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How to Support the Creation of a Design Vision: an example

An example of how you can enable the creation of a shared design vision
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[Music] We’re keen to explore how historic places of worship could be a catalyst for connecting communities. It’s an interesting moment in time, both for heritage buildings and the way we’re thinking about them and using them and transforming them This is a training course that takes people out of their usual places, but bringing their live projects that they’re working on. We put them together with design professionals, with the Glass-House, and with the Empowering Design Practices team. They come to us at the very early stages so they’re really just thinking about ‘what can I do with this building, and make this building work better for us’.
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what are the limitations of it and what are the things I haven’t even thought about yet? [Music] It’s a two day process in which the first day’s quite pedagogic and the second day is very pragmatic. There’s an initial introduction to the design process and design principles, ways of working in design understanding drawings, understanding basically how the journey works. We talk about the value of design and how important that is to everybody. And everybody should have access to design and the benefits and values that can bring to them in their everyday lives.
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We try to get across the message that they can learn to understand their buildings more through thinking about them through three sort of separate but related issues which are to do with the form, the function and feelings of those buildings On the second day we really put the groups to work. They do a thing called memory mapping, where they look at both what’s really working in the building and what’s not working.
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Part of this is what they love about their buildings – what’ special – what are the spaces and the moments in that building that they love and they want to hold on to - the qualities of the pace that are really important to them What this is proving us is opportunities to fill that canvas in. To see what’s possible. To look at what other churches have done, and for us to now start to imagine what we could do with our space because I think we’re very limited in our skill set of what’s possible in a church. When you’re familiar with a space its very hard to imagine what possibilities could be to reuse it, and for it to be refunctioned.
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Everybody has that creativity within them. The whole design training is about unlocking that creativity, that everybody has. It’s not that we want them to design their own buildings, but we want them to feel ownership of that design of the building. It’s about demystifying the design process but also demystifying the design thinking. [Music] One of the exciting things about our project is that it’s a bit of a blank canvas. The whole building’s been kind of stripped out. There’s lots of things that I think we could do. So it’s been really good just to be alongside architects and practitioners over these last couple of days and for them just to give advice about the whole process.
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I thought it could be a really helpful catalyst to just get some thinking going again, and to actually start to dream a bit bigger than simply replacing what’s already there with something a bit newer and fresher, but thinking a bit more whole-heartedly about actually how are we using this building - what are the spaces might we want to create? I thought the visits were particularly useful because we were able to identify what we liked, what we could do, and also what we didn’t feel would be workable for us It was just really helpful to go and see three completely different kind of buildings. Different sizes and scales, and just start to learn from what they’ve done.
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[Music] We did a visit yesterday to a church that had massive kind of glass doors into the worship area, and that’s been an issue that we’ve recognised we need to be looking at. That whole visibility, of being able to see from outside into the inside as to what’s going on to enable you to move forward It’s great for the groups to see that it is possible to do what they want to do and to learn from some of the lessons that other people have picked up along the way. For us the whole model-making exercise is new venture. So I’ve never been involved in anything like that, and I don’t think anybody that’s come with me has.
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I think part of it is just about trying to help us get an in-depth understanding of our building, and to start to creatively play with what’s already there and how it might be able to be changed. It just starts to help you engage with the building in a different way. We really want people to go into our building and be excited by it, and know it’s a building where the community have ownership of it. The project is also about that design space as an empowerment space. A space where come together and grow individually and as groups, and work together more creatively. Over those two days you can see the group really form and sometimes also understand where the niggles are.
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They generally find a medium – sort of a mid way – what they want out of the project by talking to other groups. They also feel there’ not alone - they’re not the only ones going through this process. so it’s very important that they’re on location – they’re actually outside of their context. And actually it’s just good for us as a team to actually be reflecting on this together and starting to generate those ideas together because we’re going to have to communicate that to the rest of the church council and keep the conversation rolling.
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We don’t want them to go away from this course thinking that they have the answer and they have the solution and then they’re able to just deliver it. This really is a starting point. And we talk a lot about how they can engage other people in their projects as time goes on. And that’s a crucial part of the course as well. It’s just having the time, isn’t it. And the expertise and the advice. And also looking at what other people are doing to be able to really bear the fruit of things that have been muddling around and actually forming them into proper ideas of what we could do. [Music]

The short film above was shot during a two-day Design Training course course delivered as part of the Empowering Design Practices course in Sheffield. The course brought together four community groups at the early stages of re-thinking the use and physical elements of their buildings to develop their design skills, knowledge and confidence. The film shares the experiences of participants, and what they perceived to be the benefits of this approach.

In the course, participants engaged in a number of different activities:

  • They explored some key architectural terms and learned about the RIBA stages of work
  • They visited other places of worship and heritage buildings to gain inspiration and to learn from their process (the things that worked and the things that failed)
  • They collaboratively explored and mapped the challenges and opportunities of their buildings
  • Drawing on all these activities, they finally worked together to create a shared design vision and presented it to other groups for feedback. They used a collaging activity to express the vision as a combination of text and images and built a physical model of their building, to explore how the vision can be realised.

Now consider the following question and post your ideas in the comments section below:

  • In the film, participants mention the creation of the physical model, as something new to them and thus quite challenging. What are you thoughts about this? Do you think that others would find this activity challenging, and how would you help them overcome their hesitation?
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Enabling Community-Based Leadership in Design: Sustainable Development of Historic Faith Buildings

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