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Effrosyni Roussou

ESR9

Effrosyni Roussou is an architect hailing from Nafplion, Greece. She holds a BSc and MSc degree from Democritus University of Thrace in Architectural Engineering (2015), and an MSc degree from Chalmers University of Technology in “Architecture and planning beyond sustainability” (2018). She is currently undertaking the challenge to illustrate the benefits of a commons-oriented and community engaged design & build pedagogy, and develop an educational framework and provide the tools for employing hands-on participatory design methodologies in architectural education through transdisciplinary design-and-build activities.

She has worked as a research assistant in several projects as well as a course assistant, coordinator, and project manager for the design-and-build summer course “Dare to Build” at Chalmers University of Technology. Additionally, she is one of the co-founders of the webradio station "Anarres.fm" and a graphic designer and illustrator for the self-organised publishing group "Athanor", based in Athens, Greece.

Her main interests revolve around the interplay between politics, social perspectives, architecture and sustainability and its impact on the shifting role of the architect. A central concept, encompassing all the activities she is engaged in, is the commons: her master thesis at Chalmers (“Co-existing in a crisis-ridden city: Exploring architectural ways to induce commoning practices within an economic crisis context”) aimed at questioning the role of the architect within an anti-hegemonic way of space production and safeguarding the commons.

Research topic

Updated sumaries

August, 29, 2023

April, 11, 2022

September, 17, 2021

A pedagogy of the commons: the co.design.build housing studio

 

In the face of intricate global socio-political and environmental challenges exacerbated by ongoing systemic failures, accessing affordable and sustainable housing and neighbourhoods has become increasingly elusive for a growing number of people, particularly in contexts where welfare policies are limited. The role of architects in spatially shaping these realities has faced criticism for its detachment from real-world concerns, ethical considerations, and its role in reinforcing dominant systems, a detachment that illustrates architecture's historical ties to modernity and capitalism. 

 

Architectural pedagogy and education have contributed significantly to the way architects practice architecture. A significant number of scholars have criticised the underpinnings of the cornerstone of architectural education, the housing design studio, by addressing both the premise, structure, and syllabus, and the hidden curriculum. The traditional housing design studio is designed to operate in isolation from the realities of people, (e.g. increased population mobility, climate crisis, extreme financialisation of housing and commodification of urban life etc.) fostering self-indulgence, self-reference, competitiveness, and a false sense of primacy in spatial matters.  

 

Efforts have emerged to challenge this studio framework. Experimental teaching practices aim to open up architectural education to politically engaged and transdisciplinary learning practices. Participatory design and co-creation methods entered the educational discourse as a way to reconsider both the knowledge, the way it is produced and who gets to be involved in its production. Design & build projects, grounded in reconnecting the architect with the material, increasing their accountability towards users and communities, and aiding them to understand architecture as a node in a web of real-world dependencies. Both of these have sought to decentralise the self-perceived role of the architect within social (re)production and destabilise the stiff boundaries of the discipline.  

 

However, despite the significant proliferation and popularisation of such approaches in recent years, albeit as acupuncture, the persisting stalemate between them and the hegemonic discourses permeating architectural education leaves prospective spatial practitioners with insufficient skills to navigate current realities. This project argues that alternative approaches to architectural education need to be re-contextualised within the broader anti-hegemonic discourse of the commons, and profoundly challenge (1) the nature of the produced knowledge, the way and by whom it is produced,exchanged, and transferred, (2) the hegemonic relations, the culture, norms, and values (re)produced -within and beyond the classroom- that shape the identity and the role of the architect within socio-spatial production and finally (3) the discipline itself, its boundaries, and the formal and informal rules that determine what is acknowledged as (sustainable) architecture.  

 

The project will be carried out mainly qualitatively, by combining Participatory Action Research and Autoethnographic methods, having as a basis of operations the University of Cyprus, and focusing on the broader region of the European South, as crisis-ridden contexts. The educational framework (co.design.build housing studio) that will be developed through this exploration, will be tested in several iterations, to gain insights on its impact primarily on students, and secondly on local participating communities. 

 

Finally, this project aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion about the need to reimagine architectural education at the bachelor level, within and beyond its staple component, the housing design studio, for future spatial practitioners to be able to navigate the increasingly uncertain and volatile current realities. Additionally, through its practical, hands-on socio-spatial outreach and collaboration with local actors, this project aspires to rethink academic institutions as commoning spaces and important actors within spatial production. The final aim of this project is to discuss the need for a critical approach to transdisciplinary collaborations as learning processes, through the notion of commons/commoning. Therefore, the research questions that this project seeks to answer are the following:  

 

  1. What are the underpinnings and pedagogical impact of an effective, engaging, and impactful studio that combines critical co-creation methodologies with a design and build learning environment (co.design.build)? 

