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A collaboration between deaf and disabled artists and interior architecture students

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Summary of lessons learnt

This project aimed to ask many questions. Here, we summarise what we have learnt from this short collaboration between deaf and disabled artists and interior architecture students:

Overall benefits

  • Working with deaf and disabled artists introduced students to a rich awareness of the diversity of experiences of material space.
  • Bringing deaf and disabled artists into an interior architecture studio as tutors has opened up the potential for creative relationships with the course in the future.

For design project work

  • Students developed a deep sense of their own bodies in space.
  • They struggled to translate disability issues into design learning experiences.
  • Students responded very positively to the learning experience and wanted it more completely embedded in their studies.
  • Students wanted to go on communicating with the artists after the project.

For tutors

  • Some tutors were initially made anxious by disability issues being introduced into the studio, but then responded very positively to the artists presence.
  • Non-disabled people could take more responsibility for preventing the continuing invisibility of deaf and disabled people in architectural education.
  • It is important to contextualise disability issues through deaf equality and disability awareness training for students and staff, in consultation with deaf and disabled people.

For architectural education processes

  • Conventional curricula, conceptual approaches, teaching methods and assessments make it very difficult to introduce outside influences, such as those from deaf and disabled artists, on the educational process.
  • We need to find ways of ‘letting go’ of not just what students are taught in the studio, but how they are taught and by whom.
  • Acting as a facilitator to enable ‘outsiders’ such as deaf and disabled artists to engage directly with design students is a vital role for design tutors.

For artists

  • There is an opportunity for deaf and disabled artists to design creative and productive methods for introducing disability awareness and deaf equality training to design tutors and students.
  • It is essential to be involved from the beginning of a project, and have time to work through issues explicitly.
  • There is considerable value in working through shared design activities, such as through representations of a particular site or space, to develop ideas on disability and the built environment.

For educational collaborations

  • We need to explore innovative methods for better integrating practicalities and ideas at the outset of design projects.
  • There is real value to working from diverse deaf and disabled experiences ‘outwards’ rather than adding them ‘on’ at the end of a project.
  • It is important to have explicit discussion of the complexities of different positions in relation to Disability Arts so as to communicate and debate different modes of artistic interpretations of the built environment.
  • It would be worthwhile to continue and develop ‘Discursive Spaces’ around disability and the design of the built environment.

For making more Discursive Spaces

  • There is an urgent need to work with deaf and disabled artists and others to develop shared collaborations that begin to capture the diversity of users; and which offer methods for translating such multiplicities into good and inclusive design ideas.
  • There is an opportunity to begin a critique of contemporary architectural education which opens up gaps in the artificial and false dichotomy between functional accessibility and more contemporary poetic, but able-ist approaches.
  • This project was too limited in its ambitions and only began to offer new ways of bringing disability into architectural and interior design.
  • Deaf and disabled artists and others need to lead the way, through collaborations such as this, in developing innovative and creative approaches to making disability central rather than marginal.
  • The framing of Higher Education study through specific patterns of curricula, assessment and teaching and learning methods makes it hard for ‘outsiders’ to break in, except as clients or participant receivers of services.
  •   Next: Towards the next time
Arts Council England University of Brighton, Interior Architecture and Design

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