Eco-Nomadic School Workshop in Brezoi, Romania.
5th – 8th Januray 2012
Hosted by: FCDL
This workshop in Romania, was the second event I have attended as part of the Agency (a research group in the University of Sheffield) and largely as a member of Eco-Nomadic School ( funded by an EU lifelong learning programme, Grundtvig). Having organised a workshop in Todmorden, UK along with 11 other postgraduate students, this time, accompanied by two more students, I was attending as a ‘student’, instead of an ‘educator’ / ‘trainer’.
Upon our arrival, I soon realised the multiples roles I had to act out. On the surface I was a ‘student’, that had to be educated by the organisers on the area, its economy, its history and its development. Secondly and most importantly, I was an architect – and yes it’s very naughty of me to call myself that, RIBA would sue me if they heard me -, and that changed the way I was participating and experiencing the workshop. Thirdly, I like many other students with previous experience had to alternate between a more passive learning position to a more dominant teaching position. This was usually a natural reaction to help lead the group discussions to reach a conclusion.
Overall, the whole journey as observed through the architectural filter, seemed quite different to my first workshop experience. It is our overly-analytical nature that made me question our place in a community? As an architect, who is not a local, and had 3 days to come to terms with the surroundings, I was rather dubious about our role and the level of involvement in the workshop.
The organisers outlined in a clear way their concerns and aspirations for the future, the participating artists and architects however diverted almost completely from the questions asked. The burning question was how can the local development group revitalise the economy, create jobs by utilising and preserving the traditions (arts&crafts, social structure) ? How insightful could our answers and observations be?
Us, the ‘intellectuals’, so ready to intervene with educated solutions and strategies, we failed to respond to the true needs of these people. Why so? Some remained with stoicism within their well-rehearsead speeches that changed slightly to fit the new hosting environment, some tried to offer solutions through any medium (design, crafts, strategies and so on), and some just didn’t get it.
Perhaps the research part of the workshop was succesful: a network has been created, connections with like-minded organisations were established and there will be future events organised. Indeed it is a lifelong learning scheme. But as an architect, a professional who will be hired to consult the client, and offer viable solutions and be held responsible for the success of a project, I was left doubting the success of this event.
In public consultation events, the architect or artist, carefully chooses the topic, the structure of the event, perhaps the audience and the tools in which the information will be retracted from individuals. The idea of placing the architect in the community is rising in popularity. Many schools, including Sheffield, very openly advocate for architects to have a strong presence in a community and I agree. However, if everything is so well orchestrated, and if in reality we as well as the locals are experts and expert-users, how open are architects really to listen?
Are workshops and public consultations a tool that we have to debate on how democratic it is? How do we ensure that we remain true, honest and act with integrity even in such unchartered events?