On the 23rd of September 2021, we held our second online-only Andy MacMillan Memorial Lecture and announced the Architecture and Design Scotland and RIAS Scottish Student Awards shortlist.
The 2021 Andy MacMillan Memorial Lecture was given by Dr Jos Boys, The Bartlett / Co-founder of The DisOrdinary Architecture Project.
Christina Gaiger Hello, everyone, and thank you very much for joining us for the 2021 Andy MacMillan Memorial Lecture. For those of you who don’t know me my name is Christina Gaiger and I’m the president of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, known as the RIAS.
The last 18 months have actually been really difficult for everyone, so I just wanted to take a bit of an opportunity to applaud all of the students here today who’ve continued with their studies, thought outside the box and still pushed themselves and pushed architecture forward during this period.
I’ve been told by the panel for the student awards this year that not only was it a rewarding process, but a really inspiring one, which is fantastic.
And I can confirm tonight it will be announcing the shortlisted students after this evening’s lecture, which is really exciting as well. And the winners of this year’s student awards will be announced at the RIAS Convention being held online on Friday 1 October, alongside the announcement of the Landscape Institute and ESALA Student Awards.
I also wanted to take a little bit of time just before our speaker this evening to take the opportunity to let you know about the RIAS virtual convention this year entitled Draw Together. It’s free for students. So we really hope to see you there.
And further details can be found on the RIAS website or social media.
The climate emergency and the global pandemic, as we all know, both highlighted just how important design is for people, homes, buildings and places. So it’s really essential that we encourage greater collaboration across the built environment to ensure that not only we act to meet net zero targets, but that we apply innovation to the design of buildings and places that put the health and well-being of people first.
So the theme of the convention Draw Together will bring together architects, built environment professionals, students and the wider public to show how change is already happening to tackle our climate goals and targets with the spotlight of work across Scotland as well as UK and international examples.
So we really, really hope to see you there over a four day long programme of online events. And we really want you to get involved.
So bringing us back to tonight after stealing my opportunity, it’s really fantastic to be here to mark the longstanding and important collaboration between Architecture and Design Scotland and the RIAS, which is supported by the Scottish Government and generously sponsored by the Marsh corporations, insurance partners.
There’s no question that the RIAS and Architecture and Design Scotland's shared mission to inspire the next generation and promote and communicate quality in the built environment is a crucially important one for Scotland and should continue to be a worthy cause for Scottish Government support.
The Andy MacMillan Memorial Lecture commemorates one of Scotland’s greatest 20th century architects and an architectural teacher of international renown, Professor Andy MacMillan.
Andy’s sad passing in 2014 had a profound impact on the architectural profession and particularly affected generations of Andy’s students, many of them now prolific and successful, working throughout Scotland and across the globe. We are really grateful to Andy’s wife Angela and the whole MacMillan family for their continuing support.
And for this year’s lecture, I have the honour of introducing Jos Boys who is also the guest judge for this year’s Student Awards.
However, please note, there is no short bio which could encapsulate the incredible work of Jos’s career to date. Jos originally trained in architecture and has worked in feminist and community based design practices, as well as being a researcher, educator, photographer and journalist.
She’s currently director of the Learning Environments Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Centre, or LEEDIC, at The Barlett UCL and has published extensively about learning spaces in higher education, feminist approaches to architecture and inter relationships between disability and the built environment.
Jos has had many years experience in design activism, exploring alternative, critical and creative ways of designing for inclusion. She co-founded the feminist design and research practise Matrix feminist design collective in the 1980s and more recently co-founded and is director of the DisOrdinary Architecture Project, a platform led by disabled artists. I would recommend you look at the work of both initiatives.
I had the privilege of meeting Jos earlier this year through an event at the Architecture Fringe and after about five minutes of chatting around how we could deconstruct the barriers of a virtual panel event, Jos noted that she often gives lectures that end up with students lying down on the floor as an immediate way of challenging norms and shaking things up.
So I’m unsure this evening we'll be asking the same tonight, but I’m very much looking forward to the talk. So, even though this isn’t quite the same as a live event, we really want the audience to be as involved as possible and have a short period at the end of the lecture for questions.
So if anyone thinks of any during the event, just pop them in the Q&A function on Zoom and we’ll visit them at the end. So please remember, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
So that’s enough for me, over to you Jos. Thank you very much.
Dr Jos Boys Thank you. Thank you very much too. And I really appreciate being invited for this talk and I really welcome everybody who’s turned up. It’s really nice to see you.
I’ve called it Insider Outsiders because as I think from that introduction you can see I’ve had quite an unconventional career both in and outside of architectural education and practise.
So I really, I’ve always been interested in kind of how architecture works.
What is it that we do?
What do we learn? Why do we learn it?
What sorts of things get left out in that process and what sorts of things are dealt with very well?
