Design for Partnerships of Change
Research Panel

Design for Partnerships of Change

Design for Partnerships of Change
A summary of a text by Sandi Hilal1 and Merve Bedir2

1 Co-Director of DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture ArtResearch), and Lise Meitner Visiting Professor at Lund University Department of Architecture and the Built Environment
2 Co-founder of the Center for Spatial Justice, A formal Academy, and Kitchen Workshop

Design for Partnerships for Change critically examines the unbalanced power dynamics that currently structure spatial relations, on an international and urban scale, exploring architecture’s potential to transform these. It seeks to challenge and reframe dominant notions used in the discipline of architecture, such as ‘sustainability’, ‘community’, ‘development’ and ‘participation’, questioning their use and efficacy in shaping better spaces. How can we practice and communicate architecture in a way that supports caring, democratic, healthier and regenerative urban futures?

By supporting alliances across the public and private realm of the built environment, Design for Partnerships for Change wants to reconfigure power relations in pursuit of social equity and ecological sustainability. It envisions architecture as a central player in the creation of spaces where justice and pluralism can thrive.

This Panel puts emphasis on practices that may be underappreciated in the discipline, cherishing the richness of different forms of knowledge production and of everyday life in an attempt to reintroduce these in design thinking and discourse. Design for Partnerships for Change encourages a genuine perspective on our approach towards architecture and design, one that is informed by a broader range of experiences and knowledges.

In the context of the UIA2023CPH World Congress, Design for Partnerships for Change is addressed through 6 sub-panels:

Re-framing: Community questions how we can redefine our understanding of communities to go beyond traditional roles of care-giver and care-receiver, guest and host, and savior and saved, creating instead a more nuanced perspective of these relationships, and bringing agency to communities as producers of inclusion.

Re-framing: Participation tries to broaden our understanding of participation, moving away from the one-sided dynamic between organizers and community members, in which the latter are reduced to mere recipients of relief who should unquestioningly accept the help provided to them. How can we view participation as a means of challenging existing power structures, finding new balances within these structures, and using it to actively negotiate conflicts? Furthermore, how can we avoid treating participation solely as a performative tool for the benefit of organizers' self-image and instead recognize its potential as a tool for transformative change?

Re-framing: Commons challenges the modernist view according to which the design and management of public spaces and natural habitats can exist independently of people and communities. The ethics of commons and commoning contrasts this assumption by recognizing that people and their interactions are essential in creating and maintaining these shared spaces. To better understand the concept of commons, we need to view them as spaces that are created through the ongoing interactions between people and the natural environment, rather than as pre-existing entities that can exist independently of human activity. In this way, commons can only exist through the continuous efforts of both people and the other living beings that inhabit these spaces.

Re-framing: Design acknowledges that the discourse and discipline of design are based on a modernist universalism that is sustained by the skills and knowledge acquired in academic institutions, an approach that fails to respond to the needs and desires of specific communities and situations. The reliance on expertise also limits the potential of design to serve as a tool for intervention and critical imagination.
To address this issue, we need to reframe the role of design in challenging dominant structures by prioritizing the building of alliances and creating spaces that are centered around people. This requires breaking free from a singular, universal language of architecture and embracing a more diverse, pluralistic approach.
By doing so, we can strengthen the impact of design and create spaces that are more responsive to the unique needs and desires of diverse communities. This will not only help to challenge dominant structures but also encourage greater creativity and imagination in the field of design.

Re-framing: Agency explores the distribution of decision-making power and the varying degrees of proximity between different roles, people, and communities, and how these all play a crucial role in determining the levels of autonomy, collectivity, and representation of different agencies. When designing for change and partnerships, it is important to consider the role and design of agency in the absence of a strong state presence. This requires re-framing our understanding of agency and finding new ways to link it to the design process. Designers have the potential to play a key role in this process by using their skills and expertise to help facilitate negotiation and collaboration between different agencies. By doing so, they can help to create more inclusive and responsive design solutions that better reflect the needs and desires of diverse communities. Overall, the potential of designers’ agency lies in their ability to facilitate meaningful dialogue and collaboration between different agencies, ultimately leading to more effective and impactful design solutions.

Re-thinking Land re-evaluates the way in which people interact with land, soil, technologies, and the environment needs to be re-evaluated, understanding land as a totality that includes what lies above, below, and upon it. It is important to consider who takes care of  land, and what approaches are best for maintaining, managing, and caring for it as a shared space that connects us all. What does it mean to own and belong to a land, and how can this concept be expanded to support practices of degrowth and healthy growth?