What is a community? We all belong to 'communities' in some way or other, sometimes professionally but often simply as members of various formal and informal groupings - residents in our street, members of a church, users of local facilities, volunteers, and many others. So while "community architecture" might (perhaps should!) be said to mean any buildings which any people use, our understanding of this sector is those buildings which are openly accessible for a broad range of public users, who - importantly - may not as individuals have had a lot of say in how these were produced. So it is vital that we as designers have inherent insight and are experienced in public consultation processes.
Whatever the building or space - village hall, community centre, church, town square, farmers' market, performance space, or even those with more formal processes to fall back on such as health centres and hospitals, children's centres, schools - while the process may be led by an architect or project manager or even a community-based action team, ultimately its purpose is to serve the wider, non-professional public. It is therefore essential that we gain as broad an understanding as we can of ordinary people's views, both before and during the design process.
Grainge Architects have considerable direct experience, as well as connections to a wide network of complementary organisations which we have worked with, in the processes of community consultation and participation, fund-raising and sourcing, public presentations and exhibitions, helping to bring together sometimes diverse groups and agendas. We start without pre-conceived ideas, and using simple language aim to establish a shared understanding of needs, aspirations, priorities and flexibilities as well as potential constraints and conflicts.
Words lead to tentative design. It is important that design solutions respond both to the clearly shared perceptions but also creatively resolve the less clear, possibly conflicting requirements. Through public meetings, presentations, or sometimes simply working intensively with appointed representatives, designs can be tested and developed so that the final proposals can be 'owned' by the wider community, including those who might come later and were not able to have a direct voice.
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