And the underlying notion in that, I think, is about who and what counts, who gets valued in society, who gets valued in the design of the built environment we have, and who gets valued in the processes that we use to learn to be architects or related professionals in education and practise.
So I want to think about in this talk what we often call in the DisOrdinary Architecture Project, embodied practise, like what is it that you bring, all of you and your different ways, to your own practise for the sort of embodiment that you have in the sort of identity that you want?
What is it that we need to do to challenge the discipline and sort of explore where it might be different in order to be more equitable, and what kinds of tools and methodologies, creative critical tactics might be used to move things forward.
And I’m going to talk a little bit about Matrix and a little bit about the DisOrdinary Architecture Project to give examples of how those things happened, have happened and have been engaged with.
But I also want to recognise that there’s a huge amount of work going on right now around gender, around race, around disability, around architectural practise and working conditions.
And so I just put up four but I could think of, you know, 30 or 40 more immediately. Missing in Architecture out of the Glasgow School of Art of Architecture, Black Females in Architecture, PARTW and the Section of Architectural Workers. All of these groups are campaigning around different aspects of improving architectural practise and education in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.
I wanted to just start by looking back. I mean I think what’s interesting about that is the kind of groups that are working now, fantastic, fantastic energy, fantastic commitment. But we’re pretty well 40 years on from the work of Matrix feminist design collective being set up. So that’s 40 years where some of the same problems and issues somehow haven’t gone away.
And I’m very interested in why and how that’s happened and what we can do about that.
But I want to start by just taking us back to London in the 1980s. Sorry, London my home town, so that’s what I’m going to talk about. London was very derelict in the 1970s and 80s, quite badly designed, very much focussed on traffic, a lot of property development, large offices that weren’t occupied, just built for capital gains.
This is a picture of one of the key, the founder of Matrix, actually, Annie Thorne, with her children just trying to get across the road. And as part of that, as part a group came together, it grew out of the new architecture movement, which was a much larger group concerned with architectural working conditions. But we wanted to look at how we could think much more clearly about the relationships between gender and space.
We’ve been told that these things where that it was neutral, that professionals designed in a neutral way. They didn’t differentiate by class or race or gender or disability. But we were really interested in thinking about how you could explain that better, what was going on. The word sexism didn’t even exist.
So we didn’t have a language that we could talk about. And I think one of the most immediate things we did, is we began to look at what we meant to be the kind of neutral design guides related to, in this case, housing, and to begin to unpick the kind of language and assumptions that they made.
So the image on the left hand side of the slide is from Housing the Family 1974, and on the right from Introduction to Housing Layout from 1978. Guides that were being used all the time to design housing. And you can see these rather gorgeous pictures of people during the day of a family during the day that the woman really never leaves the sink.
And in fact, this is only half. The second half the husband comes back from work and immediately places himself in the chair facing the television, and she’s still there at the sink. It’s lovely. And then on the other side, we have a picture about assuming that if you have a kind of alley ways that you can’t see round the corner, that that’s inviting.
It invites you to go somewhere, maybe to somewhere to see. Where of course we know, especially if we are female, that that’s not the case. Those are often rather unfortunate and scary places.
But at the same time as those guys were making assumptions about kind of stereotypical households, Britain was changing beyond all recognition. Household sizes and shapes had already changed enormously. I was part of a whole group of middle class white young women who went into and went to university in much larger numbers for the first time post-war. And we weren’t really willing to just assume that that would be our life. A housewife who had to give up their job as soon as they married.
So a lot of women that I worked with and that I knew we got involved in squatting. London was derelict, there were plenty of houses to squat. We got involved in community campaigns to save bits of London from plans to drive motorways through them, like Covent Garden. And we got involved in building as much as in architecture.
Partly that came out of the squatting movement where people repaired houses as they went. So there were a set of activities that kind of connected to our studies but also extended into the kind of environment in which we found ourselves. And that was very wide ranging.
There was a lot of political action. On the left you have the Making Space that we wrote in 1984. On the right you have Brian Anson’s Architects Revolutionary Council, which was campaigning a lot around Covent Garden, which was campaigning for rethinking the nature of architecture. And at the Architectural Association, he was teaching this work at the AA.
This was kind of in the air, it was kind of what everybody was doing. They were community technical aide centres, which offered the kind of services like legal aid to community groups.
So there was a real interest in directly providing architectural knowledge and skills to the most disadvantaged groups and enabling them to develop their own buildings.
This is one of the Matrix leaflets from the early days and that idea about developing buildings with community groups. It was supported, we were really lucky, we hit a moment when the Greater London Council was funding feasibility studies, was funding disadvantaged groups to develop their own projects.
And one of the brilliant things I think that Matrix did, which was very straightforward, the design practise was to just use a series of techniques. Some of those came from, you know, kind of a real interest that was generally happening in forms of public participation, but that they were techniques like using models, demountable models to help people discuss what the scheme would be like.
