The Theory Forum is an annual event held at the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield. In 2018 the Theory Forum was organised by Beatrice De Carli and Celia Macedo as part of the project Designing Inclusion (more details below). The event was titled Journeys/Arrivals. The event explored the spaces of migration through the perspective of movement and aimed to interrogate how spatial design can develop more nuanced ways of understanding and addressing the experiences of migration, displacement, and relocation.
Students from Arrival City Studio Mark Stancombe and Yanni Pitsillades were invited to speak as part of Theory Forum 2018. Their presentation, available here, centred on an approach to an academic design project which aimed to directly engage with its context and its people, rather than abstract and appropriate. Their project was based in Mannheim Germany, and focused on how the city could respond to the unprecedented rise in migration which is happening now, and how it can prepare for the predicted increase in the future. See full project here.
Throughout their undergraduate studying together at Sheffield they identified a disconnect between ‘university’ and ‘reality’, as theoretical university projects were developed around the very real issues facing usually deprived areas of the city. The Sheffield approach engages with marginalised and struggling groups, to develop socially conscious projects. The issue for us came when the project ends, and these real world issues continue.
Deciding to undertake a joint thesis with the goal of mimicking the successful elements of both practice and academia, their methodology was formed by the idea of pluralism and working collaboratively—with each other, with residents and with architectural experts in the field to enrich their design project and research. This approach was facilitated through regular contact with the people of Mannheim via a local agent—an anticafe in the heart of the neighbourhood we were designing for.
The design methodology can be distilled to Transduction, an uncomplicated method of ‘observe/interpret/ propose’, based upon the ideals of Atelier Bow-Wow. As Atelier Bow-Wow did with Tokyo, we wished to disassemble the city (observe), understand its constituent parts and complex relationships (interpret), and propose our own addition to Mannheim. Whilst this methodology is by no means unique, it was seen as essential to incorporate their original goal of inclusion within their design approach. Therefore every stage of the observation, interpretation and proposal was interwoven with regular and diverse engagement tactics with the residents of Mannheim. This included several site visits where they spoke to residents and presented ideas, as well as regular Skype chats to learn more about people and place. This contribution grounded Mark and Yanni, the project and their research in reality, allowing an informed and complex proposal.
Inevitably the project ended in the traditional sense with a presentation and portfolio, however they were keen to continue the legacy of the work the studio had done. This culminated in gaining funding to hold an exhibition in Mannheim, at the heart of the neighbourhood from which their projects were born. The local anticafe hosted the work, where studio’s work was shared with residents and local policy makers.
As was key throughout the process, Mark and Yanni were keen to reflect; looking at what could have been done better. It was hoped that the theory forum presentation was another strand of continuing the ideas and methodologies explored in studio Arrival City, with the aim of questioning how we design, and the role inclusivity can play in an academic design project.