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Table Of Contents:

1. Abstract 1

2. Introduction 2

3. Literature Review 5

4. Research Methodology 13

5. Exploring The Marriage of The Units: The Concept Of

User-Designer Collaboration

5.1 A Look At The Constituents of User-Designer Collaboration 15

5.1.1 The Main Participants 15

5.1.2 The Stakeholder Category 16

5.1.3 The Role Of The Architect 16

5.1.4 Formulating The Network 17

5.1.5 Creating A Common Platform 17

5.1.6 Taking The Initiative 19

5.1.7 Exploring The Various Methods of Involvement 21

5.1.8 A Specimen Of The Collaboration Model: Orangi Pilot Project 23

5.2 Participation As A Continuous Process 27

5.2.1 Rumi Schools Of Excellence: An Example Of Continuous 27


5.3 Benefits of User-Designer Collaboration 31

5.3.1 Modern Educational And Training Institute 31

5.4 Drawbacks of User-Designer Collaboration 34

6. Conclusion 36

7. Bibliography 39

Table Of Figures:

1. Figure 1. Orangi Pilot Project, Karachi, Pakistan 23

2. Figure 2. Orangi Pilot Project, Karachi, Pakistan 26

3. Figure 3. Rumi Schools of Excellence, Hyderabad, India 27

4. Figure 4. Rumi Schools of Excellence, Hyderabad, India 30

5. Figure 5. Rumi Schools of Excellence, Hyderabad, India 30

6. Figure 6. METI School, Rudrapur, Bangladesh 31

7. Figure 7. METI School, Rudrapur, Bangladesh 33


1. Abstract

The process of building involves many stages beginning from the conception

to the completion of the space and continues on to the post occupancy stage. As

architecture is an art form experienced by the user, each step in the process of

designing a building requires his involvement. The user group are those who are most

affected by an architectural piece. Their participation in its development is thus of

great value to both the designer as well as the users themselves.

User-Designer collaboration usually upholds the idea of community ties and works to

create partnerships not only between the individual user and designer but the

community as a whole. This process usually comes forth as a bold gesture with the

potential to influence the urban landscape. The dialogue between the participants thus

becomes an important and structured event. The successful working of this participant

body becomes as important as the final product. There are however many obstacles in

the course of this process, which in circumstances render it to be unfeasible. The

strategy must then be to determine the extent of collaboration between the user and

designer so that the benefits out weigh the detriments and result in generating an

effective design solution. The tool of designer collaboration ensures that the users

become more involved in impacting their surroundings. This involvement creates a

synergy amongst the community empowering them and breeds a sense of

responsibility. User participation helps in creating awareness and brings about a sense

of ownership within the user. It also promotes territorialism, which links back to the

basic human instinct of protecting ones spaces and creating a greater sense of


2. Introduction

One of the most significant influences on design is the ‘people factor’. The

creators of a built environment are the designers along with the inhabitants. The way a

space is lived in and utilised by its users is an indicator of its success, and also

determines the affect that the space has on the community. The quality of a space in

turn has the ability to influence a person’s quality of life. The way people inhabit

different spaces and form a sense of ownership signifies that users have an

understanding of what makes their surroundings enjoyable for their particular nature

of use. Thus a professionals approach linked by the users wants and needs can aid in

achieving a space of significance. The question that this dissertation addresses is

‘‘what role should user-designer collaboration play when generating a design


The objective of this document is to explore the phenomenon of user-designer

collaboration. An analysis of the subject creates an understanding of its various

dimensions; to what extent it has been successful as opposed to the situations where it

has failed. These have been expressed in this dissertation through multiple sections,

connecting back to the larger idea.

The most basic aspect to understand is that of the participants. The architectural

process has numerous steps, which require the involvement of many players including

the sponsor, the client, the end users and so forth. They are of prime importance

because usually it is their vision, which dictates the product of the architectural

exercise. This paper illustrates various situations whereby users have been encouraged

to join the design process, and the impact on their lifestyles has been discussed. This

also gives us an idea of the kind of projects that propel people to contribute in the

overall process. When these various participating groups become involved, other

factors such as a structured framework, visible goal, clear and transparent process

becomes very important.

The other single most important aspect to a successful partnership is effective

communication and consistent dialogue between the participants. This indicates a

desire to understand each other while responding to the needs. The architect mostly

bases the concept and initial suggestions on the users response, this is not necessarily

the final outcome but a means of stimulating thought and discussion between the


The first segment better explains the platform that brings the participants

together. The subject of discussion is a holistic view on the concept of user-designer

collaboration. It traces the beginnings of user participation and its recognition as a

design tool. This segment also talks about the various theories on the matter and

situations where they have been applied, with the mention of actual examples. The

subject has been further broken down so as to show the importance of involving users

in the design process as well as examining the continuous effect of design on the user.

The next segment is based on the benefits of using user-designer participation in the

design process. The users hold a wealth of information concerning the project and if

this knowledge is correctly channelled then the designer is able to create a

contextually apt and good quality building with greater ease. A positive outcome from

a project creates a chain reaction; it encourages more people to become actively

involved in influencing their spaces.

The drawbacks are also discussed. It is important to be familiar with the shortcomings,

as these highlight why this instrument of design has not been used as the absolute

solution for projects. It also advises about aspects of the user participation tool to be

wary of so as to avoid impediments.