  1. How can a co.design.build housing studio become an important actor both in deconstructing norms perpetuated within architectural education through the traditional housing design studio and in advocating-in-action for equitable, affordable and sustainable neighbourhoods, especially in the context of the European South? 

  1. How can the learning process be transformed into a commoning process among students, teachers, and stakeholders through the co.design.build housing studio?

 

Reference documents

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the co.design.build framework, tested in spring/summer 2023

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From creator to enabler: the underpinnings and implications of the co.design.build studio

 

Despite the significant proliferation in the understandings of an architect’s role within a multitude of (spatial) agencies, architectural education remains relatively isolated and impermeable to a radically political interpretation of architecture within the real world. While affordable and sustainable housing & neighbourhoods (ASHN) become an increasingly pressing need towards a sustainable future, the neoliberalisation of strategic visions for the future, such as sustainability, provides a fertile ground for the fragmentation of contemporary challenges in ASHN, leaving room for vague, disconnected and ultimately ineffective responses. In this neoliberal context, rethinking architectural education and bridging the gap between design practice and studio pedagogy becomes imperative.

 

Praxis, as opposed to a traditionally simulative approach, in the form of design-and-build and/or co-creation studios, have been exploring alternative approaches in an attempt to break the isolation of architectural education from contemporary challenges and (re)introduce architecture schools as crucial actors in local communities, especially in northern European and north American contexts. Exposure to real contexts, through co-creation (people needs) or design and build studios (construction/material needs), has aided students in gaining a better understanding of the implications of design for ASHN. There is, however, limited research on the theoretical and methodological underpinnings, as well as the impact of a co-creation and co-design and build studio, especially in the European South.

 

Drawing from critical theories mainly on urban commons, (commoning), participation (cross-benching) and social ecology, the main questions explored through this project are as follows:

 

  1. What are the underpinnings and pedagogical impact of an effective, engaging and impactful transdisciplinary studio that combines critical co-creation methodologies with a design and build learning environment (co.design.build)?
  2. How can a co.design.build studio become an important actor within a more radical understanding of affordable and sustainable housing systems/networks especially in the context of the European South?

 

This project will adopt an action research methodology consisting of four main components: (1) planning, i.e. positioning the project idea within the literature, identifying and analysing relevant study cases, understanding the context and developing the components, strategies, methods and structure of the (2) action, where the idea/pilot syllabus will be tested. During this part (3) systematic data collection will take place, through e.g. observation, interviews, questionnaires in different facets of the process, which will be followed by (4) reflection, analysis, evaluation of the collected data, and the subsequent synthesis into a revised syllabus to be re-tested.

 

The expected outcome of this research is a theoretical and methodological framework for an effective, engaging and impactful co.design.build studio that promotes a radical understanding of sustainability through transdisciplinary, direct action from co-conception to co-construction, and also insights both on the opportunities and implications of its implementation in a southern European context, but also on its applicability in others. Finally, this project aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion on the role of architecture schools -and academic institutions in general- within the affordable and sustainable neighbourhoods vision; as active co-stakeholders, able to achieve a direct and positive impact with and for the communities they are situated in, universities could provide high quality and meaningful education while contributing to a paradigm shift towards a sustainable future.

Reference documents

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The Research Process

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From creator to enabler: the underpinnings and implications of the co.design.build studio

 

Contemporary architectural education, especially in southern European contexts, remains widely ineffective in addressing the increasingly complex and ever-shifting realities that urban dwellers are called to face. While economic fluctuations, climate change and the various political agendas are spawning challenges that are profoundly transforming living environments and reshaping contemporary housing provision, architectural education remains widely unchanged. Persisting normative approaches result in the architect as a detached figure, operating top-down, in a purely theoretical plane and completely cut off from the socio-cultural aspects and implications as well as the end users of their work.

 

Even though design-build courses, as part of architectural curricula around the world, have shown promising results in challenging the archetype of the architect as an omnipotent creator the current focus is -to a large extent- on the development of students’ technical and managerial skills. This project aims to explore the opportunities for radical change within architecture schools, especially in the European south, through the implementation of transdisciplinary, collaborative/multistakeholder co.design.build courses within a social and environmental sustainability framework and a focus on acupuncture interventions on the neighbourhood scale.

