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Does Participation Make the Architectural Process More Democratic - And Should it Be More Democratic?

Part 2 Dissertation 2011
William Beeston
London Metropolitan University | UK
Participation seems to be adopted for two conflicting uses and outcomes. One, to allow users to be empowered in the design process. The other, involving the user as part of the research process to inform better design in an autocratic methodology. I would suggest that inwardly the designer can see that the latter option would be beneficial, but outwardly it would appear better to adopt the first approach in order to sit better with the idea of democracy. But does it? We don’t allow the people to collectively write the law. We do allow the people to collectively vote for ‘experts’ to preside over the law making process (how ever flawed the voting system may or may not be).

In my dissertation I explore this subject through research into the history of why the idea of participation in design became necessary, looking at specific examples where ideas have been put into practice, why, how and if they succeeded. I also interview current practitioners who use participation as part of their methodology as well as those who see the growing acceptance of participation in architecture as problematic.

I chose to explore this subject as it does seem to me that there is a disconnect between architecture and the people who will eventually inhabit the buildings and spaces produced. Where in other fields of design the desires ‘user’ are central to the design process. Participation would seem to be the best way to close this gap and yet current practice doesn’t seem to achieve this, with many conflicting ideas about what the actual aim is, meaning that it remains unclear as to whether participation is beneficial to the architectural profession.

William Beeston

Joseph Kohlmaier
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