With the help of examples concerning educational institutions and other public

constructions, the paper tries to explore the intricate relationship between the user and

the designer. It delves into understanding the outcomes of projects that have such

significant and deep-rooted connection with the people and community.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and

only when, they are created by everybody.”1 Jane Jacobs

1  Jacobs, Jane; The Death and Life of Great American Cities; Random House, New York 1961

3. Literature Review

“ The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows” 2 Sydney Harris

User collaboration is a concept that stresses upon the involvement of users with

designers so as to improve their living environments. The participation becomes a

means of empowerment for the users whereby they educate themselves and the

designers about their needs and desires. Through this extensive process the users are

trained to be self reliant and capable of taking important decisions that eventually

affect their quality of life. The design process, which is usually a device to achieve a

suitable building, thus becomes an important educative function in itself, sometimes

becoming more valuable than the final outcome.

This concept of user participation has been discussed in great detail and various

thoughts and ideas have surfaced on the topic. The stakeholders and the importance of

their role in the process is a significant debate. Jan Å. Granath has actively spoken

about ‘participatory design’ in his papers. The article, ‘Architecture - Participation of

users in design activities’, defines the main people involved in the activity and then

accordingly describes the roles that they undertake in a design process. The article

also looks at the various ways a design process influences the users and their living

environment3. This is especially regarded in two different approaches, firstly whereby

a design influences the user when he/she participates in the decision-making process

and secondly how the design continues to influence participants by constantly

adapting to their needs. The design process acts as the connecting factor between the

2  Sydney J. Harris, American journalist < › author >  
Granath, Jan M.Arch, PhD, Architecture - Participation of users in design activities, 2001

users and the project. The sense of ownership that they achieve continues to motivate

them in maintaining the project.

Granath, in his paper, discusses the necessity of reducing obstacles through collective

process. Since members of the community are sharing their experiences, skills and

resources, they also share a set of common problems that they want to deal with.

Collectively addressing these issues through a transparent process brings about

appropriate solutions to the problems. As the users work towards a common goal,

there is a greater chance that other basic hurdles such as disagreements,

disillusionment, lack of trust and so forth are reduced. Another method of minimizing

confusion is to elect representatives for certain tasks as well as groups. By doing so

there would always be a member who is constantly aware of the on going activities.

Per Anker Jensen, an associate professor in the Technical University of Denmark,

writes about the changing needs of the modern world and the importance to involve

all relevant users so as to create a suitable environment, in his paper titled,

‘Continuous Briefing and User Participation in Building Projects’. He discusses

corporate buildings and facades mirroring the image of the organizations. But Jensen

feels that without continuous interaction opportunities between the built environment

and the workers, the image of the building and its true symbolism cannot be expressed

and it becomes just an arbitrary gesture.

The article, ‘Managing the brief for better design’, written by Alastair Blyth reinforces

the idea that users must be involved from the beginning of the project, stating that it

would provide financial benefits.4 The knowledge that users have can help to identify

4  Oijevaar, K and Otter, Den. User Driven Innovative: User involvement in the design process of multi

functioning buildings; Architectural Design Management Systems; The Netherlands


the needs for the future building and save cost of extensive and unnecessary research.

Also the later the user is introduced in the more expensive it is to make adjustments.

On the other hand involving users and extracting information from them is a costly

procedure and so ascertaining the viability of the partnership becomes necessary.

Yanki Lee’s essay titled, ‘Design Participation Tactics: Redefining User Participation

in Design’ gives an insight into the concept of User-Participation. It discusses

methods to effectively achieve data on the user group, one such mode being role-play.

Role-play is a sociological theory where a researcher perceives himself in another

position, for example, as a user, and follows the behaviour pattern of this particular

group. The interaction becomes a means of learning, which gives an in depth

understanding of the needs, requirements and desires.

The paper also talks about the theory of Henri Lefebvre. This theory asserts that there

is a mediatory space between the designer’s realm and the users realm, which is the

space for collaboration. “They’ve (architects and urbanists) shifted from lived

experience to the abstract, projecting this abstraction back onto lived experience.”5

As users become more aware and can recount their own experience, they understand

their own requirements better. Designers realise a dialogue with the users will provide

them with information they would not be able to collect in other circumstances. Users

are especially able to help the designers once they have actually experienced the

space. Post occupancy evaluations are great aids whereby designers receive feedback

for designed spaces and upon doing so accept that the user’s suggestions can be very

valuable. Yet to gather information from a variety of stakeholders, resolving the

difference in ideology and sifting though the multiple desires can become a trial for

5  Lefebvre, H (1970,2003) The Urban Revolution. USA: The University of Minnesota Press.  

the architect. An important step is to understand the participatory process and its main

objective. If the process is well structured then there are greater chances for an

outcome that suits all parties. The role of the different actors in the participatory

design process and the interaction between them also gives a valuable insight into the

end results of a project.

Examining and analysing examples of User-Designer Participation gives a complete

and thorough understanding of the concept. It simultaneously also highlights the

obstacles as well as benefits of applying the idea. The METI (Modern Educational and

Training Institute) School in Rudrapur Bangladesh, discussed in the review report by

Lim, has been given the title of ‘The Handmade School’ as members of the

community literally came together and offered their skills and resources to construct

the school building. The community saw that they would be able to reap benefits from

the design process, as it would educate them about materials and construction

techniques and working on the project would strengthen their associations with it. As

the project was a school it already was significant of providing greater education

opportunities for the children of the community. “It is primarily not the architecture

that makes something special – it’s the people: everyone who worked on it with all

efforts and potentials and all who live in it and fill the space with atmosphere. 6” Anna


Cathy Dudek, a practitioner in design collaboration states, “Design decisions can

rarely be made in isolation...the views of architects are often deemed irrelevant within

6  Heringer, Anna. <> Anna Heringer-Architecture:

Vision ‘METI :Handmade School’


the framework of a more general education debate 7”, the real challenge is to

understand and effectively utilize the expertise of each stakeholder.

In the article, ‘engaging communities’, by ‘Architecture Centre Network’, school

design is described as an engagement between the education community (the pupils,

parents and local residents) designers and officials. This process is not just about

creating a better building but acting as a catalyst for change within the school system.

