The most obvious reason for slow or non-existent response from invited practitioners is that they felt themselves to be already fully committed to fee-earning activity, which had to take priority over an unknown researcher’s queries related to part of their business that they might, in any case, regard as being subsidiary.  The choice of commercially successful firms for interview, and the request to take up an hour’s time of key practitioners within these firms, meant that both the interview and review of the subsequent written record of it represented significant costs for those involved.  The exercise might understandably have been regarded as a poor or risky investment (the loss of income not being adequately offset by the promised benefits to the practice in terms of insight or ideas). 

 

3     DATA-GATHERING : a Heraclitean Fire

One should never speak of ‘data’ -- what is given - but rather of sublata, that is, of ‘achievements’.
(Latour 1999:42)

 

In order to lay strong foundations for research methods appropriate to the understanding sought through this study, Document 2 (page 40) concluded by suggesting that the ‘main’ research question could be dissected into sub-questions such as:
·               What might ‘business development’ mean in relation to architectural firms?
·               Which firms in particular have been associated with ‘community engagement’ projects?
·               In what ways have these firms ‘developed’ alongside their community-related projects?
·               What factors (if any) are believed to link the development of these firms with their involvement in community-engagement exercises?

These sub-questions, addressed successively in sections 1-4 of this study, had emerged from a process of “defining a research project in terms of current theoretical debates within the academic literature, rather than simply as a response to a specific problem identified by practitioners” (Chynoweth 2013:437).  In the interests of academic rigour, and further to the resolve to relegate interview questions to a subsidiary position, this study sought to avoid reduction to a mere succession of solutions to problems, even though practitioners might have welcomed the outcomes in terms of relevance if substantiated by adequate logic or creativity.  The sub-questions served instead to suggest potentially distinct ‘generative themes’ (Freire 2010 [1970]:74) for the researcher to use as tools for exploratory data-analysis.

In interpretivist social research, questions and sub-questions are raised not in the expectation of answers but as outcomes of a desire to ‘problematise’ rather than to simplify:
"…we have to restudy what we are made of and extend the repertoire of ties and the number of associations way beyond the repertoire proposed by social explanations.  At every corner, science, religion, politics, law, economics, organisations, etc offer phenomena we have to find puzzling again if we want to understand the types of entities collectives may be composed of in the future”  (Latour 2005:248 - original emphasis).
Latour encourages the researcher to question especially the kind of ‘universal statement’ (Popper 2002 [1959]) that is based, scientists claim, entirely upon assumptions of total objectivity.  Further to Latour’s advice that “any discussion of his philosophy must begin with Irreductions,” it has been observed that
most theories take some primary reality that explains the others and then use that to explain the rest.  Latour decided to reject this notion at a young age”  (Harman 2011:27).

Unless performed merely as a rhetorical device, accordingly, the act of breaking a (complex) ‘primary’ question into a succession of (easier) ancillary ones was therefore regarded as corrosively suspect, being associated with the risk that something of critical value might be lost – in Latourian ‘translation’, for example: “the idea that one thing can never be fully translated into another place or time: there is always going to be information loss, or energy loss,” to quote Harman (2011:28).  Such ‘loss’ might be dismissed as an expression of merely aesthetic disappointment if it reflected a view of the whole as being no more than the sum of its parts (Aristotle 1924 [350bce]), but it might also have introduced unwarranted and ethically inappropriate notions of hierarchy:
“…the great danger of critical sociology is that it never fails to explain.  This is why it always runs the risk of becoming empirically empty and politically moot”  (Latour 2005:251).

While the ‘simplistic’ (Gillham 2008:11) assumption that all questions can be neatly paired with answers militates against exercise of the kind of creativity which this document seeks both to investigate and celebrate, Socratic dialogue is nevertheless regarded as a valid structure for opening-up the ensuing enquiry.  In contrast to surveys conducted via impersonal questionnaires, ‘natural conversation’ enables researchers to report on responses obtained in practice (‘for real’), gaining in authenticity especially when the information sought or expected was of a different nature.  Such an unstructured or open-ended approach, reflecting ‘emergent’ research design (Cavallo 2004), permits the introduction of unplanned supplementary questions – which might even lead to re-framing of the main research question (if considered necessary, for example, in order to produce findings with greater professional relevance or impact).

Having decided to gather case-study material through interviewing key practitioners within a few architectural firms selected on the grounds of their reputation for community engagement, three kinds of concern arose in relation to the validity of the proposed approach to gathering and exploring the material:
a)      that any kind of ‘thematic analysis’ of responses would merely reflect the questions that had generated them.
b)      that responses from one practice might influence the questions posed in interviewing another (suggesting that the order in which practices were interviewed might affect findings or even conclusions).
c)      that each practice would be found to follow such different processes or to be involved in such different kinds of project that it would prove impossible to identify any ‘common themes’ that might be of interest to other practices who have yet to develop reputations for community-oriented work.

The deliberate use of open-ended questions freed interview participants to respond in whatever terms they wished – as the objective was to capture authentic accounts of experience and opinion rather than to gather specific factual data.  The questions themselves (being regarded as secondary to the responses and therefore selected and framed to suit the perceived ‘natural flow’ of the conversation) were drawn from a bank of topic-areas for potential discussion, which had not only been notified in advance to the respondents but had been well rehearsed in immediate advance of the interview.  As there was no intention to draw comparisons or to seek parallels between case studies, it was not considered necessary that each respondent should be asked identical questions, nor that all the topics identified in the question-bank should always be addressed.  This superficially relaxed attitude enabled the researcher to terminate interviews comfortably (without any sense of unfinished business) after exactly one hour, in professional accordance with the original request for a slot within the practitioner’s busy timetable.  In order to make that hour as productive as possible in terms of original case study material, responses were deliberately given precedence, and no attempt was made to capture the originating questions either during the interview or within the initial case study text that emerged from it.

In most of the interviews, accordingly (the one exception being the public event with Assemble), the researcher was very obviously engaged in simultaneous transcription of the speaker’s words to his laptop computer.  Two benefits flowed from this choice of approach: not only did this apparent burden of activity on the researcher minimise his opportunity to interrupt the speaker (representing interference with the intended content of responses, so reducing their authenticity), but the very sight of such frenetic activity may have led the respondent to believe their every word was being found both interesting and important – encouraging them to pursue and develop their current line of thinking/speaking.  After the interview however, in order to subdivide the mass of case study material into coherent but self-contained paragraphs (related simply to their content), simulated interviewer’s questions were added retrospectively – based upon the topic addressed in each paragraph (the alternative might have been the insertion of a simple heading, but framing it as an interrogative made it possible to restore the semblance of an interview format).  There is no loss of authenticity in the adoption of such a technique: as Eco observed in describing ‘how to write a thesis’,
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. (trans. Farina, G. and C.) 2003)

Because “the interview is a social encounter, not merely a data collection exercise” (Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2011:426), any uncertainties in terms of the intended meaning of the participants’ words (including those of the researcher!) will be destabilised further by the inevitable loss of at least some contextual information.  The research study must therefore accept such uncertainty and inject compensatory elements of fabricated ‘plasma’ – a context in which meaning can be generated.  Recognition that it is possible to capture neither the nuances of language nor the atmospherics of situations in their entirety has therefore been considered to justify not merely a relaxed attitude towards interview form and transcription (accepting that material recorded will always be the outcome of selection and interpretation processes) but also a creative (constructivist) approach towards the analysis of interviews.  As the researcher had been personally involved in steering the conversation through which the case study material was gathered, it would have been futile – not to say, dishonest – to attempt to distance himself from the ‘constructed’ data while seeking to generate meaning out of it.  The validity of the data could easily be confirmed through returning to the original participants for verification of draft summaries.  Analytical techniques involving counting or scoring the occurrence of particular ideas or themes in a conversation were dismissed as inappropriate – not because of the limited number of interviews conducted (undermining the value of a positivistic approach) but out of a desire to synthesise rather than to fragment the data.  Even the idea of attempting to classify and then cluster particular narratives (in the name of ‘content analysis’) was considered prejudicial to the objective of maintaining integration between analysis and interpretation.  Decontextualising the data in order to permit reductivist games with it was judged to be inconsistent with the spirit in which it had been gathered.  The purpose of the interviews, and of the case studies constructed out of them, was never to enable identification of specific patterns that might be assembled into cohesive explanatory theory, as if there existed some logical chains of causality or inference.  Even the phenomenological procedure advocated by Hycner (1985) involves distinguishing ‘units of general meaning’ (using the participant’s own words) which then need to be clustered on the basis of relevance to the research question.  Latour’s anti-phenomenological stance demands scrutiny of what participants actually do rather than vaguely seeking to share their understanding of business objectives: in the case of this study, the focus is upon the practitioners’ own approved narratives, treated as material entities because of the way in which they have been processed.  The outcome is a cumulatively interpretative account of the situation being observed: the case study is constructed out of the interview / the analysis is constructed out of personal reflections on the case study (relating its content or speculating on relevance to the research question) / ‘conclusions’ are constructed as the rhetorical product of a creative ‘will to connect’ – the identification of moments in which practice and community objectives may be described as having coincided.

The decision to examine the case studies through narrative analysis proved to be an effective way of ensuring that any vaguer application of mere ‘thematic analysis’ did not simply catalogue responses in terms related directly to the questions that had generated them.  When the outcome consisted of lengthy paragraphs, these were found to provide exactly the kinds of unsolicited combinations of ideas that had been sought from the outset.  Bearing witness to the required thematic disjunction between question and response, some narratives were identified as extending over successive paragraphs, while other (single sentence) responses were found too short to be independently associated with any particular ‘narrative’.  The (unexpected but most welcome) success of this strategy may be attributed largely to the sequence of operations – transcription (or rather, paraphrasing) of participants’ words in advance of breaking them down in terms of responses to particular questions, and completion of all the case studies before commencing their analysis.  If the interviews on which the case studies were based had been sonically recorded, or if their conduct had been more rigidly structured, it would have been impossible to separate interview questions from respondent answers, and so to have the latter being ‘excessively’ coloured by the former. 

The predicted differences in terms of approach to community-led architecture found in each of the seven practices interviewed were easy to identify from a relatively straightforward reading of the overall narrative provided in each practitioner’s responses to questioning.

Rod Hackney’s ‘story’ (presented very much as a journey from obscurity to limelight – both for himself and for the community architecture with which he became associated) is driven by a sense of moral outrage – against modernist architecture and against government policy, and so also against many members of the architectural profession.  Against such seemingly monolithic institutions, he pits a few pioneering individuals (such as himself), bravely and energetically willing to initiate action rather than depend upon public policy: “so it became a war.  And in the end, only one winner” (Appendix B – paragraph 1.01).  Hackney’s message is that the appropriate attitude to adopt is one of righteous anger, expressed in as public a manner as possible, unafraid of trespassing on etiquette or convention: “most of the best questions come from young people – ‘how can we do this?’  I say, by getting together, getting a plot of land, and persuading your council that you’re worth talking to – and then do, and be proud, and then tell others how you did it: spread the word.  Just have the guts to do it” (Appendix B, paragraph 1.04).  Hackney observes that “it was the threat from an outside source that brought my activities together” (Appendix B – paragraph 4.08), arguing that ‘community’ is formed when people take action “to break down the natural barriers between local government and local people” (Appendix B – paragraph 5.11).  Having risen to fame (and therefore earning-power for his practice) by presenting himself as an angry but influential activist, Hackney proceeded to advocate community engagement in architecture as a means of preventing inner city riots by disaffected young people, siding with Prince Charles in identifying urban decay as the cause of a worryingly ‘divided Britain’.  From such a position of authority, unplanned in terms of career development but the product of unwavering self-belief and fierce loyalty to a moral cause, it was but a short step to presidency of the RIBA and to the associated potential for influence over government policy.  This came just at a time, however, when urban decay began to fade as an issue, due to the 1988-89 building boom – characterised by Hackney as being marked by a “hotch-potch approach and complete lack of coordination, combined with the injection of too much money too quickly… as damaging environmentally as the old mass-housing programmes” (Hackney and Sweet 1990:164), but seized on by architects as an opportunity for returning to prosperity.  Musing on his achievement, Hackney prides himself on how, under his presidency, community architecture “came of age and became accepted as one of the normal ways of practising rather than just a ginger-group activity” (Hackney and Sweet 1990).  In terms of legacy however, Hackney admits that his own practice has subsequently “branched out into other areas – primarily refurbishment of old properties and building good-quality new housing – so that (his) current spread of work is around 25% community architecture, 35% refurbishment and 40% new construction” (Hackney and Sweet 1990).

In more recent times, the rise to success of ‘Assemble’ may be attributed more to its members’ exuberant thirst for creativity, almost for its own sake, than to noisy determination like Hackney’s to fight the “official vandalism” (Hackney and Sweet 1990) of local authorities intent on comprehensive redevelopment schemes.  What the two practices share, however, is respect for “self-help building construction, running in conjunction with small unit contractors” (Hackney and Sweet 1990).  For Assemble, the key to securing community engagement is collaboration in processes that involve making and (in conformity with their very name) assembling construction materials.  In their early projects, which were usually temporary (‘pop-up architecture’), separate teams took responsibility for different elements of the buildings they erected, based upon ‘found’ or recycled or imaginatively re-purposed materials in the interests of keeping costs to a minimum.  Members of Assemble worked alongside volunteers they recruited through social media, which also enabled costs to be minimised.  When commissioned to become involved in more long-term or large-scale projects, Assemble began to make more use of specialist consultants and qualified contractors in place of volunteers – in the context of charging appropriately for the work involved.  Assemble continue to regard craft-based creativity located within the community as the most appropriate foundation for the regeneration of a neighbourhood, arguing that “the involvement of artists can add ‘value’ in excess of the costs involved” (to quote Appendix A, paragraph 6.4).  Projects led by Assemble may therefore be said to reflect its members’ belief that the most effective way of achieving the economic revival of a neighbourhood is through first securing its indigenous cultural development (in contrast to architects’ traditional preference for something similar to the ‘Bilbao effect’ (The Economist 2013) in which the revival of a depressed urban area is attributed to brave investment in a prestigious building designed by a star architect.  Assemble’s preference for working alongside members of a community in order to help them become productive is expressed not only through direct engagement in the fabrication of material for use elsewhere but also through a) involvement as part-time teachers in architecture schools (in the Universities of East London, Westminster and Nottingham and at Central St Martins), and through b) the establishment of communal studio-space – both their own (now relocated from Stratford to Bermondsey) where they share facilities with a carefully selected range of ‘makers,’ and on behalf of others (such as the Blackhorse Workshop in Walthamstow, for whom Assemble developed a management strategy – a precedent for the Turner prize-winning Granby Workshops in Liverpool). 

The origins of Assemble’s approach may be traced to the mentoring they received at the outset from muf architectureǀart – established six years earlier as a self-consciously maverick practice with a commitment to public realm projects that inspire people’s affinity with the spaces they use.  Having worked closely with an urban theorist for their first six years, the characteristic that mostly clearly distinguishes muf from the other practices interviewed for this Research Study is their principle of seeking always to gain first an extraordinarily deep understanding of the social context of each project, achieved through inquisitive immersion and constructed out of numerous fragments of ideas, knowledge and opinion: “only by looking carefully can you reveal the complexity of a situation.  Once you have understood this complexity, your proposal gets much stronger and more accurate.  Of course, it also makes the project much more complicated, because instead of hovering on your cloud above a situation now you have to work with all these little bits and pieces” (Appendix F, paragraph 1.06).  muf admits that their standard practice of going beyond the brief is not always financially sustainable: “we always make research that no one pays for.  It’s a terrible business model” (Appendix F, paragraph 3.03).  On the other hand, this is said to be what “makes our work much more interesting, valuable and kind of sustainable.  If you identify existing initiatives and interests and bring them into your project, it becomes a real, viable long-term investment in public space” (ibid).  The spin-off in terms of muf’s reputation, however, is that the firm (now with 17 staff) is regularly invited by both local authorities and commercial developers to “deliver something meaningful” (Appendix F, paragraph 4.06) – enabling them to produce fee proposals that more accurately reflect the extent of their involvement in a project.  At the same time, the intellectual strength developed through the research that consistently underpins muf’s ideas qualifies the firm’s staff to contribute usefully and influentially to academic pedagogy: Katherine Clarke used to teach at Chelsea School of Art, and Liza Fior teaches regularly at Central St Martins, where the Programme Director for Architecture is a former member of muf.  The firm is also cited extensively in the academic literature related to spatial practices – in particular, a whole PhD study (Kenniff 2013) has been dedicated to muf’s Barking Town Square project.

Stride Treglown plc distinguish themselves from the other practices in this Study – unsurprisingly in the context of their size, being some 300 strong – for their development of a highly robust quality assurance system capable of ensuring comprehensive engagement with stakeholders in conjunction with appropriate costing.  It was partly in recognition of their effective management tools that Stride won the national Town Planning Consultancy of the Year award last year.  Stride differ from the other practices considered in this document, however, in terms of their definition of the ‘community’ to which they relate their activities.  They use a ‘communications matrix’ which identifies all the stakeholders involved in the major projects in which they become involved, aiming “to maximise inclusiveness, but without reference to any nebulous body claiming to represent ‘the community’ ” (Appendix E, paragraph 2.03).  When submitting the mandatory ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ in conjunction with a major planning application, accordingly, it is the issues raised by the combination of stakeholders, rather than merely by the local inhabitants, which are described and addressed.  By carefully identifying all the parties considered relevant or important in relation to development proposals, and the costs associated with all the planned actions or outputs (‘deliverables’) required for engagement with them, Stride ensure the financial viability of the exercise.  In the interests of securing a commission in the face of competition, they sometimes under-charge for masterplanning services in the expectation of being able to compensate through the higher-value fees associated with architectural production.  More importantly, Stride will structure a report in such a way that it can easily “act as an ‘audit trail’ to assist the preparation of planning applications” (Appendix E, paragraph 2.08) – reducing the workload associated with part of the design process in the interests of business efficiency.

