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A collaboration between deaf and disabled artists and interior architecture students

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Some useful lessons

Raising disability awareness

Students were introduced to disability awareness issues in a half-day workshop, and through the artists’ presentations of their own work. They then worked on with artists in a conventional tutorial relationship. Feedback made it clear we could have done this better.

The training was really good start. I would have liked more time, to go deeper though because everyone’s perspectives – the disabled and deaf artists were all really different.
Student feedback 11th May 2007
It was a difficult for the students being new to fundamental access information and then asking them to find a creative solutions within their designs to achieve that access. Trying to get them to do too much over a short period of time. I think more preparative work prior to contact with the artists and to foster an ongoing approach to inclusivity.
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007
More exploratives and guidance, (….) so they were done jointly and understood alongside a methodology for using it. (disability awareness)
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007
I think if we had been able to do our own exploratives of the Truman Brewery, it would have been very valuable.
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007

In different ways everyone felt that disability awareness should have been inculcated from the beginning of the design project, involved more preparatory work, should have been embedded through shared design activities as well as presentations, and could have been much more explicitly debated together throughout the duration of the project rather than as just as introduction. In addition, it was felt that the issues of Deaf culture and Deaf equality were not dealt with, and needed separate training to more general disability awareness.

On the problem of time

Both the amount of time available for the Making Discursive Spaces project (about six weeks) and its timing (in the last, detailed, stage of students’ designs) were both unintentional and very problematic.

In addition, the short time between obtaining Arts Council funding and the artists starting also led to organizational and timetabling problems. Most immediately it was difficult to arrange British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters as there is always a shortage of supply. This meant that the two deaf artists were excluded from the initial site visit, which was very unsatisfactory.

Finally, timetabling issues made it difficult to orchestrate all the artists together, because of their already busy workloads.

On Sites

As part of this project we visited the site (in Brick Lane, London) twice. The artists felt we could have used the site as a way to better introduce deaf and disability awareness training, but not in a formulaic way:

I would have liked to have done an explorative of the building from my perspective as a deaf person/artist and to have shared that with them right from the beginning through a presentation.
Artist feedback 11/05/07

Exploring and sharing different artist and student engagements with the site would have immediately opened up some of the intersections between physical space, disability, experiential analyses and creative practices.

Ideas and practicalities

In conventional architectural education the ‘standard’ formula is to start with strong conceptual ideas and then develop these into a detailed design. Whilst there are many challenges to this approach, the binary oppositions between ideas/functions and poetics/technicalities continue to resonate, with the practicalities of design all too often seen as the inferior and banal conclusion of an ideas - led design process. Disability is linked via accessibility to, and appears to reinforce, these negative associations.

In this project, because the students had worked from initial ideas related to an earlier study of fabric, it was difficult to explore how creative aspects of the experiental and practical could be re-introduced as a central and generative element.

We hoped that working with deaf and disabled artists could disrupt the artificial divisions between ideas/practicalities and poetics/technicalities. In Making Discursive Spaces we were unable to achieve such a shift, except in a few minor instances.

One student had a feeling that something was not quite right. She hadn’t planned the lift in and the space was completely inaccessible (to me).
When she planned the lift that echoed the staircase, everything shifted and fell into place for the whole space: this changed everything…
Artist feedback 11th May 2007
The conundrum of how someone using a wheelchair might go up to the second floor with a friend brought about all sorts of considerations of … platforms, stairs and speed.
Artist feedback 11th May 2007
Talking through how pleasant or unpleasant it was to move in the space…was really interesting. We were both getting there and she got there first!
Artist feedback 11th May 2007   Next: Facing up to differences
Arts Council England University of Brighton, Interior Architecture and Design

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