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Understanding community-led design

What do we mean by community-led design?

Community-led design is a notion that connects to a longstanding tradition in architecture and planning which aims to give citizens and communities centre stage in the processes of shaping and managing their own environment.

As a notion it relates to terms such as community architecture, community planning, participatory design, collaborative design or social design. There is no consensus about the definitions of these different terms or practices, as people have different perspectives, for example about the demarcation of the community(-ies) that engage in the process, the relationship and respective role of communities and technical experts, or the mechanics of decision-making.

The most paradigmatic form of community-led design is that where a design project is conceived, led and managed by a community group. There are many examples of formal and informal groups looking after historic places of worship who have undertaken design projects to renovate, reorder or adapt their building. These groups typically involve members of the congregation and other people who have an interest in the history, architectural qualities, spiritual character or social mission of the place. Design projects in historic places of worship may however also be led by trusts, friends’ groups or other community or amenity organisations. But in all these situations there are (or should be) people involved who represent different sections of the community who may benefit or be affected by the proposed changes.

In such situations, community groups will at some point commission individuals with technical expertise to help move the design process forward (e.g. architects, heritage professionals, project managers) however, they will maintain an overview of the overall direction of the project and more importantly they will take an active role in generating and evaluating design solutions.

In the following steps, you will explore in more detail the two notions of design leadership and community leadership which are combined in the notion of community-led design.

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Enabling Community-Based Leadership in Design: Sustainable Development of Historic Faith Buildings

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