Other approaches to ensuring profitability (again in conjunction with subtle departure from interpretations of community-led architecture as a ‘bottom-up’ initiative) are exemplified in the work of Jo Cowen Architects Ltd (JCA).  With some 22 technical staff (in addition to 3 performing administrative functions – one of whom is dedicated exclusively to the management of public relations), “JCA specialises in the ‘high-end’ residential sector” (Appendix G, paragraph 1), which (especially in London’s currently over-heated property market) suggests that the generation of adequate fee-income is never a problem.  JCA expresses respect for the idea (implemented by Richard Rogers – the former employer of the practice’s two founders) that profitable work for wealthy clients should be offset by a certain amount of pro bono social activity.  In the event, however, JCA seems to have used community-based projects as opportunities either for enhancing the firm’s local profile (despite having been established only in late 2014, the practice claims publicly to have “worked on four or five houses on most of the streets in Fulham” – Appendix G, paragraph 1), or for becoming commercially engaged themselves (casting doubt on their inclusion within this Study).  In one project, following refusal of planning permission for roof alterations to a house on the grounds that it would not fit in visually with the other properties along that street, JCA successfully submitted an application for the same alteration to be made to several neighbouring properties – and then described this tactic as community architecture.  In another scheme described on the practices’ website as “an exciting community project” (Cowen 2016b), in order to secure planning permission for new residential accommodation on part of a derelict site further along the same street, JCA proposed a state of the art pavilion “with flexible space for rent by sports clubs, local schools, businesses, societies and individuals as well as creatively designed office space” (quoting again from the practice website).  Describing this project in the RIBA Journal (Cowen 2016a), Cowen stated that “we are very aware that nearby community centres have been closing as public funding runs dry.  We decided there had to be a way to create something on this site through a commercial/public partnership that could benefit the local population” (Appendix G, paragraph 5).  Full fees were charged for the design of the accompanying residential building, but JCA have undertaken to bear all the design and planning costs of the community facility – in return for involvement in the development process through a separate limited company which “is to receive £1.5m upon the sale of the house, which is to be invested in the community part of the project” (ibid).  The appearance of articles about the scheme in the professional press last year (Mark 2016) was perhaps intended to persuade the local planning authority that the positive impact of a new community facility (even in advance of certainty in respect of local need or support) should outweigh any concerns about the adjacent development of a £3.5m dwelling (at the time of writing, no planning application has been made for this site however).

The approach that characterises the work of RCKa Ltd is almost the exact opposite to that identified with JCA: RCKa tend to begin with a community-based initiative, and have developed skills in making it financially viable (including in terms of their own fee-income) by combining the project with commercially attractive elements.  In the context of London’s desperate shortage of housing, it is usually development in the residential sector that makes it possible to pay for community-oriented projects, but it is RCKa themselves who perform the associated financial calculations.  The project that launched the practice nine years ago (winning the biennial Europan housing competition for a canal-side site in Stoke-on-Trent) was “distinctive by virtue of ideas that are not wholly related to architectural design but which reflect the multi-faceted approach now associated with RCKa – a curious blend of architect, consultant, and social entrepreneur” (Appendix C, paragraph 3).  In terms of how RCKa regularly goes ‘beyond the brief’ (utilising the diverse backgrounds of its 16 members of staff), the practice might be compared with muf, but RCKa specialise in analysing and taking the local economy into consideration, whereas muf tend to focus upon context-related social and cultural ideas.  RCKa have therefore been identified as ‘austerity architects’ (McLachlan 2014) - not by virtue of their deliberate use of cheap, undecorated materials, which Till (Till 2017) would argue reflects a tactic related to scarcity rather than austerity) – but in tribute to their entrepreneurial attitude: “you can’t just sit back.  We know what is important to us and it gives us the tenacity to go out and get work and make projects happen” (Appendix 3, paragraph 2).  The practice’s ‘signature project’ (The New Generation youth and community centre in Lewisham, completed in 2014) resulted from RCKa’s identification of a vacant site next to Sydenham Wells Park, coupled with their awareness of an imminent MyPlace funding stream (a Labour government scheme for injecting Big Lottery finance into capital projects in deprived areas), which they brought to the attention of a regular client within Lewisham borough council.  While the consequent community engagement process was fraught (“the architects had no guidelines as a fallback position that might have enabled them to reconcile over 30 different stakeholders’ conflicting suggestions” – Appendix C, paragraph 7), making the design development unprofitable in terms of income to the practice, RCKa demonstrated their inventiveness again by piggybacking on local community events organised by other people – and then producing an award-winning building that has been described as “tough, utilitarian and elegant, done cheaply without at any point looking cheap” (Kucharek 2016).  Most importantly, the building is still buzzing with activity due to the large number of different groups it is able to accommodate next to one another – performing its true function in promoting communal interaction, due partly to the internal layout of its spaces and partly to the way the young users of the facility have responsibility for programming what happens in it.

Continuous awareness of funding streams, changes in government policy and legislation, and the development of financially viable business models is also a critical feature of the work of White Design Associates, who are associated in particular with the LILAC (‘low-impact living affordable community’) co-housing scheme in Leeds.  White’s view is that “the architects of the future need to be familiar with financial modelling, building systems, community-led design and engagement techniques for interaction with real people” (Appendix D, paragraph 2.10).  The reference to building systems relates to White’s development of the ‘ModCell’ prefabricated straw-bale and timber-frame construction method (which was chosen for the LILAC development as a way of minimising its environmental impact).  In addition to interacting with a research team at Bath University on the performance of ModCell in the pioneering ‘BaleHaus’ (“featured in an episode of Kevin McCloud’s ‘Grand Designs’ programme” – Appendix D, paragraph 1.04), White is also deeply involved with MArch students at the University of the West of England, where he leads a unit called ‘#LiveWorkMake’ (UWE 2016) – working with a community in the Knowle West area of Bristol exploring how citizen-led housing might not only be designed by the community but community-financed also.  Involvement in both teaching and making (White is currently director and company secretary of ModCell) suggests a parallel in terms of approach between White Design and Assemble, but the major difference (apart from the scale and sophistication of the technology involved in ModCell, and its associated penetration of the construction market) is that White Design is also seriously involved in the quest for viable options for community-led housing in the future: “the solution proposed for Custom-build is to create new entities called ‘Home Manufacturers’ consisting of designer/supplier partnerships bringing forward ideas that will represent a financially secure model of housebuilding that people can invest in” – Appendix D, paragraph 2.08).  Following a competitive procurement process, White Design with ModCell has been selected as one of the six teams on a government-supported ‘Pathfinder’ project for what will be the largest private-sector custom-build development in the UK – the ‘Homemade@Heartlands’ scheme (Carillion Igloo 2016) on the site of a former tin-mine in Cornwall (by coincidence, further to a masterplan developed by Stride Treglown – see Appendix E).

 

4     CONCLUSIONS : Going with the Flow

Even the very fire of the sun and the stars, and indeed the cosmos itself is nourished by evaporation of the waters
(Thales – quoted in Aëtius: De Placita Philosophorum, I.3)

 

In phlegmatically seeking common ground between ideas about ‘Practice’ (in terms of business development) and notions of ‘Community’ (in the sense of public engagement in decision-taking), it has been found appropriate to adopt Latour’s idea (2005:232) of identifying specific ‘mediators’ – operating not as universalist or theistic ‘prehensions’ (Wolf and Whitehead 1931), nor as Kantian products of human intellect, but taking the form of occasional, non-privileged relations capable of binding ‘actors’ together in a coordinating ‘network’.  In Harman’s words,
Latour’s philosophy is a kind of secular occasionalism…  It’s a philosophy where you have to ask how things interact on a local level without appealing to some all-powerful super-entity that’s hidden somewhere from us.  He does not flee from the problem of translation, but makes it the central theme of his philosophy”  (Harman 2011:33).

Treating the material gathered through interviews with architectural practitioners as a series of objects (whether physically real or immaterially virtual) makes it possible to focus upon the generation of relations between them, between referends and referents, through the identification of narratives – the stories that people tell (themselves, prompted by the researcher) about the development of their businesses.  The way that small, muddy puddles of information are translated by interviewees into clear, linear flows leave ‘traces’ that can be regarded as evidence of interpretations constructed by the speaker rather than by the listener.

So long as the medium is fluid, the material can assume an infinite variety of forms – the stories are endless whilst the interviewee continues speaking.  As soon as the words are set down as text, however, it becomes possible to identify connections between ideas that begin to cluster and unify.  Broader narratives emerging from the seven practices interviewed for the purposes of this study were traced in the previous section:

[  Table 1: Summary of interviewees’ distinctive approaches to community-led architecture  ]

Even within interviewees’ responses to individual questions, it is possible to identify numerous further narrative connections they make between practice- and community-related topics.  Assemble, for example (Appendix A, paragraph 5.2), note that growth in amounts of work to be undertaken comes to be associated with increasing division of responsibilities between team members and the regularisation of activity-patterns (alleviated by a culture of social eating).  They also suggest (Appendix A, paragraph 6.1) that encouraging people to make things is an effective alternative in business terms to engaging with them in endless debate about matters of taste or opinion.

Rod Hackney (Appendix B, paragraph 5.55) advocates that architects embed themselves (geographically and socially) in the neighbourhoods of their projects as a means of making the planning system more locally accountable and of identifying local construction resources in terms of skills and materials.

RCKa (Appendix C, paragraph 9) observe how engagement with multiple stakeholders results in the design of buildings with highly flexible spaces, which are therefore more vibrant because they are occupied more continuously by a greater variety of users.  RCKa also observe (Appendix C, paragraph 10) how their characteristic use of income-generating development to fund community projects is usefully matched by the more entrepreneurial attitudes that are increasingly encountered within cash-strapped local authorities.

White Design (Appendix D, paragraph 2.02) argue that business success requires architects to maintain constant vigilance in respect of national policy initiatives and legislation: recognition that self-build schemes offer a partial solution to Britain’s current ‘housing crisis’, it is asserted (Appendix D, paragraph 2.03), suggests that architects need to align themselves with manufacturers in order to win work upon the basis of specialism in particular ‘modern methods of construction’: “we cannot wait for communities to imagine themselves as developers – we need to be able to bring forward the sites ourselves, along with hardware solutions such as… toolkits that can help predefine the pathways for community-led housing” (Appendix D, paragraph 2.07).

Stride Treglown (Appendix E, paragraph 2.10) champion the use of carefully organised and documented ‘consultation’ as a means of ensuring not only adequate fee-income but also a smooth passage through the planning system for large-scale, complex masterplanning proposals.  Representing almost the antithesis of self-build and the use of physical materials for making, Stride are also strong advocates of the use of digital technology (looking towards the next generation of Building Information Modelling) as a means of ensuring efficient communication between stakeholders in a development – Appendix E, paragraph 3.01.

muf begins from recognition that, as the exercise of community responsibility is not usually a developer’s priority, it becomes the role of the designer to lead in terms of making projects socially valuable (Appendix F, paragraph 4.04) – requiring personal commitment and energy that cannot usually be matched by cash-flow.  The firm’s output must therefore be capable of extension to other contexts, such as publication or education, it is suggested, which other parties may be willing to support financially.

Jo Cowen, finally, tells describes its ‘high-end’ activity in the form of consistently market-orientated narratives (Appendix G, paragraph 3).  Community engagement is not regarded so much as a business objective or opportunity as an occasional means towards achievement of the practice’s commercial ends (Appendix G, paragraph 5).  When Cowen was invited to speak on ‘the role of the architect to empower communities’ in June 2016, she described how the architect needs to be “the facilitator rather than the creator, and an enabler of process and discussion rather than being the designer” (Appendix G, paragraph 8), but when interviewed she spoke of a background agenda – “engaging with (community) concerns provides the opportunity to help educate people about the wider benefits for the whole area … the consultation process involves a lot of being shouted at” (Appendix G, paragraph 6).

Considered in conjunction with one another (noting that the above narratives represent only a selection from the themes that practitioners linked together when interviewed), it is obvious that no coordinating leitmotif can be discerned – even though Assemble originated as a spin-off from muf, even though White Design have been engaged to implement part of a Stride Treglown masterplan, and even though Hackney has argued that “all architects should be community architects” (Hackney and Sweet 1990:209).  Quite the contrary – there seem to be more antitheses than similarities between different practices’ approaches to community engagement, despite the relatively large number (in the context of the time-constraints associated with this study) of practitioners interviewed.  RCKa use residential development as a vehicle for making community projects financially viable, for example, whereas Cowen uses a community project as concessionary planning gain associated with an application for profitable development on adjacent land.  Assemble involve the residents of a neighbourhood in manufacturing construction components, whereas White Design have worked with engineers on the development of a sophisticated ‘modern method of construction’ which is manufactured commercially.  Hackney adopts an aggressive, abrasive attitude in relation to local authorities (and even fellow-professionals), whereas muf have successfully won the trust of local authorities through their soft-spoken commitment to the public realm and modesty in relation to their practice’s achievement.  muf also pride themselves on avoidance of consistency in the way projects are approached (Appendix F, paragraph 4.06), whereas Stride Treglown distinguish themselves through their adherence to standardised processes (related to a definition of ‘community’ that deliberately excludes non-representative individuals, and certainly with no intention of engaging stakeholders in the design process itself).

While no common thread seems to link the different practices interviewed in conjunction with their approaches to community engagement however, one activity that several of them share – as a feature giving character to their operation rather than merely as a supplementary source of income – is their involvement in mainstream architectural education (see Table 1 above).  In a sense, this is hardly surprising, as working with members of the public on the development of design ideas is not very different from working with architecture students (especially in the early years of their studies): the same teaching skills are required, the same knowledge of factors that need to be taken into account is applicable, and the same creative ethos, imaginative enthusiasm and sensitivity needs to drive the interaction.  This perception is consistent with Rod Hackney’s long-established view (Appendix 2, paragraph 5.54) that the future should involve “teaching architecture students to appreciate small-scale projects and giving them practical knowledge of traditional building skills and materials (as an alternative to spending time training them to cope with legal disputes involving designers, clients and builders).”  Looking ahead to DArch document 5, it is clear that part of the answer to the research question – which seems to remain relevant but which has not yet been answered adequately – will be concerned with the integration of community engagement into architectural education.

Before then however, having considered the ‘Practice’ half of the research question, Document 4 must proceed to explore the perceptions of non-specialist members of ‘the community’ who find themselves engaged in collaborative design exercises.  In order again to ensure that the voice of participants is heard rather than the musings of an external observer, it is proposed that this study should deploy a research design based upon what Kemmis and Wilkinson (1998) term an ‘advocacy/participatory worldview’ – being appropriate to situations where research study becomes entangled with live political issues.

 

 

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DArch Document 2 - Literature Review and Conceptual Framework (submitted in April 2016)

 INTRODUCTION

 “A new theoretical framework has crystallized, enabling people to make better sense of their experiences and to build on common links between issues and events previously seen as being separate.  At the same time, a progressive style of campaigning tactics has evolved, based on challenging the status quo with positive alternatives, rather than simply abstract protest.”
(Wates and Knevitt 1987) 

Writing the seminal text on ‘community architecture’ nearly thirty years ago, the authors seemed unaware that what they were confidently identifying as a ’movement’ whose time had come, was doomed to flow – at least until recently – into something of a professional backwater.  In investigating how architectural practices might make public participation in the design process more central to their business however, which is the aim of this study, I too intend to adopt “a new theoretical framework” – one unanticipated by Wates and Knevitt, but which happens also to be centred on “links between issues and events previously seen as being separate” (exploring the possibility of a common terrain between business development and community engagement).  My proposed framework might even be deemed ‘progressive’ in that, through a concern to avoid abstract therorising, it may seem “based on challenging the status quo with positive alternatives.”  On the other hand, to avoid descent into tu quoque polemics, I aim to bestow certain ‘graces’ upon my text that will permit it to persuade by virtue of the intellectual rigour with which I investigate the intelligibility of the practice/community combination.

1. PRINCIPLES OF FAITH 

“Whether architects isolate and thus expose themselves to accusations of arrogance and self-indulgence, or whether they open up to users in a participatory design process has become an existential question.”
(Hofmann 2014:8)

Before laying out the basis for the perspective to be adopted in relation to ‘Practice and Community’ (explaining my reluctance to accept either of these concepts except as temporary ‘place-holders’ pending corroboration in terms of their material ramifications), my twofold subject-matter is first rooted in the context of current debate within the architectural profession.  Having thus re-established the validity (suggesting the value) of my proposed research study, I then consider the philosophical basis for its verification.  This is inevitably shaped by the “rather broad spectrum of artistic and intellectual orientations” (Alvesson 2002) that constitute my own identity, forged in the context of ‘The Postmodern Condition’ (Lyotard 1984) which, from “its starting point a few years ago in the clearly surveyable field of architecture” (Honneth 1985), has taught me to be sceptical of ‘grand narratives’ at the same time as encouraging playfulness and eclecticism: I therefore look forward to “breaking down disciplinary boundaries, challenging conventional wisdom, and giving voice to viewpoints and perspectives hitherto silenced” (Kilduff and Mehra 1997) in the interests of consistency with my research question.

If my conceptual framework is nevertheless to be made meaningful, I must appeal to all branches of philosophy concurrently.  Simply defined, my task is to combine reference to “the rational investigation of the nature and structure of reality (metaphysics), the resources and limits of knowledge (epistemology), the principles and import of moral judgement (ethics), and the relationship between language and reality (semantics)” (Sinclair 2000:1165).  Conscious of their primacy in a research study, I therefore address issues relating to ethics before exploring the development of my thinking about “the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being” (Sinclair 2000) – ontology.  Such reflections make it possible to identify “acceptable ways of knowing...affecting the relationships between the researcher and the communities who are being researched, such that partnerships are formed that are based on equality of power and esteem” (Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2011:33): community-oriented values will thus be embedded in my epistemology.

Having defined my philosophical standpoint, grounding it in topicality and identity and infusing it with an appropriate ethos, I am then able to explore its ramifications in terms of a methodology to apply in the process of literature review.  My professional double-identity as architect/teacher demands an innovative but practical combination of integrity, creativity and empowerment.  I find myself attracted above all by the ideas advanced by Bruno Latour, accordingly: examination of his ‘realist’ approach (Stalder 2000) promises to afford a highly appropriate criterion for evaluation of the literature I need to identify as relevant to my subject-area.

