This paper discusses a case study; an interactive stage set designed by a group of postgraduate students for the Literacy Pirates charity, as part of their curriculum. It examines the role of real-life community-oriented design projects developed as part of the curriculum, in the context of the UK higher education’s controversial neoliberal direction. Academia is constantly changing and is considered to be in a transitional state – of ‘crisis’ according to many – in the UK and beyond. Its identity and purpose are being re-negotiated. Its role to be both speculative and pragmatic is challenged at times, by various constraints. With the introduction and increase of fees, as well as the subsequent shift in the perception of academia, studies are being commodified. The discourse shifts from the collective to the individual; it is no longer about the role of the university, education, critical debate for the common good, but rather a currency for individual exchange. Several conversations have been raised on this topic, many of which idealise the former state of academia and demonise any change, whereas others support the current paradigm as the only way forward. Within this debate, this paper examines the possibility of re-introducing shared values through the development of community oriented real-life design projects. It examines how the role of higher education to generate critical thinking and healthy debate – rather than merely complying to the needs of the market – can be reinstated in the current times of crisis. Real-life projects that work with – and empower – local communities can potentially achieve the above and can orient the conversation into how academia can drive critical thinking and critical conversations for making the world a better place for all.
Anastasia Karandinou is an architect and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture of the UEL, where she is Course Leader of the MA Interior Design. The Masters studio she leads explores design as a medium for social and political change. She recently co-led the British Council funded project ‘Cities in Transition’ in Ankara, which explored issues of migrant and minority ethnic groups in rapidly emerging urban developments. Following her PhD in Edinburgh, she represented Greece at the Venice Biennale of Architecture as the main designer of the ‘Athens by Sound’ project; an immersive interactive sound mapping installation. In 2017 she led the international conference Data & Senses, supported by RIBA and Arup, and this led to the publication of her latest edited book with Routledge, ‘Data, Architecture and the Experience of Place’.