It becomes a means of empowerment for the people, encourages innovation and

ultimately leads to improved learning. There is a growing recognition that involving

stakeholders has a significant contribution to creating quality environments and more

ownership amongst the client group.

The group authoring the article, Architecture Centre is an organization aimed at

demonstrating the value of good design and increasing people's awareness and

enjoyment of their built environment8. It states in its resource journal that the company

has taken the initiative to empower school communities by involving them in the

consultation process, experimenting with this methodology in some of England’s

secondary schools. The pupils, staff and parents of the Hartcliff School in South

Bristol were encouraged to explore issues such as sustainability and landscaping

through a series of workshops. They then developed it as art and applied it in their

public spaces. With the help of exhibitions, talks, debates and events the students and

the community interacted with prominent practitioners and were inspired by the

projects, broadening their understanding of architecture.

7  Dudek, Cathy,Human Oriented Technology Lab, Carleton University

8  Architecture Centre-Home <>

The same organization reveals in an internet source about creating a system where

they encouraged children from the ages of 9-12 to engage in designing public spaces

that affect them. Children from this particular age group are usually ignored during

community consultation. Involving them at an early age helps in developing them into

sensitive participants of the community and aids in regenerating the neighborhood.

The Rumi School For Excellence, on an internet source, is introduced as a follower of

the guiding principle that ‘learning is a social experience’9. It believes that involving

participants not only benefits them but also aids the school to spread its influence

beyond its boundaries by increasing its resources and knowledge.

Nabeel Hamdi, in his book ‘Housing Without Houses’ talks about ‘Community

Participation’ as a powerful yet ambiguous idea. It is a term often incorporated in the

official jargon of planning and design, referring to the process where by professionals,

community groups, families, government groups and so forth work together to achieve

some common goals in an informal or formal partnership. This partnership is formed

as a necessity rather than a luxury, with the best kind ensuring that every participant

has a stake in the outcome and therefore some measure of control over it.

Hamdi feels that ‘Community Participation’ is an intrinsic part of both

governmental/professional interventions and formal planning and design. Design thus

becomes an effective instrument for community enablement rather than the final

product and consequently promotes the architecture of cooperation.10

9  Rumi School of Excellence <

Designs/Rumi-School-of-Excellence.htm> Hyderabad, India

10  Hamdi, Nabeel. Housing Without Houses: Participation, Flexibility, Enablement. Van Nostrand

Community participation was a tool extensively used in Sri Lanka to provide housing

for a considerable segment of society. The Sri Lankan program recognised the

complexity of incorporating people, actions, intentions and events when providing

shelter and so attempted to strike a careful balance between community needs and

governmental objectives. Information was collected through carefully devised groups

and a complete colour coded map was devised describing situations where attention

was required. The objective was to efficiently collect information and then channel it

directly to those who can take action. Learning and therefore training becomes an

integral part of the program with an approach based on discovery rather than


The main success of the Sri Lankan program was not only the final design solution

and enhanced community enablement, but also the confidence that the participants

gained so as to encourage repeating the process in other parts of the country.

Slums Information Development and Resource Centers (SIDAREC) explore the idea

of participation based on three principles, ‘Empowerment’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Choice’,

which become the driving force of the projects. The web source, Open Architecture

Network describes the radio station project as a response to the needs of the people

allowing them to come together for the sake of furthering their own interests. What

was realised was that the youth of the area were the most resourceful group especially

in terms of creativity, intelligence and vigour. Yet most of them contributed as the idle

part of society and became involved in illegal activities at an early age. The potential

of this energetic group was thus channelled so that they can participate in the

sustainability of their communities. This activity would instil in them a greater sense
Reinhold, New York 1991

of belonging and appreciation.

The radio station that was set up, served as a beacon for the slum. The internet access

gave a chance to reach out to the rest of the world, offer services and receive better

exposure. The library center became a source of learning as well as a place for

meeting and collection encouraging combined educational programs.


4. Research Methodology

Architects and designers have explored the concept of user-designer

collaboration and approached it in a variety of ways. These theories create a spectrum;

whereby the application of the concept and its effectiveness as a method can be


The written matter, available in the form of books, journals, essays and so forth, when

thematically categorised helps us to understand the various stances on the subject.

These theories reveal a variety of aggressive and passive approaches, with gradation

of grey areas in between. By demarcating the levels of user-designer partnership, the

relationships created between each partner and the strength of these relationships can

be closely studied. This also helps in understanding the position of the stakeholders,

allowing better definition for their roles.

The literature expresses theories on user participation supported by real life

experiments. These case studies allow the reader to get an essence of user

participation process and highlight instances where a need arises to apply such

techniques to resolve design problems. Simultaneously the articles emphasise the

practical difficulties faced when dealing with this complex theory. This dual

characteristic of user participation makes it more believable as a concept and we

realise its relevance in our time, condition and context. The research material has been

compiled using a certain system. The beginning trends of participation, mostly seen in

Europe, are considered, but at the same time it is noticed that developing third world

countries have a great number of successful user-designer collaboration examples,

with participants showing greater fervour when engaging in participation activities.

Another interesting observation is that the theory of user participation, although

having potential to have large-scale influences is best applied to areas with controlled

population, such as communities or neighbourhood so that the process can be carried

out with harmony. The examples mentioned in this dissertation are mainly located in

the sub-continent. This creates an underlying commonality between the users in

question as well as the general conditions. As certain factors are similar in nature, the

success, failure and extent of application can be understood in entirety.

The research becomes largely library based and is supported with articles from the

Internet. Material that is sought relates to researchers and architects dealing mainly

with housing settlements, generally in low-income societies. In addition to this public

scale projects, schools, community centres, public plazas and so forth display

examples of user-designer collaboration to create contextually suitable environments.

