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DARE to Build, Chalmers University of Technology

Created on 04-06-2022 | Updated on 04-07-2023

“DARE to build” is an elective summer course developed at Chalmers University of Technology, in Gothenburg, Sweden, that aims to enhance the collaboration between engineers and architects, while at the same time create impact and outreach in local communities. The overall vision of the course revolves around equipping future professionals with the necessary skills to be able to collaborate across disciplines so that they can help build a sustainable society.  By taking into account the increasing need of multidisciplinary teams and collaborative practices within the building industry, the aim of “DARE to build” is to provide students with the collaborative and communication skills needed to effectively operationalise and take full advantage of the contents of each discipline, while working towards a sustainable, hands-on project. 


Situated in the Million Home Programme (MHP) areas of suburban Gothenburg, “DARE to build” presents students with some of the complex challenges that communities face and guides them to implement their strategies in real settings. By co-operating with a wide network of stakeholders, ranging from the municipality to residents, each edition of the course stems from real needs of the local MHP communities. Students become local actors who, in addition to practicing their collaborative and communication skills, have the opportunity to reflect on their own levels of professional responsibility and commitment in terms of sustainable global development.

Initiating entity
Chalmers University of Technology

Reconcile the disparity between monodisciplinary education and multi-disciplinary practice, while at the same time creating impact and outreach in local communities

Educational/participatory methods
Problem-and-project-based learning (PPBL), design & build, CDIO (conceive, design, implement, operate)

Million home programme (Miljonprogrammet) areas in Gothenburg

neighbourhood-level interventions, Gothenburg, Sweden

2018 –

5 weeks, fulltime (7,5 ECTS)

Municipality of Gothenburg, local housing companies, local community

Object of study
Live Project Neihbourhood


'DARE to build' is a 5–week (1 week of design – 4 weeks of construction) elective summer course offered at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. The course caters for master-level students from 5 different master programmes offered at the Architecture and Civil Engineering Department. Through a practice-based approach and a subsequent exposure to real-world problems, “DARE to build” aims to prove that “real change can be simultaneously made and learned (Brandão et al., 2021b, 2021a). The goal of this course is to address the increasing need for effective multidisciplinary teams in the fields of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) in order to tackle the ever-growing complexity of real-world problems (Mcglohn et al., 2014), and the pervading lack of a strong pedagogical framework that responds effectively to this challenge. The two main foci of the “DARE to build” pedagogical model are:  (1) to train students in interdisciplinary communication, to cultivate empathy and appreciation for the contributions of each discipline, to sharpen collaborative skills (Tran et al., 2012) and (2) to expose students in practice-based, real-world design projects, through a problem-and-project-based learning (PPBL) approach, within a multi-stakeholder learning environment (Wiek et al., 2014). This multi-stakeholder environment is situated in the municipality of Gothenburg and involves different branches and services (Stadsbyggnadskontoret, Park och Naturförvaltningen), local/regional housing companies (Familjebostäder, Bostadsbolaget), professionals/collectives operating within the AEC fields (ON/OFF Berlin, COWI), and local residents and their associations (Hyresgästföreningen, Tidsnätverket i Bergsjön).


Design & Build through CDIO

By showcasing that “building, making and designing are intrinsic to each other” (Stonorov et al., 2018, p. 1), students put the theory acquired into practice and reflect on the implications of their design decisions. Subsequently they  reflect on their role as AEC professionals, in relation to local and global sustainability; from assessing feasibility within a set timeframe to the intangible qualities generated or channelled through design decisions in specific contexts. This hands-on learning environment applies the CDIO framework (conceive, design, implement, operate,, an educational framework developed in the MIT, with a particular focus on the “implementation” part.  CDIO has been developed in recent years as a reforming tool for engineering education, and is centred on three main goals: (1) to acquire a thorough knowledge of technical fundamentals, (2) to sharpen leadership and initiative-taking skills, and (3) to become aware of the important role research and technological advances can play in design decisions (Crawley et al., 2014). Therefore, design and construction, combined with  CDIO, offer a comprehensive experience that enables future professionals to assume a knowledgeable and confident role within the AEC sector.


Course structure

“DARE to build” projects take place during the autumn semester along with the “Design and Planning for Social Inclusion” (DPSI) studio. Students work closely with the local stakeholders throughout the semester and on completion of the studio, one project is selected to become the “DARE to build” project of the year, based on (1) stakeholder interest and funding capacity, (2) pedagogical opportunities and the (3) feasibility of construction. During the intervening months, the project is further developed, primarily by faculty, with occasional inputs from the original team of DPSI students and support from professionals with expertise relevant to a particular project. The purpose of this further development of the initial project is to establish the guidelines for the 1-week design process carried out within “DARE to build”.

