During a recent discussion among other architects working in and around Islington and Stoke Newington, London, I raised the question of profitability in respect architecturally designed community projects and how they are often commissioned in the first instance. Having long grouped community work with art projects that require public funding, with the current economic climate in mind, this sector of work has held very little appeal for SA-A to-date.
Perhaps till now with the government’s ‘Big Society’ Localism Bill signalling the devolution of responsibilities to local level allowing communities to have greater planning control over the development of their area. The bill will affect the planning approvals of larger developments and housing schemes with developers and architects required to demonstrate participatory engagement of local communities beyond the exhibition styled public consultations. Enabling people to actively contribute in the design process of their neighbourhood will surely result in the construction of projects of greater value and sustainability.
For young practices like SA-A looking to diversify projects and expertise, instead of focusing mainly on residential, the bill could widen opportunities for actual design interventions to improve neglected spaces within local neighbourhoods. Possibilities to work with not-for-profit organisations or groups unable to access the expertise required to articulate their visions for their area, amenities and facilities. Whilst these might start as pro-bono work, this would undoubtedly be more rewarding than architectural competitions as it could lead to work likely to be constructed. This reminds me of the RIBA’s Forgotten Spaces competition held in 2010 and 2011 that is a hybrid of these conceived as an ideas competition for the rejuvenation of neglected spaces in London. I wonder if any of the proposals submitted have ever been realised beyond the competition.
Having concluded that the benefits gained from community projects extend beyond profitability, SA-A will be exploring this sector and sharing the outcomes on this blog. Whilst private residential projects remain the primary focus of the practice, projects that inhabit the public realm offer different sets of challenges, expertise and creativity that will drive the practice forward.
Share your thoughts below on the government’s Big Society and the Localism Bill. What would you like to see developed in your area?