 

The research approach that will be followed is community-based participatory action research (CBPAR), which will unfold in two stages: (1) co-creation of the course structure, aims, objectives and approach through workshops with faculty and prospective students and (2) course implementation and testing in two separate iterations (spring & autumn 2023). The second part will involve close monitoring of participants’ (students, teachers, local stakeholders) views and perceptions on the course and their own involvement, before, during and after the completion of each iteration.

 

The expected outcome of this research is a set of strategies in creating and running a transdisciplinary, multistakeholder co.design.build course that “thinks globally but operates locally” as well as a thorough and reflexive evaluation of the experimentation process.

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Navigating Two Realms: A Comparative Exploration of Community-Engaged Architectural Education in Spain and the UK

Posted on 04-12-2023

Embarking on two distinct secondments—one in the vibrant city of Valencia, Spain, from October to December 2022, and the other in heart of Sheffield, UK, from late September to late November 2023—provided me with a unique opportunity to delve into the realms of community-engaged architectural education. Each experience not only offered insights into the diverse approaches of two renowned institutions, the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the Sheffield School of Architecture, but also shed light on the nuances that exist when navigating language barriers and cultural disparities.   Spain: Bridging the Language Gap My first secondment in the Polytechnic University of Valencia presented an initial challenge: a language barrier that I had yet to conquer. My rather non-existent proficiency in Spanish restricted my direct engagement with students, but it did not hinder my ability to observe the innovative pedagogical methods employed by the institution. During my time in Valencia, I witnessed a series of exercises designed to cultivate creativity and empathy among students. These exercises pushed boundaries, encouraging students to think beyond conventional architectural norms. Despite the linguistic challenges, I was able to appreciate the universality of architectural exploration as a means of fostering innovation and expanding students' perspectives. One noteworthy initiative was the participatory design & build activity, "JugaPatraix." Collaborating with the local architectural practice FentEstudi, students engaged in creating small-scale, acupuncture interventions in the Patraix neighbourhood. Drawing inspiration from the unobstructed exploration of toddlers in urban surroundings, these interventions transformed the streets into playful landscapes. The project demonstrated that, with enthusiasm and a modest budget, transformative architectural endeavours can thrive, transcending language barriers.   UK: The Dynamics of Mentorship in Sheffield In Sheffield, my second secondment involved shadowing the "Live Projects" studio—a powerhouse within the Sheffield School of Architecture. Often referred to as the juggernaut of the Architecture School, Live Projects operates as a student-led studio that has built a reputation extending beyond city borders. A notable distinction was the choice of nomenclature; the term "mentor" took precedence over "tutor." This seemingly subtle shift in language encapsulated the essence of the Live Projects studio. Here, teaching staff assumed a guiding role, providing support when necessary, as opposed to the conventional tutorship that typically directs the entire process. This departure from the traditional model showcased a student-centric approach, emphasizing autonomy and self-direction.   Comparative Reflections Both experiences offered invaluable insights into the multifaceted world of community-engaged architectural education. Despite the contrasting contexts, a common thread emerged: the importance of fostering creativity, empathy, and innovation within architectural pedagogy. In Spain, the emphasis on unconventional exercises and participatory design highlighted the potential for transformative architectural interventions, even in the face of language barriers. The JugaPatraix project exemplified how collaborative efforts, driven by a shared passion, can reshape urban landscapes on a tight budget. On the other hand, the Live Projects studio in Sheffield showcased the power of student-led initiatives and the significance of mentorship over traditional tutoring. The dynamic, boundary-crossing reputation of Live Projects underscored the impact that a student-centric model can have, transcending institutional and national boundaries.   Conclusion In retrospect, these secondments were more than a mere exploration of architectural education—they were windows into the dynamic intersection of culture, language, and pedagogy. The experiences in Spain and the UK illuminated the universal capacity of architecture to transcend barriers and foster transformative change. As I reflect on these enriching experiences, I am immensely grateful for the insights gained, the lessons learned, and the enduring impact on my perspective as a participant both in the global discourse of architectural education and in the local context of the University of Cyprus. As I move on to the next phase of my fieldwork, all the questions I carry forward with me begin with the same two words: What if...?   Acknowledgements I would like to thank my co-supervisor, Carla Sentieri for making my stay at UPV as fruitful as possible, and Míriam Rodríguez and Fran Azorín Chico (members of FentEstudi) that allowed me to tag along, ask questions and observe their activities. Then, I would like to thank Karim Hadjri and Krzysztof Nawratek at Sheffield School of Architecture for facilitating all the paperwork as well as Carolyn Butterworth, Daniel Jary and Sam Brown for being more eager to help me out that I would have ever hoped for, Finally, a big thank you to my colleagues Aya Elghandour and Mahmoud Alsaeed for making my stay in Sheffield memorable within and beyond the confines of the Architecture School.

