Through her practice-focused PhD research, Angelica Rojas has developed an approach that recognises the ability for design processes to enable individual and collective agency, support communities through significant change and increase living systems awareness. In this guest blog on Regenerative Practice, Angelica discusses projects as an opportunity to not only develop design, but also ourselves through an ongoing commitment to reflection and learning.
The Venny adventure playground Kensington, Melbourne. The story of the relocation process of the Venny illustrates how design process can be a medium to support children wellbeing and potential . Photograph Source: Project records City of Melbourne. Photographs by Andrew Wutks.
Regenerative practice combines ancient and emerging knowledge aiming to benefit places and communities by reconnecting human intentions, creativity, collaborative capacity, and habitats with the co-evolution of natural systems[i][ii]. Regeneration is place based, context specific and applies a relational perspective to projects intertwining teamwork, personal and professional work with aim and purpose. Bringing a regenerative perspective to built environment practices opens exciting and broader possibilities not only for projects, communities, and ecosystems, but also for practitioners such as architects. This blog explores the benefits of applying regenerative lenses to design processes and the practitioner’s role within.
In a previous blog, Jim Gall invited architecture to “lift its eyes from buildings as just technical, material objects”. This invitation implies caring beyond buildings as physical artefacts. Buildings, from a relational perspective, are much more than shelters. They are nodes where multiple aspects, agents or flows of larger systems converge and interact. For instance, a school brings together the flows of students, parents, teachers, neighbours, learning pedagogies, materials, natural resources and built environment practitioners. All these flows converge in the creation of that school and are part of larger social, ecological, economic, political, cultural, and psychological dimensions. Applying a relational perspective to architectural design is crucial to uncover the incredible potential that lies within design processes to enable benefits beyond the creation of a building.
The Guadual Early Childhood Development Centre, Villa Rica, Colombia. The co- design and building process is an exemplary precedent that fostered collaboration between a range of stakeholders. The design process was used as a ‘mediator’ between stakeholders to connect the creation of the physical infrastructure with other associated benefits such as new local jobs, training and community programs, with an overarching aim focused on children’s potential and development.
From a regenerative perspective, design is a process of ongoing dialogue, able to raise levels of mutual understanding and accountability. It is a precious time to explore challenging questions, understand the people involved in a project, and deeply engage with a particular place, its history, stories, people, and non-human agents. Design processes are strategically located ‘in-between’[iii] multiple aspirations, worldviews, agents, actors, scales, disciplines, and temporalities (past, present and future). The purpose of modifying an existing place and imagining how something ‘ought to be’[iv] can be a medium to bringing multiple agents and resources together. The design process offers the opportunity to channel our collective creative capacity towards more regenerative ways of living and practicing that responds to place and people. It is a time when we can actively increase our understanding of living systems and co-create collective caring for our larger and global shared home, Earth.
Design briefs within this approach are not conceived as sets of instructions with closed physical boundaries. Instead, the brief is a generative process that can foster new possibilities, such as the creation of new narratives, new connections, and new ways to cooperate[v][vi]. This means that developing the brief is a collaborative discovery process that opens opportunities for mutual learning and collective responsibility.
Co-design activities to rebuild a school in Purano Jhangajholi, Nepal destroyed by the 2015 Earthquake. Before re-designing the school, the project team ran a series of engagement activities to understand the community’s needs and aspirations. Beyond replacing school buildings, the aim of the design process was to support healing and nurture existing place potential by co-creating stories that illustrated the school’s possibilities in supporting healing within the community and regenerating place. Photograph Source: FONA.
One of the essential aspects of regeneration is that professional practice and personal development are deeply interconnected[vii]. At the core of this approach is the critical need to embrace self-development intertwined with practice and project work. Developing internal capacity involves increasing awareness of our abilities and inner patterns (beneficial and detrimental), and the desire to build from them to become more effective agents and collaborators.
Working regeneratively expands our roles as practitioners. It means shifting hats, embracing our role as enablers, curators and weavers of ideas rather than only wearing the hat of ‘creators’ or ‘experts’ in our fields. Developing our capacity to practise deep listening and ongoing reflection, asking core questions while releasing the need to ‘hold’ all the answers – in other words, building a greater sense of humility in our everyday practice, opening our minds and hearts to further opportunities, and genuinely learning from multiple ways of knowing, practicing and being. This way of practicing based on principles such as collaboration, deep listening, caring, and humility is not necessarily what architects have been trained in or how most of the industry works. However, it is a practice that creates more meaningful roles by increasing our capacity to engage and serve places, communities, clients, ecosystems, and our own journeys.
If you are curious to learn more , Angelica’s PhD thesis Transformative processes for architectural design: a heuristic study of regenerative practices includes practical examples of regenerative practice in architectural design processes.
[i] Hes, Dominique, and Chrisna du Plessis. 2014. Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability. New York: Routledge.
[ii] Walh, Daniel C. 2016. Designing Regenerative Cultures. Axminster: Thriarchy Press.
[iii] Petrescu, Doina. 2005. “Losing Control, Keeping Desire.” In Architecture and Participation, edited by Peter Blundell-Jones, Doina Petrescu, and Jeremy Till, 43–64. London: Taylor & Francis.
[iv] Wahl, Daniel C., and Seaton Baxter. 2008. “The Designer’s Role in Facilitating Sustainable Solutions.” MIT Press Design Issues 24 (2): 72–83.
[v] Awan, Nishat., Tatjana Schneider, and Jeremy Till. 2011. Spatial Agency : Other Ways of Doing Architecture. Other Ways of Doing Architecture. New York: Routledge.
[vi] Petrescu, Doina 2013. “Gardeners of Commons for the Most Part, Women.” In Relational Architectural Ecologies, edited by Peg Rawes, 261–74. London and New York: Routledge.
[vii] Mang, Pamela, and Ben Haggard. 2016. Regenerative Development and Design : A Framework for Evolving Sustainability. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Dr Angelica Rojas is a Director at IncluDesign, an architectural and urban design practice that co-creates great places to live, learn and be. She brings integrated skills and knowledge in architecture, sustainability, and regeneration. Her work has been presented in conferences and published in books, industry publications and design competitions.