The process of designing with the help of user-designer collaboration is an especially

lengthy one. To experience it first hand would have given a comprehensive

understanding of each stage, the actual difficulties faced as well as the satisfaction

accomplished by the community. But with the limited time available, it would not

have been possible to study an actual project, experience its process and understand its

post-occupancy value. For this reason analysing the extensive literature written by

theorists, sociologists, designers and architects gives a broad perspective on the

subject matter. Initially using surveys as a method to collect information from the user

group was considered. This was aimed to gauge what the users felt should be achieved

through collaborative projects and how priorities differ when considering different

stakeholders. The idea of surveying though was removed, as after general questioning,

it was felt that formulating accurate results from this type of research would be

difficult as the approach and understanding towards the topic, of the people

questioned, varied greatly. They carried with them highly preconceived ideas and so

the responses became very subjective in nature.


Exploring The Marriage Of The Units:

The Concept Of User-Designer Collaboration


5. Exploring the marriage of the units: the concept of user-designer collaboration

5.1 A look at the constituents of user-designer collaboration

The phenomenon of user participation started in the 1960s, at a time when the

democracy in the workplace was at its peak. Its development during the last 50 years

has been described by a Swedish researcher as “a change from a power based to a

knowledge-based process.” 11Granath

Participation proceedings usually require undergoing the complex procedure of

organising the members in to groups, so as to facilitate the design process. The first

and primary concern in doing so is, ‘who are the people who will be affected by the

project?’ and,’ in what capacity can they be involved?’ A combination of these

questions aims to tie together all those involved with the jobs available for them. The

next consideration, to initiate collaboration, is to devise the most suitable way to

create a dialogue and identify processes that encourage inclusion of the users.

5.1.1 The Main Participants

In architectural terminology, those influenced by the design or those who exert

influence on the design, are recognised as the users. The inhabitants are those who

occupy the building for a certain time period. In this sense all people working, living

or operating in a building including staff, management and service personnel are

inhabitants and in a broader sense, users. Since they are the ones most affected by the

built environment, it is beneficial to involve them in the process of design. The users

then also become the participants in the design process.

5.1.2 The Stakeholder Category

11Granath, Jan M.Arch, PhD, Architecture - Participation of users in design activities, 2001

The stakeholders are those with interest vested in the project. These can be

divided up into classifications. The primary category consists of the local community

members whereas the secondary includes the local authorities and related agencies.

Other affiliated parties are classified as the external stakeholders. The architect and

designers may also be associated with this category.

5.1.3 The Role Of The Architect

“Design is truly the medium of change. It allows us to see a future we may not have

thought possible—and to build it”12

A general job description of an architect includes responsibility towards all

those tasks that are generally considered to create architecture; such as articulating a

vision, conceptualizing and trying out various architectural solutions, bringing it out

formally and working out specification documents so that the idea is ready to become

reality. The architect acts as the supervisor and also has to maintain the consistency

during the construction phase. However, beyond these technical responsibilities, the

architect plays many other roles, which means that not only does he have to visit the

political and strategic avenues of the profession but at times may have to become a

mentor of sorts for his clients as well as the rest of the design team.

The architecture profession is multi dimensional. It embodies an artistic and social

aspect. The artistic qualities of an architect although a strong aid, can sometimes

inhibit users from involvement in the design process due to the notion that art is a

private and not a collective activity. The social dimension of architecture on the other

hand, makes the user the central figure in design and encourages the architect to

12  Architecture For Humanity, Design Like You Give A Damn, Metropolis Books 2006

constantly try new methods so as to involve the users in the design activity. In some

phases of the project, the architect must specifically rely on the users for their

responses. These phases are the definition phase, where the scope of the project is

explored; the sketch design phase, where the conceptual thought is formulated; the

preliminary design phase, which reflects the designer’s comprehension of the

discussions with regard to all external factors and the final design phase expressing

the language that the project has established. Each these phases require the users to

perform a variety of tasks so that their expectations of the project can be fully realised.

5.1.4 Formulating The Network

The integration of the ingredients mentioned above, creates a network of

participants. If we represent this participation network diagrammatically, the central

body consists of the project team and the actual users. All other concerned

organizations and networks involved through some form of agreement, coalition or

contractual arrangement connect along the periphery. This could include government

agencies, funding bodies and support agencies. The secondary circle consists of the

service providers, various organizing bodies, the community members and the larger

neighborhood. These contribute in some form, but may not necessarily be directly

involved with the decision-making processes.

5.1.5 Creating A Common Platform

For users to engage in a dialogue about design-related issues, it is important

that they attempt to understand design proposals and the implications of certain

decisions. The French philosopher, Henri Lefebvre describes the mechanism of

‘concrete space’ and ‘abstract space’ as an analytical tool to understand the


relationship between design experts and people with interest in the design process;

whereby the concrete space is the space where the users work with reality and the

abstract space is the spatial abstraction, where designers interpret their inspiration and

influence designs for our lived environment. The common ground between these

spaces is explored. It is questioned whether experts can provide room in the abstract

space so that the users can join them to become co-designers of the built environment,

or if the designers can engage the users evolving a process in the concrete space.

Design experts belonging to the abstract space, such as planners, architects and

designers create the physical environment operating in the concrete space with the

help of tools of abstraction and representation. Thus, people in concrete space adapt

designs conceived in the abstract space. The design world according to this concept is

divided into two practices, abstract space for experts and concrete space for people.

The in between space is thus introduced as the realm of collaboration. The three

modes of participation are identified as ‘Public Participation’ in abstract space,

‘Community Participation’ in concrete space and ‘Design Participation' in the

overlapping realm of collaboration13.

