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Jake Stephenson-Bartley: My Experience at The Glass-House

Posted on 22 January 2021

Written by:

Guest Author

My name is Jake and I’m currently studying my Masters in Architecture. I’ve spent the last 2 months working with The Glass-House as part of my studies [12/20].

At the beginning of the academic year [2019], I was concerned with my understanding of the various practices of Public Consultation and how effectively the stakeholder and architect participate with the groups and individuals their project impacts. I undertook primary observational research alongside building a theoretical knowledge from which to understand my question on Public Consultation more thoroughly.

This investigation was a process of me building a foundation of ethical practices towards participation and spatial design. How can we take more care in the participative practices of engaging with the ‘other’ in the future?

As part of my academic research, I approached The Glass-House to understand their role in the greater context of an estate regeneration scheme in the Borough of Brent. For my professional placement, I contacted The Glass-House; hoping to observe their methods of participation and how they interact meaningfully with the groups they work with. I thought it was important to build on my understanding of individuals and groups engaged in the design of their locale.

Finally, a large part of this collaboration between myself and The Glass-House was also to gain confidence in engaging with stakeholders [community, organisations, individuals], especially throughout COVID-19 when our interactions with the other have been limited and it can often feel like I am studying within a vacuum [Me, my laptop, and my four-bedroom walls!].

I made my way out of the train station and oriented myself towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. I remember from my last visit, the office was a little tricky to find, but I knew once I had the cathedral in sight, it was only a short walk away. I made my way down Carter Street, eyes peeled for the entrance into Wardrobe Place. As I entered, I was greeted by The London Planes which created a patchy canopy in the piazza, autumn is in full swing. It had started to rain lightly, the cobblestones that defined the square of the 16th Century Piazza glistened under the sun breaking through the clouds. I was a little nervous. Before I’m able to ring the buzzer I see Grace [Crannis]. She’s the Design Champion for The Glass-House and has been my point of contact for my placement. She takes me on a tour of the building they work in before we settle down in the office to meet Sophia [de Sousa]. Sophia is the Director of Glass-House. Both Sophia and Grace take their time to introduce me to The Glass-House, their history, manifesto, and projects. There is also another member of The Glass-House team, Deborah [Ajia]. I meet with her later on in my placement where we share a virtual cuppa and she introduces me to her role as the Communication Manager and Storyteller.

The Glass-House Community Led Design, similar to maybe what their name suggests; brings clarity and transparency in connecting people with the design of their homes and places. They do this by enabling people and organisations to connect collaboratively through the design of their buildings, neighbourhoods and homes. This contributes as a way for individuals and groups to strengthen their confidence and skills within a process that could otherwise be assumed to be quite alienating.

During my time spent with them I researched/collaborated/contributed/facilitated/enjoyed engaging with the live projects and project archive. They manage to create a platform for collective and collaborative exchanges; equipped with their [online] cabinet of craft curiosities, practical knowledge and resources, playful engagement, and a space for conversation – it is a place for empathetic outbursts, for sympathy and connecting realities in the design of our cities.

For me, The Glass-House embodies a set of caring relations. Proximity (working closely with one another), Reciprocity (the exchange of knowledge), listening, the work of the hands (even now during Covid where engagement has shifted online), shared effective work and the imagination of possible futures (Weil.S). Ideas of Care also play an important role in the development of my own spatial practice and The Glass-House offer practical expressions of caring practices that I have been a part of during my placement with them.

I reflected on my time spent with the Glass-House through a research report that contributes to a personal manifesto. The report reflected on the methodologies of The Glass-House; capturing 3 principles of thought; how they have adapted and negotiated their engagement during the precarity of COVID, and reflecting on the impact The Glass-House have had on various groups and organisations.

Here’s what I have learned during my time with them.

I hope to take, adapt, iterate elements of this engagement ‘model [methodologies, curiosities, tools, practical knowledge]’ within my own work this year and carry it on into my future.

Overall, my experience with The Glass-House has been one of joy. I now feel part of The Glass-House Family and have thoroughly relished the opportunity to work with the team, between the different intersections of their work. This has helped further develop how I might infuse caring practices into my own work. It has also shed light on the role empathy can play in connecting the realities and developing collective values. Giving emotions and desires of groups a tangible form to work with, through the catalyst of design. The Glass-House community have become part of my network of collaborators, they have offered support, guidance, and the opportunity to work with them in future to nurture my facilitation skills and interactions with those engaged with the design of their locale.

Thank you, The Glass-House! Sophia, Grace, and Deborah.