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A collaboration between deaf and disabled artists and interior architecture students

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The risks for tutors

Image - Ellie_crit.jpg

A student presents her work to tutors during a project review.

Whilst many tutors clearly enjoyed having the artists working in the studio, involving deaf and disabled artists did generate an element of anxiety and awkwardness amongst a few - a small amount of which was around ‘how to behave’ around deaf and disabled people.

Disrupting ‘normal’ teaching?

But the main tensions were around the potential to disrupt ‘normal’ teaching and learning processes. This was both about the worry that accessibility would be over-emphasised (with the implied threat to design of its reduction to technical solutions); and about the risks of inappropriate comments about the work of students not being taught by the artists - where their comments at reviews could be seen as an‘unfair’ critique of other studios’ design projects and methodologies.

The response from students to working with deaf and disabled artists - despite initial fears about both the experience and the problematic impact on their projects in the wider context of the School agenda – was very positive.

I was quite fearful, scared really, I just felt quite worried about how the experience would be but it was a good introduction nevertheless and after I met the artists, It was really fine.

The difficulties of change

But, as they hinted, this was against a feeling of some tutor resistance and lack of endorsement .

We would need to know that going through this and learning from it and feeling differently should be endorsed by all the staff, so they encourage us to build this thinking into all our assignments.
I just don’t think I will not think these issues through the next time. The problem is when some tutors actually actively stop you from thinking about these issues.
I just hope the tutors will taking this on board and not say things like ‘are you putting a lift in because you think you have to…?’

The changing positions of tutors …

The initial responses from some tutors to the project tended to be in one of two typical either/or categories; it had either to be a project about accessibility or it was an unwanted threat to the validity of other, more contemporary design methodologies. I felt that I had failed to properly explain to other tutors that Making Discursive Spaces was intended as a very different kind of proposed collaboration.

The potential for a different kind of creative to the existing structure of the 'field' of architectural education then, seemed to be invisible. The potentially disruptive impact of a completely Other set of knowledges were not initially comprehended, and some deep assumptions and anxieties around what constitutes the ‘normal’ revealed themselves.

However, as the project progressed, and particularly as deaf and disabled artists were involved in reviewing the other design studios, many of these tutor anxieties fell away. Though the crit process, much common ground was discovered.

Some fragmentary conclusions

Despite some difficulties, then, we were able to gather some interesting fragments on how deaf and disabled artists can inform alternative ways of learning and teaching architecture and interior design; and some ideas about what we could do next.

  Next: Some useful lessons
Arts Council England University of Brighton, Interior Architecture and Design

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