There was the bottom picture was a brick picnic, where the Jagonari Asian Women’s Centre, women went and looked at a lot of different brick facades and discussed the colours of the brick, discussed the mortar, discussed the facade design as a way of really developing what that building might look like. So, and there were techniques like measuring the space that the groups met in as a way of really getting an understanding of scale.
And there were some very straightforward techniques for teaching everybody how to read plans. So the aim was to make sure that the language of architecture wasn’t itself excluding people, something that I think still goes on, unfortunately.
I just wanted to throw in a couple of pictures of Jagonari I’m not really going to talk about it, but we can come back to it. I think the most important thing to me about Jagonari besides the fact that it was for many years until they couldn’t afford the rent, a very well occupied building, is the client group initially assumed that they would only be able to have some Portakabins. And they had a really fantastic set of ideas about what kind of resource centre this would be for Bengali, Indian, Pakistani migrants into that bit of the East End.
And Matrix was able to help them write a funding bid that made it possible for this big building to be made and was actually the last big building the GLC funded, community building, before its demise.
So I wanted to step back from that a little and think about what kinds of, how we might discuss, how we might have some new concepts for thinking about who gets valued and how architecture understands the different people who occupy it and who make it as designers, as builders, as construction managers.
This is a quote actually from 1973 from a Sheila Rowbotham book, which I remember reading as a student and feeling very connected with it. It was about the idea of misfitting. It was about the sense that for some people, their education and their employment is relatively smooth.
Everybody has feelings of misfitting, but for some people these things are kind of designed and made for you to do well. And then for other people, there’s something going on, “lumbering around, ungainly like, in borrowed concepts which did not fit the shape we feel ourselves to be.”
And that resonates very much with me with a more recent quotation from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, who’s a very well-known disability studies scholar, “misfit occurs when world fails flesh in the environment one encounters.” So she’s trying to pin down this idea of this misfitting.
Misfitting is something where the built world and other people and your relationships to it don’t quite work.
And I’m endlessly interested, I think, in those kind of ordinary, everyday practices where those kinds of misfittings continue to be perpetuated. But I’m also really interested in how that’s potentially also very creative.
One of the things that, a kind of starting point from DisOrdinary Architecture projects point of view is, if you fit very smoothly the world, then you don’t really notice stuff. You don’t actually need to engage because the world works for you.
But if it’s endlessly coming up to bite you and those things that don’t fit, then that actually means that you are negotiating those and mainly you’re being very creative in your negotiations so that’s something to learn from.
We can learn from our own misfitting and the misfitting of others.
So to just talk very briefly about the DisOrdinary Architecture project.
We started in 2008. It’s an informal platform. It’s led by a disabled artist, my co-creator is Zoe Partington, who is a disabled artist and the strapline, “to promote activity that develops and captures models of new practise for the built environment, led by the creativity and experiences of disabled artists,” was written in 2008 and is still absolutely true to what we try and do.
And I think this notion of models of new practise is really important. This is not about adding on the requirements of people with disabilities at the end of a project.
It’s about thinking how you might actually redesign architectural practice, architectural education in a very different way, that doesn’t just assume able-bodied people as its clients and users. And I think I’ve got really involved in thinking about disability in relationship to having started in the more feminist, which was also did think about access a lot, feminist setting is, and this quote I think explains it really well.
And it is about how disability is something that still somehow gets treated as a kind of separate category to other identities.
“Disability sits in a peculiar position, in relationship to architecture. While readers and anthologies already exist that explore architecture and other identities of difference, disability as concept that disabled people as a constituency continue to be assumed is completely separate from social or cultural politics. It seems that we assume disability to be unable to bring any criticality or creativity to the discipline of architecture.”
And I would be very interested in your reflections, particularly students in the room, about that, about what it is that you have or haven’t been taught about thinking around access, inclusion, disability, because it still seems to me to be the case that it’s something that’s not really dealt with an undergraduate, except perhaps with a special needs project, which is very… we can talk about why that’s problematic.
And then it becomes something you learn as part of regulatory practise and legal practise in your diploma. And I would argue that we need to change that, and we need to change that urgently. Just to remind you, you all know, that’s what normally happens, we have these templates that we could just stick into plans at the end without really thinking about it. And what we do is we start from somewhere else. We start from the creativity of disabled artists.
This is Aaron Williamson, a deaf artist who works with DisOrdinary quite a lot, and Katherine Araniello, who unfortunately is no longer with us. But I wanted to remember that when we think about working directly around disability and difference, we also need to see that our ideas about being disabled are connected also to our ideas about what it is to be able bodied, and that that is a much more messy and confused boundary than is often assumed.
And also, there’s a lot of pressure in many ways to meet the kind of needs of being fit, of being competent, of being energetic. And particularly within architectural education and practise, of being obsessive, of being, of working really hard. It’s not all those things are wrong, but there are a set of character traits which are connected to what it is that you’re expected to be when you’re an architect.
