The involvement of students in live and engagement projects outside the studio has gained traction in the last two decades within the art and architectural disciplines (Bishop 2012, Watt and Cottrell 2006). In such practice, students are exposed to the ‘outside world’ and put their skill and expertise into motion for the design and/or construction of a real life brief. Yet what happens to the live project when educators, who act as gatekeepers for students and communities reconfigure their pedagogical practice towards online teaching? This paper charts the trajectory of a participation module developed within the pandemic and examines how students negotiated their own relationships with communities and the physical space. Situated in the traditions of action research and urban activism, students experimented with participatory tools to identify inhabiting practices in the urban realm and generated spatial interventions as dialogic interpretations. This paper critically reflects on how repositioning tutors from foreground to background, opened a space for students to develop their own lines of enquiry, creative methods and reflexivity in relation with the knowledge of community participants. The argument is underpinned by principles of critical pedagogy (Freire 1970) and a claim for a social ontology (Nancy 2000) as part of a dialogic process of learning. The authors urge for exploring methodologies that afford opportunities for reciprocal relations between students and civil society. Ultimately, such engagement in the ‘outside world’ provides the frame not only for practising discipline-specific skills but transforms students into active citizens, thus promoting a sense of empowerment.
Daniel Mallo is Senior Lecturer in Architecture at Newcastle University. His research focuses on socially engaged spatial practice and activism. His practice-led research includes participatory projects with a variety of UK and international institutions, including Creative Partnerships (UK), KU Leuven (Belgium) as well as ESRC funded projects (UK).
Armelle Tardiveau is Senior Lecturer in Architecture and Degree Programme Director of the BA (Hons) Architecture and Urban Planning at Newcastle University. Armelle is a design practitioner, educator and researcher working in multi-disciplinary teams with artists, landscape architects and ethnographers. She specialises in participatory design methods and activists interventions to trigger change and processes of co-production in the public realm;
Dr Siobhan O’Neill is a Research Fellow on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Wastes and Strays: the past, present and future of English urban commons’ at the University of Portsmouth. Her research focuses on applied performance, socially engaged pedagogy, cities and the commons. As a theatre-maker and researcher, Siobhan works with communities to create participatory encounters as a collaborative investigation in to lived experience. She has worked with many arts organisations and charities, including the National Theatre, the Welcome Trust, the Royal Opera House and Irish in Britain;
Dr Abigail Schoneboom is an ethnographer and Lecturer in Urban Planning at Newcastle University. Her research focuses on sustainability, technology and cities and has been published in journals such as Work, Employment and Society and Organization. She has a MEng degree from Oxford University and a PhD in sociology from the City University of New York;
Sarah Bird is a graduate from the BA (Hons) Architecture and Urban Planning. Sarah was involved in a participatory student project during the pandemic exploring Urban Commons through creative practice. She is now part of the Dwellbeing, a community group and co-operative whose aim is to empower community members to play an active role in shaping life in the neighbourhood of Shieldfield (Newcastle upon Tyne).