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Participation

 

Following the end of the research project there was something of a hiatus before the development took place. A number of factors conspired to hold up the development, including the University’s inability to act as architect for the project for apparent legal reasons, as well as the change of client from the District Council to a private land owner, Mr. Andrew Bradford.

Ultimately therefore, the specific designs created in the research project were taken forward to the development phase with one of the Research Assistants, Gokay Deveci, acting as architect for the project. Though Mr. Deveci remained an employee of RGU, the project was managed by the practice of Deveci Architects.

Canmore Place - green common areas.The landowner was one of the last people in Scotland to get government funding as a private landlord – one third being subsidised by government. The entire development cost circa £1,000 000. The client welcomed user participation, expressing a long-term interest in generating affordable houses, improving community conditions and working closely with community members.

It should be noted however that the large majority of the participation work had been carried out prior to the exposure of the designs to the actual community in Kincardine O’Neil. In contrast to the research activity, which carried out participation activities with people identified as potential occupants of local social housing, participation in the detail design and development phase was more like a planning participation exercise, involving the local community, not potential occupants, in activities centring on the external appearance of the houses. At this stage also the designs were substantially complete and only a few details remained which could be changed.

The project was introduced to the local community in an exercise in which second year architecture students at RGU presented hypothetical designs to members of the community in Kincardine O’Neil at the community hall.

Another initiative that was underway in Kincardine in parallel to these projects was a £50,000 funded project at RGU looking at the overall sustainability of the village. Again Seaton Baxter was instrumental in aquiring funding. Anne Lolly facilitated this work and heavily involved local children in community-based activities. Projects they worked on included: developing traffic calming solutions, willow workshops, repair of local common facilities and buildings, and development of walk ways through the village. A booklet about their work was produced entitled “The Heart of the Village”. Anne Lolly also helped to facilitate the community consultation for the Canmore Place proposals, as well as upgrading other village facilities.

In the detailed design phase participation focussed on the internal layout of rooms – since flexibility of layout was a feature of the designs - external layout of buildings in relation to each another and the building materials used. Importantly, when participants were engaged, no planning application had been made, so there was still some room for change within these aspects. The main reason for wider public participation during this phase was the need for acceptance in a small rural community: Kincardine O Neil is the oldest village in Royal Deeside and residents are very proud of their heritage and the old buildings. The architect was aware that acceptance of unconventional housing design by the residents was important for planning permission. 3D models made from card were used instead of drawn plans in the exercise with the local community, to help people visualise the designs better.

The community consultation process occurred over three days in the local village hall, during which time the architect was always present. This was based on a three-day exhibition with discussion of three alternative project ideas. These involved the design of “envelopes” for the houses as well as three options for an overall landscape planning and housing organisation on the terrain. The architect first worked with school children (through Ann Lolly’s work noted above) using this as a way of engaging with other members of the community (e.g. getting parents involved). Activities were informal, with a ‘drop-in’ format, and refreshments, wine and sandwiches were provided. The architect spent roughly half an hour with each person. 3D card models, pictures and drawings showing plans, facades and perspectives, as well as sample materials (e.g. roof materials), which people could feel as well as see, were all used in the consultation. The 3D models were used by participants to rearrange internal layouts of buildings. It is important to note that participants were not necessarily future users of the buildings – just interested community members, although one or two may have gone on to live in the housing. Site layouts were presented through different pictures. Computer models were used – these were simple and relatively primitive 3D visualisation tools. In parallel to this, second year architectural students from RGU were undertaking more general exercises with the community, developing design ideas and models, and these seem to have allowed the community to have a rich architectural experience.

Post-Occupancy Experimentation

The research team designed the houses with the explicit intention of experimenting in the post-occupancy phase with users’ use of space. For this reason the houses were designed with two innovative features: fully flexible, sliding internal partitions which could be moved easily by occupants on a day-to-day basis and a network of underfloor sensors which would detect and monitor the movement of occupants around the house. The intention was that, for a period of six months following completion of the development, two of the houses would remain in control of the research team. Different occupants would be moved into the houses and an experimental programme devised which would encourage people to change the layout of spaces in their home and monitor the subsequent use of space.

In the event this more radical design participation exercise proved impossible once the client had changed to a private landlord and the architect changed from being RGU to a private practice.

Evaluation of the activity

Evaluation of the participation activities in the research project involved the iterative testing of designs, created by reference to user groups, on user groups. Researchers used data to create hypotheses for designers. Subsequent designs were evaluated for their physical performance, cost etc, and also for their acceptability to potential user groups. It was always envisaged that the ultimate evaluation would be through a demonstration project taking one or more of the designs on-site.

In 2005 an evaluative report of the demonstration scheme was made to Communities Scotland by the Ecological Design Group. This was a group founded in RGU in collaboration with School of Architecture, University of Dundee. The research leading to the report was led by Fionn Stevenson of the University of Dundee - this is accessible online.

No formal evaluation of the participatory process with the local community was undertaken. The architect and the client both indicated that they consider that this process was very successful. There was a good turnout for the consultation exercise – 35% of the population - and participation led to changes in roofing materials and some of the internal layouts. Participants also had some say in the timber finishes and the site layouts. The participatory activity was considered effective in informing people of what was going on, even though not everyone was in full agreement with the ideas being presented, and this was seen as essential for acquiring planning permission. This consultation was most importantly a chance to inform – to avoid panic where people did not understand what was happening in their community and to explain why certain unusual materials were used (affordability issues).

The loss of the experimental post-occupancy phase of the participation is symptomatic of problems of balancing research and design aspirations with economic demands and those of the regulatory authorities.

Interestingly, the architect indicated that he does not believe in participation before any design has been drafted as he thinks it is necessary for people to have some sort of design to engage with. The client was in agreement with this position, indicating that in his opinion if you do consultation too early you get an impossible wish list – however if you do it too late, nothing can be changed. The fact that the whole design had been developed by a participation exercise starting way before a single mark had been made on paper seems to have been lost in the long process of moving from an idea to completed houses. Perhaps this demonstrates the success of the process in producing well liked designs which are not overtly generic or obviously the product of research.

Other members of the research team are clear in the view that the long, slow process of starting design from very basic first principles and injecting information from participation exercises from an early stage was instrumental in producing radical, thought-provoking designs.

Further information about Canmore Place can be found at the following web location: http://www.rgu.ac.uk/sss/research/page.cfm?pge=32988


References

1. Edge, H.M. and Pearson, R. (2001) 'Vernacular Architectural Form and the Planning Paradox: A Study of Actual and Perceived Rural Building Tradition' Journal of Architecture and Planning Research Vol. 18 No 2 Summer 2001(ISSN 0738-0895)