And I think it's just interesting to reflect on them in terms of what they mean.
So this is Aaron Williamson, again, very kindly Christina talked about deconstructing the lecture. This is an idea I stole. Aaron used it too from him. He was a deaf student and no accommodations were made for him. But being an artist, he was really interested in that as a creative thing. He quite enjoyed watching his lectures, gesticulating whilst he couldn’t hear anything they were saying.
It was like performance art. And so he’s done a whole series of ways of deconstructing lectures, which are very clever and humorous and which I recommend you find out about.
And so it’s one of the things we do in this ordinary, a very direct way of this kind of an embodied practise I talk about. We start with the standard format of the lecture and then we think about who it’s difficult for in terms of sound and other sensory overload, in terms of sitting in very uncomfortable chairs. Also in terms of not being allowed to fidget, in terms of not being allowed to make extraneous noises, in terms of standing out as odd.
If you use a wheelchair, for example, always being very noticeable, and we play around with that format as a way of suggesting that those very detailed types of occupancy of spaces are themselves an architecture that we could challenge and deal with in a very different way.
We also look at, this is Liz Crowe working with some students from the University of Westminster. We also look at other ways of just disrupting kind of norms in built space. She is very interested in process of lying down in public. She needs to, but it’s often seen as being anti-social behaviour.
And she experiments with students in different ways in which you might lie down and rest and how what sorts of spaces might be made available for that and how might you design to make that work?
And that’s not just a kind of design to make things better for people who need to rest. She also started bringing her bed into her own master’s course and rearranged the notion of the seminar. And in this case, everybody said that it changed the way that seminars work, it actually made them much more open, much more informal, much easier to speak. And that just literally rearranging how you could be in a room made a huge difference.
Another project, this one I borrow from, this comes from Zoe Partington. It’s a great one. It’s called Characters. And rather than sort of pretending to be disabled by putting a blindfold on or using a wheelchair, we ask people to do all kinds of absurd things.
So this one, this is one of the many variations on those absurd things, which is you pick up as many things as you can and walk around with them. And what that teaches you straight away is getting in and out of the door becomes a whole different thing, which can often be almost impossible. But also very interesting when you work out how to negotiate the door handle and you think about how the door handle might be different.
And this is Dave Dixon, who works often with DisOrdinary Architecture. He’s really interested in how you might change the way that you draw, how you might reconfigure your body to draw differently and therefore think about space and others differently.
This was a project we did in Copenhagen very quickly. And this one is also really tiny. But again, I think these little provocations for me are really what architecture is. It is these social interactions and encounters between people, spaces, objects and each other.
And this is Jon Adams, who’s an autistic artist. Sorry Partington, who’s my partner in crime, and Noemi Lakmaier. And we did a small project at the Royal Academy where we just looked at what happened when you started making spaces available to sit down in those kinds of public galleries.
And interestingly, there’s a whole history of how museums and galleries struggle with knowing whether people should or shouldn’t sit down, because when you’re looking at work, you’re meant to be standing up at a certain distance and using your visual acuity to interpret the work. So sitting immediately becomes a problem. And we looked at how you could change a space just by putting in a few chairs.
Connected to that is an idea that when you design, you might think about different sorts of bodies and not just use kind of stereotypical placeholders in your drawings. I love this one because I just like the fact that she’s quite real.
This is by a student at Newcastle who just wanted to explore queering space and cripping space. So he did that by deliberately using these kind of rather surreal interpretations of humans.
And this is a lovely project by Thomas Carpentier. This was his diploma project in France, where he designed a house for a whole series of very different kinds of bodies to live together, people to live together. And it starts from, they are both real and imagined fictional characters, and it starts by the design of a dining table so they can all sit together and it moves on to a huge, really beautiful and very detailed housing project. You can see this online.
And the last projects from this Disordinary that I wanted to talk about, because I think it does connect to these ideas about how we can actually really change architectural education. And out of that practice, this is called Architecture Beyond Sight. It was commissioned by Alan Penn, who was Dean of The Bartlett at the time and who had met a blind architect, Carlos Pereira, and then found out, as we did, that there were quite a lot of blind architects, as well as quite a lot of visually impaired architects who don’t necessarily disclose that fact.
And it was about, well, could you imagine a course which was the blind and visually impaired creative people that enabled them to become architects, not just by adding them on to the way the architectural already organise, but actually by reinventing design methods and techniques in ways that emphasised the tactile or sensual. And we explored what those techniques might be.
Huge, performative drawings, this was Rachel Gadsden, another artist who works with us a lot with some of the students. Different kinds of very tactile models. We also opened up the workshop.
This is Duncan Meerding, who’s a blind craftsman from Tasmania, developing really beautifully made objects. And we looked at how you might do a design.
