(Con)testing the post-political city

2013

(Con)testing the post-political city: The architect’s role in the production of cohousing with older people”

Mark Hammond

Population ageing and urbanisation represent significant changes to the city, which therefore affects the architect’s relationship with its production. Lefebvre proposes that the increasing levels of privatisation and marketisation of the city will lead to a the de-politicisation of urban space (2003:145-146). Lefebvre’s theories are built upon by contemporary theorists (Kaminer 2011; Purcell 2003; Swyngedouw 2011) who suggest we have seen an urban movement towards the ‘post-political city’, in which social, environmental and political concerns are marginalised. This limits the architect’s ability to enact transformative agency and create innovative solutions to urban issues, such older peoples experiences of cities. I propose that cohousing can be used to explore both the city and the citizen in response to this notion of the post-political city, suggesting new ways for older people to produce and inhabit the urban environment as well as new role for the architect in this production. The objective of my research is to identify how the relationship between citizens and the architect is manifested and negotiated within older peoples cohousing, a housing community typology featuring individual dwellings and shared spaces which is designed through participation with democratic client/resident group.

I am tested this position through practice-based work using Murray’s (2013) notion of research ‘through’ design. This has been undertaken in collaboration with Manchester Urban CoHousing (MUCH), a group of older people who are developing a cohousing community, with my theoretic position being tested and revised through this praxis. I am collaborating with MUCH to co-develop a series of workshops which expands and challenges the role of the architect based on participatory methodology. These have included developing design games to help the group recruit new members and creating narrative based workshops to develop a collective brief. My initial findings suggest that the co-housing architect take on many of the roles outlined in discourse surrounding ‘spatial agent’ (Awan, Schneider, and Till 2011), particularly that of a negotiator between the disparate ideas and motives of residents, as well as the tension of acting as both client and user.

There has been little critical examination of the architect’s role in cohousing, with most focusing on what was built rather than the processes employed. Whilst cohousing has been promoted on a policy level (HAPPI 2009), the lack of knowledge amongst professionals has prevented its further adoption (Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing 2009). My research will contribute to this field by outlining the nature of the architect/client/citizen relationship in cohousing and proposing how it can respond to the wider urban context.

My research will contribute to a growing body of academic enquiry into the inclusive design and the architect role as a transformative agent. By undertaking research with “radical proximity” (Cruz 2013) to city agencies, such as Manchester City Council and housing associations, I have been able inform wider urban strategies which give my research impact on the city level. By undertaking research through practice I hope to contribute to the creation of a cohousing community that attempts to address issues of ageing and urbanisation, and in doing so critique the existing development context of the city. By doing this I also hope to contribute to the development of practice-based research knowledge in the field of architecture.

Email: mark.hammond@stu.mmu.ac.uk