Secondments, Reflections

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Something is blooming in Nicosia: community-engaged design & build activities at UCY School of Architecture

Posted on 21-07-2023

Learning is never confined solely to an institutionalised classroom. - bell hooks, Teaching Community: a pedagogy of hope, 2003     At the end of June, the 1st official iteration of the co.design.build module at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia wrapped up successfully. A semester-long process, based on the co-creation and design & build methodologies resulted in the designing and building of a shaded sitting/meeting platform. The platform, named “Take a seed”, designed for the Latsia Highschool courtyard, aims to encourage user appropriation and foster a feeling of collectiveness, also considering educational aspects around native plants through the inclusion of a system for planting and seed distribution.   The co.design.build module involved three different courses: The Y2 housing co-creation studio, titled “co-creating urban commons: from the home to the neighbourhood”, in which students were tasked with critically think about the notions of “housing”, “sharing”, “co-living” and the “commons”, and designing housing that reflects their own positioning about these concepts. They were also asked to contemplate on the role of the local high school in Latsia’s suburb as a potential focal point in the future neighbourhood and spatially translate their vision in collaboration with the Y3 & Y4 students and with the high school students that participated in the semester-long co-creation workshops; The Y3, Y4 co-design course, titled “co-design, co-build, co-inhabit: co-creation from design to construction”, in which students collaborated with with high school students to co-design in detail small-scale spatial interventions answering to the actual needs of the school users, while promoting social interaction, encouraging appropriation; and The Y2, Y3, Y4 summer course, titled “co-design, co-build, co-inhabit: all hands on deck!”, in which students were tasked with constructing a selected project from the co-design course and delivering it to its users.   All of these different educational activities were created to both illustrate the dependencies of architecture, but also to challenge the ever persisting modernist, hetero-patriarchal norms, behavioural codes and stereotypes of the architect as an identity (what Jeremy Till refers to as “architecture culture” [1]), as well as their role in society. In the hopes of subverting false ideas of a detached practice, often unconsciously perpetuated within architecture schools, students were asked to navigate diverse situations, not necessarily confined to what would traditionally be considered “architectural”: from translating concepts into spatial elements, to conversing with stakeholders; or from managing social media campaigns, to solving material shortage problems. In essence, students were asked to find their bearings within a continuous fluctuation between real-world conditions and abstract imaginaries, beyond architecture and into spatial agency [2].   Specifically, during the final stage of the co.design.build module – the “building phase” –, students were asked to assume different mantles; builder, communicator, researcher, carer, mediator, enabler, among others. Within three weeks of continuous shifting between roles, of collective effort towards a goal with real impact on the high school community, students exhibited increasing levels of confidence in their own abilities, and their growing eagerness to take initiative and their ability to work together was translated into instances of self-organisation. Ultimately, this stage allowed each member of the group to bring in their own unique set of capabilities and personality and contribute in diverse, yet equally meaningful ways.   While all the activities of which the co.design.build module consists fall under a mode of learning called “experiential”, i.e. learning through experiencing [3], this final stage is perhaps a learning environment that ties experiencing with empathising. All this mantle-changing, the different roles and situations to which students are exposed, shifts “being” an architect, into “becoming” a spatial agent. While “being” signifies the uncritical appropriation of the norms and stereotypes that have been dominating architectural education, “becoming” implies motion, a constant re-working and re-discovery of the self, the knowledge and the tools we use, a joyful thrusting into new frontiers [4]. Architectural education, especially in challenging local contexts (post-colonial, developing, etc.), needs pedagogical vessels that fundamentally challenge architecture culture, which operate through tactical and direct action within the margins of the market economy, towards the creation of meaningful spaces for local communities.   There is still a lot of work to be done, but the aspiration for the co.design.build module for the future is to become a threshold, a gateway from architecture into spatial agency, and a medium through which the Architecture School of the University of Cyprus can become a crucial actor in matters concerning spatial interventions in Nicosia. After all, as Harris & Widder say, “the reality of building can only be experienced by building reality” [5].   If you would like to meet this year’s team, follow this spring semester’s project(s) and browse through past ones, follow us on social media: https://www.instagram.com/cocreationstudio.ucy/  https://www.tiktok.com/@takeaseed/                 [1] Till, J. (2009). Architecture Depends. The MIT Press. [2] Awan, N., Schneider, T., & Till, J. (2011). Spatial Agency: Other Ways Of Doing Architecture. Routledge. [3] John Dewey was a scholar of education who first developed the theory around experiential learning in 1938. [4] Sewell, J. I. (2014). “becoming rather than being”: Queer’s double-edged discourse as deconstructive practice. In Journal of Communication Inquiry (Vol. 38, Issue 4, pp. 291–307). SAGE Publications Inc. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002714553900 [5] Harriss, H., & Widder, L. (2014). Architecture live projects pedagogy into practice.