1.1 Topicality

“Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive.”
(Siebert 1963)

To begin with a review of the topicality of my research question, I noted in Document 1 (page 11) the RIBA’s supportive response to the Localism Act 2011, which “contains a wide range of measures to devolve more powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities greater control over local decisions like housing and planning” (UK Parliament 2011).  I suggested that my research findings might therefore contribute to the profession’s willingness to engage in this kind of activity, by working with communities in decision-taking processes related to the form and character of their built environment in ways that will reinforce the ‘success’ (a term which this document will need to define more specifically) of architectural practices.

Notwithstanding the nature of this study being conducted within the context of what is termed a ‘professional’ doctorate, ethical considerations demand that my research question should originate not merely from the development needs of one particular practice, nor even from the architectural profession at large, but from ‘the community’ itself (ECSA 2015).  Over the course of 2015, I have observed, questions about UK architects’ relationship to the communities affected by their schemes seem to have been raised with increasing frequency, intensity and success.

While the national shortage of homes has been continuously occupying UK economists, politicians, and the press, the (somewhat self-centred) thrust of the RIBA’s own research over the last few years has revolved around their ‘Homewise’ campaign for better quality in the design of new housing – arguing that the current housing tends to be unfit for purpose, particularly in terms of space standards (Neale 2009, Roberts-Hughes 2011, Finlay 2012)

Neale (2009) has observed that, in the context of economic recession, when developers may have felt obliged to minimise construction costs on sites for which they had overpaid, housing quality became increasingly important in determining the expected yield in terms of sales.  For such sound commercial considerations, architects were therefore commissioned to engage mostly in ‘high-end’ residential design – particularly in London where investors from abroad found a financially ‘safe’ haven for their capital.  To this day, large numbers of luxury apartments continue to be constructed, but for investment purposes rather than to alleviate “the greatest housing crisis since the aftermath of the Second World War” (Adonis and Davies 2015).

In June 2015 by contrast, architects’ consciousness of their social obligations was sharply pricked by the news (Marrs 2015) that a key professional awards ceremony had been disrupted by activists claiming that certain (high-profile) practices were deeply implicated in schemes involving inner-city ‘social cleansing’ – for example, “the eviction, demolition and gentrification of the Aylesbury Estate” in south London (Pritchard 2015)

As a consequence of these protests, the Architects Journal – itself targeted by the activists on the grounds that it fetishises “form, materials and individual architects over the social context of what they build” (Olcayto 2015) – launched a series of occasional articles under the banner ‘Architecture on Trial: Ethical Business’ – asking questions such as “is a new breed of architect emerging that is more concerned with ethics and less in thrall to the corporate world?” (McLachlan 2015)

A notable example of the ‘new breed’ discussed by McLachlan (2015) was Assemble – the London-based direct-action collective of “18 young architects and designers (who) won the UK’s most important art award for its work on the Granby Four Streets project in Liverpool” (Howarth 2015).  In terms of the award itself, this was a remarkable decision (“that threw a hand-grenade into the Turner prize”, commented (Higgins 2015) being the first time it had been awarded for an architectural project, or to a collective – a truly remarkable coincidence in the context of this research study.

In a broader sense, the award of the Turner prize to Assemble would appear to reflect the same ‘bottom-up’ swell of anti-establishment public opinion that – in opposition to ‘the political class’ (Oborne 2007), and teaching politicians the urgent need to adjust their perspective – swept Jeremy Corbyn to leadership of the UK Labour party in September 2015, in a similarly surprising but unambiguous manner.  Even more significantly, it is faith in concepts such as “post-industrial localised democracy” (Bryan and McClaughry 1989) – enshrined for example in the establishment of Community Land Trusts – that is currently being tested in the campaign for leadership of the US Democratic party: “the story of Bernie Sanders … is also the story of how an independently minded political leader created the intellectual and practical space for CLTs to become embedded in the political architecture of the state” (Hill 2015:53).

It is no surprise, then, that the Turner prize judges praised Assemble for providing “a ground-up approach to regeneration, city planning and development in opposition to corporate gentrification” (Brown 2015).  Searle (Searle 2015) commented that “Assemble’s win signifies a larger move away from the gallery into public space that is becoming ever more privatised.  It shows a revulsion for the excesses of the art market, and a turn away from the creation of objects for that market.”  When Assemble were first short-listed for the award, Moore identified the anti-capitalist significance of their work even more clearly:
“Assemble represents values profoundly opposite to those of the current directions of property and planning and of the architects who serve them… they champion the unquantifiable benefits of, in particular, human society, of people enjoying life together because it is better than doing it on their own... the members of Assemble promote value over price. They show no sign of being in it for the money, which is just as well, as there is not much money in what they do” (Moore 2015).

Moore proceeds to consider how the practice (none of its members being fully qualified as architects, and some not having attended architecture school at all) grows its business through community activism:
“Where many architects make themselves into brands and build up their egos both to help sell themselves better and because they want to, Assemble’s members are genuinely collaborative, both with each other and with the people using, building and commissioning their projects... Assemble’s work can, to use a more pretentious term, be called performative. It’s less about creating a finished object than it is about the series of actions by which a space is designed, built and inhabited” (Moore 2015).

For the purposes of this research study, it is clear that Document 3 will need to include a case study related to how Assemble have developed their practice, which should be contrasted with studies of other architects’ firms in order to identify any significant differences in terms either of business growth or of community benefits.

1.2   Identity

 If the self, as I suggest, is a relational entity, it cannot have a locus in the world of experiential objects. …  It resides in no place at all, but merely manifests itself in the continuity of our acts of differentiating and relating and in the intuitive certainty we have that our experience is truly ours."
(von Glaserfeld 2006113)

Having vindicated identification of my research topic by reference to its firm foundations in external issues of (the) moment, it is appropriate next to turn the focus inwards, and to examine the range of biases and assumptions with which I am likely to approach my study.  In particular, my purpose is to discuss the extent to which I come to my subject-matter as an outsider or insider: appropriately (in the context of my research question, which involves issues related to seemingly antithetical objectives), I find it is a combination of both.

As an architect trained in the community-conscious 1970s - reacting in the name of human conviviality (Illich 1973) against the ‘white heat of technology’ (Wilson 1963) aspirations of the 1960s – I have always regarded involvement of ‘users’ as an appropriate way of ensuring that buildings perform effectively in terms of social function, rather than responding merely to the commissioning client’s demands (Groák 1992:53).  To some extent, such a concern is embedded in professional conduct expectations – buildings being too resource-intensive, too environmentally significant, and too long-lasting (in short, too big) to be designed without respect for the people most likely to be affected by them. 

Fundamentally, however, my attitude has arisen from reasons for wishing, from the outset, to practice as an architect – a modernist (naive but well-intentioned) aspiration to make the world a better place as a result of my activities (Rowe 2011), perhaps even as an extension of the ideals embraced by my parents (both of whom had practised as public sector architects in the post-war reconstruction of London and its suburban new towns).  I currently believe I can fulfil this ambition even more effectively through teaching architecture, my pedagogy providing a platform from which to spread enthusiasm for my ethos into a generation of successors.  From this kind of activity, bidding “for the minds of men in the market place of ideas” (Collins 2010), it is but a short step to engagement with members of a community, helping them achieve a built environment more responsive to their needs.  This whole research project, of course, is motivated by the same urge to examine the ingredients of what Hicks (Hicks 1997) has casually described as ‘the social dimension’ of sustainability – interacting with the environmental and economic dimensions (with notions of ecology and equity at their interstices).

I must begin by briefly examining the origins of this commitment to ‘social sustainability’ is founded.  A Roman Catholic upbringing (tellingly, via a monastic ‘community’), with Camus raising absurdist questions and Kierkegaard seeming to offer joyfully anarchistic responses, has generated what Greene called “the paradox one carries within oneself” (Allain 1983) – taking the form of a fiercely atheistic dogmatism, albeit tempered by humanistic respect for the long tradition of western philosophy that justifies essentially ‘Christian’ attitudes on the grounds of rationalism rather than scripture:
Reason bears a quite human aspect, but it is also able to turn towards the divine…  It has learned to turn away from the most cherished of its principles, which is contradiction, in order to integrate into it the strangest, the quite magic one of participation(Camus 1955)

 On reflection, such values might be diagnosed as a preference for what Aquinas termed ‘natural’ over ‘revealed’ wisdom (Snell 2003) – foreshadowing a privileging of the organically authentic over the classically artificial within the 1970s culture in which the intellectual foundations of some of my deepest prejudices were laid.  On the other hand, my practice as architect, teacher and now researcher displays the imprint of Kierkegaard’s use of “irony, parody, satire, humour, and deconstructive techniques in order to make conventionally accepted forms of knowledge untenable” and his strategy of inverting the “dialectical ladder by which humans can climb with ease up to heaven…by seeking to make everything more difficult” (McDonald 2014).

No doubt there are still deeper psychological factors (stemming perhaps from finding myself the ‘dispossessed’ eldest of four siblings) which may have underpinned the development of a somewhat anti-social attitude, blended with certain attention-seeking tendencies.  While some of these characteristics might be regarded as useful attributes for a teacher/researcher (Race 2006:96), they expressed themselves early as habits of finding ‘solace’ (Lane 1998) in rambles through countryside and wilderness as a refuge from converse with people and engagement (even as an observer only) in organised activity such as sports or theatricals.  In the company of friends, colleagues and (sometimes) students, I still tend to adopt the (essentially creative) role of Joker – as if to mask embarrassment in respect of an obsession with orderliness (demanding often unnecessary precision in terms of spatial arrangement, timing, and use of language).  Such introspective reflections, balancing comic book extremes of chaos and order (Langley 2012), serve not to justify but at least to account for certain choices in terms both of the literature examined initially and of the style in which it is discussed.

The masks of my identity, expressed within my home community through Norfolk’s motto “do different” (Self 2014), have clearly influenced not only my choice to crusade on behalf of what was – at the start of my studies at least – a politically suspect, professionally undervalued, and commercially unfashionable topic, but also my adoption of an correspondingly contentious standpoint, demanding a relatively innovatory methodology characterised by deliberately ‘difficult’ postmodernist associations.  Conscious that excessive egocentrism is associated with reduced critical distance however (Weiss 2015:14), I cannot justify further discussion without first providing some axiological base for my proposed approach.

1.3   Axiology

“Our interest’s on the dangerous edge of things…”
Bishop Blougram’s Apology (Browning 1855/2005)

My interest in the engagement of members of the public in decision-taking with respect to the design of their own built environment (activities and issues I propose initially to label as ‘community architecture’) is not only rooted in my training and practice as architect/educator but is also underpinned by what I have, until recently at least, been casually content (if not proud) to acknowledge as my profession’s ethos – expressed through the codes of conduct (ARB 2009; RIBA 2005) that I discussed in a certain amount of detail in Document 1.

In embarking upon this research exercise, with its concern to relate community architecture to practice development, I therefore found it highly reassuring that the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA – the professional body to which I belong) has published its own ‘Research in Practice Guide’ (RIBA 2013), promising to illuminate the ethical context for the production of a document such as this.  The Guide turns out to consist of little more than a reminder that research (and development) is an integral feature of the architectural design process, however, which should therefore be exploited in terms of “where it might fit into a practice’s fee structure” (RIBA 2013:3).  The word ‘ethics’ does not appear in the document, but there is extensive reference to sources of funding for research.  Coincidentally, even the architects’ Code of Conduct has recently been criticised for being tainted with a similarly commercial orientation – implying that ‘the public interest’ is the antithesis of business development (and going straight to the heart of my research question).

In the UCL symposium ‘Practising Ethics in Built Environment Research’ in June 2015, Professor Jeremy Till expressed the view that our professional codes of practice are unrelated to ethics and concerned instead only with serving clients, being “simply about how one subscribes to the value-system and phoney ethics of the marketplace” (McLachlan 2015).  Such a complaint possibly originates in the traditional claim of the Architects Registration Board (ARB – the body legally charged with the maintenance of a list of practitioners entitled to call themselves ‘architect’) to be mandated both to protect consumers and to safeguard the reputation of architects (Chakraborty 2015, Shariff and Tankard 2010, ARB 2002).  In Document 1 (page 6), a parallel epistemological dualism was noted in the function of the RIBA itself – to serve architects or to promote architecture.

The ARB’s enabling Act makes no reference to consumer protection however, but states only that “the Board shall issue a code laying down standards of professional conduct and practice expected of registered persons” (UK Parliament 1997).  Accordingly, references to the Board’s dual function have mostly disappeared from ARB’s more recent publications, although their current ‘Communications Strategy’ persists in maintaining that
“the Board has identified two objectives from the Act which underpin all of our work:
Ÿ protect the users and potential users of architects’ services.
Ÿ support architects through regulation.
These objectives are the foundations of ARB’s 2014 business plan... ”
(ARB 2014).

Tellingly for this research study, as if reflecting a political shift from commercial to social objectives, ministerial responsibility for ARB was transferred in 2006 from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) to the newly formed Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which describes its job as being “to create great places to live and work, and to give more power to local people to shape what happens in their area” (DCLG 2015b).  Faithful to the scope of the enabling legislation, the DCLG website states simply that ARB “regulates the architects’ profession in the UK to ensure that good standards of conduct and practice are consistently maintained” (DCLG 2015a) - as if the organisation’s objective were to safeguard the profession’s delivery of a high quality built environment in response to democratic pressure.  This suggests an appropriately ethical rather than commercial context for practice.  As Hurst (Hurst 2015) has reported however, there is a view that the architects’ code of conduct provides only feeble encouragement for the exercise of fearless and impartial professional judgement: it is hoped, therefore, that this research study will demonstrate how architects might be enabled to embed their social obligations more firmly in their business strategy and tactics.

Notwithstanding the relationship between professional ethics and my research topic, my choice to undertake this study within the context of a DArch submission per se expresses an ethical position, as the literature review process – providing the conceptual framework for this whole study – reflects my debt to previous authors’ intellectual property at the same time as it fulfils obligations towards future readers through the use of references to help them locate my sources (Bruner 1942).  As the very etymology of the word ‘ethics’ relates to the values shared by people in relation to the places they inhabit (Liddell and Scott 1963:303), it is even more appropriate that a main motive driving this research exercise should be to help architects understand how they might perform their profession’s social function more effectively.

The genesis of my research question within the small architectural practice of which I am a Director was discussed at the start of Document 1 (page 4).  Reviewing our strategy for growing the business, specifically in order to make it more ‘profitable’, my co-Directors suggested we should consider reducing emphasis upon the firm’s commitment to community engagement alongside our design activities.  In response, I expressed a contrary view – that, through research such as this, it might be possible to combine practice growth with insistence upon the involvement of local communities in our work with developers, or upon the involvement of building users in projects for individual clients.  It was therefore with my co-Directors’ full support that I originally embarked upon this study.

In arguing the case for framing my research question – posed at the outset of Document 1 as “how may architectural practices develop in conjunction with involvement in community engagement projects?” – I suggested that my findings will be of wider interest to the profession at large, not merely in the context of recent resurgence of interest in the topic ‘Practice and Community’ but in response to the ethical obligations enshrined in the relevant Codes of Conduct discussed above.  At this point, I must therefore address the issue of how I will recognise such ‘findings’ – what kinds of evidence I accept as indicative of practical ‘reality.’

1.4   Ontology

 “...the tone of the work never varied.  Scrupulous, concise, and invested with the comedy inherent in distance, the poems allowed no object, person, or insight to take precedence over any other.  The field of the poet’s experience was democratised to a degree that levelled it to one enormous field of closely observed particulars – both physical and mental”
(Hustvedt 2003:177)

What I have loved to claim as an ‘obsession for orderliness’ (see page 13 above) compels me to provide a brief outline of my philosophical standpoint, which provides the lens through which I look out at the world in an effort to come to terms with it – a phrase carefully chosen in order to avoid the hubris of suggesting I might ever ‘understand’ what I see (Koestler 1969:619).  I cannot claim to operate in the context of any one particular way of apprehending ‘reality’ – principally because I regard the development of my thinking as very much a ‘work in progress.’

As discussed above (page 12), my encounters with existentialism in the early 1970s – underpinned by detailed studies of Sartre’s claim (Sartre 2007) to be a humanist – was promoted on intellectual grounds by the monks who ran my school, but with the effect of displacing Catholicism in favour of a seemingly more challenging nihilism.  I found myself strongly attracted to what I perceived as the rather more daring proposition that the world is essentially meaningless, giving all responsibility for the definition of morality to human individuals.

I experienced similar intellectual frisson in the late 1980s, when I was introduced to the ideas of post-modernism whilst teaching, studying and researching at a college of Further and Higher Education, where – within the context of a MBA programme – I was challenged to consider epistemological foundations in relation to business management.  Initially, it was complexity theory that introduced me to the notion that successful organisations are those that learn from ‘chaos’ rather than seeking harmony and consensus as a rational operational context:
“the system is such that connections between cause and effect are distant in time and space, making it very difficult to predict future situations” (Stacey 2003:210).

 In response, Sarup (Sarup 1993) became my bible, encouraging me to question even the stability of moral principles.  In place of rationality, I began to take delight in the word-games associated with deconstruction.  ‘Between the Blinds’ (Kamuf 1991) suggested a parallel between Derrida’s poetic humour and Koestler’s classic explanation of creativity: I identified the genesis of my own activity both as a designer and as a teacher (and now as a researcher) as being centred on the idea of ‘bisociation’ – the “spontaneous flash of insight...which connects previously unconnected matrices of experience” (Koestler 1969).

