Guest post: The right to great design (Edinburgh)

By Eric Dawson

Why don’t we have quality places?
 What is great design?
 What makes your heart sink or sing?

These, and other prompts, stimulated an open conversation as part of the 2017 Architecture Fringe. Facilitated by Sophia de Sousa from The Glass-House Community Led Design, a diverse audience explored how people and organisations can work collaboratively and creatively in the design of places.

Design is everywhere
The group reflected on how ‘design’ covers a variety of meaning: it is everywhere – everything from clothing, chairs to buildings and art. People interact with design in many ways; unique places are distinctive and respond to differing environmental, social and economic factors. Design represents an expression of values and is not an ‘answer’ for thoughtless replication. Although design touches everyone, people can feel disconnected when it comes to placemaking. Nevertheless, the event participants described situations where they exercised agency: where green spaces had been used as community growing schemes; small events that grew into annual festivals; community art installations.

Design: contrasting considerations
The conversation delved into a range of complementary and sometimes contrasting considerations:

Iconic / ‘special’ v Everyday ordinary
Physical objects v Social opportunities and events
Buildings v Spaces between buildings
Inclusive participation v Barriers to engagement
Enabling authority v Subversive action
Facilitating getting it right v Space for experiment and failure
Formal intervention v Organic change
Taking time to understand v Short term action
Small scale local v Large scale institutional
Considering possibilities v Making things happen
Permanence v Temporary
Designing for now v Allowing for uncertain futures
Permission to do v Guerrilla activity

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Final thoughts about actions participants might take forward echoed the scope of what had been discussed and ranged between small ‘plant pots’ to large ‘conversation hubs’ in order to challenge and question the cultural norm.

Design is multi-faceted: it relates to product, process and participation. Great design is a public right.

Eric Dawson is Design Advisor at Architecture and Design Scotland.

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