W1 Day 3 - Learning urban inclusion in action

Our third workshop day was held in Sheffield’s Vestry Hall, which houses the Israac Somali Community Association. A member of the Association welcomed us and provided us with some information about the Somali community in Sheffield and the UK, cultural and social activities promoted by the Association and its engagement in the city’s environment.

The day’s programme then began with Carolyn Butterworth, Senior Lecturer at the SSoA, recalling the experience in coordinating Live Projects, the School of Architecture community engagement agenda. She explained the main challenges, difficulties, satisfactions and achievements related with the engagement of students in the project activities. Among the elements which have been highlighted in both the presentation and the discussion are the emphasis on mutual learning outcomes (not only students are learners), social sustainability strategies (enduring effects are expected), the necessary stimulation of critical thinking and eventually a shift of participating people’s mind-set as a general outcome.

Afterwards, four MArch students described several projects they have been or are engaged in. Helen Galletti showed the outstanding outcomes of a Live Project about the renewal of Vestry Hall, underlining the value of co-design and listening in order to explore the spatial potential of the building in relation to the community client’s particular needs. Luke Moran exposed some critical views on ‘architectural voluntourism’ explored in his dissertation, and the ongoing experience of designing a School for the deaf in Kenya. Maria Ramos focused on her Live Project experience in Rovereto about ‘community economies’, her dissertation and her ongoing thesis on the Carnide neighbourhood in Lisbon regenerating through an public art project. Maha Komber explored a quite original approach to analysing migrants’ social spaces’ changes over time and through family, with a particular attention to symbolic elements.

The following discussion was organised considering three key-questions:

  • financial support: how funding influence these projects’ effectiveness and lasting over time;

  • ethics: working for/with fragile communities requires particular skills and attentions to be put in practice, in order to avoid misinterpretations or involuntary exploiting dynamics;

  • learning gain: various remarks were made in this case, e.g. a problematic aspect of a ‘contractor-client’ relationship (which tends to inhibit a wider inclusiveness, according to Carolyn), some doubts about how far do universities actually promote a mutual action learning, and the awareness that such programmes are highly beneficial in terms of learning for everyone, and yet risky and quite unpredictable in their actual ends.

In the afternoon, two experiences of engaged teaching and learning experiences from University of Sheffield were presented.

Brendan Stone, Professor at the School of English and Director of Learning & Teaching (Outward Facing) at the University of Sheffield, made a particularly inspiring intervention. He concentrated on the ‘pedagogies of inclusion’.

“Narratives, Identity, Place: how are they in relationship with each other”? This is the main theme of a course involving undergraduate Literature students and people marginalised because of their mental disease living in Sheffield. The first are mainly white, young, middle-class women, the second mixed-aged and often elderly people with a poor background and migrant origins, ‘living in neighbourhoods students usually don’t go to’. This gap hasn’t been easy to bridge, but story-making has proved extremely precious in it, since stories are ‘collaborative in nature’ (non-individualised) and allow voicing the marginal. A work of comparing subjective mapping of places has also been a central part of the course’s activity.

In conclusion, prof. Stone identified reciprocity, sustainability (in terms of long period projects and the ability to maintain relationships), inter-dependence (no dependency) and co-production as crucial elements within the overall L&T process, in which social capital is the basic resource that more ‘included’ subjects have to share with ‘less included ones’. Such an experience may be a small thing in the CV, but a huge enrichment anyway.

Lee Crookes, University Teacher from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, stressed the urgency to redefine the role of university. Who and what is university for? During these last years, he experimented a community-university partnership model in Westfield, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, promoting an Action Research Project, based on the ethos of “an epistemology of humility”. This means that in the partnership between Westfield community and University, the neighbourhood residents would have been involved in each step of the process, and in every opportunity for mutual learning. He also observed that not all communities are prepared to engage with universities, nor all students are able to interact with communities. Crookes critically focused on a series of elements, related to the challenges that university faces when engaging in such projects (e.g. overcoming legacy with past approaches, difficulties in evaluation …).

The day ended with a reflection on the ongoing research by Celia Macedo ad Beatrice De Carli, collecting current practices of learning and teaching in Architecture Schools that deal with forced migrants and refugees inclusion issues. Part of the solicited universities have answered positively to the information request about their current practices. What is emerging (but still needs further investigation) is that often, experimentations and pedagogical innovations, such as collaboration with CSO’s, are actually related to these issues.

Our DESINC project outcomes’ dissemination may help these practices to emerge and be enhanced.