Participatory Design



The concept of a design movement which speaks and listens to all parts of society challenges a lot of what we might think of about art and design, and who it is for. It means that space can be designed with the needs and interests of many people in mind. It is a collaborative process which brings the community into design, and design into the community.

It is essential to think about the process of design in the modern world as something not only for an exclusive group of people, or for trained designers to be in control of, but something which will be part of a diverse world. Participatory design uses affordable materials to create art which works for the majority. It is an approach to design which gets people together sharing ideas.

Participatory design is a collaboration between artists and citizens. It is a kind of social democracy which values different viewpoints and experiences as part of the creative process. For example, the Kulturklammer group’s project in Belgrade where residents of the city took part in a workshop to share their memories and personal histories of the city -the public space which connects them – to create a ‘remembrance map’ and ‘revive the spirit of Belgrade’. The idea of creating solidarity between the people is just as important as the design. The participation means that individuals feel involved and that the work belongs to them.

Assembles working practice seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made.

Many modern art/design/architecture groups are using this approach to bring together communities and interact with them to create projects which are useful and meaningful. The results are often more innovative because they bring together different types of people rather than just designers. Another example is Earsay, who work with people from many different social groups to build bridges between the arts, and between many types of people.



Assemble (2016) Info Available at: Accessed February 2016

Earsay (2016) News and Events Available at: Accessed February 2016

KultureKlammer (2016) Memory Archive of Belgrade Available at: Accessed February 2016

Schuler, D. and Namioka, A. ed. (1993) Participatory Design: Principles and Practices New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers

Simonsen, J and Robertson, T. ed. (2013) Routledge International Handbook of Participatory Design New York: Routledge


Visual Essay


 The imposing entrance – words are treasures here


Newton absorbed in his work – grand symbol of British knowledge


Different sized squares / Invisibile steps


The inner entrance – a man sits on brass sculpture bench 


Steps and slopes and a pinkish glow 


Geometric Layers

12825620_10208515314585511_110777344_n.jpgHanging Lights


Stillness and movement 


Gentle curves and straight light lines – functional space 

Everywhere there is a gentle glow 


Natural Light


Balconies and windows

12769472_10208515314505509_2092908021_n.jpgThe red brick wall comes to life 

12825419_10208515316745565_807981011_n.jpg a wider view looking up 

12825173_10208515313745490_1993658861_n.jpgopen space, light looking down

12804460_10208515315505534_1119536653_n.jpgalice in wonderland exhibition in black white and red 

12825635_10208515314305504_1157109632_n.jpgwall of books


Creation from Catastrophe

How Architecture Rebuilds Communities


Starting from the Great Fire of London in 1666, the ‘Creation from Catastrophe’ exhibition takes us on a journey through a series of major man-made and natural disasters which have hit cities around the world, from the 18th century earthquake in Lisbon, to the 19th century Chicago fire, from Japan after the Second World War, up to present-day earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and nuclear disasters in Nepal, Nigeria, Japan, Chile, Pakistan and the USA. With each story of destruction comes rebuilding, and the hope and opportunity that comes with it.


The London we know is very different to the crowded mass of tall, wooden houses and narrow streets of the mediaeval time which came before the Great Fire. Huge parts of the city were destroyed during those four days which would change London forever. But as the people watched over the flames swallowing up their homes from tents outside of the city, they were already making plans. And while Charles II called out for ideas to replan the entire city, the people were already rebuilding it. The exhibition displays 5 proposals for a new London of the future. Christopher Wren’s ‘glorious design’ for a ‘dramatic reconfiguration’ of the city, of wider streets and piazzas inspired by Rome and Paris, was too expensive and complicated to build. While many of Wren’s great buildings and churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral, still stand today, most of London’s houses were rebuilt where they had been before, but this time in brick and stone instead of wood.