Such conjugational thinking, associated by Koestler also with the notion of (scientific) discovery, may to some extent account for my choice of research question for this study – demanding focus upon possible links between ‘Practice and Community,’ two almost antithetical concepts.  My ambition is not to develop from or towards an argument that such links ‘exist’, but to examine what exactly can be ‘constructed’ out of their combination.  Reference to Koestler promises ethical justification also, giving emancipatory significance to my research: “the act of creation is the act of liberation – it’s the defeat of habit by originality” (Koestler 1969).  In order to inject ‘realism’ into such a constructivist endeavour, furthermore, it becomes important to privilege material evidence over theoretical reflection wherever possible – an idea I have encountered with increasing frequency in the course of my employment by Nottingham Trent University over the last five years.

The more intellectually rigorous discourse associated with life as a university academic has encouraged me to adopt a more carefully argued view of possible realities beyond (ie independent of) my habitual domain of ‘pataphysical’ (Jarry 1965) word-play and deliberate misinterpretation (applied in the context of a field I have called ‘experimental hermeneutics’).  My continuing predilection for the ‘difficult whole’ (Venturi 1977) – a preference for ideas that offer the most difficult challenge to familiar assumptions, compels me now to take the view that there is hubris even in humanism.  My contrarian instincts, born both of anxiety to avoid intellectual laziness and contempt for unquestioning belief, demand rejection of a purely phenomenological approach, on the grounds that – in the interests of approximating more closely to conviction that “there is a reality outside of human existence” (Harman 2011:61) – it is inappropriate to privilege subjective experience of the social or economic environment.  I therefore have special respect for ‘object-oriented ontology’ (Harman 2002), on the grounds that it appears to offer an intellectually stricter (and therefore academically superior) account of the world around us.

It is difficult, however, to envisage Harman’s ‘abstract’ kind of philosophy becoming a productive basis for approaching ‘Practice and Community.’  When examining matters of interaction between people, there might be value to be derived from treating observations and findings as ‘things’ in their own right – but so full of quantities and qualities that no amount of analysis could ever expect to generate a full understanding of them.  Conscious that selection of ‘facts’ or interpretation of‘findings’ is inevitably driven by factors such as personal conditioning, intuition or agenda (as discussed above – pages 10-13), I would need to maintain infinitely open-minded recognition of other dimensions to any evidence I might adduce, and even to any contrary evidence that I might have identified for discussion.

For Harman, “objects have a kind of inner essence which withdraws from and subsists in the absence of relations with other objects” (Harman 2011:69).  Harman’s philosophy thus militates against the exploration of connections between separate entities: through his insistence upon the inaccessible self-sufficiency of ‘objects’ (which include non-material ideas), Harman seems to have pulled up the epistemological ladder behind him, rendering his approach unfruitful in terms of openness to ‘leads’ through which to examine the combination of ‘Practice and Community’.  If my research process is to consist of putting some parts of my material to the test against other parts and drawing conclusions about their interaction, I hardly need to address questions such as whether the resulting fusion might represent some ‘other’ kind of material or ‘object’, which is what Harman demands: “you cannot keep on saying that there has to be a third term mediating between any two others and not finally reach a point where the mediation stops and where there is a direct contact of some sort” (Harman 2011).  Whilst accepting Harman’s object-oriented ontology as a viable metalanguage, it seems less capable of providing useful insights about the relationships between things, which is what this research study needs to do.  For the purposes of exploring ‘Practice and Community’, accordingly, the epistemological starting-point for my methodology has therefore to be not Harman but Bruno Latour.

1.5   Epistemology

We may now say that the mathematical apodeixis is, partly, a development of the rhetorical epideixis
(Netz 2003, Latour 2008)

Whereas Harman would argue that concepts such as ‘Practice’ and ‘Community’ exist as ‘objects’ in their own right, independently of their relationships with other ideas, Latour demands focus upon what ‘assemblages’ (Latour 2005) of materially observable activities or products go into the development of such ideas.  The attraction of Latour is thus the intellectual challenge of hard-nosed realism: rather than lazily referring to familiar notions such as ‘the social realm’ for assistance in understanding phenomena under consideration, Latour permits researchers to postpone (indefinitely) the formulation of hypotheses such as ‘community’ and suggests they diligently scrutinise instead all the ‘traces’ (Latour 2005) of factors that are at work in its name, exploring how they interact in a vast ‘network’.

Latour’s ‘Actor-Network-Theory’ (ANT) thus involves an approach that begins in media res (accepting a start-point without questioning its nature) and simply tracking its associations and ramifications wherever they lead – aiming to ‘assemble’ (that auspicious word again!) an objective understanding of states of affairs that obviates reference to ‘the social’ per se (Latour 2005).  Ideas such as ‘community,’ according to Latour, merely reflect the interacting reality of numerous material factors: it is the latter, accordingly, which the researcher must identify, follow and describe carefully, learning from observation – tellingly, as architects are also required to do in conjunction with their development as practitioners(Schön 1983).

Latour himself began by observing ‘Laboratory Life’ (Latour and Woolgar 1979), an ethnographic study of how scientists develop knowledge: his conclusion was that scientific insights are socially constructed rather than reflections of some independent reality – etymologically, he observes, the word ‘fact’ refers to something ‘fabricated’ (Latour 2005).  My own research will accordingly be ‘evidence-based’ rather than speculative – particularly as this has been described as “a bottom up approach” (Sackett, et al. 1996:72) and is therefore consistent with the theme of this study.

In the context of a discussion focused upon the potential connections between the growth of an architectural practice and its engagement in community-based design projects, Harman’s metaphysics of objects may thus be judged unhelpful: by his own admission, “epistemology has to do with our relations to things, and of course I think that the things themselves are outside the relations” (Harman 2011:93).  Latour does not dismiss the metaphysical as irrelevant to empirical research, but simply objects to the repertoire of “the whole basic furniture of the world (being) set in advance” (Harman 2011) of its study: his epistemology suggests that research activity should take the form of thorough examination of relationships through which the conjunction of practice and community might be constituted as an ‘assemblage’ – with no obligation to give the combination a specific name or identity, but exposing plenty of symptomatic evidence of its operational reality.

Latour’s technique of seeking to understand not ‘things’ directly but only their manifold associations (following their ‘traces’ wherever they lead) seems to offer an approach which could be eminently suitable in relation to this study’s research question, which is concerned entirely with the identification of links between ‘practice and community.’  With its foundations in realism and pragmatism, furthermore, ANT also seems highly appropriate as a means of framing this research within the context of a professional doctorate.  Even my own research trajectory may be regarded as a kind of Latourian network – the starting-point having already been ‘overtaken’ by material encountered in the process of developing this literature review.  The more important issue, of course, will be the practice-related relevance of outcomes from this study.

While maintaining there is no fundamental, single ‘reality’ – only pluralities ceaselessly being created through relationships between ‘agencies’, Latour nevertheless observes that “there might be feedback from the fieldwork to the metaphysics ... it’s possible for actors themselves to articulate constructivism as a cause of reality(Harman 2011).  Everything being understood through its relation to everything else makes it impossible ever to capture all the associations between them, or ever to reach a point where the study of a topic can be said to have arrived at a conclusion – there will always be other spatial or temporal implications to be explored. Political values must therefore be drawn into play, Latour argues, based upon what concepts such as ‘community’ ought to mean: if the critical objective is “to ‘make a difference’, and to render the world more liveable” (Latour 2005), it must be recognised “that associations are not enough, that they should also be composed in order to design one common world” (original emphasis).  As discussed in the final section of this Document, a two-fold way forward is thus suggested – demanding first a gathering of evidence (Document 3 of this research study) and then some testing (Document 4): political change is required on the grounds that “once you extend the range of entities, the new associations do not form a liveable assemblage(Latour 2005).

The practical implications of such a methodology needs to be discussed next, therefore, in order to provide an externally validated framework for the critique of existing literature related specifically to the combination of ‘Practice and Community.’  At this point I can at last leave behind personal reflections upon the context for identification of Latour’s approach as an appropriate attitude to be adopted in my research activity – a combination of scepticism with regard to logic, and open-mindedness in terms of possible connections between events or situations.  I trust my readers will understand, if not share, my anxiety – in exploring my topic further – always to avoid the facile (jumping to conclusions upon flimsy evidence) at the same time as being prepared to ‘fabricate’ conclusions wherever they promise usefully to serve either members of a community or the architectural profession (or indeed both).

1.6   Methodology

 And howelse do we hook our hike to find that pint of porter place? … Whence. Quick lunch by our left, wheel, to where.  Long Livius Lane, mid Mezzofanti Mall, diagonising Lavatery Square, up Tycho Brache Crescent, shouldering Berkeley Alley, querfixing Gainsborough Carfax, under Guido d’Arezzo’s Gadeway, by New Livius Lane till where we whiled while we whithered.  Old Vico Roundpoint.”
(Joyce 1939 / 2012)

Having identified Latour’s ideas as a valid basis for the proposed approach to my research question, it is worth locating this starting-point in something of a broader methodological context.  Though denied by Latour himself, the overall approach might be termed ‘epistemological constructivism’ in that it involves active cognition rather than passive reception of some external reality, which is why it has been important to reflect at length upon the political stance driving and shaping the viewpoint adopted.  Adherence to Latour’s principles forbids exploration of Hardy and Taylor’s (Hardy and Taylor 1997) suggested extension of such ‘radical’ constructivism to incorporate Habermas’ (Habermas 1987) post-Marxist ideas about ‘communicative action’ – taking account of the ‘social’ context in which individuals’ learning occurs.  As McNeely (McNeeley 2003:3) has observed, Habermas “subscribes to an unrealistic ideal of power-free communication…Michel Foucault remedies this idealism by treating knowledge as power.”  The kind of democratisation that is explored through my research question must be centred on the economic basis of public discourse rather than revolving around ‘super-structural’ concerns with language and debate (which are able only to express the status quo, and not to “make a difference” of the kind mentioned above (page 24, quoting Latour).

My research question appears initially to demand identification and focus upon quantitative measures of business ‘growth’ (turnover, number of employees, average size of projects, profitability etc), mapping these against the success of specific ‘community engagement’ exercises – the aftermath of which might also be considered in terms of comparative evaluation (both contemporaneous and recollected) of expectations against outcomes.   This immediately suggests the generation of a simple linear model, showing (over time) variations in practice development against degrees of participation in community-based exercises, as if in the hope of identifying correlations.  For alignment with Latour’s thinking, however, I need to avoid such reductivist simplification to dubiously calculated quantitative ‘values.’ 

The first steps in my research, I therefore propose, should involve careful, open-minded listening – principally to selected practitioners with established reputations for involvement in the kind of ‘community architecture’ in which I am particularly interested, where ‘ordinary people’ (Hesse 1922/1951:73) are drawn into the design process.  In order to provide depth to such an ethnographic approach (following Latour’s example), my encounters with such practitioners will need to be supplemented by a serendipitous variety both of circumstantial observations (of physical, social and technical context) and of follow-up activities (involving meetings with other people associated with the projects discussed, visits to the sites of their collaboration, and study of whatever related documentation I am able to discover).  It is interesting to note that Jane Hall – former architectural assistant with ‘Studio Weave’ and one of the founders of ‘Assemble’ (see pages 9-10 above) – is herself currently undertaking a PhD in which she is using ethnography as her methodology for studying the legacy of Lina Bo Bardi in terms of collective-based architectural practice in Brazil (Hall 2016).

Again for consistency with the version of ANT I am proposing to adopt, I will pass no judgement upon the validity of my initial research ‘findings’ (on the grounds that certainty would prove an inexhaustible quest).  Nor will I attempt – even as a pre-systemic ‘first pass’ (Bath-Hextall 2004) – to ‘assemble’ my material into a single hypothesis for subsequent testing through experimentation.  Instead, I anticipate that action research within my own firm will serve at least to distinguish ‘productive’ practices from less useful ones.

Returning to the original research question, as the term ‘productive’ in the above context is intended to denote ‘growth’ in terms of business development (which is commonly regarded as eminently measurable), it may be concluded that my proposed methodology reflects the ‘mixed methods’ (Tashakkori and Teddlie 2009, Johnson, Onwuegbazie and Turner 2007) or ‘pragmatist’ (Onwuegbuzie and Leech 2005) paradigms for research advocated by Cohen et al:
“methodological pluralism rather than affinity to a single paradigm...enables errors in single approaches to be identified and rectified...  The consequences of this are that the research is driven by the research questions...rather than the methodological preferences of the researcher” (Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2011).

The proposed approach to this study may thus be considered firmly grounded in the topic itself and rather than the outcome of a (deeply introspective) personal conceptual framework, although Mertens (Mertens 2007) has argued that reference to distinct ‘stages’ in the research process (identified as axiology, ontology, epistemology and finally methodology) in itself suggests a ‘mixed methods’ approach.

Similar questions must now be asked of existing literature associated with the research topic: while the identification of relevant texts needs to be imaginatively random, in order to cast the net as broadly as possible, the documents selected for review must be scrutinised for traces of their authors’ ideological standpoint.  This may mean judging whether the material was produced in uncritical response to methodology, or whether the research methods adopted were based upon some particular attitude or understanding in respect of the topic. 

2. PROGRESS IN HOPE

“Purposeful action and intentionality may not be the properties of objects, but they are also not properties of humans either.  They are properties of institutions (collectives of humans and non-humans), apparatuses, or what Foucault called dispositifs
(Latour 1999:192)

Having examined the lens through which I intend to look at ‘Practice and Community’, locating my position in the context of personal – and professional – axiology, ontology and epistemology (where Latour has permitted me to ignore the sterility of having to label myself as either a realist or a constructivist or relativist), the middle section of this Literature Review now considers what has previously been written about my subject-matter: my aim is to identify the current tensions and debates concerning both the proposed methodology and the research topic, and to conclude with suggestions concerning key issues which have yet to be addressed through research.  In this middle section, the twinning of practices’ business development with architects’ involvement in community-based engagement exercises is treated initially in terms of their separate meanings, and is then brought into sharper focus by reference to specific examples.

The structure of this section cannot be said to have ‘emerged’ out of preliminary reading related to the research topic, but reflects predetermined categories imposed on my chosen literature in a hopeful endeavour to make it more manageable once accumulated.  The categories are rooted in my primary research question, however, which demands both sensitivity in respect of logical argumentation (avoiding causality whilst maintaining rhetorical flow) and an open-minded rationale in the selection of topic-related literature for review (accepting a wide variety of sources in addition to academic journal articles).

Above all, for consistency with my methodological approach, I seek to minimise dependence upon conceptual assumptions, and to focus upon actual events, activities and other people’s assertion of connections between them.  For this reason, I have deliberately permitted my identification of literature for review to proceed somewhat ‘organically’ – with one source pointing me in the direction of another, and continuous (and, in the context of my research question, highly apposite) background support from my own multiple‘communities of practice’ (Lave and Wenger 1991, Lee 2009) – which Denscombe (2008) has also associated with mixed methods research.

Having identified Latour as a base from which to set out, it is appropriate to review the surrounding landscape in order to ensure it continues to be recognised irrespective of where the meandering trail now carries the researcher.

2.1   Critical Foundations

 “Thinking, or systems that involve thinking ... mark no rupture with the natural world, but rather are better seen as an excrescence or outgrowth of it”
(Smith 2015:34)

In preparation for searching the literature for references to ‘Practice and Community’, it is useful first to observe what other theorists have written about ANT.  Latour suggests that ‘agency’ is all the researcher needs to consider, and that the idea of discerning a ‘structure’ capable of coordinating (but not explaining) all such actants becomes relevant only in the context of political objectives:
all the actors we are going to employ might be associated in such a way that they make others do things.  This is done not by transporting a force that would remain the same throughout as some sort of faithful intermediary, but by generating transformations manifested by the many unexpected events triggered in the other mediators that follow them along the line”  (Latour 2005:107 - original emphasis).

 What Latour omits to address is how or why agencies ‘act’ – is there are causal dimension?  In different settings, agencies may be observed to act in different ways: can one ignore context altogether when identifying connections between agencies?   What is the medium in which actors become active?  Elder-Vass (2011) has offered a response to such questions through the adoption of a ‘critical realist’ perspective, originating in the work of Roy Bhaskar (2008, 2014).

As an alternative to the inductive derivation of meaning from simple observations of cause and effect (applying an empiricist or broadly positivistic methodology), Bhaskar observed that scientific experimentation usually proceeds by manipulating certain features within the objects being studied, with the objective of finding out what outcomes are produced.  Taking the view that “correlation is not causation” (Tufte 2006), Bhaskar is enabled to dismiss Hume’s thesis (1748/2007, 1738/1975) that ‘constant conjunctions’ (repeated instances of one situation being observed to occur at the same time as another) are sufficient to establish causal relationships – even when subject to Popper’s (1959/2002) ‘falsifiabilty’ as an epistemological criterion.  Bhaskar argues instead for what he terms ‘transcendental realism’ – practising science as a search not for coincidences between variables, but for a continuously refined understanding of how internal mechanisms may be ‘actualised’ in order to achieve certain outcomes.  This approach suggests that ‘action-research’ should be adopted as a methodology not merely in identifying literature relevant to ‘Practice and Community’ but perhaps in testing possible answers to the research question itself.

Bhaskar developed the term ‘critical naturalism’ as a modified version of his methodology for understanding the physical world, to be applied when studying human affairs: human agency is made particularly complicated, Bhaskar argued, due to individuals’ consciousness of the ‘social structures’ (sometimes due to sociological insights) that might influence their actions.  For this reason, it is proposed that ‘Practice and Community’ should first involve some face-to-face dialogue with specific practitioners, to ascertain (without prompting) their awareness of conditions or situations they may have been reproducing when engaging in community-based activity.

In combination, Bhaskar’s ‘critical realist’ ideas – summed up in ‘Dialectic: the Pulse of Freedom’ (1993) – are now widely used in social science as an alternative both to empiricism and to post-structuralist interpretivism (corresponding to a preference for cognitive processing rather than positivistic exploration of Jungian archetypes or constructionist Freudian analysis as a basis of ‘therapy’ for individuals).  In particular, Sayer (2000, 2010) has contended that positivist methodologies lack sufficient ontological depth to permit discussion of internally generated ‘causal powers’ with contingent “potential to be mobilised in particular settings” (Hubbard and Kitchin 2011:246): such a generative rather than successionist view of causality, associated with a relational rather than atomistic view of interaction, requires the whole to be apprehended in terms of open rather than closed systems.  To avoid the aphonia proper to abstraction (Wittgenstein 1974:7) accordingly, the approach to be adopted in this study must involve focus upon “the specificity of concrete processes and their temporal ordering” (Hubbard and Kitchin 2011).

