Live projects have come to be used as a form of knowledge generation within the Bristol school of architecture. They are characterised by projects in which architects, trainee architects and non-architects can co-operate in order to generate outcomes that are of benefit to both parties. This includes a range of activities, from community activism to hands-on making; from the generation of feasibility studies to the production of events. This research project explores these projects under three themes: the relationship between education and practice; live architecture projects as research; and the relationship between the wider community and the academy. These themes are used to structure the discussions below:
Relationship between Education and Practice:
Live Projects have become a part of educating architects by engaging the students in a series of meaningful, collaborative and engaging activities with practitioners and the wider community. The educational purpose of the live project is to develop in students a critical position from which to bridge the gap between education and practice, creating skilled graduates with valid experience in real projects, who are deeply aware of the social and ethical responsibility of their profession.
The live project becomes a ‘live’ learning experience which can be understood as a form of critical pedagogy in which students learn to ‘deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’ (Shault 1970:15). As education practice live projects are distinct from much other academic learning in their engagement with real ‘external collaborators’ from outside of the academy. The students involvement results in the creation of something that is a valuable resource to the ‘external collaborator’ as well as to the student his or herself. The value of the project is inherent in the process as much as the outcomes.
The ‘live’ element of the project becomes a valuable addition to the architectural education repertoire of teaching methodologies, in which students develop skills in communication, negotiation, team dynamics, project management, dealing with contingency, cost, participatory skills that are otherwise hard to simulate within the academic curriculum (Sara, 2004). The students become critical of, and reflective on, the role of the architect within wider society and develop an awareness of the need of professionalism as a key competence.
At the University of the West of England the ‘live’ element has become part of the culture of the architecture school, now consolidated through this ‘live’ website where students, participants and educators collaborate with different ‘agencies’ to develop two way structured and integrated teaching methodology where we ‘learn to collaborate by collaborating through learning’.
Key words: Critical pedagogy, professional ethics, collaborative learning,
Live Architecture Projects as Research:
Live projects are understood as both an experimental, creative practice, and a form of cultural and/or community activism in which knowledge is generated collectively throughout the process. This aspect of the research aims to understand the impacts that the process can have on the place-based knowledge of communities. The projects are documented to record: the knowledge generated, the actors involved, the nature of the experimental and/or creative practice, the political, physical/environmental and social objectives pursued, and the place-based knowledge that is generated. This draws on the work of Michael Buser in the ‘Cultural activism in the community: creative practice, activism and place-identities’ project (Buser, 2012).
In recording this information the live projects are understood along a continuum of activism - from ‘urban tactics’ of resistance (Petrescu, 2013) at one end, to activities that support and/or reinforce the status quo at the other. Petrescu describes Urban tactics (after de Certeau) as everyday activities such as reading, gardening, walking and architecture, undertaken as forms of counter-hegemonic action. In particular this might include undertaking projects that are outside of the standard models of architectural production; instead exploiting vacant plots, neglected public spaces and temporary situations to undertake projects that are led by communities, or perhaps are unsolicited or speculative.
At the other end of the spectrum, live architecture projects engage with mainstream agencies (for example the local council, neighbourhood planning groups, Business Improvement Districts and so on) in order to undertake projects in collaboration with those agencies, thus operating from within the system. Using this spectrum, the live projects are investigated to understand their role in relation to established structures of knowledge and the inherent structures of power. It tests the proposition that live projects are fundamentally liberatory, in which the active, critical and/or creative transformation of the society in which we live is a goal.
Key words: Creative practice, critical spatial practice, cultural activism, community activism, place-based knowledge.
The Relationship Between the Wider Community and the Academy
There is a growing call for Universities to be better connected to the communities of which they are a part. Live architecture projects are a key way in which this can be achieved through the live projects positioning in the community and its closer links with practice than typical academic projects.
In terms of learning, the outside position means that students learn in the context of the community, which brings additional meaning and value to the work, and provides a two-way benefit, in which the community benefits both from the work that students produce, and from the encounter itself. Live project work can thus be seen to key into University agendas of outreach and knowledge exchange as well as introducing community based learning. In this way, students both share the resources of society and give back to that society, thus helping in the development of all parties.
The intellectual location of live project work is also important. As well as being located in the ‘real-world’; with links with communities, professional practice and other agencies; live projects are simultaneously located within the protected space of the university. This means that they afford a unique position in relation to the generation of knowledge and as a seat of learning. Their liminal location somewhere between the university, the community and the profession facilitates an opportunity for critical reflection, in which participants can be simultaneously within and outside of the hegemony. This allows the projects to challenge and subvert accepted practices in ways that are potentially highly creative and regenerative. This potentially counter-hegemonic and critical practice can be used to develop the work of all of the actors involved in the process. As such it is equally likely that engagement with live projects will facilitate critical reflection on the practices of the University as well as those of the communities and profession.