During the building phase, the group of students is usually joined by a team of 10-15 local (whenever possible) summer workers, aged between 16-21 years old, employed by the stakeholders (either by the Municipality of Gothenburg or by a local housing company). The aim of this collaboration is twofold - to have a substantial amount of workforce on site and to create a working environment where students are simultaneously learning and teaching, therefore enhancing their sense of responsibility. “DARE to build” has also collaborated - in pre-pandemic times - with Rice University in Texas, so 10 to 15 of their engineering students joined the course as a summer educational experience abroad.

The timeline for each edition of the “DARE to build” project evolution can be schematically represented through the CDIO methodology, which becomes the backbone of the programme (adapted from the courses’ syllabi):

  1. Conceive: Developed through a participatory process within the design studio “Design and Planning for Social Inclusion”, in the Autumn.
  2. Design: (1) Teaching staff  defines design guidelines and materials, (2) student participants detail and redesign some elements of the original project, as well as create schedules, building site logistical plans, budget logs, etc.
  3. Implement: The actual construction of the building is planned and executed. All the necessary building documentation is produced in order to sustain an informed and efficient building process.
  4. Operate: The completed built project is handed over to the stakeholders and local community. All the necessary final documentation for the operability of the project is produced and completed (such as-built drawings, etc.).

In both the design and construction process, students take on different responsibilities on a daily basis, in the form of different roles:  project manager, site supervisor, communications officer, and food & fika (=coffee break) gurus. Through detailed documentation, each team reports on everything related to the project’s progress, the needs and potential material deficits on to the next day’s team. Cooking, as well as eating and drinking together, works as an important and an effective team-bonding activity. 


Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes are divided into three different sets to fit with the overall vision of “DARE to Build” (adapted from the course syllabi):

  1. Knowledge and understanding: To identify and explain a project’s life cycle, relate applied architectural design to sustainability and to describe different approaches to sustainable design.
  2. Abilities and skills: To be able to implement co-creation methods, design and assess concrete solutions, to visualise and communicate proposals, to apply previously gained knowledge to real-world projects, critically review architectural/technical solutions, and to work in multidisciplinary teams.
  3. Assessment and attitude: To be able to elaborate different proposals on a scientific and value-based argumentation, to combine knowledge from different disciplines, to consider and review conditions for effective teamwork, to further develop critical thinking   on professional roles.


The context of operations: Miljonprogrammet

The context in which “DARE to Build” operates is the so-called “Million Homes Programme” areas (MHP, in Swedish: Miljonprogrammet) of suburban Gothenburg. The MHP was an ambitious state-subsidised response to the rapidly growing need for cheap, high-quality housing in the post-war period. The aim was to provide one million dwellings within a decade (1965-1974), an endeavour anchored on the firm belief that intensified housing production would be relevant and necessary in the future (Baeten et al., 2017; Hall & Vidén, 2005). During the peak years of the Swedish welfare state, as this period is often described, public housing companies, with help from private contractors, built dwellings that targeted any potential home-seeker, regardless of income or class. In order to avoid suburban living and segregation, rental subsidies were granted on the basis of income and number of children, so that, in theory, everyone could have access to modern housing and full of state-of-the-art amenities (Places for People - Gothenburg, 1971).

The long-term perspective of MHP also meant profound alterations in the urban landscape; inner city homes in poor condition were demolished and entire new satellite districts were constructed from scratch triggering “the largest wave of housing displacement in Sweden’s history, albeit firmly grounded in a social-democratic conviction of social betterment for all (Baeten et al., 2017, p. 637) . However, when this economic growth came to an abrupt halt due to the oil crisis of the 1970s, what used to be an attractive and modern residential area became second-class housing, shunned by the majority of Swedish citizens looking for a house. Instead, they became an affordable option for the growing number of immigrants arriving in Sweden between 1980 and 2000, resulting in a high level of segregation in Swedish cities. (Baeten et al., 2017).

Nowadays, the MHP areas are home to multi-cultural, mostly low income, immigrant and refugee communities. Media narratives of recent decades have systematically racialised, stigmatised and demonised the suburbs and portrayed them as cradles of criminal activity and delinquency, laying the groundwork for an increasingly militarised discourse (Thapar-Björkert et al., 2019). The withdrawal of the welfare state from these areas is manifested through the poor maintenance of the housing stock and the surrounding public places and the diminishing public facilities (healthcare centres, marketplaces, libraries, etc.) to name a few. Public discourse, best reflected in the media, often individualizes the problems of "culturally different" inhabitants, which subsequently "justifies" people's unwillingness to work due to the "highly insecure" environment.