The study of ‘Practice and Community’ may thus represent a response to Sayer’s call for critical analysis of how economic activity (traditionally accompanied by concerns with the politics of distribution) is related to social and cultural dimensions (embracing issues associated with the politics of identity and difference): “economic organisations, such as firms and businesses should not be considered as lying only in the system, but should also be considered part of the lifeworld” (Hubbard et al 2011:247).

Pratt (1995) has observed that the point of critical realism is that it does not provide a ready-made ‘toolkit’ for understanding the world around us but requires re-thinking of one’s philosophical approach, accepting the absence of any supportive abstract theory.  By attending to synchronic relations rather than temporal succession, it is possible to avoid mistaking regularity between events for interdependence: we must look at the particularity of contingent conditions and identify the extent to which they combine to produce some kind of ‘effect’.

Such considerations justify review of the literature associated with the research question in a piecemeal manner – disassembling the text into its components for the purposes of analysis and interpretation, without premature reference to any teleological gestalt (Dilthey 1883/1989).  The idea of business development in general will be considered first, accordingly – viewed as an academic discipline, as a form of knowledge (disseminated through publications, and as a practical technique.  Literature exploring the meaning of ‘community engagement’ will be examined next – working again from the general to the particular (from idealist theory to localized practice).  And thirdly, what has been written on the combination of business and neighbourhood activists (collaborating in the name of ‘community architecture’) will be discussed.  This middle section of Document 2 will then be able to conclude with discussion of previous authors’ identification of specific architectural practices and projects for possible future engagement as ‘objects’ of research.

2.2   Business Development

 “Positing what protasis would the contraction for such several schemes become a natural and necessary apodosis?”
(Joyce 1922/2009:672)

While the notion of ‘business development’ in general might be dismissed as an insubstantial (but nevertheless quantifiable) concept, it can serve temporarily as a vehicle for identifying the range of headings that are used by managers when seeking to define their objectives in respect of the firms they run.  An initial foray into the topic is required in order to establish not a self-proclaimed ‘coherent’ or ‘comprehensive’ framework but at least a loose portfolio of topics that are widely considered to form part of what people typically mean when they speak of ‘business development.’  It will be outside the scope of this study to test such understanding through more detailed research fieldwork: looking ahead to Document 3, the purpose is simply to raise awareness of a few of the terms that may be most confidently predicted to arise in future discussions with business managers – aiming to ensure the net is cast as widely as possible when trawling for data.

For the sake of this literature review, three potential sources of information are considered in the process of arriving at an initial awareness of the range of topics that might be described as part of ‘business development’ –

  1. through education programmes intended for business managers – understood, for example, through reference to the titles of typical ‘modules’ in management programmes run by UK business schools.
  2. through guidance provided in relation to the preparation and implementation of strategic business plans.
  3. through publishers’ indexing of booklists related to business management.

This is not to suggest that, by looking at these three sources of ideas in conjunction with one another, a particular set of conclusions can be ‘triangulated’ and thereby rigidly fixed: the objective is simply to raise broad but provisional consciousness of possible interpretations of ‘business development’ in advance of focus upon the operational objectives of architectural practices.

Rather than considering the contents of the management education typically offered by Higher Education institutions, competing with one another on relatively similar grounds, it is more instructive to examine the provision offered by the Open University (OU), as it claims to be guided by an appropriately – in the context of the axiology associated with this study – distinct mission that combines “educational opportunity and social justice(Open University 2016ca).  OU offers a BA(Honours) degree in Business Management, the one compulsory module of which provides an introduction to “seven blocks of materials” that are said to characterise contemporary business (Open University 2016ab) – each of which may, in the context of the research question, be interpreted in terms of parallel considerations:

  • the business environment – how commercial operations differ from public and voluntary sector organisations, touching on the dichotomy at the heart of my research question – the tension between the interests of commercial and social enterprises (Institute of Directors 2015).
  • human resources management as business function (in which context ‘development’ may take the form either of staff learning or of recruitment as ways of importing additional knowledge, skills or energy into the firm).
  • accounting and finance as ‘main’ business functions (cash-flow being an essential lubricant persuading employees to perform the tasks assigned to them: ‘development’ may accordingly be measured in terms of turnover, profitability, or net assets).
  • marketing as another ‘main’ business function (in which context ‘development’ may refer to the establishment of a reputation for successful response to people’s requirements or expectations – a significant factor in ensuring future demand).
  • the economic and political context of business operations’ (associated with a broader understanding of market conditions constraining or facilitating particular kinds of activity).
  • business ethics (such as “how to balance environmental concerns with the desire for growth” – reflecting the same tension between public-sector and private-sector considerations as noted in the first of the above bullet-points in relation to the research question itself).
  • globalisation as a factor affecting business operations (interesting as the very antithesis of the ‘localism’ that represents the ethos at the core of this research study).

All the other (optional) modules of the OU’s undergraduate management courses are related, directly (via deeper exploration of the subject) or indirectly (via underpinning skills and knowledge), to the above seven topic areas.

Building upon this undergraduate provision, the introductory module of the OU’s prestigious (practice-based) MBA identifies five “different management functions within organisations” (Open University 2016bc) across which managers need to operate:

  • “organisational structure, power and politics, and change management” – supplementing the undergraduate-level curriculum with provision for theoretical studies (based, for example, upon psychology and sociology).
  • “managing people and organisations” – extending previous studies of human resources management.
  •  “managing financial resources” – extending previous studies of accounting and financial management.
  • "marketing management” – extending previous studies of marketing.
  • “operations management” - supplementing the undergraduate-level curriculum with provision for the development of practice-related skills (such as project management or IT).

Later stages of the OU’s MBA involve compulsory modules in strategic planning (which might be regarded as a branch of ‘operations management’) and corporate finance (extending the study of financial management to a global scale).

One of the key determinants of academic syllabus, especially in relation to professional education and training, is often the requirements of an associated Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB).  In terms of business management, the Institute of Directors (IoD) is not such a body, although it offers a range of courses, including five in ‘business development’ – all related (unsurprisingly) to strategic decision-taking.  The IoD does offer guidance on the formulation of business plans, however, and it may be instructive to review the suggested contents to discover whether ‘business development’ may be interpreted in any other ways.  The document (Institute of Directors 2011) suggests that a business should be summarised under six headings:

  •  the proposed product or service and its advantages (a reminder that business strategy should stem from a clear sense of ‘mission’: in terms of potential development, the questions to be asked must relate to a clear sense of direction).
  • opportunity in relation to the market (exactly as suggested in the academic literature).
  •  the management team (a reminder that ‘development’ is always relative to previous circumstances: changes over time, and planned succession, invariably reflect the mix of personal experience and skills that happen to be available for the implementation of ideas.  When undertaking Document 3 research into specific practices, therefore, it will be highly instructive to obtain the CVs of the personnel involved – if possible).
  • track record to date (a helpful reminder that one of the questions to be asked when researching a particular business should relate to the past – seeking to identify the criteria for judging the success of specific projects).
  •  financial projections (again, as suggested in the academic literature).
  • funding requirements and expected returns (a consequence of the item immediately above).

For an instantaneous impression of the scope of the concept ‘business development’ within the literature, it is tempting to refer to the contents list of a general handbooks on ‘management.’  For example, the large and graphically rich ‘Business Book’ (Atkinson 2014) claims to cover “every facet of business management” (Amazon.co.uk 2014), but in fact consists mostly of organisational theory presented through anecdotes and quotations.  In order to avoid similar disappointment when exploring other generic titles, many (Collins 2001, Blanchard and Johnson 2015 for example) seem to amount to little more than simplistic – albeit best-selling – ‘how to’ books providing connaissance rather than savoir, borrowing Foucault’s “notoriously difficult” but important differentiation between the terms (Hardy 2013:101).  It is more instructive, therefore, to expand the gaze and look briefly not at individual books, articles or websites but at whole catalogues of management publications (the very sources originally probed for potential review material).  When taking such a short cut through the numerous publications that seek to turn business advice and education into an ‘industry’ (Clark and Fincham 2002), it is immediately apparent that publishers of management books have divided up their subject-area into far more sub-sections than have academics (with almost none attempting to encapsulate ‘business development’ as a whole).  Two particular catalogues were selected for detailed analysis, principally on the grounds of their size (suggesting comprehensiveness and authority) – both extending to over fifty pages: the Cambridge University Press booklet (Parish 2015) organises its literature in ten main sections, while Gower Publishing (Abbotts 2015) offers fifteen – the latter partly because of some sector-specific publications.  In terms of their Contents however, the two lists mostly represent sub-sections of the same topic areas as covered in the OU’s MBA introductory module (discussed above) – both featuring also several titles under the common heading ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ which must therefore be treated as an additional sense (related to creativity) in which a business might be said to ‘develop’.  Discussion of the associated literature is postponed to page 42 below, where the scope of ‘business development’ in relation to architectural practices in particular is considered.

The extent to which ‘business management’ may be regarded as a coherent academic discipline may be measured in terms of articles published within peer-reviewed journals.  Many of these amount to little more than commentaries upon managerial ideas promoted in more popular ‘how to’ books targeted at ‘busy’ company directors who spare relatively little time reflecting upon their commercial activity, but – especially if financially successful – perhaps begin to share their insights towards the end of their careers in practice.

From this quick glance at the core topics addressed within an academically informed approach to management, it may be concluded that the range of possible directions in which a business might be said to ‘develop’ should include at least the following:

  1. Growth in terms of staff numbers / ability to handle more work
  2. Increased profitability / ability to invest in more sophisticated technology and to engage in larger projects
  3. Improved reputation (including through winning awards) / ability to win more prestigious contracts
  4. Diversified activity (broader portfolio) / ability to survive economic variations
  5. Greater specialisation / stronger political influence ...

In the context of the research question addressed by this study, it matters not at all whether the above development possibilities are considered either in isolation from, or in conjunction with, one another.  Nor need the above be regarded as either a comprehensive or rationally organized list: the boundaries between (some of) the options may seem blurry.  In academic practice, the number of ‘modules’ into which pedagogical programmes are divided, like the ‘learning outcomes’ they contain, is invariably determined primarily by timetabling or credit-point considerations (Ning 1995).  There is therefore no need even to attempt scientistic correlation of these ideas – for example, by locating them along a spectrum, or at various points in some form of three-dimensional graph.  It is noticeable that some kinds of ‘development’ may easily be perceived to lead to others (which is why they are presented above as protasis/apodosis), but – for consistency with the adopted research methodology – the potential identification of such connections will be left for practitioners to suggest, unprompted, when participating in interviews associated with data-gathering (Document 3 of this research), rather than constructed rhetorically by the ‘external’ researcher.

2.3   Community Engagement

 When dwellers control the major decisions and are free to make their own contribution to the design, construction and management of their housing, both the process and the environment produced stimulate individual and social well-being.”
(Turner and Fichter 1972:241)

Having considered the potential scope of the term ‘business development,’ it is appropriate to look in a similarly generalized way at the range of activities that might be said to be encompassed within the term ‘community engagement.’  Latour (2005:5) is quite specific – almost in embarrassed terms, in the context of the famous Thatcherite denial “there is no such thing as society” (Keay 1987) – about the need to avoid using such conceptual notions as ‘society’ as a means of explaining non-social phenomena as though it were a distinct domain of reality.  Nevertheless, as Wates continues to testify (Wates 2014), a large number of organisations have been established, and events have taken place, with the word ‘community’ firmly embedded in their terms of reference.  In the context of the methodology underpinning this research (“the name of the game is not reduction, but irreduction” – (Latour 2005:137), it is unnecessary either to proceed upon the basis of a definition of this term, or ultimately to arrive at one – the word is used merely as a label of convenience, in association with the specific kind of activity with which this research exercise is concerned: the involvement of members of the public in decision-taking with regard to the shaping of the built environments they occupy.  This section of the Literature Review, accordingly, looks briefly at some of the theoretical discussion justifying citizen participation in environmental decision-taking, as the context for initial development of community engagement (in Britain, some forty years ago) may account for its present-day character as a relatively peripheral activity for the profession.

Adopting a Marxist perspective, Paolo Freire long ago pointed a way forward with his argument (Freire 1970/2010), that the key to understanding how people come to feel powerless in relation to the world around them is by reference to class analysis.  In Britain today (to which the scope of this research is largely limited), the position of working-class people in city-centre housing blocks under consideration for refurbishment or renovation (‘gentrification’ if the residents can no longer afford to stay in their upgraded homes) is not dissimilar to that of the disadvantaged inhabitants of major South American cities: Freire suggested that what is required is a democratically developed problem-based education in which “men and women develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality but as a reality in process, in transformation” (Freire 1970/2010).  Specifically, Freire suggested ‘dialogical teaching’ as an approach, in which the educator helps people appreciate how their lived experience of economic marginality might be transformed into knowledge of a kind that could give them cultural ‘voice’ within society: “I never advocate either a theoretic elitism or a practice ungrounded in theory, but the unity between theory and practice” (Freire and Macedo 1995:382).  Most striking in the context of the methodology adopted for this study is the parallel between Freire’s emphasis upon the need for ‘transformation’ (1972) and Latour’s principle of ‘irreduction’ in which ‘translation’ is preferred to ‘transportation’:

we don’t yet know how all those actors are connected, but we can state as the new default position before the study starts that all the actors we are going to deploy might be associated in such a way that they make others do things.  This is done not by transporting a force that would remain the same throughout as some sort of faithful intermediary, but by generating transformations manifested by the many unexpected events triggered in the other mediators that follow them along the line
(Latour 2005:107 – original emphasis).

In the early 1970s, Freire’s seminal thinking about ‘critical pedagogy’ (Giroux 2010) coincided with the liberationist ideas of Illich (1971, 1973) – advocating autonomous, creative interaction between people in place of industrialised productivity, and with the authoritative arguments of Schumacher (1973) – questioning the effects of ever-increasing specialisation in economics, science and technology and arguing the need to focus more upon ends than means.  Through journals such as Undercurrents (the latter describing itself as “the magazine of radical science and people’s technology” – merging with ‘Resurgence’ in 1984), and publications such as ‘The Whole Earth Catalog’ – described by Steve Jobs (Jobs 2006) as “like Google in paperback form.” the anti-materialist discourse with its roots in 1960s ‘hippie’ counter-culture began to be translated into mainstream architectural and town planning publicationsIn particular, the “radical and influential journal” (Sharp 2009) Architectural Design (AD - under the editorship of Monica Pidgeon until the advent of postmodernism – promoted the authors John Turner (1976), and Colin Ward (1974, 1976), while the English translation of Habraken (1961/1972) introduced ‘support structures’ as a technologically physical basis for user-participation – a precedent currently being implemented by the award-winning practice Elemental in Chile (Wainwright 2016).

What came to be called ‘community architecture’ in Britain may thus be traced to a post-1968 concern for citizen empowerment through enhanced participation in environmental decision-taking – initiated by a few freethinking radicals, anarchists and ‘dropouts’, but acquiring respectability through an expanding body of literature moving from the polemical to the academic.  Consciousness of the potential of ‘people-power’ developed in the context of resistance to local government plans for large-scale demolition and redevelopment projects in urban areas.  In the aftermath of World War 2, it had seemed appropriate and necessary for politicians, planners, engineers and architects to collaborate on Britain’s ‘reconstruction,’ and initial programmes of New Towns were generally welcomed as evidence of a caring welfare state.  There was increasing hostility, however, to the deployment of the same technology (industrialised mass-production) and functionalist architecture (‘continental’ modernism) in inner city areas, and people began to question the values driving planners’ decisions and the alienating ‘built environments’ that were replacing and displacing familiar neighbourhoods.  Protests became particularly acute where local ‘activist’ architects and planners were able to coordinate and so give voice to disaffected communities – the name Brian Anson will long be associated with such ‘heroic’ struggles, depicted by Rogers (2009) as a champion of the disadvantaged against the power of a faceless corporate state.  This Document is not the place, however, for a history of the community architecture ‘movement’ – even in terms of its ambiguous and hotly contested relationship to the RIBA following the ‘carbuncle’ speech by Prince Charles (2008) on the occasion of the Institute’s 150th anniversary, and the subsequent election of the community architect Rod Hackney as RIBA president (mentioned previously in Document 1 – footnote on page 10).  The purpose has simply been to review the context in which early ideas about community engagement in the design process were explored, on the grounds that this will have significantly influenced its status and nature as a professional activity: in short, community engagement has not traditionally been associated with architects’ money-making, but perhaps rather the opposite – a form of anti-capitalist protest.

It is appropriate at this point to recall the context in which the original research question arose: my architectural co-directors seek larger projects, on the grounds that they are believed to be more profitable – and certainly more interesting – due to a reduced proportion of time spent on administrative rather than design-related activity.  It is not simply in the interests of improved cashflow that this research is being undertaken.

Having carefully explored in 2.2 above (pages 34-40) the various meanings that might be attributed to ‘practice development’ – in order to establish a broader vocabulary for possible use in coding responses to Document 3 survey questions, the question that remains is whether there are any particular features that distinguish architecture as a business from other occupations.  Earlier discussion (page 36) of the significance of ‘development’ in relation to the creative industries might seem a useful starting-point.  Of particular interest in this connection is Cruikshank (2014) – concerned in a confident and authoritative way with facilitating ‘non-professional’ forms of creativity.  One website through which this book may be purchased (Amazon.co.uk 2014) claims that “Customers who Bought this Item also Bought” the book ‘Design, when Everybody Designs’ (Manzini 2015) – in which the author argues that designers need to reconsider their role in the context of these times of social change in which “everyone constantly has to design and redesign their existence, whether they wish to or not.”  Although unhelpfully broad-brush in both diagnosis and recommendations, the book at least has the virtue of internationalizing the topic, pointing to situations that lie beyond the strictly word-limited scope of this study.

