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A timely reminder of how architects can serve communities

Emily Booth
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The final AJ of the decade is dedicated to a topic that can seem in short supply: community. It’s what good architecture should be about, says Emily Booth

Whichever way you voted, whatever your political views, and whether you’re in the pits of despair or smiling in quiet triumph, the election just gone – and the years of agonising political stalemate leading up to it – may well have left you feeling a bit ‘done-in’ (or at least ready for a good break).

The UK has been through an extraordinary time, and to pretend it’s just business as usual now is to deny the strength of emotion that swirls around the massive issues of our time: the climate emergency; Brexit; the housing crisis; Grenfell; the general state of the nation.

How do you sum up the past year? How do you sum up the past decade? The UK feels rather different now from how it did back in 2010, for many reasons and not all of them good. Change is part of life and we’re living through a lot of it just now.

So, instead of looking back, we’ve decided to look forward and focus on that most important (and seasonal) of topics, and one that can seem in short supply: community. We’re all part of our communities, and serving our communities is what good architecture should be about. When the world around seems rather chaotic and unstable, it is at ground level, at street level, that positive, affirmative and hopeful action can reap great rewards.

In Ella Jessel’s insightful interview with filmmaker-turned-architect Clare Richards, Richards notes that architects can fix communities, but only as part of a collaborative approach. Communities, she says, are ’terribly easy to destroy but take years to build’.

We have been inspired by a range of community-led schemes and the collaborative, entrepreneurial mindset that’s behind them. There’s much to learn from. In one project, a tiny intervention has created a ‘spare room’ for the Govanhill community in Glasgow. It’s ‘an invitation to participate’ – and it’s a good one.

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At the macro level, the Brexit stalemate is over. It’s time to breathe out. It will be up to the architectural profession to play its part in making the most of the opportunities that emerge – and be nimble and innovative when it comes to the challenges. 

At the micro level, there are many invitations to participate that architects can spearhead, exploring civic life at small scale. In the meantime, the AJ will continue to champion your profession, and your wonderful professional community, at all levels. Have a very merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

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