Architecture as activism runs through February’s issue of the AJ


Source:  Toby Coulson

There are many different kinds of architecture practice and in our latest issue we look at initiatives that take risks and focus on breathing new life into communities

The AJ’s cover star for February is a skateboarder, at the tipping point of a turn, graceful as a bird. Navigating that mid-air moment between landing safely and falling. Still – you know whatever the outcome, he will get up and try again.

The bowl he’s skating is part of a south Devon community project by up-and-coming practice IDK. The three directors – Mike Lim, Roddy Bow and James Pockson – ‘think about architecture as bigger than just architecture’. That spirit of community, of architecture as activism – and as continual, evolving practice with an element of risk – is essential to the future of the profession. It runs throughout this issue of the AJ.

There are many examples of simple projects on modest budgets that push the boundaries of practice and have a substantial impact. North West Design Collective and Baxendale’s refurbishment of a cherished Preston charity building, for example, ‘breathes life into the space that goes out into the community’, as co-founder Jill Cowgill says. Leeds Beckett Project Office aims to create ‘ethical, social and resilient architecture’ and its community centre in New Wortley is a case in point.


Of course, larger-scale projects can equally be infused with a drive for change, both environmental and social. Waugh Thistleton Architects’ Black & White Building is now central London’s tallest mass timber office structure, while its client The Office Group also worked with the POoR Collective on a Makers & Mentors scheme to equip young people with design tools to help them build their careers.

‘There is a real hunger and desire for these types of initiatives,’ says Shawn Adams, architect, writer, lecturer and co-founder of POoR Collective. ‘If organisations genuinely care about the next generation of designers, they should be supporting initiatives like this.’

New forms of funding are being explored in this issue too. Architect-led charity Footwork, set up by Clare Richards, gives cash to fledgling projects with the potential for significant local impact. How do you mass-retrofit listed homes? What could new models of urban development look like? Footwork is enabling architects’ problem-solving skills to get to work at a grassroots level.

Perhaps IDK’s Mike Lim sums up this boundary-pushing spirit best: ‘We like working with people who are investing in their community and have a social agenda – where we can add value through the skills we bring.’

Practice is never fixed; it is always moving, always striving to do better. And there are many ways to do it. Keep practising.


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