It seems that everyone, in arts funding bodies and throughout the world of architecture, is in love with the concept of collaboration, writes Claire Price. This infatuation is resulting in a flurry of exhibitions fusing art, architecture and design, within which muf has gained not only a platform but a growing reputation. It is therefore timely that the Architecture Foundation is playing host to 'Emotional Storage' - an exhibition of muf's recent projects which seeks to define the collaborative and consultative processes at the core of its work.
Muf's work is pervaded by the questions of how design can be relevant to, and engage with, a local community, and how the explicit power relationship between the provider and the habitual user can be counteracted through participation in the design process. muf is undoubtedly right to focus on whether commissioning bodies should proceed with superficial urban- regeneration schemes, and to attempt to direct these funds in more responsive ways. Much of the work in the show follows this model, as at Southwark Street in South London and Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.
But, while muf seems to lack any cynicism towards those consulted, and to have great faith in the process which it follows, the result often seems to be a number of now well-rehearsed public art gestures. The flexibility of the practice's design response has to be questioned.
It is significant that the most appealing and original projects are often the simplest in both premise and execution. These include muf's proposal for The Play Strip, which explores how to provide a badly needed play facility with funding of only £4000. Muf has devised a linear terrain providing distinctive play areas for different age groups, which can then be extended when additional funds allow to form a full-sized facility.
The real test of muf's passion for new ways of approaching design will only come when it is able to realise a significant building. Then we will see if its belief in consultation and collaboration can be translated into a way of creating space that truly resonates with its locality and the people who use it.
Claire Price is an architect in London