Reflections

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Kick-off of a new adventure!

Posted on 18-07-2021

So, this is it. I am here, in 40°C Nicosia, and I’m -digitally- surrounded by awesome people who are going to be my peers and colleagues for the next three years. I must say, I feel a mixture of awe and agitation at what lies ahead of me in this journey. This is why I paired this text with an image of Bilbo Baggins, about to leave Hobbiton behind; because I see a bit of myself in him: clearly out of my comfort zone but nonetheless excited to join this journey! On the 3rd of July we began our 4-day kick-off sessions as a digital meet-and-greet and tuning-in workshop. It felt quite awkward in the beginning, as it is expected when 40+ people meet online for the very first time, but very productive too. I was happy to listen to different perspectives on the meanings of key terms in this endeavour, such as sustainability and transdisciplinarity and try to understand or imagine where everyone’s definitions and opinions come from, what has influenced their way of thinking and steered them in a certain direction. But I was more than happy to already feel a sense of community with my team members, the 14 ESRs with whom I will be working. Through our shared confusion on what happens next, the everyday struggles to settle in new places, surround ourselves with new people and build a new “home” and the hints of insecurity peeking through those moments of sharing all the aforementioned, made me realise that I am indeed not alone in this, neither professionally, nor mentally. And there’s nothing better than finding such ties, or “making kin”, in a world that pushes us to compete, so that the strongest can survive and succeed. After all, as Jack Halberstam* once pointed out, the notion of a universal definition of success is rooted in the western economic system under which we live. But to not wander further away, I’ll just say that it was a highly enjoyable 4-day session, albeit overwhelming at times and I’m looking forward to delving deeper into everyone’s insights on this complicated task we are called to tackle. I really look forward to sharing knowledge and learning from everyone and that’s what I’m primarily here to do. I am here to learn, and the truth is I will never stop being “here to learn”. I will leave you with a quote from a beloved book that has accompanied me since I was a teenager:                 "[…] I will face my fear.                  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.                 And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.                 Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."  - Frank Herbert, in Dune   *If you’d like to delve deeper into how our perception of success is shaped by heteronormative capitalism, check out Halberstam’s book “The queer art of failure”.

Workshops

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Case studies

Contributions to the case study library

Vocabulary

Contributions to the vocabulary

Co-creation

Design Activism

Spatial Agency

Sustainability

Area: Community participation

In a broader sense, co-creation means the joint effort of bringing something new to fruition through acts of collective creativity (Sanders & Stappers, 2008) which can be manifested in both tangible (making something together) or intangible (learning something together) outcomes (Puerari et al., 2018). Recently, the concepts of co-creation or co- production have been applied to describe the processes of participation in urban planning and design. Both terms place particular emphasis on the partnerships formed between citizens and the public sector, in which a high level of citizen involvement is pivotal. Participation has been defined through its different levels of citizen involvement, ranging from non-participation to greater degrees of citizen control (Arnstein, 1969) indicating the different levels of influence a participant can have on a participatory process. From the perspective of urban planning, citizen participation is beginning to be described as co-creation when citizens’ roles become more prominent, presenting aspects of self-organisation, increased commitment and a sense of ownership of the process (Puerari et al., 2018). Recent research is exploring new methods of urban planning in which citizens, the municipality and private organisations co-create new planning rules (Bisschops & Beunen, 2019). However, co-creation along with co-production and participation, often used interchangeably, have become popular catchphrases and are considered as processes which are of virtue in themselves. Furthermore, while there is substantial research on these processes, the research conducted on the outcomes of enhanced participation remains rather limited (Voorberg et al., 2015). This highlights the ambiguity in terms of interpretation; is co-creation a methodology, a set of tools to enhance and drive a process, or a goal in itself? (Puerari et al., 2018). There have often been cases where participation, co-creation and co-production have been used decoratively, as a form of justification and validation of decisions already made (Armeni, 2016). In the provision of public spaces, co-creation/co-production may specifically involve housing (Brandsen & Helderman, 2012; Chatterton, 2016) and placemaking: “placemaking in public space implies engaging in the practice of urban planning and design beyond an expert culture. Such collaboration can be described as co-creation.” (Eggertsen Teder, 2019, p.290). As in participation, co-creation requires the sharing of decision-making powers, the creation of  joint knowledge and the assignation of abilities between communities, while urban professionals and local authorities should draw attention to the active involvement of community members. Furthermore, co-creation does not take place in a vacuum, but always occurs within socio- spatial contexts. This points to the objective of co-creation as a tool to influence locally relevant policy through innovation that is “place-based”. To conclude, co-creation can be perceived as a process that is both transdisciplinary in its application, and as a tool for achieving transdisciplinarity on a broader scale through a systematic integration in existing standard practices in urban planning, housing design and architecture. Despite the persisting ambiguity in its definition, co-creation processes can provide more inclusive platforms for revisiting and informing formal and informal knowledge on sustainable and affordable housing.

