As architects, we are very conscious of our impact on people’s lives and the community generally. Every piece of infrastructure, new building, interior or outdoor space greatly affects the people who use them as well as those in the immediate neighbourhood and beyond. We have it in our power to delight or intrude, to improve the amenity of some with the risk of detracting from the amenity of others.
Our Vision speaks of “inspiring and enhancing lives”. It challenges how we deliver now rather than the idealised built form or end-point – unusual for an architectural practice. Our commitment to “extraordinary built environments” continuously asks where that elusive end-point might lie. By avoiding that question, we risk today’s “extraordinary” becoming tomorrow’s “ordinary”.
Realising our Vision mandates, on the one hand an ever-closer relationship with those touched by our endeavours and, on the other, continuous improvement in our capability to care for and value People and Place. Our recent experience has been an evolution from design thinking to co-design. My blog two years ago explained how design thinking relied on a hierarchical structure with the design expert at the head of the innovation process, leading the project through user research, prototypes and testing to a final designed solution.
The danger is that, at times, there is no evaluation after implementation and the user experience may only be considered in a cursory way. The huge opportunity for co-design is to achieve a deeper insight to the customer’s cultural, emotional and practical requirements through mutual learning by all parties throughout the process rather than just at the research stage. Empathy is key.
Design is a process that implements change – and change is often a trigger for negative responses like fear and anger. By putting ourselves in the shoes of those whose lives we seek to change, and including them in the conversation, learning is shared, change is embraced, and value is lasting.