The exhibition then moves on and across the world, through the many ways in which nature has shaken and broken human architecture and how humans have caused the destruction of our own cities. But the exhibition’s masterplans, photography, film and architectural models show that architecture looks forward in moments of tragedy, and views disaster as an opportunity to change and improve circumstances for survivors and the next generations. In 1945, in the devastation of post-war Japan, a group of Japanese teenagers formed the architectural movement ‘Metabolism’ which ‘imagines cities as living, moving and evolving entities’. This new approach for redevelopment of post-disaster cities around the world has been used by many different international projects which try to re-imagine man’s relationship with nature. For example, building tsunami-hit cities away from the coast behind natural forest barriers, or teaching people how to rebuild their own homes from bamboo or other strong materials. This tiny exhibition is a hopeful journey through history and into the future of ‘the evolving relationship between man, architecture and nature’.

Narrative In Design


The relationship between narrative and design is a very important one. Narrative works with space differently to how we think of linear narrative in literature or film. In design, narrative is a kind of picture of time. The space tells its own story, and yet this changes depending on who is there – who is experiencing the space. This is because we bring our own personal stories into what we see, and this influences the way we feel about design. This means that spatial design is always an interactive process between the space itself and the personal identity of the people who move through the space. Designing space is a kind of communication with many possible stories, and we can’t always predict what these will be.


Narrative is how we all make sense of our world. Some people describe it as a kind of thread which connects all our meaningful experiences – the images we see, the smells, sounds, feelings we have as we move through time. It is impossible for us to imagine life without narrative, because we can only make sense of all the chaos of life through finding stories within it. In this way narrative is always a kind of communication.


Nigel Coates says that ‘the built environment always communicates’, and it is particularly interesting to think of how a building is expressive of a story. Coates uses the examples of the ‘glossy tallness’ of financial centres in great cities, and how these communicate economic power, then he compares these to derelict buildings, and how they ‘disclose’ a ‘story of decline’. This means that buildings cannot be separated from where they exist, in space or time, and that they can only communicate to people who understand the cultural significance of their design. Their visual identity is a story which can change. In a way, we can decide how we experience space. In another way, space can surprise us. Some designs are surreal, and take us through unexpected twists and turns.



Borson, B. (2013) Life of An Architect: Narrative as Design Process Available at: Accessed February 2016

Coates, N. (2012) Narrative Architecture Chichester: John Wiley

Potteiger, M, and Puriton, J. (1998) Landscape Narratives: Design Practices for Telling Stories New York: John Wiley



Sensory Design

Architecture is not something you visualise, or just what surrounds you. You experience architecture through at least seven senses, beginning with: sight, hearing, smell, touch, movement, bodily awareness and even taste. This means that we don’t just look at the environment around us: we live in it, and move through it, and experience it in ways we are not even consciously aware of. When we share our opinions of space we may not realise that we are responding to our associations about different materials, colours, shapes and the space in between each of these. The way we might respond to a material could be through a powerful feeling of what that material means. Spaces interact with us through communicating with who we are, and what we have experienced previously. Zumthor says: ‘material is stronger than an idea, it’s stronger than an image because it’s really there, and it’s there in its own right.’ This means that the material also interacts with its environment – with the light at a certain time of day, with the trees and plants around it at a certain time of year, with the weather, with the other materials reflected around it. This means we have to think about design as part of the space around it and part of the people and cultures who experience it.


Sensory design is three dimensional. Its power is in that it goes beyond an image on one surface like a painting. It is something which exists in time, can be touched, seen at different angles, we can move through it, we can see the landscape around it change. We can even build up and change our impressions of three-dimensional design because we and the design both exist in time, and are influenced by time in different ways. We need to ‘be present’ to understand this properly. Our bodily awareness is an interesting part of this. We are fragile, small and made of ageing and soft materials. We experience buildings as large and alien to us, and need their protection. We may not think about this, but it is all part of the experience.


Arch Daily (2014) “Building Atmosphere” with Peter Zumthor and Juhani Pallasmaa Available at:   Accessed January 2015

Pallasma, J. (2012) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses Chichester: Wiley

Mace, V. (2015) Spatial Experiences: Inhabiting the Transition Space Available at: Accessed February 2016

Robinson, S. and Pallasma, J. ed. (2015) Mind in Architecture: Neuroscience, Embodiment, and the Future of Design Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press

Totten, C. W. (2014) Approach to Level Design Virginia: CRC Press