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9), A.Panagidis (ESR8)

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Area: Community participation

Activism as a term illustrating the urban phenomena of citizen mobilisation and direct action(s) towards political, social and environmental change that emerged during the early 20th century (Hornby, 1995). Seen also as a “means of overcoming alienation” (Graeber, 2009, p. 231), numerous forms of activism were significantly influenced by the Situationist International, which advocated the creation of spontaneous, subversive “situations” as a response to the increasing commodification and individualisation of everyday life (Debord, 1992). In this sense, activism can be seen as a means to repoliticise and breathe meaning into an everydayness[1] characterised by passive bystanding and to create instances where people are able to redefine their agency as urban dwellers and political subjects[2] (Graeber, 2009). Design activism has been defined as any practice that “draws attention to change in the context of design through positive experimentation and action, introducing a designerly way of intervening into people’s lives” (Mallo et al., 2020, p. 102). According to Markussen (2013), it reflects the role and potential of various design fields in (1) promoting social change, (2) express values and beliefs in a tangible way and (3) question the systemic constraints that impact people’s daily lives. Due to the rising levels of precarity, caused by the increasing neoliberalisation of politics, policies and everyday life on a global scale (Brown, 2015), design activism in architecture and urban planning (often associated with DIY urbanism) has been gaining traction over the past decades among scholars and practitioners, as a transformative means of renegotiating the role of architecture and planning within the mechanisms of spatial production, as well as reasserting citizens’ agency over their urban environment (Markussen, 2023). Design activism in architecture may operate both symbolically, in order to illustrate and highlight socio-spatial injustice (e.g. Santiago Cirugeda’s[3] insect house) and pragmatically, through the creation (disruptive) of spatial configurations “across a number of people and artefacts” (Mallo et al., 2020, p. 102), in a direct-action manner, with the aim of improving people’s livelihoods. Direct action can be “any collective undertaking that is both political in intent and carried out in the knowledge that it might be met with hostility […]” (Graeber, 2009, p. 359). The element of direct action emphasises both the immersiveness, the astute responsiveness to actual circumstances and the moving away from a general, pre-defined, vague and ultimately co-opted “social good” (Fuad-Luke, 2017), towards a more situated understanding of urban space and people’s needs. Collaborative, “unalienating” acts of urban creativity, connect (architectural) design activism to practices such as participatory design, co-creation and concepts like spatial agency, all of which employ different means to reassert urban dwellers’ position as crucial and indispensable parts in decision-making processes. Scholarly criticisms towards design activism focus on its temporal and experimental nature, which renders quantifying and crystallising the long-term effect on urban landscapes and dwellers difficult (Mallo et al., 2020). Arguably, its situatedness may also pose an obstacle towards the creation of any universal toolkit, strategy or course of action that could be transferable to different contexts and employed to tackle varying circumstances. It remains, however, a vital phenomenon towards fostering agency and a shared sense of citizenship and camaraderie, repoliticising architecture and planning practices, as well as nurturing a culture of working (ant)agonistically towards incremental change in the cities, one intervention at a time.          [1] Georg Simmel described and everydayness where bystanding and lack of concern are primary “symptoms of what he called “blasé attitude”. This term emerged so as to illustrate the overstimulating everydayness of the sprawling capitalist metropolises of the late 19th - early 20th century that renders individuals idle (“The metropolis and mental life”, first published in 1903). Contrary to Simmel, Michel de Certeau posits that individuals operating under imposed regulations and conditions, may find ways to interpret them differently, even subvert them, often by unconsciously utilising systems of socio-cultural references that may deviate from the dominant one(s) (De Certeau, 1984). [2] “A subject develops an understanding of itself as a political subject only by executing decisive political actions” (Calcagno, 2008) [3] More information on this project can be found here: https://unprojects.org.au/article/architecture-on-the-fringes-of-legality-santiago-cirugeda-kyohei-sakaguchi/ & here: https://www.cca.qc.ca/actions/fr/node/82

