Thursday, 28 October 2010

when will we move beyond the pilot?

Nesta has announced its 18 month Neighbourhood Challenge programme which is intended to provide practical advice, support and resources to enable organisations to trial innovative approaches to community-led regeneration. It is a great opportunity for organised local groups to get their project ideas off the ground and to shape the big society debate - here's hoping they are inundated with projects.

Something is nagging at me from the press release however. The dreaded spectre of the word 'trial' is lurking in the announcement with only 10 organisations set to benefit from the pot of £3M. It makes sense that they will only be able to fund about 10 projects from the fund but to call them trials only reinforces the view that community-led regeneration isn't the norm nor should it be unless we have tested it and made sure it is safe for consumption.

At the RIBA lecture last week, Nabeel Hamdi asked the panelists when they thought we would be able to go beyond calling things pilots and just show them as projects that are achieving what they set out to do. If the sustainability debate has given us anything, it is that the obsession with pilot projects and trials has the ability to quickly lead to bling responses when a practical solution is needed.

The trial of 10 also raises the issue of how small but effective community ideas will get heard over the racket of projects pitched at £300K...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Creating Change RIBA Public Lecture

On Tuesday night Mend participated in the Creating Change Public Lecture at RIBA which was the culmination of the Women in Architecture "Creating Change" 2010programme of events. Liane and Kate are members of the Creating Change panel and had a small part in helping to develop the programme.

The lecture kicked off with the current RIBA President, Ruth Reed succinctly clarifying the case for diversity within architecture: "architecture and architects work best if they reflect the client or community they are working for....this is why empathy is so important in design and why diversity is vital to this." Angela Brady, RIBA president elect reminded us that it is not just about women architects but women as users of architecture and spaces and how it is important that they work for them.

The three speakers treated us to insights, case studies and experiences of creating change through their work with communities and the challenges of designing for different lifestyles and circumstances.

Nabeel Hamdi gave an eloquent digest of the leading mantras that have shaped his outlook on design and working with communities over the course of his career - which have been brought together in his book "The Placemakers Guide to Building Community." We lost count of the "hallelujah" moments mainly revolving around celebrating the ordinary, design being about people and that everybody is an "expert" on their place not just professionals. Very Mendy!

Anna Heringer told of her work with communities in Bagladesh in which buildings are designed to respect local traditions and settings but allow opportunities for innovation and skills development for local people. The result is beautiful and happy spaces to be in that are low impact, sustainable and replicable in the face of floods and shortage of materials.

Finally, Anshu Sharma, Director of SEEDS, an Indian charity established to promote social justice, gave a great talk about unengineered buildings - not the fault of uneducated and illiterate construction workers failing to follow the plans given to them by architects, but actually the insenstivity and inappropriateness of the architect's designs in the first place. Anshu reminded us that some of the oldest buildings in India were constructed by the poorest and least educated but they stand to this day and furthermore are more responsive, well used and efficient than their modern counterparts.

In short we have forgotten much of the wisdom inherent in these great places but they are simple to re-learn. Most important - look around you at the communities you are building for and take your cue from them. People's notion of home can extend far beyond the front door but to the street, the green spaces, their neighbour's house. Recognise buildings don't use buildings - people do!

Friday, 22 October 2010

PlaceWest and Success

Last week we had our first public billing as Mend when Liane hosted a panel session at the Place West Conference held at Chelsea Football Club. The session was called “Southall – building on success” and focussed on what can be done to harness the opportunity brought by Crossrail and the Gasworks scheme without strangling the inherent uniqueness and character that makes Southall success in its own right already? The panellists were Pat Hayes, Head of Regeneration & Housing at LB Ealing and Phil Edwards Head of Sales and Lettings for National Grid Property.

There was an obvious question to ask at first which is how do you define success? And can a place be too successful? We only have to look at places like Spitalfields Market to see the dichotomy between one person’s perception of success (shiny new pristine blocks of steel and brick, housing sanitised brands neatly folded in corporate brands and nice prices) versus another’s (the shabby authenticity of its nearest neighbours that helped attract people to the place originally through its diversity, vibrance and unapologetic rejection of bland clones and chain to champion the creative entrepreneur.)

Surely success is about maintaining all that is unique, detailed, relevant and specific about a place in the face of all temptation to go High Street? Will there be anywhere left at this rate? Talk to the people that have just successfully revived Chatsworth Road Market and they will say yes there will - but it takes hard graft, support for local traders and people to care about keeping their place a local place – no mean feat. Congratulations by the way!

Anyway…..back to the Conference. It was refreshing to hear, for once, West Londoners heap praise on East Londoners for their success in developing a credible “narrative” around the East London ask and what it’s about. This is fundamentally what West London lacks – this sub-regional identity that will be all important for underpinning the economic and political logic for an LEP. But it’s also all important for galvanising the bridging capital that is needed between business and individual boroughs to work together and make clear what that logic is and sell it. It took blood, sweat, tears and a number of years to grow that in East London but there are lessons learned which I am sure any battle scarred practitioner will be only too eager to share with you!

Monday, 18 October 2010

creating change at the london met

Today we were part of the role playing team at London Met working with students studying for an MA in Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources to explore participatory design. We were looking at the reuse of the school building on Holloway Road as a Sure Start Children's Centre and there was lots of discussion about play, flexible spaces and security vs creating a welcoming presence on the high street. Pleasantly surprised that there wasn't a post it note explosion and instead lots of thoughtful bubble diagrams and models for helping to define 'fun' for children, parents and their teachers.

In addition to the brain work out from the students we also had a presentation from Nabeel Hamdi who is a guru in this field and one of those people who draws you in with his knowledge and reverence for the informal. His work taps into the opportunities from small-scale grass roots interventions and here at mend we are inspired by his approach not only to design but in acting as a catalyst for change.

The workshop today was part of Women in Architecture's Creating Change programme in partnership with RIBA 'Architects for Change', the RIBA Trust, London Metropolitan University, the Building Centre and the 'DiverseCity-Architects' international exhibition network. The programme concludes tomorrow night with a lecture at RIBA in Portland Place from Ashu Sharma of SEEDS India and Nabeel.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Wednesday, wednesday, wednesday.....

......Just seems to be the day we post on here - it's not really deliberate. Wednesdays are quite usefully midway and "top of the hump" so have that momentum behind them.

Anyway, today is day 1 of post-job-quitting reality and it still feels good, exciting and absolutely the right thing to be doing so that is good!

Have met some absolutely incredible people so far in this process of going from idea to reality snd its only been a matter of months. What has struck us is the enormous amount of encouragment and also willingness of people (often strangers) to share; advice, ideas and experience with us. It is overwhelming how people get behind you. So thank you to them, they know who they are and we are so excited about building this with you.

Lots of people have asked us why we have picked this particular moment in time to quit our day job and set this up. In many ways it has got to the point where if we don't do it now the momentum we have built, the ideas we have been developing, the people we have met and the way policy and government sentiment is converging would have been a massively missed opportunity. And we literally just can't wait any longer. And our business cards arrived this week and they are just too bloody nice to sit in a box! (the sad fascination with corporate stationary has already started.....)

Met the wonderful Alexis Kier from Elfrida Camden today who passed us a hoard of great stuff on VCS and settlement areas. Looking forward to Place West tomorrow and then it's Creating Change with RIBA Women in Architecture on Tuesday.

Will be testing our ideas (and business cards)on unwitting punters and will report back next,....erm Wednesday?!