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Luisa Hilmer

MA work

Participatory Design Processes in British Housing Design 1970s – 1980s and Today

Participatory Design is an approach whereby various stakeholders are involved in the decision-making during a design process. Users are directly involved in the team of experts as they help identify shortcomings in design solutions, thus contributing to the project and playing an active role in the process.

My dissertation joins an already vibrant discussion about the challenging nature of Participatory Design in British housing design, comparing historical and contemporary approaches. Through an analysis of four different architectural firms’ work – that of Ralph Erskine, Walter Segal, Assemble and Karakusevic Carson Architects – it investigates how architects and residents foster participation to engage communities in the decision-making process.

The study suggests that the history of Participatory Design can help us understand current practices and argues that the methods applied have become more transparent with the increasing role the communities play as driving forces for participation. In particular, it explores the relationship between architects and residents in these processes and simultaneously illuminates the structural and fundamental levels of Participatory Design through which housing design inevitably shapes the lives of its users. It demonstrates that Participatory Design processes in architecture require a design historical re-evaluation because they are significantly linked to material culture. Even though Participatory Design is a process rather than a design outcome, it incorporates material culture. Physical objects, such as models, serve as tools for communicating and thinking about how to implement visions.

In essence, my research highlights the correlation between design history and architectural practice as a possible platform for a reflection of the built environment. Participation means extra effort but at the same time an additional revenue of ideas, insights and evaluations to change the built environment. Sustainable housing design solutions emerge when it is possible to combine input from practitioners and participants.


  • MA Degree


    School of Arts & Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2019

  • Luisa Hilmer is a designer and design historian interested in contemporary design, architecture, the formation of space and museology. 

    While studying Design at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, she worked as an assistant curator at the Arts and Crafts Museum Hamburg for two years.

    As a V&A/RCA History of Design student, Luisa has been involved in various public-facing projects. Her primary goal was to push discourse forward through an interdisciplinary approach. In collaboration with Iria Suárez and Lisa Rotzinger she conducted a research project at the Design Museum Gent to critically reflect on participatory methods used in the planning of the Design Museum's new wing. 

    Luisa was mainly responsible for the organisation of the History of Design Symposium in December 2018, she exhibited in both History of Design shows and co-designed the end-of-year publication Almanac in January 2019. As another passion, she discovered filmmaking in producing clips for the Architectural Models Network in 2018 and the Design Curators Clinic in 2019.

  • Degrees

  • BA Fine Arts, Product Design, University of Fine Arts (HFBK) Hamburg, 2016; Preparatory course for Fine Arts, Design and Media, Atelier of Art – Parsons, Paris, 2012
  • Experience

  • Videographer, Design Curators Clinic, RCA, London, February 2019; Designer, History of Design Publication – Almanac, V&A/RCA, London, January 2019; Event planner and designer, History of Design Symposium, V&A, December 2018; Volunteer, Design Museum Gent, Belgium, October 2018; Videographer, Architectural Models Network, V&A, London, May 2018; Assistant Curator, Arts and Crafts Museum Hamburg, Germany, 2015–17; Curatorial Intern, Arts and Crafts Museum Hamburg, Germany, 2015; Design Intern, Studio Dreimann, Hanover, Germany, 2013
  • Exhibitions

  • Royal College of Art Graduate Show 2019, Royal College of Art Battersea, London, 2019; Interactive Object Histories, Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art, London, 2018; Food Revolution 5.0 – Design for Tomorrow's Society, Gewerbemuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, 2019; Food Revolution 5.0 – Design for Tomorrow's Society, Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin, Germany, 2018; Food Revolution 5.0 – Design for Tomorrow's Society, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Germany, 2017
  • Publications

  • 'Participation', Almanac, 2019, pp. 74–75; Being Part – Reflections on the Participatory Museum, 2018