Movement – Europe

1969 – 1979

During the 1970s the failures of the Modern Movement were becoming increasingly apparent to many architects who looked for ways to redress the balance of power between the architect and the user. A number of different approaches were developed including methods to involve future users in the design process, using workshops, consultations and through establishing neighbourhood offices. Others chose to self-build so that users could be involved not only in the design of their dwellings but also in their construction, and finally there was a move towards flexible layouts that could adapt to users needs. Whilst their methods differed the architects shared a common aim of empowering users to take control of their dwellings in a manner that allowed for their creative input whilst not reducing the role of the architect to that of a mere technical facilitator.

One of the pioneers of the participation movement of the 1970s was Lucien Kroll, a Belgian architect who became well-known for the Maison Médical student accommodation at the University of Louvain (1970-1976). Students approached Kroll for an alternative to the monotonous design proposed by the university and conducted a successful campaign for its adoption. Developed in intense consultation with students and others who would use the building, an evolving physical model became a record of the design process. The resulting building has a fragmented look, as it was split into sections with each part handed over to a separate team of architects within the office. Kroll's adopted method of separating the overall framework of the building, including the structure, from the infill is similar to that of John Habraken, allowing him to create a highly customised architecture.

The image of the Maison Médical became synonymous with a certain type of architecture and influenced others to adopt participatory techniques within their work. One such architect was the Austrian, Eilfried Huth, who having produced utopian designs similar to those of Yona Friedman, in the early 1970s changed direction to a more practical and grounded architecture that looked to transform the material living conditions of ordinary people. Huth practices participatory architecture in the context of self-help housing including self-build, recognising that through being involved in the design and building of their homes, residents would also create a strong community. The radical nature of the projects is revealed in their time span: the first project was a small development of sixteen houses which took sixteen years to complete, with the future inhabitants forming an association and being involved in each stage of the design including the choice of contractors.

Self-build can act both as a form of participation as well as a pedagogical technique, for example in the project Bauhäusle, architecture students as part of their course designed and built their accommodation using the Segal construction method, and more recently the Community Self Build Agency facilitates such projects in the UK by providing training for people to build their own homes.

A well-known example of participation related to the British Community Technical Aid movement is Ralph Erskine's (1914-2005) social housing project, Byker Wall. Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, it was built between 1969-1975 to rehouse those working in the shipyards and factories along the banks of the River Tyne. Erskine set up a community office in the neighbourhood in a disused funeral parlour and had an open door policy, inviting local residents to drop in and share their views. This elicited a dialogue on topics ranging from vandalism to leaking pipes as well as the design of the final project. A pilot scheme, Janet Square, was built in 1972 with forty-seven families volunteering to take part in the project. Their input also served to highlight the complex relations and hierarchies amongst the residents of Byker, which was reflected in the final design. Erskine's grassroots approach to participation required a long-term commitment from the architect, who became a part of the local neighbourhood for the duration of the project.

Another UK practice that pioneered community architecture was Hunt Thompson, whose partner Edward Burd was a key figure in the move towards tenant empowerment in the design process. The practice was formed in 1971 and their involvement with tenants groups began in 1982 with the renovation of Lea View House in Hackney, London. Their approach of treating tenants in exactly the same way as private clients was rare at the time and raised the standard of social housing. In 1999, Burd retired and the practice changed name and direction.

Finally, Ottokar Uhl's take on participative architecture was to design dwellings that were highly flexible, allowing users to adapt them according to their needs. Flexible housing allowed Uhl to create an architecture that could break down the fixed hierarchies between designer and user and his systems building approach led to collaborations with John Habraken on how to design buildings that could be adapted and upgraded for changing use. Uhl was thus concerned with designing buildings across their whole lifespan, considering how they could accommodate a changing demographic and their living patterns, as well as considering the eventual demolition of the building, a concern he shared with Cedric Price.

Other Work

Ralph Erskine, 'Interview: Ralph Erskine.', Transition, 4 (1985): 44-48.

Eilfried Huth and Claudia Orben, 'Unordentliche Ordnung [Interview]', Architektur & Bauforum, 29 (1996), 41-45.

Lucien Kroll, Architecture of Complexity, trans. by Peter Blundell Jones (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987).

'Atelier Kroll', [accessed 19 May 2010].

Ottokar Uhl and others, 'Die Architektur und Ich: Ottokar Uhl [Interview]', Architektur & Bauforum (2001): 129-138.

References About

Peter Blundell-Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till (eds.), Architecture and Participation (London: Routledge, 2005).

Peter Blundell-Jones, 'Urbane Participation', Architectural Review, 193 (1993): 45-49.

---, 'Sixty-eight and After', in Architecture and Participation, pp. 127-139.

Mats Egelius and Charles Jencks, 'Ralph Erskine', Architectural Design, 47 (1977): 750-852.

Nan Ellin, 'Participatory Architecture on the Parisian Periphery: Lucien Kroll's Vignes Blanches', Journal of Architectural Education, 53 (2000): 178-183.

Peter Malpass, 'A Reappraisal of Byker. Part 1: Magic, myth and the architect', Architects Journal, 169 (1979), 961-969.

Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till, 'Episodes in Flexible Housing', in Flexible Housing (Oxford: Architectural Press, 2007), pp. 9-202.


"What we need instead is an area of freedom to help creativity. What we have been doing for years in our office is to go to the place and ask the people to help us in organising their landscape. We are the architects, and I don't want to escape from that responsibility of being or deciding etc., but I do not want to decide alone."
- Lucien Kroll, 'Animal Town Planning and Homeopathic Architecture', in Peter Blundell-Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till (eds.), Architecture and Participation (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 186.


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