The fact of the matter is that every community is unique and so there is no correct way

of achieving community involvement. Yet participation has some commonality that

can be found in all examples. The first and most obvious principle of participation is

that many people are involved. The work of the community is not restricted to just a

few people with knowledge and authority.

13  Lee,
Yanki. Design Participation Tactics: Redefining User Participation in Design; 2006 Design
Research Society . International Conference in Lisbon.  

“A healthy community is a form of living democracy: people working together to

address what matters to them”. —Stephen B. Fawcett, et al. 14

Participating communities are not limited to a single philosophy; the leadership aspect

is present so as to facilitate discussion of a diversity of viewpoints rather than to push

an agenda. The power and responsibility in participating communities is decentralized

and they divide up responsibilities so that the best qualities of the participants are


5.1.6 Taking The Initiative

The challenge for achieving a good participation strategy is to involve all the

groups in the various stages of design and implementation. This is advantageous for

the process as collective ideas, perceptions and resources can be shared. Also the

problems and concerns can then be explored from multiple perspectives. The project

can be led by a variety of players, but generally the client initiates it by identifying the

need for the building. This is on the basis of quantifiable requirements for space and

the budgetary capacity to undertake the particular activity. A ‘needs assessment’ is an

important step as it describes existing space use and develops realistic estimates of

both spatial and technical requirement. It also develops a program so that the design

activity can commence in an organized manner.

Usually a representative or group of representatives are appointed which look after the

interest of the community. The quality of leadership is an important aspect when

choosing the envoy. The individual must have a strong ability to build relationships-

within the organization, with community residents of all ages as well as personnel at
14  Per Anker Jensen, "Continuous Briefing and User Participation in Building Projects," (n.d.): 5.


all levels in various organizations and institutions. The relationship-building process is

valued as a way of showing respect and as a tool for creating consensus and uniting

the community.

Many of these techniques, strategies and principles of user participation apply equally

well in communities where there is a diverse cultural cross-section, as well as in

localities with a particular ethnic or indigenous population. However, local knowledge

about how to engage the community is essential, and this means ensuring that local

groups are well represented on the project team. In those areas where extended family

networks predominate, it is important to include individuals who can act as cultural

guides. These people need to be recognized by the community and have a good grasp

of cultural complexities, traditions and protocols. This technique was specifically

applied in the Orangi Pilot Project example, which has been discussed in a later

segment of this dissertation.

A step-by-step process to design development can follow this pattern:

• Assessment of needs: Deciding the necessary improvements, prioritising

goals and involving the various agencies.

• Planning: Formulating objectives, setting up milestones and constructively

criticising the current situation.

• Mobilising: This is the stage where the community is brought together.

This is done by raising awareness and establishing organizational

structures within the community.

• Training: Setting up formal or informal training activities so as to enhance

communication, construction, supervision, maintenance and financial

management skills.

• Implementation: Formally engaging in activities through hands on work

and supervision, collection and contribution of finances, paying service

fees to organizations and handling documentation.

• Monitoring and Evaluation: A continuous process of redefining and

adjusting to needs. Monitoring the outcome of the decisions becomes a

rewarding exercise.

The design process adjusts and alters with each unique situation but the basic

methodology remains constant.

5.1.7 Exploring The Various Methods of Involvement

As the project is underway, it is possible to revisit the stakeholder map. This way if

opportunities have arisen for others to participate, they can be included in the design

process. This larger working group can help in effectively representing the interests of

the community. One of the strategies of participation is informing the residents of the

projects potential. This would help them understand what expectations to have and

what benefits they would gain. Participants can be included in a systematic way to

promote the idea, using media or through innovative means relating to the field that

they have most knowledge about. During this project promotion stage, a sample of

people in the community are asked via informal interviews or questionnaires if the

message was successfully delivered to them. The results provide valuable information

about how to approach the community in the future. Another strategy is to develop

‘action plans’. These assist with the identification of those who will be affected by the

project and what role they may take on in the general scheme. The option of choosing

gives the flexibility to the participants to take upon lesser or greater responsibilities.

The term ‘full involvement’ means that the user has full decision-making power. The

format of this usually consists of holding meetings and immediately taking decisions.

Another kind of involvement is ‘active involvement’ where decisions are still made by

the user but they are reached to through a series of workshops. Then there is ‘indirect

involvement’. In this form users do not make the final decisions but influence them

through feedbacks and reflections. ‘Passive involvement’ is a form where the users are

usually only informed of the design decisions. Patricia Moore, an industrial designer

from New York, has described a ‘proactive design participation approach’. She took

the approach of a sociologist and tried to understand her research subjects in depth.

While in her 20’s she spent three years (1979-82) traveling throughout the US and

Canada, visiting over 200 cities disguised as an 85 year old woman. “After my initial

experiences in character in the spring of 1979, I became gradually more

adventuresome. I was living two lives; in one of them I was a designer and graduate

student, and in the other I was an old woman” 15(Moore, 1985:90). The research was a

form of self-experiment in the field of Design Participation and attempted to redefine

the concept of Design Participation in order to explore creative ways to design with

users. By playing the role of the user, Moore was able to influence design by thinking,

reacting and behaving similar to the user group that she studied.

Users can choose to what extent they wish to involve themselves in a particular

activity; this allows them the freedom to allocate their time and resources accordingly.

Although theorists define distinct modes of participation, the participants enjoy the

privilege to create a combination of participation techniques that are best suited for


15  Moore, P. with Conn, C.P. (1984) Disguised! A true story. USA, Word Books.  

5.1.8 A Specimen Of The Collaboration Model: Orangi Pilot Project (OPP)

Figure 1: A result of active user participation, the residents and planners initiate the laying of

sewerage lines and build structures to house basic amenities and facilities.

