DADA + Norton Hammer = SCDC: A Sheffield City Council Initiative

rough-logoMy simple response to the phrase ‘Design as Distributed Agency’ is; giving others the change to impact a design.

My issue with the initial interpretation is the breadth: Does this mean that the design itself can allow numerous uses post-construction? Is distributed agency giving the end users a chance to have an impact in the design process? Does it even need to involve the end user, and if so, what defines an end user? Do our final designs need to address each one of these options, or simply focus on one?

Following from Steph’s blog post, the ‘others’ in question should include those who are not versed in design, or in any way part of the design community. My scenario initiative (described below) engages these ‘others’ in a dialogue with planning and design professionals to develop an architectural scheme. Hopefully, the process of architectural procurement will be more involving and accessibility.

Maybe I struggle slightly with the concept because of my experience of contemporary architectural design and practice which, in my experience, rarely distributes agency to others: Stakeholder engagement is as far as the end user gets to impact the design due to budget restrictions, contractual obligations, RIBA stages, programme timelines, fee agreements and a general lack of knowledge and professionalism. This is a good opportunity to consider wider involvement regarding design.

Within my scenario, agency comes in the form of a council-led initiative known as the Site Community Development Contract and, as far as possible, in the design being lo-fi (Till, 2009), with no formal program:

  • I have tried to cement the initiative in reality, referring to my knowledge of professional practice. The initiative allows people to contact the council with potential sites which they consider appropriate for enhancement/development, which in turn affords them the opportunity to become a key stakeholder (group). Site selection often requires formal land acquisition and significant monetary availability, yet the framework gives the everyday person a chance to put forward a place they would like to see used and enhanced.
  • The second aspect of agency is in the lack of a formal building program (in terms of process, not construction). The scheme centres of enhancement rather than development, so small landscape interventions and the fixation on smaller building elements such as stages, platforms, stairs, entrances etc. as opposed to a formal building means that there is no determination of program required. People do not need to walk along circulation routes and adhere to fire strategies etc., they are free to use the sites in any way in which they see fit. This allows the inclusion of more users (fixtures and fittings are not fixed to set heights, the program is not aimed at a set group of people), more passive engagement and more inclusion of nature.

I will continue to develop and refine my take on distribution, but I believe, however broad it is currently, my project definition of distributed agency is realistic and appropriate. I hope that the lack of a building program and insistence on the lack of a formal building is not seen as a ‘cop-out’: I consider this approach to be one of contextual sensitivity and an exploration into an area of architecture and urbanism rarely explored; truly lo-fi design.

A blog post will follow soon detailing the process of the initiative and how it will work in practice.

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