Created on 13-02-2024

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

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Area: Community participation

 “Spatial agency”, a term popularised by Jeremy Till, Tatjana Schneider, and Nishat Awan (Awan et al., 2011; Schneider & Till, 2009) emerged from two growing demands: firstly, the need to decentralise the normative practice and role of architecture within spatial production, and secondly to expand the profession, by elevating diverse human and non-human actors, and various practices that move beyond the confines of what is typically understood as architecture (Lorne, 2017). Ignited by Cedric Price’s call for disrupting the idea that a building is the direct and solely available solution to spatial matters (Matthews, 2006), and drawing upon Lefebvre’s notion of “right to the city” (Lorne, 2017; Purcell, 2014), spatial agency aims to challenge the hegemonic status quo in spatial production by shifting the focus from the urban environment as a collection of tangible objects, to a dynamic socio-political process, and an entanglement of actors and practices that shape it and are shaped in return. Spatial agency Space, according to Lefebvre is a social product (1991, p. 360). This acknowledgment primarily highlights three facts: (1) there is no neutrality when it comes to the production of space. Space is the result of an agonistic relation between the components of the conceptual triad of space[1], resulting from the various conflicts and clashes between social groups with different interests, values, and backgrounds (Awan et al., 2011; Lefebvre, 1991). (2) There is a clear distinction and yet a “contradictory unity” between the exchange value, i.e. the usefulness of a commodity in terms of its capacity to generate economic revenue within the market, and the use value, i.e. the usefulness of a commodity in terms of its effective response to an actual need (Pitts, 2021, p. 36). Within the current economic system, more often than not, the exchange value overpowers the use value (Purcell, 2014). (3) To ensure that the use value of a given space is guaranteed, spatial production should not be the sole domain of experts and those who hold power, but rather citizens and stakeholders should engage in “real and active participation” (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 145; Purcell, 2014). Spatial agency All of the above attempt to answer the question on who should have agency over spatial production, beyond the mandates of the current economic system. Anthony Giddens defined “agency” as a notion in a perpetuate dialectic relation with “structure” (1987, p. 220). While agency is the capacity of an individual to decide and act freely, structure outlines the framework of rules, constraints and limitations that shape a society, and both function as interrelated notions (i.e. none may exist without the other). Awan, Till & Schneider follow Giddens’ take on agency, which dictates that no one -and nothing- is either “completely free […] or completely entrapped by structure” (2011, p. 32), but rather somewhere in between.  This means that space neither entirely shapes society, nor is it entirely defined by society, and “spatial agents” neither act in full freedom nor are they fully restrained by structure. This creates a contextual dependency (different contexts bear different “restraints”) that emphasises the situatedness of any practice within the scope of spatial agency. Spatial agency Spatial agency refers to the capacity of individuals or groups to actively shape and transform their built environment. It is a term that transcends and expands architecture, re-emphasises the need for a critical and politically conscious approach in spatial production and seeks to illustrate both an education and practice of synergies that puts “spatial judgement, mutual knowledge and critical awareness” at the forefront (Awan et al., 2011, p. 34; Lorne, 2017). Through spatial agency, one may embrace the uncertainties that emerge within the highly agonistic and dynamic nature of spatial production.       [1] The conceptual spatial triad, as iterated by Henri Lefebvre: space is not a monolith of tangible, physical elements, but rather it exists on different planes of understanding. Those planes are the perceived space (spatial practice), i.e. what one can see and feel around them, the lived space (representational space), which reflects the everydayness, the activities and the social life, and the conceived space (representations of space), i.e. the projections, plans and ideas on how a space could be used. 

