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A collaboration between deaf and disabled artists and interior architecture students

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Towards the next time

Image - tutorials4.jpg

Artist Sarah Pickthall uses performative gestures to express a point to a student.

Doing it better (different) next time

The initial project ended in June 2007 with the artists exploring what terms of reference they would want to work in a educational context around building design in the future. This was first about the potential of developing similar projects in schools of architecture and related subjects.

Individual voices with collective vision/ambition…
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007
Ensure our contribution comes from our arts practice firstly, as well as our experience as disabled people.
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007
Be involved in the design and training around an experiential intervention from the start.
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007

On artistic access and control

It was also about working on multiple fronts. The aim was to challenge the attitudinal and physical barriers embedded into the built environment through many different routes. This was also about taking more control over the process than Making Discursive Spaces had involved, about putting deaf and disabled artists as lead drivers in challenges to existing non-disabled people’s assumptions.

Need to keep on developing different test beds, infiltrating the architecture/design and training profession.
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007
Develop the model to work with other institutions, building resources continually so they can see what we’ve done and how we might work together.
Artists’ feedback 11th May 2007

The responsibilities of non-disabled people

Within this framework, non-disabled people also have a responsibility to listen to, engage with and respond creatively to the rights and demands of deaf and disabled people, without reducing their diversity and complexity, or attempting to ‘speak’ for them.

For the student participants in this project, next steps were about both continuing to develop an understanding of disability equality as a legal issue; and about recognising the importance of disability issues to their studies and (future) practices.

It’s the law… and now we’ve had experience of what that means for disabled people.
Students’ feedback 11th May 2007
What needs to change is the profession. Everything should be grounded in inclusion and awareness.
Students’ feedback 11th May 2007
We could have gone through 3 years at University and still not have heard anything about this, so we would have gone into an architect’s practice and be completely green. This can’t be right.
Students’ feedback 11th May 2007

I want to suggest that deaf and disability issues, rather than being marginal to most design teaching, offer the potential for a richly positive disruption of contemporary architectural theories and practices. But these issues need shifting beyond the language of ‘accessibility’ and located instead centrally in current post-modern and post-structuralist debates about the body and space.

To engage with these issues properly, tutors in architectural and design education need to open up what we do to diverse users from beyond the academy. We need to have the courage and willingness to invite in ‘outsiders’.

Ah, but at the end of the day... you're still in control as the one with the design expertise... so what are you really risking? Are you prepared to risk the explosion of the hegemony of standards and aesthetics in the design industries if that's what it takes to fully liberate disabled people from their imposed silence? Wouldn't it be interesting to stretch this to examining whether the interior design and architectural fields' inherent structures are even capable of apprehending the shattering impact of a completely Other set of knowledges...?
Referee response to Jos Boys draft research paper about the Discursive Spaces research paper.

Research and resource development

To take this area forward within architectural and design education needs more research, more resources, more support for collaborations with deaf and disabled artists and more examples of good practice. Steps forward here might include:

  1. Developing new areas for research - taking disability issues in design beyond accessibility and intersecting instead the most recent work in disability studies with that from contemporary architectural and related theories about the body and space.
  2. A commitment to listen to, and engage, with deaf and disabled artists – supported by resources which aid tutors and students in developing their awareness of, and creative responses to, disability and design.
  3. Networks which facilitate projects between deaf and disabled artists and architectural education; and with architects and other built environment professionals and enablers.

…and a return visit

One of the positive outcomes from the Making Discursive Spaces project was that the students wanted to work with the artists again; and that some tutors were very keen to have the artists back tutoring on other projects.

Can we still contact the artists? It would be so helpful. Student feedback May 11th 2007

Because of this the Making Discursive Spaces project, which was planned to be completed by the summer 2007, continued into 2008, with deaf and disabled artists from Inside Out coming back to be involved in another short project, for an exhibition design with a real client.

The power of building relationships

Much of the student feedback from this second interior architecture project related to its broad aims. They saw similar positive things; learning from working collaboratively with others, having a real client and real budgets, have to work to real deadlines. And they saw similar negatives; the problems of working in groups, difficulties in effective project management and in managing the project alongside other workloads. The feedback on the artist-tutors was again overwhelmingly positive – particularly in what could be learn't from the additional perspectives they brought:
Tutors input was useful as they have a different point of view to our normal course tutors.
Students’ feedback 8th April 2008
Glad to have a tutor from a different field because it makes us look at designing in a different way.
Students’ feedback 8th April 2008
Tutors really helpful
Students’ feedback 8th April 2008
Very valuable in questioning every detail, hands on approach, motivated and guided in the right direction
Students’ feedback 8th April 2008
Inside look into the everyday lives of deaf and disabled artists, the problems they face with architecture.
Students’ feedback 8th April 2008
It made us consider things differently (…) Having a sign language interpreter during projects made the project feel all the more real.
Students’ feedback 8th April 2008 Artist-tutors also said they enjoyed their sessions, noting that they were learning from the process as well as the students, gaining confidence and the ability to offer knowledge appropriately. The focus on a project which combined reality with ideas was also valued:
It was great to have a project with the potential to be realised. This was clearly unusual and maybe a bit worrying for the students, but this is where our input became really valuable, in conceptual as well as practical terms.
Artist email 20th April 2008 The main issue for artist-tutors was the shortage of time for tutorials:
It would have been helpful to have a day with them in the long gap before the review day, to discuss progress.
Artist email 20th April 2008
Needed more days to offer tutorials time to develop trust to work on their project ideas.
Artist email 22th April 2008 This remains an underlying issue – probably for much architecture and design education generally. Most courses are under pressure to have less part-time and visiting tutors. This continues to make it difficult to enable ‘outsiders’ to be properly involved or to bring their perspectives to an already full curriculum. One of the greatest successes, in the end, of Making Discursive Spaces is that it opened up opportunities for deaf and disabled artists to engage constructively and creatively in design education, to display and develop their abilities as tutors, and to build up relationships with existing staff and students on the interior architecture course.
I would be keen to continue this process, as we are now developing a relationship with the department, understanding how we can work together with the students and tutors.
Artist email 22th April 2008 At the end of Making Discursive Spaces, I am left with a very positive sense. There are tutors at the University of Brighton who have been quick to understand the value of the artists’ presence and have been central in creating further opportunities. Most of the students have enjoyed and engaged with the experience. And many students have been vocal that they really want to go on learning how to build issues of deafness and disability into their design projects.
Good to have an alternative view of people, not only looking at a space as a visual experience but how people with disabilities use it.
Students’ feedbackApril 2008
Disabled access is something that should always be considered, yet is not usually emphaised in studio projects.
Students’ feedback April 2008
Working with Inside Out offered a different perspective to evaluate our work.
Students’ feedback April 2008 So many thanks to all the artists, tutors and students who have been involved in Making Discursive Spaces, and with thanks for support from Arts Council South East, the BA(Hons) Interior Architecture course at the University of Brighton, in particular Glen Thurgood and Julia Dwyer.   Next: Going in circles?

Further resources development

Jos Boys is currently undertaking further research and developing educational resources on disability and architecture, funded by a grant from CETLD at the University of Brighton. The project is called 'So What is Normal?' See work in progress

A second Discursive Spaces project

In Spring 2008, some deaf and disabled artists worked with Interior Architecture students on a practices-based project, to design an exhibition. These artists were Caroline Cardus, Damian Toal, Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq, Miles Thomas, David Dixon and Noemi Lakmaier.
Arts Council England University of Brighton, Interior Architecture and Design

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