With increasing complexities in every day life, buildings must actively support the

needs of an organization. For this reason they cannot simply be architectural

expressions or passive physical constructions, but must have the potential to transform

the prevailing situation. The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) is an example where members

of the community worked together to change not only their living conditions but also

the general mindset.

The OPP was established in 1980 in the Orangi district of Karachi. This district has

the largest ‘Katchi Abadi’ or unplanned settlement in the city. The population consists

of a wide range of immigrant groups. Most people find employment as labourers,

skilled workers, artisans, shopkeepers or clerks. The OPP adopts an approach that

places emphasis on the development of these settlements.

I. Aims and Objectives of OPP

 Understanding the problems faced by the residents of Orangi and

determining the individual causes of these problems.

 Analysing these problems in order to derive viable solutions.

 Providing the community members with technical guidance and managerial

support so that they become self-reliant and can manage, finance and build their


II. Obstacles faced by the community

Despite realizing the issues plaguing the community, a pro-action approach was never

considered due to the following:

• The Psychological Barrier: The people felt that they were powerless and could not

improve their living conditions through their own initiatives. They also felt that it was

solely the government’s job to provide infrastructure and other basic facilities.

• The Economic Barrier: Independently, residents lacked the financial means to

improve their own standard of living. In addition to this, there was no common

platform through which residents can collectively finance basic facilities.

• Technical Barrier: Community members did not posses the technology, skill or

resources to construct their homes as they envisioned them.

Participatory research identified four major areas of concern, listed in order of

priority: Sanitation, Employment, Health and Education. A lack of confidence in the

system, hasty planning by the government and the lacking capacity of the NGOs to

provide for the needs of the people were major hindrances for the community. As a

solution all joint-programmes initiated by the organisation involved the residents and

focused on their basic issues.

III. Solutions through Collective Participation

The Orangi Pilot Project – Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI) was formed to

deal with sanitation, housing, education, research and training. It became famous for

its ‘Low Cost Sanitation Program’ that enabled low-income families to construct and

maintain an underground sewage system with their own funds and under their own

management. The OPP also focuses on a comprehensive ‘Youth Program’ that strives

to train more community architects, technicians and surveyors.

During the design process, the community members realised lengthy inconclusive

meetings were harmful to the success of the project; these combined with the users

lack of knowledge resulted in delayed milestones and greatly affected the costs. To

counter this, the community participants enrolled in the training programs and

organized their attendance to the meeting so that the same representative would be

present in all discussions, as to maintain continuity. Points to be discussed were listed

prior to the meeting and the conclusive decisions were made available to view for all

participating members through a transparent system. The users aimed to accomplish

their objective for participation, which was to achieve a better living environment and

sustained growth for themselves and improved community living as a whole. Through

this initiative, a coalition was formed between the community members, NGOs,

professionals (architects, engineers, technical assistants), the government and other

agencies. The successful elements that emerged from this project were:

• The partnerships between the government agencies and the users with the

focus on creating networks to support community initiatives.

• Institutional development of NGOs supporting such projects in Karachi and

other rural parts of the country.

This project was successful in making certain breakthroughs in government policy.

Participation became an essential tool while addressing the problems of the poor and

responsibilities were shared amongst all those involved.

The OPP acts as a catalyst for change in the local community by supporting the

people’s initiative to improve their own living conditions. Its programs demonstrate

that residents can economically manage facilities such as sewerage, water supply,

schools, clinics and neighbourhood security. The government supplements these

endeavours by providing the infrastructure required to run these programs. This

component-sharing model indicates that the coalition between agencies and the locals

results in an efficient utilization of community resources in a move towards

sustainable development.

The performance of the community members of OPP with regard to claiming their

space and protecting it from further deterioration can be linked to Montifore’s theory,

where he states, "man is, ecological1y speaking, a territorial mammal", but "People

are social animals: they must be able to belong to a community" 16. The need for a

sense of community is just as basic a human behavior as is the want for territoriality.

The adaption of this instinctive nature theoretically aids in sustaining behavioral

patterns of a functional society.

Figure 2: Periodic arrangement of visuals showing the condition of Orangi community before the

initiative of the OPP, residents at work and the improved conditions for the residents after the


16  Hanson,
Julienne and Hillier, Bill; 1987, The Architecture of Community: Some New Proposals on
the Social consequences of Architectural and Planning Decisions, London  

5.2 Participation As A Continuous Process

The process of participation begins from the germination of the original idea

and is carried on far into the creation of the building. The users who have been

consulted and whom the project addresses enjoy its influence even after its virtual

completion. Participation in architecture is through the experience of spaces and also

the appreciation of its presence in an environment. The influences that the building

exercises on the surroundings and that the users impress upon are also part of the

process of participation. The following example demonstrates how the participation

process of the project embraced and influenced the community and thus became a

model for further sustainable development in the region.

5.2.1 Rumi Schools Of Excellence: An Example Of Continuous Participation

Figure 3: Each aspect of the building has been designed to respond to the needs of the community.

The architecture reflects modern aspirations while creating linkages with the people of the

community and their lifestyles.

A Singapore based firm, striving to improve educational quality in high-density, low-

income, urban areas of India, initiated the Rumi Schools of Excellence. The challenge

that they faced was to develop innovative design solutions for tackling space

constraints, over crowded classrooms, limited lighting and lack of ventilation, leading

to an overall lack of creativity in learning.

I. The approach to learning

The Rumi Schools have an innovative ideology of learning. The system emphasizes

that learning is a daily experience; its concept is based on Maulana Rumi’s ability to

connect the learning environment with the local community. A complete hands-on

approach to learning has been adopted as the schools interior, exterior and roof top

spaces come together to provide enriching environments for education. The schools

involve all stakeholders in a child's education - the child, mother, teacher,

administrator, neighbourhood and community. They become the main determinant in

the kind of spaces and environment required for the child’s growth.