This is Mandy Redvers Rowe, who works with a lot, a blind theatre producer and writer and actor, with Shade Abdul a sighted architect who was one of the team developing these ideas. Looking just simply at Lego, but also most importantly, I think in their case, at performance and audio description.
So what they did was design the space and then describe it and perform it back to us and we could all visualise it incredibly well. It became a really rich way to describe what a space might be like.
I think we were really interested in moving away from orthographic drawings as a technique not just for blind and visually impaired people, but something that might be really rich for all of us to play with.
And, you know, I’ve talked quite a lot about deconstructing lectures and seminars, but it also turned out we deconstructed the crit in that they turned out in many cases to be done under the table or in very close proximity, with a lot of connection in terms of being able to feel the tactile qualities of something.
So just to sum up. I think I really want to go back to that original question about who is valued and how we can engage with that as a question in architectural education and practise and a whole variety of ways.
And I think I’m also interested and I’d like to hear from people here in the room, you know, what has changed since the 1980s in terms of the kinds of lives we lead and how they are affected by gender or race or class or sexuality.
And I put together this series of images which are in the Matrix exhibition, which are currently on at The Barbican, How We Live Now. So the idea of the kind of housewife’s aesthetic and the middle class housewife with all her kids, but still a labour saving kit, you know, I think we kind of assume we’ve moved beyond that.
But with the pandemic, it was very clear that women, particularly women with children, found themselves back in those roles of being ones who were mainly responsible for childcare, managing day to day life and for housework.
At the bottom is a lovely cartoon by Janice Goodman about whether girls can be architects. And down the side is a great cartoon by Louis Hellman which is about whether architects really do what they mean by participation. So these are all from the 1980s. But I wonder how much things have changed.
And for me, I’m an academic and I do lots of different things as well. And I love reading and I have time to read as soon as you’re an architecture student, but most particularly if you're in practice, time to reflect, time to talk to people who aren’t your direct clients, time to read around the subject are much less available.
We started, we didn’t know anything when we started we just knew we were interested. And we found all the writing at that time about gender and architecture came from the States. And we just, and to some extent some feminist geography in this country, and we just buried ourselves in that because we were so keen to learn something, to understand something about why we didn’t feel that we fitted when we were told by our tutors that there was nothing there, there was nothing to see.
And I think for me now, again, I read a lot and I’m very lucky that I can, but there are so many brilliant books really opening up the whole range of ideas about disability that are in it, and what bodies can do and about participation as kind of design justice that I really recommend.
If you find any of this interesting, I really recommend that you can try and find the time to engage with some of that. I often say to people, there’s such fantastic, I got into all of this a lot by just extending my Twitter feed to people to, you know, disability artists, disability scholars, disabled activists.
I was really interested in what’s going on. And that’s a very energetic space that one can join in just through Facebook or Twitter very easily. I’m also interested, I mean there’s a lot of work going on in this field and it’s just interesting to know how much it is having an impact, particularly within the schools, the architecture schools.
I’d love to know whether, you know, anything like the Race and Space curriculum, which has been developed actually at University College London for Sound Advice’s work or queer architectural groups like Mycket. You know what kind, are you introduced to any of these things or would you like to be maybe you don’t feel it’s necessary.
I do think that all of this needs to connect, and does connect, with the climate emergency. I haven’t talked about that very much, but I think the kind of agendas around care and repair link very much to a lot of the work going along, that that was always going, in feminist and disability activism, whether squatting or what is known as an emergent collective care in the disability activism world.
And again, that work that you can connect to very immediately if it interests you. It’s out there, it’s easy to reach.
Access is Love, what a great title, is something by the Disability Visability project, which is based in New York, the one which says, I think it says swearing is some fantastic work by Jess Thom, who has Tourette’s, and has been working with Battersea Art Centre on developing a relaxed venue and what that means so that it becomes somewhere where all sorts of people can hang out and go to shows without them being excluded or pointed out.
At the bottom of the hand, the sketch drawings, What We Want, that’s Raquel Meseguer, a disabled artist who also works with this DisOrdinary, who’s been working in Coventry to make it the first resting city. Great work to see.
And finally, the last image is a museum bench by somebody called Shannon Finnegan again in New York, just making some really disabled artist in you, making some really interesting work around, provocations around thinking about what space does and who it’s for, differently.
So my final image is back to Dave Dixon, who I showed you earlier, and it is around this idea of care and repair. It’s a project he did in 2015 in Nepal. And it’s about dust. It’s about how you might remake something very beautiful with the dust and debris from things that have been broken.
And from my point of view, if I’m talking about insiders and outsiders, I just feel these people, you know, people like Dixon, Raquel Meseguer, you know, all the people I mentioned, Aaron Williamson, they shouldn’t they should be employed by architecture schools.
