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Place Equity: From the Inside, a blog from two perspectives

Posted on 10 February 2022

Written by:

Guest Author

By Emily Crompton and Andreea Rusu

From a Tutor’s Perspective:

It was with complete enthusiasm I took the opportunity for PRAXXIS’s BA3 students to work with The Glass-House on an event as part of the 2021/22 WEdesign series, Local Places, Global Issues. We selected the theme of Place Equity, as this linked incredibly well to our BA3 design studio projects which began with students reading and creating collages based on Leslie Kern’s ‘The Feminist City’ for inspiration about how cities can be more equitable. It was a fantastic opportunity for students to learn some engagement skills and tap into different people’s knowledge of their site and issues that they would be tackling throughout their academic year. 

As a tutor, I developed a workshop programme and used the sub-topics of Practice, Policy, Community and Education to discuss Place Equity, using a local place to test some of the ideas through a co-design activity.  It was the first time many of my students had done anything like this, and having the majority of their architectural education delivered via screens it was a great challenge to try and deliver a workshop in-person as well as on screen, all at the same time! 

Students were provided with some examples of equitable projects which fell under the four headings of Practice, Policy, Community and Education. This activity introduced the students to projects they had not heard of and allowed them to rehearse any potential issues that may arise in discussion ahead of the workshop. After the workshop, the students reflected that within the workshop itself they found these sub-topics incidental, and that the theme of Place Equality allowed for a vibrant and in-depth discussion about what that meant when applied to cities and place making. 

The student’s site for their third year project is next to The Pankhurst Centre, where the suffrage movement began in Manchester, and therefore this site was the focus for the collaborative task during the Place Equity event. Students had to introduce the participants to the site and then engage them in a discussion. The main activity in the workshop was a collaging task, done through Miro in the digital spaces and with physical collaging resources in the in-person space. Students selected a range of precedents of open space for participants to use to co-design through discussion with students a public space suitable for the location.

 We brought our online guests and our in-person guests together at certain points during the workshop, with varying degrees of success. Thankfully, all of our participants were very patient and as we settled into the programme the technical issues faded away and discussions began in earnest. It was brilliant at the end to be able to share ideas and thoughts between the different groups. We learned a lot about the mechanics of Zoom and Miro during this process. 

Ideas such as street lighting and greenery were central to most of the proposed public space designs, but many participants challenged the students’ preconceptions about the site, and the students have been able to take on the ideas co-developed and shared into their own proposals. 

From a tutor’s perspective, the workshop gave students the confidence to make marks on the site, and to experiment with form. They immediately had a good understanding of the scale of the site and were now well versed in the constraints and opportunities. They found it helpful to speak with such a diverse range of people, from both inside and outside built environment professions. 

From a Student’s Perspective:

On first learning PRAXXIS would help organise the ‘Place Equity: Making great public spaces a reality for everyone’ workshop together with The Glass-House, we were intrigued, enthusiastic and determined to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. The theme of the workshop resonated greatly with our atelier’s position as a feminist and intersectional studio, and we felt that collaborating through the event was a noteworthy opportunity to dive deeper into the topic.

Our tutors’ enthusiasm about the activity was contagious from the get-go. In our usual studio room, we gathered to brainstorm ideas, draw diagrams, research precedents, make schedules and split tasks, all of which concluded into our very first attempt at team work as an atelier.

On the day of the event, there was some uncertainty as to how the workshop would turn out. I remember anxiously asking myself: ‘What if nobody shows up?’. Or, even worse: ‘What if they show up and do not engage?’.

Luckily, that was not the case at all. To our pleasant surprise, what we assumed would be an activity led mostly by us (both in-person and online), actually turned out to be majoritively led by participants and their fun, spontaneous ideas. It was beyond inspiring to see the way participants utilised their creativity in such a short time, and the various strategies and solutions they brought forward for a site they have learnt about just minutes before. They were not aware of our behind-the-scenes worries that we were not sticking to the planned schedule or that we were time pressed; they were solely focused on creating whilst having a blast.

At the end, we were happy and proud as the participants presented their proposals with enthusiasm. Before we knew it, we suddenly had our hands on countless site ideas and conclusions that we might have not come up with on our own and that would certainly come in handy for our own feminist proposals we will be developing throughout the year.

Andreea Rusu is a third year student at the Manchester School of Architecture. Born and raised in Targu Mures, Romania, she graduated from a Mathematics and Computer Science class at Unirea National College and is currently part of MSA’s PRAXXIS Atelier which takes a feminist approach on architectural and urban design.

Emily Crompton is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester School of Architecture and teaches within the feminist design atelier PRAXXIS. She has five years of practical experience at URBED, working as an urban designer and architect. Her primary research interest is in collaborative and participatory design, with a focus on engagement methodologies.

Place Equity: Making great public spaces a reality for everyone is part of the WeDesign 2021/22 Series, Local Places, Global Issues. Our next event is in collaboration with students from UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning, Diversifying Design: Urban ecologies with, for and by diverse actors, on Thursday 24 February. Find out more and book your free ticket for this online event here.