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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.

https://smooth-ecs.eu/conference/

Posted on 17-07-2024

While interest in the commons has increased over the years among academics in architecture, there are still limited examples of architectural education becoming in itself a commoning process. We suggest that in order to foster a commoning culture within architectural education, we need to invest in reflexive activities grounded on experimentation, creativity and collaboration.

This paper presents two academic activities independently developed but of similar characteristics in the number of the participants and their diversity in the level of study. The first is a thematic workshop held at the University Institute of Lisbon within an Erasmus+BIP, which through a scenario-based unstructured game invited students to strategize about their own urban commons developed in an empty plot at their university campus. The second case is the design & build workshop at the University of Cyprus implemented as the final stage of a semester-long co-creation process, in which students designed a park in suburban Nicosia and constructed part of its urban equipment. 

Both cases lifted operational, architectural, political, financial and social aspects contributing to the reconsideration of the role of the architect and the design process. By reflecting on these experiences through students’ and teachers’ observations we aim to cross-pollinate between approaches and understand the contribution of commoning as a tool for knowledge production towards the development of social and operational skills of the future professionals.

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Architectural education as commons: Smooth Conference

Posted on 07-06-2023

Last week I had the chance to participate in the three-day Smooth conference: Educational commons and active social inclusion in Volos, Greece, which brought together academics, educators and practitioners in various fields to discuss the implications of the commons for refiguring education and, as the organisers of the conference argue, and I agree, social change in general. By sharing experiences through presentations and workshops, the objectives of the conference were to bring into light diverse practices in terms of geographical, social and institutional characteristics and stress key challenges and opportunities of a commons-oriented education in reversing inequalities and informing political decision-making processes.   The emerging paradigm of commons became popular thanks to the fundamental work of Elinor Ostrom (1990) and is manifested on various examples of social formations around the co-governance of shared resources, based on values of co-responsibility, care, collaboration, sharing, and equality. The notion traditionally refered to natural resources but has been extrapolated in multiple domains, such as the urban realm, and seen as an emancipatory alternative to neoliberal tactics, such as the commodification and privatisation of public assets, offering in response self-sustainable social mechanisms of sharing urban resources, facilitated through social processes of commoning [1].   Understanding education as commons denotes a paradigm shift towards an action system that acknowledges students, their families and often local social groups as active actors in the educational process, fostered by commoning activities as pedagogical tools that promote collective decision making, inclusivity, openness and responsibility.   Whilst my interest focuses on the practical side of commons and specifically the contribution of space and in extension the potential role of design professionals in the development of urban commons practices, I find it intriguing to discuss architectural education becoming not only a commoning process itself, but a commoning process that equips architects with significant skillsets for practicing urban commons. In other words, I find it urgent to explore how architects gain knowledge on urban commons through commoning.   This was the driving question of our presentation “From teaching the commons to commoning teaching: towards a reflexive architectural education”, in which together with my friend Phryne Rousou and my supervisor dr Alexandra Paio we discussed the cross-pollination of our primary findings of two last year’s educational activities, to understand the contribution of commoning as a tool for knowledge production towards the development of social and operational skills of the future professionals. The first activity was a hands-on co-design and build workshop implemented in prototyping a relaxation area at the university campus in Nicosia, and the second, a scenario-based unstructured game of co-strategising urban commons in an empty plot at the university campus in Lisbon.   Along with our presentation, the focus of our session “Space and commons in education” covered a broad range of the understanding of commons in the field of architecture and engineering: from educational resources shared in common by the educational community and the society, such as open libraries of digital design and construction, participatory reuse of materials and knowledge; to methods of interactions across disciplines.   Most importantly, conceptualising architectural education through the ethics of commons lifted considerations on the role and positioning of future professionals, that imply inventing complex senses of democratic identities and transferable skills, while fostering links between educational and non-educational spaces and challenging constitutive processes, educational methods and existing epistemological references. _____________ [1] More information on the definition of urban commons can be found here.     Reference Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/cbo9780511807763.

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

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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.

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

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