This is one of the ways we move on from thinking about from being embarrassed and awkward around access and inclusion. We bring in outsiders. We let outsiders in and we listen to their voices and we listen to their creativity.
So that’s some of the references for me, which I hope you get, well you’ll be able to see if you review the recording.
And thank you, everyone, for listening.
Christina Gaiger Fantastic. Thank you so much.
I mean, I’ve got so many questions myself and so many things I could ask and build on, but actually some of them are covered by the audience tonight as well.
So I think we’ll dive straight in, if that’s OK.
From Morag Cross there’s a really interesting kind of statement and it might lead to a question so mentions that access as a concept was first looked at in archaeology circa 1995 when a session at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference was held in Redding.
It looked partly at disabled people in the past and how they might have been limited according to the medical model of disability by the environment, as has historically recorded or uncovered by archaeological excavation.
So it’s not surprising that it’s still a novel idea, even 26 years later in academia.
I think that’s a very interesting point and relates to the work of, I suppose, Matrix 40 years ago in terms of gender and looking at access, in terms of a holistic approach to design. And I think what you mentioned, Jos in terms of what space is, and who’s it for.
Do you feel when moving more from that material concept of architecture to a human perspective on architecture?
And although the housewife analogy for the pandemic there is a return, has the pandemic helped in terms of that community human aspect? Has there been any movement do you think? Sorry big question.
Dr Jos Boys Well, I think and it’s really interesting just to go back to the thing about archaeology, I love that because I think these things have been, they’ve been coming up in different ways and that’s been really radical work.
And there’s a lot of really radical work around disability representation in museums and galleries and archives, and how you might really find out more about that. And there’s been a lot of work around indigeneity and how understanding of disability can be very different, say, in, I’m working with the student who is doing work on Easter Island and I’m working with some other people who are doing work in Australia with First Nations people there.
So, there’s kind of just so many different themes and connections and I feel that, yeah, there’s definitely, and again, I mean, what’s interesting for me in terms of working with this generation of students and cultures of different architecture schools and cultures of different places and people individually, we’re all so different. But one of the things that I really found is that the kind of acceptance and shift to non binary is a kind of yeah, why, who cares – you know, why are we making such a thing of this really amongst many younger people has also had knock on effects to disability – it’s like disabled, not disabled.
Yeah, we need to care for people, we need to support them, but it’s not it’s not somehow this frightening category. And I’ve seen that kind of solidarity many, many times, and I really love it. But in terms of change, I think it’s always going in both directions at once, isn’t it?
So what we have right now, I mean, a lot of disabled people remain very angry about the pandemic because, you know, people have been asking to be able to work in a hybrid way or work from home just to save energy for example, to save spoons is a bit like, oh, when is able bodied people you can do it just like that can you but you can’t do it for us.
And now that’s already flipping back where people with disabilities and ditto, you know if you’re disabled and you have children and they’ve got to go back to school, you know, what do you do that you’ve got to send them back to school or you're fined.
But at the same time, you’re taking the risk of making yourself or other family members ill. So the complexities of it, I think go on. And I guess, I mean it’s the same I think with aspects of feminism and work around gender. It’s always three steps forward and two steps back and then one step sideways.
But you have to believe that your, I mean, I’m a great fan of a kind of snowball view of how things change, but it is actually about changing mindsets and it is about starting small and then that just rolling, rolling on and then it’s suddenly becoming a new norm.
Suddenly it’s something that happened with domestic violence where when you know, when I was at architecture school men hit their wives. What was wrong with that! And the kind of domestic violence movement for at least a long period of time shifted that away from it being acceptable.
And that connected also to architecture because it connected to women’s refuges, which Matrix did one of. Providing safe spaces for women in that circumstance so that these things could be opened up. That was a very long winded answer.
But I think, yeah, I don’t think we can ever slip back to, you know, we’re moving into quite a period when more right wing views are coming to the fore again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it often comes along with a kind of assumption that exclusion of certain groups is good and should happen.
And that, I think, is quite you know, this is worrying.
Christina Gaiger I think it’s interesting that, you know, you mention about domestic violence and the snowball effect and that mainstream involvement almost, and it ties in a little bit to your energetic space in terms of Twitter and the energy and movement you can get through things now is so much greater.
Actually, the dissemination of information and understanding the opportunity is there. It’s just I think it is how that can be harnessed as well.
And I suppose just, I’m going to skip over one question, but I am going to come back to it and just to link in to that from a digital perspective.
There’s a question that says, amazing lecture, thank you. How does the digital spaces we’re in now due to the pandemic impact on design of our spaces and access for everyone? And this is I mean, it’s a new phenomenon that we’re dealing with but I imagine in education this is a really broad issue in terms of neurodiversity as well as any physical impairment, for example.
So it’s a new it feels like it’s a new topic that’s come to the fore. And I remember discussing this a little bit for the Architecture Fringe. It would be great to get your perspective.