The guiding principle for the participants is that learning is a social experience,

occurring beyond the boundaries of the school day and building. The objective is to

involve the entire family in the process. These partnerships would help in increasing

the knowledge and resources of the school system. The stakeholders take an active

part in the design process and the school building and system encourages interaction

even after it is inhabited making the participation process an on-going one.

“Design ways for everyone in the community to learn, so students see learning as a

way of participating in the world...Build an environment where teachers are

empowered to shape their classroom. Shift the conversation from prescriptive rules to

flexible guidance.”17 IDEO Design Firm.

II. The Design of Spaces

The space constraints have been dealt with by multi utilization of spaces through

17New Jiya Community School, <> Rumi School  

altering room heights and modular furnishing, bringing about flexibility and

maximizing resources. With reconfigurable wall planes, the classroom pulls out into

the hallways and has storage and display possibilities in addition to increased

ventilation and light. The computer lab, an important section of the school is a

transformable multi-use centre so that the school’s computers become a resource for

the community. The internet facility allows students to gain greater exposure and to

reach out to develop their small business ventures. There is also allowance for small

clusters of people to meet and work in these lab areas leading to constant

opportunities for discussion and development. The students are taught to be self-

reliant and are encouraged to fuel their entrepreneurial qualities. To achieve this, the

building focuses on connecting and extending both the physical space and the learning

opportunities from the school’s students to the larger community. The space is

designed for flexible in-classroom learning, as well as festivals and entrepreneur

activities, including adult craft-training centres, and a medical facility. The versatile

approach to learning encourages children to think ‘out of the box’ and fully explore

their potentials. The school system understands the characteristics of the particular

community and realises that architecture can be a social catalyst if it successfully

addresses the needs of the users, and transforms the classroom into an integrated part

of the community.

Figure 4: The internal spaces are well lit and ventilated. Special consideration has been given to

the user allowing them to experience a variety of spaces, from an intimate scale to large open

shared areas.

Figure 5: The children were invited to share their perception of the future school with the designers.

The students, with great enthusiasm, produced innovative proposals and a clear understanding of

their needs was exhibited.


5.3 Benefits Of User-Designer Collaboration

Realising that the project stakeholders hold a wealth of information about the

requirements, surroundings, environment and so forth, designers started to pay special

attention to creating partnerships that can save expensive and unnecessary research

and fieldwork. The participants also realised the potential of user participation

techniques as they got deeply involved in the process and were able to witness the

positive outcomes. This motivated them to remain committed to the particular activity

even after it reached its completion. The skills, experience and knowledge that the

people acquire aided them in any future work. Once the people realised that they were

the real beneficiaries they were more willing to contribute resources- money, material

and labour- for the programmes. The example of the ‘Handmade School’ exhibits the

importance of community involvement and highlights the benefits of User-Designer


5.3.1 Modern Educational And Training Institute (METI)

Figure 6: The architects of the METI school involved techniques and materials familiar to the

community to create sustainable, efficient and contextual architecture.

The philosophy of the METI School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh, titled ‘The Handmade

School’, is ‘learning with joy’. The teachers and learning environment facilitates the

children to develop their own potentials and to use it in a creative and responsible

way. The building reflects these ideas in terms of materials, techniques and

architectural design.

I. The Participants in Design Process

The team of architects and designers led by Anna Heringer invited the community to

participate in changing their living conditions, through the school project, signifying

greater opportunities for the children of the area to receive quality education. The

educational approach was devised through extensive research, knowledge and practice

of children’s education and its integration with the rural working system. It aimed to

form individuals with the capacity of logical, analytical as well as holistic and creative

thinking, that become responsible individuals for the future.

The reason that the school is termed ‘Handmade’ is because members of the

community literally came together and offered their expertise to construct the school

building. Teachers, pupils, parents, all collaborated in putting up the mud wall and

bamboo structure, sewing the fabric panels, painting the doors and so forth. This

combined effort became a learning process for the people as they adopted skills from

each other and eventually became adept in most building processes. In this example

not only was the construction of a school building a very prominent milestone but also

the educational journey during the design process served as a significant episode for

the community. The project aimed to improve existing building techniques,

maintaining sustainability by utilizing local potential while working on strengthening

regional identity.

The usage of local materials was advantageous from an economic point of view. It

strengthened the local economy and created jobs. To enable the architecture to be

sustainable it was essential to include local workers in the building processes. The

process of ‘learning by doing’ facilitates the local craftsmen to improve their own

general housing conditions.

In the words of Suresh, the loam worker, “It was good to do tests and experiments

together before starting the real construction, so we could understand it although we

did not know the language. And everybody learnt a lot from each other. I learned how

to build strong walls, how to use measurement tools and the foreigners learnt, that the

best mixing machines are water buffalos”18

I. Areas Of Success

The project is an apt example to display the success achieved by the process of user-

designer collaboration. The project and its design process were able to bring the

community together on a common platform working towards a common goal. The

children enjoyed their educational spaces and felt a strong sense of ownership towards

them. The teachers were more interested in joining this particular institution to impart

their knowledge and worked towards creating opportunities for extra curriculum

activities beyond the regular routine. The villagers felt a connection with the building

and found participation in the creation of this school to be an enriching experience,

where they learned about new skills and technologies to apply to material already

available to them.

Figure 7: The spaces created within the school building respond to the children’s scale and give

them a comfortable as well as inspiring environment for learning.

