How Do We Introduce Collaborative Practice

We recently launched all of the Co.Lab projects for this year, bringing together both undergraduate and postgraduate students to collaborate across 10 separate projects. They collaborate amongst themselves as well as across other academic departments, specialists, the public and with the clients themselves.

We encourage the client to be very much engaged with the collaborative process. Not only to enrich the learning experience, but to set out a clear statement of intent (of what Co.Lab is about).

For a student, there are obvious professional benefits in being involved in such projects and the actual idea of a collaborative approach to design can be overlooked sometimes by other pedagogic advantages. It is not just a question of professional and personal development but one that also includes collaboration as a variation of design practice.

This brings a different perspective to the orthodox design process involved in a teaching assignment where it is inverted towards a student’s individual decisions. Instead, design is constructed through a series of interactions and engagements with a broad range of skills and expertise moulded together; often resulting in an outcome that would be noticeably different from a design that (lets say) you would have completed on your own terms.

Not to be confused with groupwork, here the collaboration is very much part of the process rather then something that naturally happens as a mere logistical exercise. So how do we introduce collaborative practice as part of the design?

Cross-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary as terms are used frequently – often incorrectly. What is the difference between them? Co.Lab’s foundation is based on the study and practice of architecture. This doesn’t stop us attempting to learn about how visual artists go about their work. Nor should we expect to suddenly become sociologists if we start reading sociology texts. In this example, we view sociology through an architectural perspective and not sociology as a subject in its own right. Our scope of the subject will always be limited compared to a real sociologist [I have to thank my colleague, Hazem Ziada, for this analogy].

So that conversation you are about to have with a non-architect suddenly becomes a lot more significant than you may initially realise. It is actually part of the design rather then just a stage in the build up to it. Their input contributes to the design just as much as the designer does (albeit depending on level of engagement).

There are several examples of this, often in disciplines outside of architecture. Music being one of them. The collaboration between two artists often combines each collaborator’s traits or draws a very different and new sound altogether. In design however, there is a reluctance to note that a (true) collaboration is a departure from your regular mode of practice or work.

Once this is established, collaborative practice can be explored for its own merits.

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