CEC WEEKLY TIES – Reframing the participatory design process

Dear colleagues, 

A lot has changed since 1986, when in The Image of the Architect, Andrew Saint responded to the crisis in architecture by exploring the evolution of architects’ status in society from the medieval architect to the professional, gentleman, entrepreneur, and businessman. Today, both the pandemic and the protests solidified architects’ and interior designers’ roles as Cultural Enrichers who create healthy and connected communities in which everyone can thrive. Instrumental to the design process is community engagement that amplifies voices of connectedness and evens-out the power dynamics that operate on the falsehood that someone is an expert. Questions however, have multiplied: How do we know if we are going about community engagement the right way? How do we define success and how do we assess feedback?  

In this month’s CEC Connects, Greg Vendena, Architect with Copenhagen’s Cyclus shares “Have a seat: Participatory design from an architect’s point of view – The Men’s Home.” He reflects on what engaging in participatory design meant to him and to the design process, pointing to approaches that can strengthen our engagement:

  • Recognizing our reactions to the process and embarking on an introspection that sheds light on our vulnerabilities and limitations.
  • Having the courage to question how things came to be and advocate for built environments that support the well-being of all residents. 
  • Infusing a project into on-going/existing conversations that are happening in the community, thereby solidifying a community’s sense of agency.
  • Demonstrating commitment by giving physical form to values such as accountability and transparency.
  • Waiting to define success until the project has been tested and feedback is received.

Email us your own thoughts to the participatory design process and we will share them on the CEC platform. 

Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Editor
[email protected]

Excerpt from Greg Vendena’s “Have a Seat”

Cec Connects, Greg Vendena, Architect With Copenhagens
Excerpt From Greg Vendenas Have A Seat

“Nothing was actually designed until this input process was complete. Personally, I was about ready to jump through the roof with my pen at hand at this point! In addition to the values, more than 60 design criteria were determined from the input process, which in a way, felt too overwhelming. How could we push our design expression when there were so many parameters that needed our attention? As it turned out though, these requirements did not feel as constraining as I imagined. Designers and architects long for justifications and meaning in their work and here the primary source was real people.

For example, the requirement for folding benches is also a requirement for cafés in the area, where they are only allowed benches if they are locked away or folded up when the café is closed. The staff at the Men’s Home also required the option to close down the seating if the users began fighting or having a conflict that needed to be broken up. The benches also needed to be resistant to vandalism, including urine, vomit and salt, and could handle hard use in general. Planters at street level would also be a place to hide drugs, so the plants and planters had to be out of reach, which led to hanging trellises that provided both a sheltering effect and the beauty and healing power of plants.”

Images credit:
Kenneth Balfelt Team (left)
Greg Vendena (right)

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