18  Handmade school, 2007 On Site Review Report, Jimmy C.S. Lim, 3392.BAN

5.4 Drawbacks Of User-Designer Collaboration

With the increasing complexity in building design and construction, ‘User-

Designer Collaboration’ tends to add another layer of intricacy. The users are

unfamiliar with the jargon, methods and processes used by the designers. In addition

they are unable to understand the impact of factors such as funding pressures,

approvals, regulations, constraints and so forth. The reality of the situation seems to

create an obstacle in the path of user participation. When the process becomes

ineffective and expectations are not met, users tend to become disillusioned and

discouraged. This leads to frustration on the architect’s part. Another major hindrance

becomes preconception, from the architect as well as the client. Deeply immersed in

their existing conditions, users are unable to break away and bring forth a solution for

their betterment. This lack of articulation leads to stunted dialogue between the

participants. The designer plays the role of the interpreter, and so also must not

predetermine the outcome. He has to balance his inherent ambition as an artist and the

desire for expression, so as to not overlook the community specific needs. His

strongest professional ability of conceptualization can thus become an impediment in

the collective process.

Another argument substantiated on user participation is that the outcomes of

participatory processes are not always better received than when the architect is the

dominant figure. Conflicts that arise between the architect's artistic understandings

and the user's perception of design indicate that the combination of the two can at

times become unsuitable.

Thackara (1995), an avant-garde designer, during a research project quoted a strong

expression by a group of older people who his team met at the beginning of their

‘Presence’ research project, “We don’t need your patronising help, you designers. If

you’ve come here to help us, you’re wasting your time; we don’t want to be helped,

thanks just the same. Yet we do have some interesting observations to make about our

daily lives, about our lifestyles, about our communication, and about all of their

attendant dysfunctions. If you could kindly change your attitude and help us explore

how we will live, then perhaps we can do something together.” This response

provoked a re-assessment of the way the team asked the research question and brought

an understanding of the distinction between designing with and for people, “rather

than setting off on a project with a preconceived idea about what we’re going to do,

now we’re all committed to working with real people in the real world and starting

there, rather than starting with a technology and imposing it on a given situation”19

User-Designer collaboration faces many difficulties when it has to be practically

applied. The main reason for this is that these two almost contrasting units, the user

and the designer, (not to mention all the other related agencies and stakeholders) are

being brought together to achieve some common ground. Although they may desire

the same goal but their differing ideologies and approach to the design process makes

it difficult to easily arrive at a resolution. But the idea of collaboration is such that

both units are expected to equally apply their expertise and thus be able to collectively

solve the problem. Once the participants are able to overcome their initial inhibitions,

the goal of successful participation and suitable architecture through collaboration

becomes achievable.

19  Lee,
Yanki. Design Participation Tactics: Redefining User Participation in Design; 2006 Design
Research Society . International Conference in Lisbon.  

6. Conclusion

The unceasing search for an appropriate design solution led to the discovery of

the user participation tool. As users felt that their input could better their living

conditions, they showed greater interest in involving themselves in the process of

design. The concept of user-designer collaboration has been a debatable one. But the

discussion is not limited to whether the technique must be considered or not, the

extent of its application as well as the authority enjoyed by its various participating

parties is also a matter of concern.

The research on the topic yielded multiple theories and case studies, displaying a

range of circumstances where the concept had been applied. An interesting discovery

was that, although different levels of participation had been somewhat theoretically

defined most examples applied a combination of principles rather than a singular

solution. Therefore there was no such definitive explanation for a particular method.

The technique itself comes about by involving a multitude of people; it cannot thus be

completely planned or predicted before hand. There must be room for change and an

option to adapt, as every situation is unique and every participating group different in

nature. A constant element of surprise exists in the system that gives it a fluid and

flexible nature. This overbearing presence of the ‘unknowns’ or variables can become

a cause for distress, both for the client and the architect. There is some commonality

in the obstacles that arise during the design process. Since the process almost always

involves a large number of people, their personal opinions, bias, desires and so forth

tend to affect the meetings. Users are also at times unclear about their main objective

so sifting through the issues and concentrating on the exercise at hand can become

difficult. Architects usually hinder the process with the preconceptions that they hold.

They have a tendency to predetermine the design solution skipping integral steps in

the design process. The creation of a mutual language within the design group and a

mutual understanding of the situation therefore might be the single most crucial factor.

The participants play multiple roles in a collective design process. Since they are

experts in their own professional fields, they contribute hard facts and experience to

the design process. With the increasing number of parties and specialists involved in a

design process, it becomes difficult to control user involvement. But lacking this

important instrument at an early phase might eventually cause functional and

performance issues. Involving participants at a later stage could hamper the timeline,

adversely affect costs and lead to resentment. To avoid such circumstances users are

encouraged to assist in the process from the stage of design conception.

User-Designer collaboration, although seemingly simple, is a highly complex matter.

Most of its elements are basic and respond to common knowledge, but the various

examples have shown that to effectively organise a design process, a careful

understanding of the community, their behavioural patterns, socio-cultural norms,

economic status, their needs and aspiration, context, climate, geographical conditions

and most of all availability of resources, scope and potential of project is essential.

Neglecting these critical elements can result in failure of the project and cause

disillusionment not only amongst the community but a general lack of trust in the

system of user-designer collaboration.

Architecture and architectural processes therefore have the ability to encourage or

inhibit participation from the users. The users on the other hand also posses the power

to integrate their knowledge and resources with an architectural system and impel it to

favourably transform their living environment. Recognising the importance of

collaborating with the user, designers develop various ways to understand them and

hope to get inspiration from the interaction, so that it can be used as a tool to enable

empathic relations between the two parties. The art of understanding the fundamental

needs and balancing them with the designer’s sensibility and aesthetic is usually the

route to a successful participatory process.



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