In Britain, perhaps ever since the abolition of mandatory fee scales under Mrs Thatcher in 1979 (marking the start of undercutting competitors’ quotations as a means of securing commissions), architects have perversely been complaining that they are underpaid for their services: to quote Maxwell Hutchinson, RIBA president at the time, “the profession still hasn’t grown up in terms of fees and competition – unlike, say, lawyers.  Architects still have an entirely immature attitude to fees and undercutting(Fulcher 2013).  The suggestion is, quite simply, that architects should charge more for their services if they are confident about their value.

Around the millennium, accordingly, the RIBA ‘Future Studies Committee’ sought to rectify this situation by publishing a pair of booklets entitled ‘The Value of Architecture’ (Loe 1999, Worpole 2000).  The RIBA sought to promote the idea that ‘good design makes economic sense’:
in the outside world, where public and private clients are increasingly influenced by accountants and auditors, we have a lot to prove to avoid the ‘well-they-would-say-that-wouldn’t-they’ criticisms”  (Worpole 2000:4).

Paraphrasing Lethaby, Worpole argues that architecture is one of the most public of arts, and observes how good it is that “today that public is increasingly having its say in the shape and design of the buildings in which they live and work – as clients, inhabitants, users, and as citizens concerned with the long-term environmental sustainability of the planet(Worpole 2000:9).  Though not an architect himself, Worpole was perhaps simply reflecting the views of those who had commissioned his study when he identified the benefits of good architecture as being economic, financial, social and environmental: even when examining the value of architects’ work in terms of “enhanced individual and social well-being(Worpole 2000:36), he makes no reference to architects’ engagement of users in the design process, but perpetuates the image of the professional as ‘expert’ in “the human use and experience of buildings and places”.

As noted in Document 1 (footnote on page 10), Document 3 of this study will therefore identify and explore specific architectural practices with a reputation for successfully involving users in the design process.  Reservations expressed earlier (page 29) about the approach adopted in this part of the document not being adequately rooted in reading of the material may be immediately withdrawn, as authors seeking to tell the story of ‘community architecture’ (especially in its early days as a ‘movement’) invariably cite specific projects undertaken in conjunction with named architectural practices.  The key will be to identify which practices continue to thrive today, and to what extent their longevity may have been reinforced by their reputation for sensitive engagement in community architecture exercises.

2.4   Unfinished Business 

Mind the gap.”
(Transport for London 2016)

While it has been found productive, for the purposes of analysis, to disassemble (in terms of a broad range of literature) the relationship between architectural practice development and community engagement in built environment projects, it is possible also to identify – in the interests of synthesis – numerous scholarly articles confirming the relevance of Latour’s ideas to the study of topics into which the research question may be broken.  Reference to this literature may help justify the choice of Latour as a model for the methodology to be adopted.

Surprisingly, there has been extensive discussion of actor-network theory, for example, in the field of financial management.  In particular, a whole issue of the journal ‘Critical Perspectives on Accounting’ (volume 15, 2004) debated Latour’s influence (summarized as the ‘sociology of scientific knowledge’ – SSK) within the field of accounting research.  The core question was whether SSK theorising represents mere rhetoric, or whether it effectively enables new and (politically) useful concepts to emerge.  The discussion was sparked by Lowe’s (2004) critique of Laughlin’s (1995) paper on ‘middle range thinking’ (a term signifying a combination of skeletal theorizing, a flexible methodology, and open-mindedness in relation to change), which suggested that German critical theory is the most appropriate methodology to adopt when considering societal change, as ethnomethodology is associated with “the necessity constantly to ‘rediscover the wheel’ and to claim everything as important and vital(Laughlin 1995:83).  Taking a Latourian ‘constructionist’ view of the manner in which knowledge is developed, Lowe argued that the lack of clarity Laughlin complains about “can be threatening for the researcher but this is not the same as saying that the research approaches are deficient(Lowe 2004:225).

What remains to be addressed, as a by-product of the research question with which this study is concerned, is how those architectural practices associated with community architecture (in the sense of the term explicated through this Document) perceive themselves to have ‘developed’ alongside their user-participation design projects – which can only be understood by direct reference to several of the practitioners themselves.  The final part of this Document therefore considers how such information might be obtained, as the practices may not have previously considered the extent to which their involvement in community-engagement exercises has either reinforced or constrained their development as businesses.  It is anticipated that, through this research, certain common factors may be identifiable as possible links between practice development and community engagement.

3. RENDEZ-VOUS WITH CHARITY 

If you isolate one inscription, extract one image, or freeze-frame the continuous path of transformations, then the quality of the reference immediately deteriorates
(Latour 2010:114)

The final section of this Document seeks to justify the research methods I propose to adopt in order to obtain the initial data needed in order to progress understanding of the relationship between architectural practice development and involvement in community engagement exercises.  This requires exploration also of how I propose to handle the ethical issues associated with each of these particular research methods.  I conclude with some remarks on my expected findings, partly to deter manipulation or selectivity in terms of the evidence (by clarifying the kinds of data that might undermine any emerging hypothesis), but mainly to provide a snapshot of where I anticipate my research will sit in relation to the literature reviewed in this study, in order to justify the whole exercise.

3.1   Document 3

When invoking theory, the ideal should be to explicate the grid of uncertain possibilities – not to act as a synthetic surrogate for silencing the multiplicity of empirical voices.”
(Krarup and Blok 2011:58)

My initial literature review (I can hardly claim that this document represents much more than an exploratory reconnaissance of the domain) has confirmed a commonplace insight that the success of a small architectural practice is more often due to personal contacts than to careful planning.  This was the central theme of Stacey (2003) – the management education book (quoted on page 15 above) that originally inspired my appreciation of how a post-modernist stance can be productive in relation to discussion of business development – though not part of the author’s intention.  Being centred on written material, a literature review related to business development will – by definition – tend to recommend the use of documentation as a means of articulating a practice’s strategic objectives and a planned route towards their achievement.  Even with a comprehensive and fully researched ‘business plan,’ winning commissions to undertake projects invariably requires face-to-face presentations to potential clients, whose decision on which practice to appoint will be based to a significant extent upon ‘human factors.’  As investment in the built environment represents such a complex and expensive risk, developers tend to select practices on the basis of who they feel they can comfortably work with, having decided who to invite to initial discussions (based upon confidence in the quality of service that the architects will provide, inspired by reputation or self-promotion or suggested approach).  Design fees will represent such a small proportion of the overall costs that price becomes less significant as a criterion for this choice.

From the practices’ point of view, accordingly, development of a reputation, reflecting the maintenance of personable relationships, will be more significant as a factor in winning work than price, competence or availability.  As found in the fashion industry (Millspough 2016), small creative enterprises tend to focus upon their ‘brand’ as the vehicle for their expansion (in relation to a market of global proportions, that dwarfs the scale of their operations).  For this reason, research into the potential for small architectural practices to grow in the context of a reputation for user engagement must be focussed upon individuals and their network of contacts, rather than upon theoretical strategies involving ‘smart’ targets.

Not only does this conclusion suggest a qualitative rather than quantitative methodology, but Latour’s concept of ‘network’ (2005) is seen to be embedded in the very object of research.  It is interesting to note that ‘Reassembling the Social’ was an outcome of the Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies, organised in conjunction with the publishers by the Said Business School.  Perhaps not unrelated, the idea that a brand develops as a result of peer recognition, rather than in accordance with carefully planned strategy, has also been observed by Millspough (Millspough 2016): it is where a product is said (by others in the industry) to be located in relation to the market that defines its identity – designers themselves cannot predetermine how their output is perceived (they can try through promotional material, including attention-seeking design gestures, but it is ‘product placement’ that represents its ontological core).  In the same way, Latour acknowledges that, in relation to ANT, his “readers can decide to put it to use, to distort it beyond recognition, or, most likely, to drop it altogether – but this time knowingly!(Latour 2005:x).  In architecture, the way in which a firm becomes increasingly well-known for its social ethos may represent a form of ‘growth’ that its managers might consider satisfactory: the practice will be invited to participate in more and more projects that demand engagement with the users (alongside the sponsors or others with responsibility for commissioning the work).

Document 3 of this research study will therefore centre on the working methods of architectural practices identified as noteworthy on the grounds of their commitment to social engagement – either currently or in the past.  Key questions to be asked of them will need to include:

  • What kinds of business ‘growth’ strategy or objectives have they set?
  • How do they normally charge for engagement in such exercises?  Are they conducted pro bono, at cost, or profitably?
  • To what extent does their business continuity rely upon income from those who commission them to undertake public participation projects?  What other sources of income do such practices require (or draw upon) in order to continue to thrive as commercially viable enterprises?

Document 3 will therefore need to begin by identifying firms with a particular reputation for ‘community architecture.’  This will require a further review of the literature, in order to compile an initial database of practices and projects.  Adopting a purposive sampling strategy (Teddlie and Yu 2007), practitioners from a ‘representative’ selection of such firms will then be invited to participate in semi-structured interviews.  These interviews will be centred around predetermined questions (such as – but not limited to – those outlined immediately above), which will be posed in ways that permit (or even encourage) occasional digression into other topics – in order to maximise opportunities for identification of practice priorities.  This is not the place to discuss how many firms I would propose to interview, nor to justify the basis upon which they might be selected as ‘representative’ – such decisions will be loosely shaped around the points at which information generated starts to become repetitive.

Obviously a key practice to interview in this way is the one already singled out in the ‘Topicality’ section of this document (pages 9-10) – Assemble, winners of the 2105 Turner prize further to their work with the residents of ‘Granby Four Streets’ in Liverpool.  In keeping with both the public-facing nature of this research study, and with the ethos of the interviewees, arrangements have already begun to be made for a formal interview with a representative from this collective to be conducted in public – before an audience of about 100 (members of a Norfolk-based arts organisation), who will also be invited to pose questions of their own.  This will help me fulfil an ethical obligation to produce research results that will be of interest to the general public rather than merely for the benefit of my own architectural practice or even of the architectural profession as a whole.

Having adopted Latour as my guide, it will be important to gather information about particular practices in as wide a range of categories as possible within the time allocated – which is why it might be helpful to engage a community in the questioning process when possible.  Every interview will need to be supplemented by ethnographic observations of all kinds, including description of working environments (if access is permitted), of communication styles, and of administrative efficiency: Latour (quoted in Harman 2011:65) has suggested that even the content of their wastebaskets can be revealing in respect of coming to understand how people work.  The only limitation to the kinds of evidence that qualify for inclusion within the study should be that imposed out of regard for ethical considerations.

Where circumstances permit (either because the information is already publicly available or because practitioners agree to share it with me further to supplementary questioning about their firms’ business planning or financial results – subject to whatever conditions they require in order to render the data anonymous and untraceable), Document 3 will also examine any measurable data related to practice development.  This will lay the foundations for describing ‘growth’ in terms of financial aspects of practice (turnover, profitablility, etc) or of human resources (number of employees, etc) – as outlined in section 2.2 above.  I anticipate that the most interesting details, being commercially sensitive, will only be provided to me if I can guarantee the anonymity of my sources – I will need to ensure the data is untraceable to any particular firms.

I propose a simple two-stage protocol to ensure the ethical quality of information included in Document 3.  The initial draft of anything I write about a particular firm will be first sent to them for approval (inviting corrections, omissions, and even supplementary information, and even offering the opportunity to have none of the information obtained through interview or site visit included within my final text).  After this exchange of correspondence, I will also send a final draft of that part of Document 3 which relates to the practice, enabling them to approve or amend my text immediately in advance of its submission.  Finally, both as a matter of courtesy and in gratitude for their help in its development, I would also send the firm the completed whole of Document 3, enabling them to share my perspective on the broader context of their operations.  In return, I would invite still further suggestions to be taken into account as I approach Document 4 of my research study.

3.2   Document 4

In-formation talk is one thing; transformation talk is another.  When they are uttered, something happens: a slight displacement in the normal pace of things, a tiny shift in the passage of time.  You have to decide, to get involved, perhaps commit yourselves irreversibly”
(Latour 2010:102).

Looking further ahead to the content of Document 4 of this research study, it is appropriate that the findings of Document 3 should be put to the test through a different form of field research – looking at a community-based project rather than at an architectural practice.  Being a practice-based study, with its objective identified as the development of findings capable of making a difference to architectural practices wishing to engage in community projects, the most obvious proposal would be to engage in some form of action-research (requiring personal involvement in a real community exercise, ideally in conjunction with the practice that I help manage).

It would be particularly helpful, in terms both of ethical and validity-related considerations, if my action-research could be initiated by some notional ‘clients’ rather than by myself as researcher, because of how this reflects on relationships: further to a slightly ambiguous policy, NTU aspires to ‘serve’ the local community by making researchers available to them, in order to empower them through knowledge.  Perhaps even in developing Document 3, when I interview practitioners, my appropriation of their time should be presented as CPD from their point of view – helping them understand something at the same time as they contribute information to my own research.

As my practice, 2hD Ltd, is based in the Sneinton area of Nottingham, this would be the ideal location for such an action research exercise.  Building upon recognition (in this Document – page 39) that the architect’s role within a community project should resemble that of a teacher, I have therefore initiated an exercise that – over several years – will involve first-year students from the NTU School of Architecture in working alongside members of the Sneinton community on successive phases of a design project related directly to local needs.  Details of this activity (objectives, outcomes, and evaluation of the benefits) must be reserved for Document 4, but the principles involved may be noted immediately: the exercise will not only point a new generation of architects, from the very outset of their careers, in the direction of social responsibility (implementing the ethical imperative that underpins this whole study), but it also provides an unforced context for the community’s appreciation of ‘their’ architect’s performance of an educational function.

On the one hand, as I lead the students on their exploration and interpretation of local social requirements, members of the community – taking a traditional view of teachers as dispensers of knowledge – will be more likely to recognize and accept (and perhaps even value) my own pedagogical role.  On the other hand, when they observe how design education requires sitting alongside and sharing (Schon 1985) rather than instructing or preaching, members of the community may begin to recognize that they can collaborate usefully in the students’ activity – engaging creatively with the development of design ideas a) by contributing their own area-based knowledge (to which the students need access), b) by deploying their craft-based or resourcing skills (in considerations of ‘buildability’), and c) by exercising judgment in the evaluation of the students’ output.

Such discussion is neither naive idealism nor idle speculation: what is described above is an exercise which was first undertaken in December 2015 and subsequently displayed in a Sneinton shop-window.  This was only a beginning, however – an initial pilot-study, as community engagement involves the development of long-term relationships rather than time-constrained projects with definite end-points.  It is for this reason that it is so difficult to practice ‘community architecture’ as a conventional commercial transaction.

The starting-point for the proposed exercise combining 2hD Ltd with Sneinton community has therefore been the decision to have two of the company’s directors working as employees of the local School of Architecture (one full-time, the other part-time).  Furthermore, they have persuaded their colleagues in the School that any further ‘live’ projects set for the undergraduate students should be located in the Sneinton area, in order to build up over the next few years a kind of rapport and familiarity between the academic institution and a specific part of the city in which it is located.

By a fortunate coincidence, NTU identified ‘civic engagement’ as one of the five planks of its ‘vision’ for 2016-20.  The proposal to run further projects which have direct impact upon the perceptions, experiences and quality of life of people living in the university’s vicinity has therefore been welcomed warmly by the school management team.  This is clearly a good time to be ‘rolling out’ ventures such as the Sneinton project, promising increased opportunity for financial in addition to ‘moral’ support for what might – only a few years ago – have been dismissed as a risky, or even frivolous, venture.  Even now, there remain one or two sceptical members of staff who argue that ‘only architects are capable of producing architecture’ and that community projects cannot be expected to possess architectural ‘merit.’

Alongside the Document 4 research therefore, it is proposed to measure change of opinion on the part of architectural teaching staff colleagues in parallel with the School’s deepening involvement in community architecture – posing questions such as ‘to what extent do you believe users of the built environment should be involved in design decisions about its form and content?’  In this way, as increasing numbers of colleagues are re-awakened to the value of community architecture, not only is a new generation of students being prepared for a future that involves social commitment, but it becomes more likely that future generations of students will be educated to share the same values – perhaps long after the directors of 2hD have moved on.

3.3   Practice Conclusions

There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in”
(Cohen 1992)

It is predictable that the conclusion of this whole research study might be that architectural practices could usefully ‘diversify’ by increasing participation in the education sector, where public engagement is becoming increasingly important.  Current plans for the reform of architectural education in particular suggest closer integration between practices and academia.  The education of young architects – requiring participation in studio-based dialogue with them, according to Schön (1985), rather than merely passing-on ‘expertise’ and knowledge – is not dissimilar to engaging with ‘ordinary’ member of the public and helping them express their architectural vision.

While my research question was not originally generated in response to a particular public demand, the apparent topicality of my subject – especially with the recent awards of Turner Prize to Assemble (see pages 8-10 above) and of the Pritzker prize to Aravena (see page 40 above), together with the increased value now placed upon ‘citizen scientists’ (Cohn 2008) and the co-production of knowledge, seems fully to justify claims that the study will have both ‘impact’ of the kind that is now considered essential in the Higher Education sector, and relevance to the architectural profession.

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CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

 

1.       PRINCIPLES OF FAITH

1.1      Topicality

1.2      Identity

1.3      Axiology

1.4      Ontology

1.5      Epistemology

1.6      Methodology

 

2.       PROGRESS IN HOPE

2.1      Critical Foundations

2.2      Business Development  

2.3      Community Engagement

2.4      Unfinished Business

3.       RENDEZVOUS WITH CHARITY

3.1      Document 3

3.2      Document 4

3.3      Practice Conclusions

BIBLIOGRAPHY


DArch Document 1 - Research Proposal (submitted in February 2015)

1. PICKING UP THE SCENT: Context and Issues

Professional Context

My professional context is the architectural practice that I help run, and its strategy for growth in terms of the size of projects we undertake.  We have long maintained a commitment to community engagement alongside our design processes, but my colleagues have recently begun to express the view that this ethos is constraining our ability to expand beyond domestic-scale work: they fear that larger (more commercially minded) clients would be reluctant to fund – even partially – what they will regard as non-essential activity.  Anxious to conserve, if not to promote, what I regard as one of our practice’s salient features, I feel inclined to contest this view – not simply by identifying potential clients willing to sponsor ‘outreach’ activities (as if fulfilling charitable or ‘corporate and social responsibility’ objectives) but by identifying ways of working with both clients and communities that may become associated with practice growth.  While the former activity might be classified as the kind of market research that should be undertaken by any business seeking to expand its client-base, the latter – concerned with the nature of the collaboration – seems to merit the deeper, more rigorous kind of investigation characteristic of doctoral-level studies.