Dr Jos Boys Yes, I do. And again, I was going to say all of this and a bit of that. I mean, I think for many people there have been some benefits to being able to do things differently in all sorts of different ways and maybe having more hybrid models of how we interact with each other. And there are certainly very straightforward things that have worked.
You know, the Internet has really benefited quite a wide range of disabled people in terms of being able to communicate and access a much wider network of friends and connections.
I’m, the worry is of course, that the digital world is also potentially very inaccessible. And just as with the physical world, that’s kind of something which is seen as, you know, there’s equally there’s a set of technical and legal guidance about that.
But people don’t really feel they have to do it or they do it very mechanically. And so when you note that certain sorts of online spaces are inaccessible, Miro is one that we’re having a bit of a discussion about the Bartlett at the moment, because lots of tutors use it because it’s a fantastic design space, but it’s very inaccessible.
And so it’s discriminating against some people. But then what often happens, and it’s the same with physical space or physical setting, you know, physical encounters, the tutors will say, well, but nobody’s complained. And it’s like, well, you don’t complain.
You know, there’s a huge number of people with impairments of all sorts in architecture school and in practise, unless it’s really physically visible, those you know, it’s really hard to declare. This is an indictment of our profession. I mean, it’s actually an indictment of society, but it’s indictment of our profession. But you don’t declare because you know that it’s going to affect your study opportunities, your job opportunities, and that you will have to do all the work to make those spaces physical or digital accessible. And that that will then be your problem.
So, again, I think, you know, it’s for me, the digital spaces have lots of opportunities. In particular, I think the hybrid space is the kind of the way that we’re learning to begin to mix these things up a bit. But the same underlying, we have to still challenge the same underlying assumptions that if we design for normal people, quote unquote, and then we kind of fit on the others, the people we’ve already left out, then we think we might include them if we get round to it.
And there is some really good work on what’s it called universal, it’s universal design for learning, so it’s trying to tell, I mean there’s lots of issues around universal design for physical space, but it's trying to take the idea that you can use similar sorts of concepts in terms of the digital space.
And so I think universal design for learning is really worth looking at in terms of it’s got very similar ideas, which is, it’s about generosity, it’s about multimodality. It’s not that we’re all somehow the perfect solution that will suit all of us.
It will always have to be adaptive. It’s always going to not work for everybody. But that in an ideal world and you know in terms of building buildings, we do not live in an ideal world, but in an ideal world, there would be lots of different ways of doing the same thing so that people can occupy space equitably.
I mean it would be lovely to think that is the direction we’re heading in. But as you said, the built environment is not an equitable one, therefore we have a long way to go.
Dr Jos Boys And we have you know, we’re acting as if we you know, we don’t have the clients and the funders who are going to, you know, set parameters that we don’t have any control over. But I do, I mean, I think it’s easy for me to say because I do teach, but I don’t you know,
I’m not responsible for validating courses or, you know, design, redesigning the nature of architectural education. Although I think the work Lesley Lokko is doing with architectural futures in Accra is well worth looking at, because I think some of that is going on there. But for me, I think everything we need to really move from this model where we do design for the norm and then we add on stuff.
So, yes, I agree with you completely about listening and participation and all that. You know, that’s often stopped by time constraints.
But my radical suggestion would be we need to start from the outliers, but we need to actually start, and not the special needs, not as a special category, but that we might design spaces where we start from the people who don’t fit and then expand outwards to include the norms because they’re going to be fine anyway.
Christina Gaiger I think it’s an interesting approach. And actually there’s a great question coming and noting that I’m a bipolar person and wonder if there’s anyone looking at this type of disability and the built environment so we are looking at from all perspectives, I think.
And I’m not aware of any work, are you?
Dr Jos Boys Well, thank you for that, because I think there is an increasing amount of work. Some of it is a wee bit problematic because it is in this kind of design solutions bracket. So it gives you a medical definition of what being bipolar is.
And then it kind of sees that as being all around the deficit and anxieties and all of those things which are true, but not necessarily or may have some truth in them, but don’t kind of see people who are bipolar in as a really diverse and interesting group of people.
So I think that, the best example for me, and it is about this notion of adaptability and how one learns from different kinds of people with different kinds of impairment.
So in the States is a very famous building called the Ed Roberts Campus, which was designed from a disability perspective, but by a user group of almost entirely physical disabilities, which part of that campaigning at the time. They were very radical.
That building is still a building for a kind of learning centre that focuses on people with disabilities and, but a lot more as kind of all sorts of different neuro divergent ways of being are becoming people who are advocating for themselves. They’re no longer being willing to be advocated for by medical professionals or by historically parents. And that building Kim Kullman, somebody called Kim Kullman.
The Kullman spell Kullman, has written a piece that’s really just following how campaigning groups, new divergent campaigning groups, but also people with environmental sensitivity.
