Participatory Design for Under-Represented Communities: A Collaborative Design-Led Research Approach for Place-Making

Participatory Design for Under-Represented Communities: A Collaborative Design-Led Research Approach for Place-Making

Bruno Marques, Jacqueline McIntosh, Philippe Campays
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4197-4.ch001
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Interdisciplinary collaborative design for culturally diverse and under-represented communities hinges on understanding cultural environments; building trusting relationships and fostering a respectful approach to community. It requires a diverse disciplinary knowledge and the capacity to take action by blurring the boundaries between disciplines. This chapter discusses the application of design-led research approach with a participatory design mind-set by bringing the users to the forefront of a design as active co-creators. It examines two projects – a Māori landscape regeneration project in the Wairarapa region of Wellington; and a Tokelau / Pasifika cultural museum exhibition. The research project is framed around three critical stages: design analysis, design exploration and design synthesis. This interdisciplinary collaborative research process can create new opportunities for architectural design education as it educates students and the wider community as active world-citizens.
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Community participation has become one of the hot topics for policy development and planning practices across the globe. Over the last decades, a huge effort has been put into bringing more under-represented communities and/or ethnic minorities into the decision-making process that directly affects them, reversing the bureaucratic and standardised ‘top-downism’ effect present across several institutions and decision-making bodies (Mohan, 2007). The research model where the prevailing culture is ‘expert’ that has typically led practice, has had a long and extensive history in academia. However, more recently a design-led perspective has move to the forefront the common goal of driving, inspiring and informing the design process (Vaajakallio & Mattelmaki, 2007). This new approach not only incorporates the physical dimensions of space but also embeds social relations and subjective human experiences in the design itself (Schofield & Szymanski, 2011).

Place values are embedded in both the physical space and social environments in which relations are built upon. Accordingly, the making of place influences both the physical form and the ways in which communities are created and interact with one another. Place-making is considered an empowering process where communities are actively involved in maintaining, renovating and representing the places in which they live. This process implies that places are not by-products of expert interventions but can accommodate active and on-going participation of the communities themselves (Strydom & Puren, 2013). Participation in decisions that determine the quality and direction of the built environment requires the involvement of the community, giving primacy to their right to participate in the shaping of the world in which they live (Sanoff, 1990). Involving communities in the design process and in decision-making gives them a feeling of ownership and responsibility towards the surrounding environment as well as improving their quality of life (Eden, 1996; Lipietz, 2008). This ultimately contributes to a more engaged, informed and active ‘world-citizen’.

Designing with and for communities is a genuine process which allows for strong partnerships to be established with those who will use the design outcomes. The process requires that all parties involved get to know one another and build mutual respect. With this, there is an ethical stand underlying participatory design that recognises an accountability of design to the world it creates and the lives of those who inhabit it. Morrow (2012) discusses the importance of forming partnerships with local communities as a way to expand architectural education opportunities and also benefit communities through civic involvement by students. Live projects are those that engage real citizens in real-time contexts and encourage students to become active citizens of a community dedicated to cultural and ecological health.

This alternative approach, where people are treated as active citizens and therefore seen as partners and active co-creators in the design process linked to place-making, is not straightforward. It challenges the actions of those researchers and designers who engage in symbolic and figurative activities of ‘window dressing’ to create an impression of commitment to community development.

The presented design-led research process focuses on the application of a collaborative and interdisciplinary participatory process, which requires a sustained period of interaction and relationship maintenance. In this chapter, we discuss a series of participatory activities that were the result of collaboration between Maori and the School of Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington in one project and Pasifika community groups with the School in another. In both projects participatory design methods were employed in the design and development of community facilities and environments for place-making.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Place-Making: The collective process of creating a shared understanding of a place as part of the design process.

Co-Creation: The act of collective creativity shared across a group of individuals and applied at different stages of a design development process. It facilitates meaningful outcomes that can address community problems and provide a context for integrating design, inquiry and local knowledge.

Participatory Design: Process that allows individuals and communities to proactively participate in the design development process, blurring the roles of designer and participant.

Indigenous Knowledge: Holistic local knowledge generated by indigenous people in quotidian interactions in finding solutions to problems by drawing on societal wisdom, intuition, creativity and the surrounding environment; and is passed on from one generation to another through oral stories.

Design-Led Research: Strategies, tools and methods of inquiry that are activity-based, requiring the subjects undertaking the activity to objectively pursue design solutions to a problem through an iterative process of designing.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Working across disciplines such as anthropology, landscape architecture, photography, museum curation and architecture to engage in a collective manner.

Community-Based Participatory Research: Collaborative approach which combines systematic inquiry, community-based participation and action in the design process to address a certain problem.

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