The proposed research, relating community engagement to architectural practice development, will not merely serve the needs of one particular micro-business in the East Midlands, but should be of interest to any architectural practice seeking to grow its business without sacrificing social commitment.  All ‘professionals’ have a duty of care to ‘society’ but architects have it written into their licence to practice: the Architects Registration Board (with whom all practitioners calling themselves ‘architect’ are obliged to register under terms of the Architects Act 1997) includes ‘considering the wider impact of your work’ within its Code of Conduct:

“whilst your primary responsibility is to your clients, you should take into account the environmental impact of your professional activities”
(ARB, 2015: Standard 5).

Whether or not ‘social sustainability’ is recognised as an aspect of ‘environmental impact’, the Code requires architects to be guided by its spirit as well as by its express terms.  More explicitly, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) demands that its members should “have a proper concern and due regard for the effect that their work may have on its users and the local community” (RIBA, 2005: Principle 3.1).  In defining its function, the RIBA asserts that it” champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members.”  (RIBA, 2015)

I therefore envisage my proposed research, conducted entirely within the ethical constraints of the profession, as a contribution to the institute’s promotion of interaction between architects and the communities affected by their work. 

The Proposed Issue

The reason why our practice is keen to undertake architectural projects associated with larger budgets, typically working with corporate rather than private clients, is not entirely mercenary or prestige.  We find that smaller projects commonly demand too great a proportion of time spent on administrative procedures - usually including having to explain them to inexperienced clients in order to justify associated costs, reducing attention to our core business of producing responsive architecture (our slogan proclaims ‘we design spaces and places for people’).  In undertaking the proposed research, accordingly, my aim is to explore ways of ‘winning’ the larger-scale projects we seek, not ‘in spite of’ declared commitment to engage with the communities in which they are located but in intimate conjunction with such involvement.  Our practice needs to know how about the application of our social ethos in relation to increasingly sizeable commissions, enabling us to make greater impacts upon the quality of the built environment without prejudicing social sustainability.

In proposing to discover and explore ways of combining commercial and social objectives within architectural practice, this project is rooted in the dual role of the RIBA noted by Richard MacCormac over twenty years ago: “our Charter refers to the promotion of architecture, but our name identifies the architect himself” (RIBA, 1992: 2).  The idea that the promotion of architecture (as a public good) conflicts with the promotion of architects (as private entrepreneurs) nevertheless arises as a frequent complaint by members today: many architects expect their institute to act more like a trade union than a professional body, and to support their interests as if these were inconsistent with those of society at large.  Such attitudes might be casually attributed to deeper contradictions such as that between individualism and collectivism within liberal democracy, or within capitalism itself between the accumulation of wealth and social responsibility.  In the interests of (object-oriented) realism and academic rigour however, I am determined to avoid engaging in such abstract and futile formulations.

Personally, I acknowledge no contradiction between the interests of ‘architects’ and of ‘architecture.’  In my role as a teacher of architecture, I like to promote the idea that good built environments (product) require good performance by their designers (process).  My proposed research is founded on belief that sensitivity to the values and interests of local people should be a criterion in judging the success both of works of architecture and of the associated practices.  Professionals need no reminders of such an ideal but pragmatic insights into its achievement – identifying both barriers and drivers.  In the ensuing text, I will therefore refrain from generic theorising (especially where it suggests reductionism to polarities such as private/public values).  I am simply seeking ‘clues’ that might prove useful for practitioners.  My approach will therefore need to resemble ‘speculative realism’ rather than a quest to justify coherent, all-encompassing hypotheses or narrow recommendations in respect of tactics

 2. SAVOURING THE DISH: Review of the Existing Literature

Research Process Pointers

Before considering literature related to the research topic itself, a brief review of sources for an associated methodology is appropriate (for ethical reasons, it is important that “the methodologies used are appropriate to the research to be carried out” – SLSA, 2009).  In the interests of ethical integrity, I begin by assuming no initial hypothesis, avoiding use of research for confirmation of preconceived notions.  The positivist approach is commonly judged (Habermas, 1972 – quoted in Cohen et al, 2011) inapplicable to the analysis of social situations – even if supported by careful definition of key terms and by equal alertness for evidence that might disprove the hypothesis: if conclusions appear to have been drawn in advance, their validity is reduced.  Similarly, to conduct an ‘interpretive’ study – constructing a coordinating hypothesis out of selected evidence (even if care were taken to avoid ontological ‘bias’ in the selection process), seems questionable (Bernstein, 1974 – quoted in Cohen et al, 2011), as it is easy to adjust one’s terminology to ‘fit’ any loose collection of data.*

At one point in this exercise, for example, I considered re-framing my original research question in terms of how architectural practices might grow as a ‘sequel’ to, rather than as an outcome of, their involvement in community projects; later, I even tried replacing the question (as if in the hope of eliminating the need to arrive at a correspondingly neat answer) with a strapline ‘helping architectural practices to grow through involvement in community engagement projects’.  I concluded, however, that all such minor adjustments amount to little more than self-deceiving word-play. 

At the practice/community interface, there are self-evidently certain relationships to be identified: what I need to know about them, accordingly, is what agencies are at work, what combinations of ‘actors’ are present in the situations I select for examination – irrespective of judging them ‘drivers’ or ‘barriers’ to practice growth.

If I am to consider the issue in terms of ‘actors’ affecting the relationship between practice growth objectives and commitment to community engagement, I anticipate that my key methodological texts will be related to Latour’s ‘actor-network-theory’ (ANT).  In particular, I have found his ‘Reassembling the Social’ an inspirational introduction, especially when ‘the social’ is re-read as ‘communities’:

“the social is not a type of thing either visible or to be postulated.  It is visible only by the traces it leaves (under trials) when a new association is being produced between elements which themselves are in no way ‘social’
 (Latour, 2005: 8).

ANT offers the possibility of a pragmatically ‘authentic’ account of my research activities, beginning from a position of radical scepticism in respect of the very notion of ‘community’ and sustained thereafter as a haphazard narrative of exploration.  Latour’s redefinition of sociology as the tracing of (non-social) associations permits me to maintain an attractively agnostic position in relation to data – albeit tempered by respect for social values within architecture (reflecting the context of my original research question).  As I wish to concern myself simply with the combination of community engagement with practice growth, deliberately avoiding the fabrication of causal links between them, I plan initially (in ‘Document 3’ of this Professional Doctorate programme) to ‘follow the actors’ in their creation of associations related to the idea of community, and then (in ‘Document 4’) to observe what happens when some of these insights are applied within ‘live’ community projects.

In preparation for these research activities, I will analyse and contextualise Latour’s approach more thoroughly in ‘Document 2’, where I develop a conceptual framework for my study through critical review of the relevant literature.  I will relate Latour’s ideas to ‘continental philosophy’ in general, with its thesis that, as language is incapable of representing the ‘real’ world comprehensively, it is through the use of language in practice that effects are accomplished and power is exercised.  Being concerned with widening social participation and increasing democratic awareness, it must be acknowledged that the contribution to knowledge intended through the proposed research will resonate with Foucault’s broader connection (inspired by Nietzsche) of power and knowledge:

“there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations”
(Foucault, 1980: 27).

As the very act of engaging in the proposed research is thus charged with social responsibility, it becomes my ethical duty to produce ‘emancipatory’ or ‘progressive’ (rather than repressive) forms of knowledge.  Foucault perceives a ‘dangerous’ element of domination in all texts dealing with social or institutional practices.  This suggests the application of two distinct approaches in Documents 3 and 4:

a)        to deflect claims to certainty (on the grounds that all knowledge reflects a ‘will to power’), I propose to adopt a discursive or ‘anti-positive’ writing style in Document 3 – deliberately seeking disorder and problematisation rather than conclusions and closure, encouraging ‘the reader’ to engage creatively with my text.*

b)        in ‘Document 4’ of this research, I will use action-research as a means of testing the usefulness of insights derived from my preceding ANT-based exploration.  Through promoting “a dialectical view of rationality” (Carr and Kemmis, 1986: 180), action-research can transform understandings and situations in a creative relationship to one another, consistent with the ethos of empowerment that underpins the whole research proposal. 

Postmodernist destabilisation of meaning represents another reason for pursuing the proposed study as a piece of doctoral research rather than in the form of conventional report-writing for the benefit of practitioner colleagues.

In relating retrospective understanding (Document 3) to prospective action (Document 4), my model is the classic formulation ‘problematisation – conscientization – praxis’ (Freire, 1970), which seems to correspond neatly with Latour’s recommendation that “we have to take up three different duties in succession: deployment, stabilization, and composition” (Latour, 2005: 249 – his italics).

The Professional Wisdom

The literature related to ‘community architecture’ is familiar to most built environment professionals (architects, landscape designers and planners) who trained or practised through the 1970s and early 1980s, inspired by the seminal works of Paolo Freire (1970 / 2000) and Ivan Illich (1973).  The story is told as a populist one of progressive development in ‘Community Architecture – How People are Creating their own Environment’ by the journalists Nick Wates and Charles Knevitt (1987), who identify its origins in publications such as the Skeffington Report ‘People and Planning’ (MHLG, 1969) – recommending citizen participation in urban design, as an antidote to the oppressive environments associated with modernist architecture and technocratic planning policy*.  Eight years later, in ‘Building Democracy – Community Architecture in the Inner Cities’, Graham Towers provided a practitioner’s more measured account of the community architecture ‘movement,’ but identifying the arrival of the Thatcher government as its demise:

“it was openly hostile to urban local authorities and it set in train their slow death by a thousand cuts.  Its one-dimensional concept of democracy left no room for participation and had little understanding of its nature, its purpose, or its potential benefits”
(Towers, 1995 : 242).

*   The literature identifies two highlights of the community architecture ‘story’: first, the political manoeuvring of the Community Architecture Group in relation to the RIBA, culminating in the election of its leader Rod Hackney first as President of the institute and then as President also of the International Union of Architects; and second, the notorious Hampton Court speech in May 1984 by the Prince of Wales, in which he publicly endorsed the community architecture movement at the same time as upsetting most of the profession by bitterly criticising modern architecture in general.  What is missing from the literature, however, are any accounts of how community participation in the design process related to the development of the associated architectural practices.  In 1984, for example, “the movement was desperately short of finance and skills.  Most projects still depended on professionals working at least in part on a voluntary basis or on spec” (Wates and Knevitt 1987: 36).  A few practices (including Rod Hackney, Ted Cullinan, and Hunt Thompson Associates) won significant publicity through Prince Charles’ Community Enterprise Awards scheme, while Ralph Erskine (who had famously involved the local community in the design of public housing to replace 2000 slum dwellings in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne) was awarded the 1987 Royal Gold Medal for architecture.  ‘Document 3’ of my proposed research will explore the growth or decline of particular architectural practices such as these.

In the aftermath of the Thatcher government (its attitude enshrined in her declaration that ‘there is no such thing as society’), the idea of citizen collaboration with architects in the design of the built environment seems hardly to feature in the professional literature.  Even Richard Rogers, in his capacity as architecture spokesman for the Blair government, describes community responsibility for public space merely as a matter of ‘active citizenship’ – asserting that “the public domain is the theatre of an urban culture” (Rogers, 1997: 16) and describing ‘creative citizenship’ merely as “participation in essentially creative communal activities” (Rogers, 1997: 150).  Ironically, under the last ‘socialist’ government, there was no suggestion that lay-people should engage in the decision-taking associated with design – simply that they should take advantage of the spaces provided for them as an outcome of citizen power over public policy.

Strangely, it has been Cameron’s government – as if anxious to distance itself from Thatcherism – that seems to have resurrected certain elements of ‘community architecture’ with its ‘Localism’ agenda, which claims to encourage local communities to lead the development of their built environment (albeit in the context of overall slimming-down of the planning system).*

*  Further to its commitment to practice/community interaction (noted on page 5 above), the RIBA has sought to help architects recognise this policy as a potential new business opportunity by publishing a two-part ‘Guide to Localism - Opportunities for architects’ (RIBA 2011) – tellingly, with the typography arranged on the pamphlet covers to render the hyphen unnecessary.  In particular, Part Two is entitled ‘Getting community engagement right’ and contains not only some key case studies but also a valuable list of other websites related to the topic, which – as the publication demonstrates throughout – is currently of great interest to the profession.

My conclusion is that there is no need for research in the form of a polemic defence of the values associated with community architecture, nor for further analysis the origins of the idea and description of how it has developed since the 1970s, nor even that for study into how the associated principles might most effectively be implemented in practice today.  What  ‘the professional wisdom’ omits to address is the relationship between practice development and community development.  Such a narrower perspective suggests review of the academic literature in relation to this topic.

The Academic Field

The academic literature on business development in conjunction with community projects, on the other hand, is even sparser – reinforcing the notion of a ‘gap’ between practice and education.  This idea is often related to the dual role of the RIBA (see p.6 above) in supporting both practitioners as individuals and architecture as a public good, and therefore represents another source of constant bickering within the profession – occasionally reaching flash points at which the education system is adjusted in response to demands for the production of more ‘employable’ graduates. 

Academia aims nevertheless to serve the profession through its research activities (such as this Professional Doctorate, for example).  Universities are partially funded in accordance with the wider ‘impact’ of the research projects they support, with the result that dissemination of findings has become an ethical obligation (BERA, 2011).  For the social element within my proposed research topic, for example, it might seem appropriate to explore the variety of ways in which ‘human geography’ has been theorised – perhaps adopting Hubbard (2004) as a general introduction to this field.  The problem would be, however, that the very subject ‘human geography’ presupposes what Latour (2005) would regard as an illegitimate ‘collective’ – unable to explain anything except itself:

  “Durkheim’s ‘sui generis society’, Luhmann’s ‘autopoietic systems’, Bourdieu’s ‘symbolic economy of fields,’ or Beck’s ‘reflexive modernity’ are excellent narratives if they prepare us...to take up the political tasks of composition; they are misleading if taken as a description of what is the common world.”
(Latour, 2005: 189)

On the other hand, the ‘business’ of architecture tends to be regarded (by most architectural academics) as little more than a side-show, a necessary inconvenience, an administrative means to an end, a hygiene factor.  If seeking examples of academically rigorous articles on practice development (especially if in conjunction with community projects), it would be wiser to search in literature associated with schools of management, or perhaps sociology departments – but again risking non-acceptability in terms of ANT on the grounds that ‘management’ and ‘society’ do not exist as real objects capable of having effects upon people and places.

For the main part of my ‘Document 2’ (the literature review, due for completion in January 2016), I propose therefore to trace ‘backwards’ from the bibliographies attached to current publications on developing and working with community organisations – such as the government’s website https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/290295/stre135-e-e.pdf, (Environment Agency 2000), the commercial site http://localitybrokers.org.uk/, and the profession’s Localism pamphlet (RIBA,2011 – discussed in the footnote to p.11).*   In this way, I would hope comprehensively to map out the terrain which characterises the practice development / community engagement interface.  At this stage, I must confine myself simply to demarcating its boundaries.

While useful for identifying recent examples of community engagement projects, I would regard professional journals (particularly those distributed ‘free’ to practising architects) as an unreliable source of information on the association of such projects with practice development.  As they derive their principal income from trade advertising rather than from subscriptions, such journals seek material from practices that will appeal to their readers –who are mostly practitioners themselves; the required material (supplied by the practices’ marketing managers) therefore possesses a self-regarding quality, playing down or glossing over the commercial dimension of community engagement.  It is in the interests of the journals themselves, of course, that articles invariably suggest the glare of publicity (especially when accompanied by glamorising photography) as a prime vehicle for practices’ business growth.

 3. LISTENING FOR THE THEMES: Development of Strategy

Arrival at Research Questions

When first seeking to frame this study in terms of a clear ‘research question’, professional habits of rational argumentation (typically in the service of developers seeking justification for capital-driven decision-taking – Spector and Damron, 2013) led me to formulations that demanded identification of a causal relationship between practice development and the way in which architects interact with the communities affected by their projects.*  For philosophical reasons (stemming from development of an affection for postmodernist approaches), I subsequently came to the view that it will suffice simply to identify key drivers and barriers within the community/practice interface.

*  As explained in the footnote to p.7, I originally posed my research question as ‘how can involvement in community development enable architectural practices to grow their business?’ – suggesting that there might exist certain ways of operating that will predictably result in certain outcomes.  My task, accordingly, would have been first to identify instances where architects’ engagement in community activity ‘led to’ the commercial expansion of their practices; and second, to attribute such ‘successful’ effects either to particular features of the way in which the associated community projects were managed, or (if no such causal relationship were observed) to other practice features such as marketing, personal connections or even contingent ‘luck’ factors.

I have observed that when small practices become involved with stakeholders in development ‘feasibility studies’, it is often at the expense of being required to operate pro bono, at cost or at risk (in the hope of the work turning into a ‘real jobs’) – resulting in perpetuation of poor resourcing, and a consequent inability to begin undertaking larger projects.  Such impressions merely set a context for my proposed study however: I have no intention of researching the validity of preliminary assumptions (even though shared by my current business partners and supported by personal experience of working half my life in offices with fewer than five members of staff).  It may well be easier, or even natural, for smaller practices than for larger ones to develop close ties to the community in which they are located, but my interest is in practice growth rather than size, in actions rather than effects.  This is why I am proposing to test ideas through action research, with an outward-facing agenda related to both growth and empowerment.