In recent years, the gradual (neo)liberalisation of the Swedish housing regime has provided room for yet another wave of displacement, leaving MHP area residents with little to no housing alternatives. The public housing companies that own MHP stock have started to offer their stock to potential private investors through large scale renovations that, paired with legal reforms, allow private companies to reject rent control. As a result, MHP areas are entering a phase of brutal gentrification (Baeten et al., 2017).



Within such a sensitive and highly complex context, both “DARE to Build”, and “Design & Planning for Social Inclusion” aspire to make Chalmers University of Technology an influential local actor and spatial agent within the shifting landscape of the MHP areas, thus highlighting the overall relevance of academic institutions as strong, multi-faceted and direct connections with the “real-world”.

Even though participation and co-creation methodologies are strong in all “Design and Planning for Social Inclusion” projects, “DARE to Build” has still some ground to cover. In the critical months that follow the selection of the project and up to the first week of design phase, a project may change direction completely in order to fit the pedagogical and feasibility criteria. This fragmented participation and involvement, especially of those with less power within the stakeholder hierarchy, risks leading to interventions in which local residents have no sense of ownership or pride, especially in a context where interventions from outsiders, or from the top down, are greeted with increased suspicion and distrust.

Overall “DARE to build” is a relevant case of context-based education which can inform future similar activities aimed at integration education in the community as an instrument to promote sustainable development.


Relevant “DARE to build” projects

Gärdsåsmosse uteklassrum: An outdoor classroom in Bergsjön conceptualised through a post-humanist perspective and constructed on the principles of biomimicry, and with the use of almost exclusively natural materials.



Parkourius: A parkour playground for children and teens of the Merkuriusgatan neighbourhood in Bergsjön. A wooden construction that employs child-friendly design.


Alignment with project research areas

This case study predominantly resonates with two of the research areas of the RE-DWELL project  - ‘Design, planning and building’ and ‘Community participation- , with a special focus on housing design education and sustainable planning, in particular with regard to the following research issues:

  1. Housing design education: Students engage in multi-stakeholder projects in suburban housing areas on the neighbourhood scale and learn through a practice-based approach.
  2. Sustainable planning: Students are encouraged to adopt a holistic approach while having a specific focus in each project (e.g. biomimicry, mobility, etc.)
  3. Green building: A prerequisite of the course is that natural and recycled materials should be used as much as possible.
  4. Inclusive design: All projects favour inclusion, often for humans and non-humans alike.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

Based on the course’s learning objectives and the impact as it is documented through various local media, the following Sustainable Development Goals are associated with the “DARE to build” project:

SDG 4 Quality education: Through direct contact and interdisciplinary collaboration on real- problems, the students have the opportunity to assess their own responsibility as future professionals in shaping urban landscapes, as well as sharpen skills relating to communication, that will aid them in engaging in dialogue with all the parties involved.

SDG 5 Gender equality and SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities: By encouraging a gender balance among the participating students, “DARE to build” helps to (re)kindle the non-male interest in hands-on work, which is stereotypically associated with masculinity. By providing a safe environment for everyone to express their creativity, nurture their confidence and learn, this course is a platform for participants, both students and local summer workers to reflect on their own perceptions about gender. In a similar fashion, working together, towards a common goal with people from different backgrounds, both cultural and educational, is a small but important step towards recognising and deconstructing stereotypes and biases.

SDG 11 Sustainable Communities and Cities: Through the real contexts in which students are called to conceptualise and implement sustainable, place-based solutions, there is a direct impact in communities and neighbourhoods in suburban Gothenburg, that often creates ripples that extend beyond the boundaries of a spatial intervention (e.g. job creation, renewed interest in architecture and engineering education).


Baeten, G., Westin, S., Pull, E., & Molina, I. (2017). Pressure and violence: Housing renovation and displacement in Sweden. Environment and Planning A, 49(3), 631–651.

Brandão, E., Hagy, S., & Sasic-Kalagasidis, A. (2021a). ACE135 (Dare to Build - architects) course syllabus 2021.

Brandão, E., Hagy, S., & Sasic-Kalagasidis, A. (2021b). ACE160 (Dare to Build - engineers) course syllabus 2021.

Crawley, E. F., Malmqvist, J., Östlund, S., Brodeur, D. R., & Edström, K. (2014). Rethinking Engineering Education: The CDIO Approach (2nd ed.). Springer.

Hall, T., & Vidén, S. (2005). The million homes programme: A review of the great Swedish planning project. In Planning Perspectives (Vol. 20, Issue 3, pp. 301–328).

Mcglohn, E., Herrmann, H., Leathem, T., Gregory, A., & Carson, L. (2014). Cross Disciplinary Design-Build: The Design of Collaborative Education. In T. Cavanagh, S. Palleroni, & U. Hartig (Eds.), Working out, thinking while building (pp. 483–492). Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

Places for people - Gothenburg. (1971). BBC, NDR.

