Set up in the late 1970s, Community Technical Aid Centres (CTACs) arose out of the institutionalisation of the radical community architecture of practitioners such as Ralph Erskine and Architects' Revolutionary Council, who were trying to find alternatives to the slum clearance programmes of the mid 1960s, and their consequent replacement by unpopular mass housing developments. An early precursor to CTACs was the Neighbourhood Action Project of 1969, where Liverpool council worked with Shelter, a charity for the homeless. Although a short-lived project, its model of setting up a local advisory office with architects, planners and social workers was highly influential.
Local communities resisting redevelopment were thus given assistance by various voluntary and professional groups but architects were prohibited from providing a free service by the RIBA's professional code of conduct. For example, Support Community Building Design, a co-operative set up by Tom Woolley along with students from the Architectural Association, provided a very cheap service but could only help those groups who had managed to secure some funding. They were involved in providing planning assistance to the Covent Garden Action Group amongst others. Another important organisation was Assist related to the Architecture department of the University of Strathclyde which provided a free technical aid service for the improvement of tenements. Assist's local 'architecture shops' not only provided assistance in constructional matters but also in how to obtain funding, create neighbourhood organisations and generally petition for change. Initiatives such as these all over the UK eventually led to the introduction of Association of Community Technical Aid Centres (ACTAC) in 1983, which was seen by some as an alternative to the RIBA.
CTACs thus operated as local resource centres where a wide range of services were offered to individuals and community groups who wanted to have an influence on their built environment. Unlike the related service provided by the Community Architecture Group at the RIBA, CTACs acknowledged the diversity of professions and expertise involved in community development and therefore included organisations that advised on planning, landscaping, engineering, surveying, ecology, environmental education, financial planning, management, administration and graphics, in the belief that a combination of these skills were required to build a community. One of the main aims of CTACs was to encourage user participation and the professionals working at these centres acted as spatial agents, enabling citizens to engage in their environment through giving specialist advice. Only those able to afford a fee were charged and although funding originally came from charitable foundations, most CTACs received governmental grants. This fitted well with the prevailing political move to transfer responsibility from a diminished local government sector to the voluntary section. An interesting twist here was that many of the CTACs funded by the state were also involved in opposing governmental redevelopment and mass housing schemes. CTACs finally came to an end in the mid 1980s as funding dried up, although many of those involved are still working in social housing.
Anson, Brian, I'll Fight You For It! Behind the Struggle for Covent Garden. (London: Jonathon Cape, 1981).
Association of Community Technical Aid Centres, Working with Local Communities: National Directory of Community and Technical Aid Centres. (1985).
Goodman, Robert, After the Planners (Harmondsworth:
Habraken, N. J, Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing, trans. by B. Valkenburg (London: Architectural Press, 1972).
Jenkins, Paul, and Leslie Forsyth, eds., Architecture, Participation and Society (London: Routledge, 2009).
Tweed, Chri, and Tom Woolley, 'User Participation in Design: Techniques for Dialogue', Journal of Architecture and Behaviour, 8 (1992), 253-264.
Ward, Colin, Tenants Take Over (London: Architectural Press, 1974).
Wates, Nick, and Charles Knevitt, Community Architecture: How People are Creating Their Own Environment (London: Penguin Books, 1987).
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