In this context, I can begin to consider the nature of my proposed ‘Document 5’ – the final thesis, due for submission in January 2018.  Rather than seeking to generate recommendations on how to manage community development exercises in ways that might work to a practice’s strategic advantage,* my aim is simply to identify activity-patterns that characterise the ‘middle-ground’ on which architectural practice development and community engagement seem to reinforce one another.  I do not propose to assert the existence of such a ‘middle-ground’ (presupposing some kind of contradiction between practice and community): my research will be concerned simply with the network of influences at play in this arena.  Towards the end of the research (in ‘Document 5’ – the final thesis, due for submission in January 2018), it might prove possible to aggregate such a construct into a mappable terrain, but the benefit of such an achievement would be temporary and contingent only – another reason for conducting the exercise within the framework of doctoral study rather than with a view to offering guidance to practitioners. 

*  I am indifferent also to findings to the reverse (suggesting what kinds of community activity ought to be discontinued if a practice wishes to start winning larger commissions) - which might prove equally useful to practitioners, but of no relevance to community groups.

Ignorance of, or even indifference to, eventual research conclusions is not to suggest that the knowledge I propose to generate is either immaterial or irrelevant.  I see the significance of my work residing in the methodologies adopted in order to ensure practice aspirations and community values remain inextricably intertwined with one another: I would like my study to serve as an exemplar related to process rather than any fixed set of recommendations.  I have therefore posed my main research question as ‘how may architectural practices develop in conjunction with involvement in community engagement projects?’   

I remain determined to treat the proposed research area as an ‘issue’, tracking correspondences between ideas discharged, rather than seeking answers to specific main and subsidiary questions.  In the interests of ensuring both depth and breadth, I propose deliberately to complicate the subject-area.  For consistency with themes related to recognition, harnessing and promotion of non-specialists’ creativity, I take the view that attempting to simplify the ‘issue’ would represent disrespect for the reader, denying them the power to arrive at alternative conclusions and reducing their incentive to create their own paths through the terrain. 

Research Plan and Methods

Having defined my question in terms of how small practices may improve their appeal to clients with deeper pockets (who are therefore able to pay for work demanding greater quantities of design-time) without abandoning architectural values related to community engagement, I can finally outline how I propose to undertake the associated study.  As noted above on p.9, the professional doctorate programme requires the production of two research reports – ‘Document 3’ in August 2016, and ‘Document 4’ in January 2017.  In the interests of triangulation in conjunction with ‘Document 2’ (for academic validity – McFee, 1992), it is expected that slightly different methods should be adopted for data collection in the two reports.  The two-fold nature of my research question suggests that I should first investigate some architectural practices (how they have developed over time), and second observe some community development projects (perhaps experimenting with a few ‘live’ interventions based upon lessons learned from the practice studies).

In ‘Document 3’, I propose to look in particular for instances of architects’ engagement in community activity where their role has extended to ‘winning’ the funding required for projects to achieve the more significant social impact associated with larger-scale projects (demanding greater investment in both practice and community).  I would be interested in how often social impact is improved when larger amounts of developer funding are harnessed to community projects.*

*  Focus upon such ‘active’ forms of social engagement by architects (in contrast to the more passive approach of practices hoping – without justification – to benefit as a side-effect of involvement with communities) would enable me to avoid the ‘constructivist’ fabrication of links between action and outcome, or (even more suspect) retrospective claims to have achieved growth objectives in accordance with predetermined strategy or as an outcome of specific tactics in respect of community projects.

 I propose therefore to undertake first some case studies of architectural practices which, having established an initial reputation for small-scale urban interventions in conjunction with community engagement, have subsequently begun to undertake larger projects.  Firms such as ‘Studio Weave’, for example, have begun to move from the counter-cultural fringe to the ‘professional’ mainstream.  I would need to identify two or three others of a similar nature (perhaps ‘Assemble’ in Liverpool – currently shortlisted for the Turner Prize) in order to review techniques deployed in running community projects, aiming to discover any common features.

I anticipate that my ‘Document 3’ case-studies will be based upon one-to-one interviews with architectural project managers, followed by invitation to comment on my transcriptions of what they tell me.  Some of my questions will be of a quantitative nature, in order to capture aspects of practice growth.  Where possible, I will seek also to interview members of the community these practices engaged with (through focus groups, again followed by invitation to comment on a written summary – a copy of which would be offered to the architects as ‘feedback’).  Ideally, I would like to produce a series of graphs mapping practice development against specific community projects.    Being wary of claims to causal links, however, I will avoid engaging in the kind of ‘sensitivity analysis’ that positivists might use to identify which variables are the most significant in producing the desired effect (and which might be dismissed as merely contingent factors).

For ‘Document 4’, I propose to observe and report on three or four ‘live’ community-based exercises (ideally on a variety of scales) run in conjunction with the architectural practice with which I am now associated.  Having identified distinctive features about mutually beneficial ways of interacting with communities, I would seek to intervene occasionally (without taking over as project manager) in order to experiment with the application of these techniques – looking in particular for any evidence of business outcomes for the practice (being a Director of the firm, I have unrestricted access to financial and marketing information, although I will avoid publishing commercially sensitive information in my thesis).  My expectation is that, through experimentation in the context of a small practice with application of techniques found useful by larger, more experienced practices, I may be able to describe situations that will be found interesting both by other practices seeking to expand their portfolio and by community groups with ambitious ideas for development.   Engagement in this kind of action-research, adopting “a dialectical view of rationality” (Carr and Kemmis, 1986), promises to transform understandings and situations in a creative relationship to one another, consistent with the ethos of empowerment that underpins the whole research proposal.  The details of such an ethos therefore need to be examined carefully.

4. TOUCHING DOWN LIGHTLY: Negotiation of Constraints

Research Ethical Issues

The proposal to undertake research in such a public arena as ‘local communities’ requires the development and maintenance of an ethically acceptable code of practice (in addition to observation of the professional code of conduct discussed above on p.5).*

The axiology driving my research question suggests that drawing community stakeholders into engagement with architectural ideas must be predicated upon equal dialogue between lay-people and professionals, ‘cash-starved’ volunteers and ‘comfortably salaried’ practitioners, enthusiastic ‘amateurs’ and articulate ‘specialists’ – in short, avoiding reduction to opposing sets of interests.  Depiction as class struggle might be considered to reflect (and thus to perpetuate) more the conceit of privilege than the everyman viewpoint.  For consistency with the very subject-matter of this research study, its ethical bedrock must be promotion of democracy.

It is not for the ‘objective’ or ‘even well-meaning researcher to attempt to define the best interests of what might be regarded as a relatively disadvantaged group: this would merely reinforce asymmetry in terms of power relations.  To reduce the risk of intimidating or in any other way influencing the behaviour of participants in the community development exercises that I study, I propose to set the following rules for myself:

  1. my presence is the result of an invitation to observe, rather than an appointment to help direct activities.
  2. my observations are recorded ‘live’ through written notes rather than via voice-recording or photography.
  3. within two weeks of the exercise, I share my notes with the participants (both verbally and in writing), inviting further comment, suggestions for correction or clarification where required, and requests for omissions or amendments.

By seeking to capture the language, tactics and gestures I observe (rather than writing an ‘objective’ summary of the event), I would hope to demonstrate both respect for those involved and a concern for authenticity.  Such an ‘action-research’ approach to the dialogue would seem consistent with the democratising ethos behind the research exercise itself.

Professional Issues

It is for ethical as well as philosophical reasons that I have felt obliged to modify my original proposal to explore how community engagement exercises might serve as a vehicle for (rather than a constraint upon) practice growth.  On reflection, such research would have been both facile and fraudulent – reflecting the same modernist paradigm that has raised the spectre of built environments being driven by developers’ profit-motives at the expense of community-conscious sensitivity.  If I concern myself only with ways of running community projects in the service of practice growth objectives, my work might interest commercially-minded practitioners, but would be quickly denounced by local communities (and research supervisors!) as unethical and by colleagues as unprofessional.* The practice-based context in which the original research question arose demands ‘balance’ between respect for the social dimension and urges towards business growth.  The proposed research topic therefore seems best suited to doctoral study, demanding a more sensitive approach that needs to be associated with a subtler research question, closely related to the proposed methodology.

*  Disguising market analysis as ‘research’ may be unwise in business terms also, as reputations for operating in a self-serving manner are quickly won and relatively slowly lost.

Because my proposal is to consider both drivers and barriers in respect of architects seeking to ‘grow’ their practices in conjunction with community engagement, I can be confident in explaining to research participants that I am not using particular projects simply for the benefit of practices like my own: I will state that the focus of my study is on how both communities and architects might prosper through interaction with one another, and that my own role as researcher is to share any insights I derive with both members of the public and practitioners.*   As noted on p.12, full disclosure and widespread dissemination of research findings is an ethical obligation in the academic context (BERA, 2011).

*   There remains the risk, of course, that some members of ‘the community’ may be unconvinced, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar with, or mistaken about, the processes and terminology of data-gathering, and that they may exhibit either prejudice or apathy in relation to my presence as an observer.  Because of my ANT-based approach, I would be able to reassure them I have no particular agenda beyond simply trying to learn about the interface between architects and members of a community.  For that reason, I will seek to capture even expressions of hostility or noisy scepticism in relation to participation in the exercise, perhaps as a basis for exploring the possibility that such attitudes relate to previous experience of ‘consultation’ as something performed upon them rather than with them.

Outcomes

The purpose of my proposed research is to help professional colleagues feel more confident about the business sense of engaging in community development projects.  After over thirty years in practice, I am conscious that meaningful engagement with the public in relation to development proposals (in contrast to mere ‘consultation’ regarding design decisions that have already been taken) will represent a new role for many architectural practices - demanding knowledge of unfamiliar techniques and tactics.  Even now, the subject hardly begins to feature in the prescribed curriculum for RIBA-recognised schools of architecture.  I do not intend, however, that my research should conclude with recommendations for how to conduct community projects: this kind of advice is already well documented in professionally authoritative publications such as ‘The Community Planning Handbook’ (Wates, 2014).  In a rather broader sense (but with consequent impact upon the curriculum I now promote through my teaching), I see my research as a contribution to the development of architectural culture away from emphasis upon its utopian modern movement origins as a form of art practice (championed by Le Corbusier, for example), and towards a stronger sense of responsibility for its social impact.  Undertaking the work within the context of a DArch programme, with its emphasis upon academically watertight argumentation, will help ensure the study’s credibility, but I am anxious for the work also to be found accessible. 

The challenge will be to present my findings, especially in the final thesis (‘Document 5’) in simple language, to ensure maximum readability and impact.  This suggests that the articulation of more ‘sophisticated’ ideas should be confined to forthcoming Documents 2, 3 and 4.  A final ‘Document 6’ (also due for presentation in January 2018) will reflect on the success of this process and evaluate its success, but it is not too early to offer initial thoughts upon the development of the proposal itself: the spiral of self-reflection associated with action research (Lewin, 1952) may be extended to myself as author.

5. SEEING INTO THE EXPERIENCE: Research Reflections

Personal Reflexivity

Just as I encourage my students to do when I teach them professional practice, I have maintained a ‘reflective journal’ since the start of this research process, not in order to keep track of evolving conclusions but simply as a chronological archive of ideas encountered and developed.  Avoidance of premature conclusions is an essential habit in the architectural design process, where more time spent reconciling disparate elements of a brief invariably produces better integrated design (our initial motive for seeking projects associated with larger budgets, as noted on p.5).  This approach reflects my ‘emancipatory’ agenda, which I have coupled in this document with ANT-based methodology.  The process of labelling my various journal notes has served to identify specific themes, which I can in due course begin tentatively to coordinate with one another, applying exactly the same skills I have developed as a designer – giving me confidence to embark upon a journey with no presentiments of destination (just as in ‘Design, When Everybody Designs’).

I have also begun to learn new skills and knowledge through embarking upon this research project.  I am particularly pleased about the way in which I found it necessary to adjust my research question once I had identified Latour as my mentor, as I found the absence of causal link both intellectually challenging (as it sometimes seemed counter-intuitive) and realistic/authentic (the fierce atheism at the core corresponding to my own refusal to acknowledge ‘grand narrative’ concepts).  I believe that, in consequence, my thesis will be more rigorously coherent and philosophically watertight. I find I have unintentionally engaged in what Argyris has described as ‘double-loop learning’ – in which the original question (with implicit assumptions about the validity of causal connections) needed to be re-framed in response to the mismatch between methodological strategy (proposed for ethical reasons) and the values implied in a one-sided outcome consisting of recommendations simply for the commercial advantage of architectural practices.

Organisational Reflexivity

Even through this ‘Project Identification and Planning’ stage, my research has been conducted as a ‘live’ extension of our practice’s website.  Firstly, I have published the ‘reflective journal’ discussed in the previous section as a ‘research blog’ (http://workshop.2hD.co.uk/chris/research), accompanied by a short explanation of why this exercise is being undertaken and an invitation to email any comments or suggestions to me.  And secondly, I have provided a direct link between this blog and the evolving draft text of this document on the website http://workshop.2hD.co.uk/chris/research-proposal - again with a public invitation to send me comments.  Although this has generated no response to date (apart from a few ‘like’ endorsements), the project has only been running for four months and has consisted of little more than a clarification of objectives: I would anticipate that the real benefits of such transparency (in terms of providing the framework for dialogue with interested colleagues) will begin to flow more thickly once I begin to publish original research observations or findings.  Some of these ‘interested colleagues’ may even develop into clients for the practice, attracted and convinced by our open display of cutting-edge interest in community architecture – at which point I will be able to conclude that the very act of researching ‘practice and community’ has enabled us to grow our business.  ‘Knowledge is power’ provides both a context and an emancipatory rationale for the proposed study.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alvesson, M. (2002).  Postmodernism and Social Research.  Buckingham. Open University Press

ARB: Architects Registration Board (2015).  Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice.  On http://www.arb.org.uk/Upload/3293139b-4c34-4b2e-83a1-9e7a90cd2a60.pdf - accessed 22.06.15

BERA: British Educational Research Association (2011).  Ethical Guideilnes for Educational Research.  On https://www.bera.ac.uk/researchers-resources/publications/ethical-guidelines-for-educational-research-2011 - taccessed 22.06.15

Bernstein, B. (1974).  Sociology and the Sociology of Education – a Brief Account.  In Rex, J. (ed.) Approaches to Sociology – an Introduction to Major Trends in British Sociology.  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Carr, W. And Kemmis, S. (1986).  Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge and Action Research.  Lewes: the Falmer Press 

Cohen, L., Manion, L., and Morrison, K. (2011).  Research Methods in Education.  7th ed.  London: Routledge

Foucault, M. (1980).  Power/Knowledge.  New York: Pantheon

Freire, P. (1970 / 2000).  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  London: Bloomsbury Academic

Freire, P. (1970).  Cultural Action for Freedom.  Cambridge, Mass.: Centre for the Study of Development and Social Change

Habermas, J., trans. Shapiro, J. (1972).  Knowledge and Human Interests.  London: Heinemann

Hubbard, P., Kitchin, R. and Valentine, G. (2004).  Key Thinkers on Space and Place.  London: Sage Publications 

Illich, I. (1973).  Tools for Conviviality.  London: Calder and Boyars Ltd

Latour, B. (2005).  Reassembling the Social – an Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory.  Oxford: Oxford University Press

Lewin, K. (1952).  Groupd Decisions and Social Change.  In Swanson, G., Newcomb, T, and Hartley, F. (eds.) Readings in Social Psychology.  New York: Holt

McFee, G. (1992).  Triangulation in Research: Two Confusions.  In Education Research, 34(3): 215-219

MHLG: Ministry of Housing and Local Government (1969).  People and Planning: Report of the Committee on Public Participation in Planning.  London: HMSO 

Rogers, R. and Gumuchdjian, P. (1997).  Cities for a Small Planet.  London: Faber and Faber

RIBA: Royal Institute of British Architects (1992).  Annual Report 1991.  London: RIBA Publishing

RIBA: Royal Institute of British Architects (2005).  Code of Professional Conduct.  On http://www.architecture.com/RIBA/Professionalsupport/Professionalstandards/CodeOfConduct.aspx - accessed 22.06.15

RIBA: Royal Institute of British Architects (2011).  Guide to Localism – Opportunities for architects: Part Two – Getting community engagement right.  London: RIBA Publishing

RIBA: Royal Institute of British Architects (2015).  ‘What We Do’ on www.architecture.com/RIBA/Aboutus/About us.aspx – accessed 04.06.15

SLSA: Socio-Legal Studies Association (2009).  Statement of Principles of Ethical Research Practice (January 2009).  On http://www.slsa.ac.uk/index.php/8-general-information/4-slsa-statement-of-principles-of-ethical-research-practice - accessed 22.06.15

Spector, T. and Damron, R. (2013).  How Architects Write.  Abingdon: Routledge

Towers G. (1995).  Building Democracy – Community Architecture in the Inner Cities.  London: UCL Press 

Wates, N. and Knevitt, C. (1987).  Community Architecture – How People are Creating their own Environment.  Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

 Wates, N. (2014)  The Community Planning Handbook – How people can shape their cities, towns and villages in any part of the world. (2nd Ed.).  Abingdon: Routledge

CONTENTS

1    PICKING UP THE SCENT: Context and Issues

       Professional Context                                                                                                                                                            

       The Proposed Issue                                                                                                                                                               

2    SAVOURING THE DISH: Review of the Existing Literature

       Research Process Pointers                                                                                                                                            

       The Professional Wisdom                                                                                                                                                

       The Academic Field                                                                                                                                                                

3    LISTENING FOR THE THEMES: Development of Strategy

        Arrival at Research Questions                                                                                                                                  

        Research Plan and Methods                                                                                                                                         

4    TOUCHING DOWN LIGHTLY: Negotiation of Constraints

        Research Ethical Issues                                                                                                                                                    

         Professional Issues                                                                                                                                                                

         Outcomes                                                                                                                                                                                           

5    SEEING INTO THE EXPERIENCE: Research Reflections

        Personal Reflexivity                                                                                                                                                               

        Organisational Reflexivity                                                                                                                                              

BIBLIOGRAPHY


I would welcome any comment or suggestions on any of the above text. Please email me at chris.heuvel@ntu.ac.uk

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