Design as Distributed Agency



  1. To conceive and plan out the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made.



  1. Divided and given out in shares; dealt out; allotted.



  1. A business or organisation providing a particular service on behalf of another business, person, or group.
  2. Action or intervention producing a particular effect.

Example of Design as Distributed Agency happening within ESA’s Art Hostel (Author,2016)

I perceive ‘Design as Distributed Agency’ to mean that more than one individual or group is involved in the process of designing, i.e. the design decisions are distributed across several actors or agencies.

The phrase can really be applied to most design procedures. Within a typical Architecture practice, the Architect’s design is at first influenced by the Client when creating the brief, and then further down the line there may be design input from a Structural Engineer or Specialist Suppliers. On site, the Contractor will probably choose to lay out the studs in the timber partition wall differently to as drawn by the Architect, and so on.

Even once a building or object is ‘completed’, the process of design is forever continued by the User.

This point is most relevant to our studio work as in our first semester we were specifically exploring hacks, modifications and subversions carried out by end users.

The scenario above shows how the design of Room 3 in the Art Hostel has been impacted by decisions made by different Actors and Agents within the process. East Street Arts had requirements set by their funders which would have influenced the brief given to their Architect. Following receipt of planning permission, the design of the room was changed again – Artist Drew Millward was appointed to plan out the space and put his stamp on it. Because the fit-out of the room was to be paid for by Sponsor Awesome Merchandise, they had their own requirements too. The scaffolding bed frames were designed by a designer from Belgium, and the mirrors in the room were later added by ESA after several guests had requested them.


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