So, so things that, if you like, coming more to the fore, it’s possible to just disclose them and not necessarily be completely marginalised. And it’s about how the building adapted to those different requirements.
So I would say, I can probably think of, connect to people on Twitter neuro divergent, bipolar on Twitter, and you’ll see, that there’s lots of people looking at, not necessarily the built environment, but the whole way the set of relationships to other people to built space.
I really like Sonia Boue. She’s actually autistic. She’s really good. But there’s two or three others I can think of, but not right now.
Christina Gaiger Who? Because you’re under pressure. Sorry.
I mean, I always follow up to the attendees or we could post on the RIAS website and a reading list with extra things if we think of them, because it’s something that I’d like to look at as well. I mean, these are fantastic questions. I feel like we could open up this discussion.
I’m conscious of time and the short list video that we have. But there’s one more question come through that’s definitely not a small question, but maybe it’s a good one to round up on. And it’s what comes through most in looking back is how little progress we’ve made.
It goes back to the beginning point, if you could Jos and how social divisions have grown in the intervening period. It’s not as if we don’t know what is required, but the failure to apply it and change what is happening in the mainstream is where it still seems to be business as usual.
So what is the most effective way to ramp up the rate of change? Now, you’ve touched on this a little bit in terms of breaking down who you go to first, what is the norm. Is there anything else in terms of as designers, in terms of one’s approach or thinking from that early stage, I suppose, that we could take away?
Dr Jos Boys You know, I’m going to say something that’s sort of vague but also very precise, which is about mindsets. And I think just as with Black Lives Matter, I think that we particularly as people moving into or already being in a professional discipline, need to take some responsibility for this.
I know with a lot of other things to take responsibility for, but it is about recognising ableist entitlement, sexist, sexual, sexist entitlement. It is about recognising our own entitlement and our own privilege and finding ways to show solidarity with people who are not in that position.
And that’s not just empathy. There’s a difference to me about solidarity and empathy. It’s about committing to and it’s you can’t do all of it.
So you need to you need to think what works for you. But committing to some small change that is supporting disadvantaged groups and that may be just, that may not even be an acceptable practice, that may be more in everyday life.
I just think that the more we all, that’s why me why, as a non disabled person, I feel I’ve got involved in this because I feel like it’s too often not… it’s left to disadvantaged groups to make that change. And that’s a huge weight and we should all be sharing that weight.
Christina Gaiger I think that’s a fantastic note to finish on, and if anything gives us some homework to go and apply to our company is on our drawing boards or the project we’re about to look at. And I think that showing solidarity is so important and completely agree that we should be taking, we can’t take it all on, but if everyone did something, it would certainly make a difference and hopefully that would move us forward.
So I just want to say a huge thank you Jos for the talk this evening. It’s been thought provoking, inspiring, and there’s so much more I want to go back, delve into, listen again and look at and I hope everyone else feels similarly.
And now for the moment that possibly some of the students here have all been waiting for – the student award shortlist. And I’m really looking forward, I just saw the fantastic work and very much looking forward to hopefully seeing you at the convention next week as well.
So huge thank you again to Jos this evening for the inspiring conversation. I’m sure you will have more questions.
I’m sorry we didn’t have more time, but reach out on Twitter. We’ll try and put a reading list and let’s keep that energy going as best we can.
But thank you so much Jos.
It’s really appreciated. And over to the video. Hopefully we’ll get this working straight away.
About Dr Jos Boys
Dr Jos Boys is Director, Learning Environments Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Centre (LEEDIC) Learning Environments at The Bartlett, University College London UK and Programme Lead on the MSc Learning Environments. Originally trained in architecture, she was co-founder of Matrix feminist architecture and research collective in the 1980s and one of the authors of Making Space: Women and the Man-made Environment Pluto 1984.
Since then she has been a journalist, researcher, consultant, educator and photographer and has published several books. Most recently she co-founded The DisOrdinary Architecture Project, bringing disabled artists into architectural education and practice to critically and creatively re-think access and inclusion.
Dr Boys’ research and practice explores how everyday social, spatial and material practices come to frame what is ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’, and to work with others on design interventions that question our assumptions about who gets valued and who doesn’t (in society, in the design of built space and in architecture as a discipline). She is author of Doing Disability Differently: an alternative handbook on architecture, dis/ability, and designing for everyday life Routledge 2014 and editor of Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader Routledge 2017.
About the Architecture and Design Scotland and RIAS Scottish Student Awards for Architecture
The awards offer a rare opportunity to see all five schools together and recognise the achievement of individual students and their schools of architecture. They are a mark of the continuing high standards of Scottish architectural education and enable both the public and the profession to enjoy the creativity and vision of Scotland’s future architects. This year's awards ceremony was held during the RIAS Convention (online on 1 October 2021).