Created on 30-01-2024

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

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Area: Community participation

Sustainability is primarily defined as 'the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment' (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, n.d.) and is often used interchangeably with the term “sustainable development”(Aras & Crowther, 2009). As defined by the UN, sustainable development is the effort to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987) and is often interpreted as the strategies adopted towards sustainability with the latter being the overall goal/vision (Diesendorf, 2000). Both of these relatively general and often ambiguous terms have been a focal point for the past 20 years for researchers, policy makers, corporations as well as local communities, and activist groups, among others, (Purvis et al., 2019). The ambiguity and vagueness that characterise both of these terms have contributed to their leap into the global mainstream as well as the broad political consensus regarding their value and significance (Mebratu, 1998; Purvis et al., 2019), rendering them one of the dominant discourses in environmental, socio-political and economic issues (Tulloch, 2013). It is, however, highly contested whether their institutionalisation is a positive development. Tulloch, and Tulloch & Nielson (2013; 2014) argue that these terms -as they are currently understood- are the outcome of the “[colonisation of] environmentalist thought and action” which, during the 1960s and 1970s, argued that economic growth and ecological sustainability within the capitalist system were contradictory pursuits. This “colonisation” resulted in the disempowerment of such discourses and their subsequent “[subordination] to neoliberal hegemony” (Tulloch & Neilson, 2014, p. 26). Thus, sustainability and sustainable development, when articulated within neoliberalism, not only reinforce such disempowerment, through practices such as greenwashing, but also fail to address the intrinsic issues of a system that operates on, safeguards, and prioritises economic profit over social and ecological well-being (Jakobsen, 2022). Murray Bookchin (1982), in “The Ecology of Freedom” contends that social and environmental issues are profoundly entangled, and their origin can be traced to the notions of hierarchy and domination. Bookchin perceives the exploitative relationship with nature as a direct outcome of the development of hierarchies within early human societies and their proliferation ever since. In order to re-radicalise sustainability, we need to undertake the utopian task of revisiting our intra-relating, breaking down these hierarchical relations, and re-stitching our social fabric. The intra-relating between and within the molecules of a society (i.e. the different communities it consists of) determines how sustainability is understood and practised (or performed), both within these communities and within the society they form. In other words, a reconfigured, non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relationship is the element that can allow for an equitable, long-term setting for human activity in symbiosis with nature (Dempsey et al., 2011, p. 290). By encouraging, striving for, and providing the necessary space for all voices to be heard, for friction and empathy to occur, the aforementioned long-term setting for human activity based on a non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relating is strengthened, which augments the need for various forms of community participation in decision-making, from consulting to controlling. From the standpoint of spatial design and architecture, community participation is already acknowledged as being of inherent value in empowering communities (Jenkins & Forsyth, 2009), while inclusion in all facets of creation, and community control in management and maintenance can improve well-being and social reproduction (Newton & Rocco, 2022; Turner, 1982). However, much like sustainability, community participation has been co-opted by the neoliberal hegemony; often used as a “front” for legitimising political agendas or as panacea to all design problems, community participation has been heavily losing its significance as a force of social change (Smith & Iversen, 2018), thus becoming a depoliticised, romanticised prop. Marcus Miessen (2011) has developed a critical standpoint towards what is being labelled as participation; instead of a systematic effort to find common ground and/or reach consensus, participation through a cross-benching approach could be a way to create enclaves of disruption, i.e. processes where hierarchy and power relations are questioned, design becomes post-consensual spatial agency and participation turns into a fertile ground for internal struggle and contestation. Through this cross-benching premise, community participation is transformed into a re-politicised spatial force. In this context, design serves as a tool of expressing new imaginaries that stand against the reproduction of the neoliberal spatial discourse. Thus, sustainability through community participation could be defined as the politicised effort to question, deconstruct and dismantle the concept of dominance by reconfiguring the process of intra-relating between humans and non-humans alike.

Created on 08-06-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

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Publications

Charalambous, N., Panayi, C., & Roussou, E., (2022, August-September). Community-engaged design: learning through live projects in residential environments. In European Network for Housing Research (ENHR) Conference 2022. Barcelona, Spain.

Posted on 30-08-2022

Conference

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Charalambous, N., Roussou, E., & Panayi, C. (2022, August-September). Co-creating urban commons through community-engaged pedagogies. In EAAE Annual Conference, Madrid, Spain.

Posted on 31-08-2022

Conference

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Roussou, E., & Pappa, A. (2023, May). From teaching the commons to commoning teaching: towards a reflexive architectural education. In SMOOTH: Educational Commons and Active Social Inclusion Conference, Volos, Greece.

Posted on 17-07-2024

Conference

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