Stonorov, T., Sagan, D., Galarza, J., Wheeler, D., & Marcus, A. (2018). The Design-Build Studio (T. Stonorov, Ed.). Routledge.

Thapar-Björkert, S., Molina, I., & Villacura, K. R. (2019). From welfare to warfare: Exploring the militarisation of the Swedish suburb. In Undoing Homogeneity in the Nordic Region (pp. 141–161).

Tran, A. L. H., Mills, J., Morris, D., & Phillips, M. (2012). “All hands on deck”: Collaborative building design education for architects and engineers. EE 2012 - International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in Engineering Education, Conference Proceedings, 1–13.

Wiek, A., Xiong, A., Brundiers, K., & van der Leeuw, S. (2014). Integrating problem and project-based learning into sustainability programs: A case study on the school of sustainability at Arizona state university. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 15(4), 431–449.

Related vocabulary


Community Empowerment

Participatory Approaches

Social Sustainability

Spatial Agency


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)


Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


Area: Community participation

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, participation is “the act of taking part in an activity or event”. Likewise, it can also mean “the fact of sharing or the act of receiving or having a part of something.” It derives from old French participacion which in turn comes from late Latin participationem, which means “partaking” (Harper, 2000).  References to participation can be found in many fields, including social sciences, economics, politics, and culture. It is often related to the idea of citizenship and its different representations in society. Hence, it could be explained as an umbrella concept, in which several others can be encompassed, including methodologies, philosophical discourses, and tools. Despite the complexity in providing a holistic definition, the intrinsic relation between participation and power is widely recognised. Its ultimate objective is to empower those involved in the process (Nikkhah & Redzuan, 2009). An early application of participatory approaches was the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which exerted a significant influence in developing new discourses and practices of urban settings (Chambers, 1994; Friedmann, 1994). In the late 1970s increasing attention was paid to the concept by scholars, and several associated principles and terminologies evolved, such as the participation in design and planning with the Scandinavian approach of cooperative design (Bφdker et al., 1995; Gregory, 2003). Participation in design or participatory design is a process and strategy that entails all stakeholders (e.g. partners, citizens, and end-users) partaking in the design process. It is a democratic process for design based on the assumption that users should be involved in the designs they will go on to use (Bannon & Ehn, 2012; Cipan, 2019; Sanoff, 2000, 2006, 2007). Likewise, participatory planning is an alternative paradigm that emerged in response to the rationalistic and centralized – top-down – approaches. Participatory planning aims to integrate the technical expertise with the preferences and knowledge of community members (e.g., citizens, non-governmental organizations, and social movements) directly and centrally in the planning and development processes, producing outcomes that respond to the community's needs (Lane, 2005). Understanding participation through the roles of participants is a vital concept. The work of Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation has long been the cornerstone to understand participation from the perspective of the redistribution of power between the haves and the have-nots. Her most influential typological categorisation work yet distinguishes eight degrees of participation as seen in Figure 1: manipulation, therapy, placation, consultation, informing, citizen control, delegated power and partnership. Applied to a participatory planning context, this classification refers to the range of influence that participants can have in the decision-making process. In this case, no-participation is defined as designers deciding based upon assumptions of the users’ needs and full-participation refers to users defining the quality criteria themselves (Geddes et al., 2019). A more recent classification framework that also grounds the conceptual approach to the design practice and its complex reality has been developed by Archon Fung (2006) upon three key dimensions: who participates; how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked with policy or public action. This three-dimensional approach which Fung describes as a democracy cube (Figure 2), constitutes a more analytic space where any mechanism of participation can be located. Such frameworks of thinking allow for more creative interpretations of the interrelations between participants, participation tools (including immersive digital tools) and contemporary approaches to policymaking. Aligned with Arnstein’s views when describing the lower rungs of the ladder (i.e., nonparticipation and tokenism), other authors have highlighted the perils of incorporating participatory processes as part of pre-defined agendas, as box-ticking exercises, or for political manipulation. By turning to eye-catching epithets to describe it (Participation: The New Tyranny? by Cooke & Kothari, 2001; or The Nightmare of Participation by Miessen, 2010), these authors attempt to raise awareness on the overuse of the term participation and the possible disempowering effects that can bring upon the participating communities, such as frustration and lack of trust. Examples that must exhort practitioners to reassess their role and focus on eliminating rather than reinforcing inequalities (Cooke & Kothari, 2001).

Created on 17-02-2022

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13), L.Ricaurte (ESR15), M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)


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)


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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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 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 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 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 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 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:                 [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. [5] Harriss, H., & Widder, L. (2014). Architecture live projects pedagogy into practice.

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)



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