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ADS7: Architecture and Collectives: The Future of Practice

Tutors: Cristina Gamboa (Lacol), David Burns, Godofredo Pereira & Platon Issaias

ADS7’s main research question is how can new briefs, complex programmes and forms of transdisciplinary collaboration emerge from the rethinking of the organisation of labour, protocols of decision making and frameworks of delivery of architecture? ADS7 maintains a particular focus on ecology, subjectivity and forms of living and asks students to consider design, media and visual explorations as indispensable parts of political experimentation and collective formalisations.

Architecture & Collectives

In 2018/19 ADS7 will focus on the relation between architectural cooperatives, social movements, citizen initiatives and public administration as a means to investigate new forms of the organisation of labour, protocols of decision making, and frameworks of delivery of architecture. We claim the 'future of architectural practice' lies in the network of relations that emerge between these multiple opposing or complementary interests. In times of incredible precarity – as defined by the contemporary existential nightmare of perpetual personal and public debt – we have not only observed a massive retreat from public spending in housing, but also in collective equipments. For our generation the right to housing and access to a decent public infrastructure increasingly sounds like a distant, if not impossible, political goal.

Moreover, the romantic idea that the architect and her/his practice employing good (or at least ‘better’) design is enough to sort out this crisis has increasingly disappeared. New spaces and forms of collaboration have emerged in the intersection of architectural cooperatives, housing associations and neighbourhood collectives. Most importantly, a new generation of architects are not interested in the old paternalistic models of experts’ leadership and ‘disciplinary expertise’, which often even existed in participatory design protocols, but rather, on the contrary, understand their role as contributors within non-hierarchical, polyphonic and horizontal platforms of collaboration. We imagine these spaces as open assemblies of political and spatial experimentation.

Such a premise flies in the face of the complex mechanisms that financialised capital and de-territorialised land and housing present – without a radical reform on such structures there is little hope for a truly social practice to form itself. How can a just form of contemporary housing be conceived without the compulsory purchase of land, control of profit in real estate, dismantling of oligopolies in the construction industry, and the rethinking of standards, protocols, comfort, materials and the way we live together and care for one another? How is it possible to produce a new public infrastructure and envision new innovative facilities without challenging existing forms of management, governance and delivery of such spaces and programmes? Can future models of architectural practice assist in the exploration of new forms of political governance?

SAAL (Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local), c. 1975–76
SAAL (Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local), c. 1975–76

Sites & Collectives

In previous years, ADS7 has insisted on the importance of sites of collective experimentation, together with the possibility of identifying shared tendencies and needs across a multiplicity of problems and different scales and territories. One of our key sites has been the city of Barcelona, where we have observed a particular shift in governance that we argue has contributed to fascinating possibilities for new models of architectural practice to emerge. The premise of a 'radical municipal' governance and the political experimentation led by Barcelona en Comú has inspired social movements in many cities across the world, inspiring those cities to push for direct democratic processes that challenge labour, social, spatial and gender relations and hierarchies.

‘Newbern Baseball Club’, Rural Studio, 2001. Photo: Timothy Hursley
‘Newbern Baseball Club’, Rural Studio, 2001. Photo: Timothy Hursley

In 2018/19, we will ask first-year students to formulate a series of briefs in the city of Barcelona. The students will propose a series of design interventions in response to sites where neighbourhood collectives and the municipality are active. Our ambition is students projects to participate in a series of conversations that occur in neighbourhood and wider city assemblies. We believe this new model of practice offers incredible opportunities to develop unique design and research possibilities, allowing students to effectively contribute in the way public authorities, social movements, housing associations and neighbourhood collectives collaborate in the formulation of urban and architectural projects.

We will ask second-year students to formulate their theses by identifying and collaborating with a collective and/or a public administration of their choice. It is crucial to understand this process as one that allows students to define their own architectural practice. How do you organise an office or agency? What is your role within these open platforms of collaboration? What type of hierarchies, asymmetries and conflicts emerge? What is the role of a student, or a future practitioner, within these diagrams? Importantly, how does one avoid being seen as a patronising or ill-informed ‘design consultant’ or ‘architect-expert’?

ADS7 engages with a series of vital questions:

  • What is the definition of a ‘collective’, ‘association’, ‘cooperative’?
  • How do different models of organization imply different ambitions, affiliations and practices?
  • How is a ‘site’ defined? By whom? What are its limits?
  • How is a ‘problem’ defined?
  • What is a problem’s ‘locality’?
  • How are architectural, urban and territorial problems formulated?
  • How do the questions above evoke specific design responses?
  • What are the different models of architectural practice that could emerge through different forms and protocols of governance, social organisation and delivery of spaces, buildings and programmes?

Bloc11 - a self-managed social centre in Can Batlló, Barcelona (Lacol)
Bloc11 - a self-managed social centre in Can Batlló, Barcelona (Lacol)

Studio Framework

In terms of design research, the ADS will approach the above through the architectural, technical and political problem of repetition. Revolutionary processes and social transformations have always required thinking about repetition, whether in the relation between the individual and the collective, the cell and field, or the neighbour and the city. In thinking about the material composition of cities, repetition is the central problem of revolution. It is only through the repetition of building types, modes of production and systems of construction (open or closed) that revolutionary potentials can ever be actualised. The importance of repetition lies in:  structural systems; urban models; housing types; strategies of spatial occupation; social protocols; and the implementation of adaptive and evolutionary models. Urban politics is seemingly always about models of repetition. Indeed, it might be said that is through the ways in which models of repetition were conceived of and designed – in material, social and subjective dimensions – that processes of radically reorganising cities have either crystallised, or managed to actualise new urban potentials.

Emory Douglas, from the July 25, 1970, issue of ‘The Black Panther’
Emory Douglas, from the July 25, 1970, issue of ‘The Black Panther’

Guests / Partnerships

ADS7 is aligned with the research currently being developed at the RCA on Architecture and Social Movements. In this context, the firt-year briefs will be organised in collaboration with the architectural collective La Col, the Centre for Social Innovation and the Housing Department of the Municipality of Barcelona. The LIVE Project will be a collaboration between St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust (StART) in Haringey and ADS7. In addition, lectures, tutorials and workshops will be developed throughout the year in collaboration with Pol Esteve, Antoni Font and others.


Dr Platon Issaias studied architecture in Thessaloniki, Greece and holds an MSc from Columbia University and a PhD from TU Delft. Since 2015, he has been a tutor at the Royal College of Art. He is also a unit master and co-director at the Projective Cities MPhil at the Architectural Association. Previously, he taught at the Berlage Institute, the MArch Urban Design at the Bartlett, Syracuse University, Westminster and the University of Cyprus.

Cristina Gamboa is a member of Lacol, a cooperative of architects who work in the Sants District of Barcelona. Lacol work with architecture as a means for social transformation and a tool to intervene closely in the immediate environment. Working in parallel with society, Lacol seeks to act in a just and solidary way beginning with a horizontal work system.

David Burns was previously Director of Photography and Situated Media at UTS (Australia), visiting professor at the Entertainment Technology Center and adjunct assistant professor at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University (USA), and the Paul Rudolph Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture at Auburn University (USA). In addition to teaching into ADS7, David coordinates Media Studies at the RCA and is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths.

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