An exhibition at V&A Dundee in 2021 showed just what can happen when designers and residents come together to plan a better future for the places they call home.
At Architecture and Design Scotland, we know from experience that designers shape and create better places when they work closely with the people who use them.
In early 2020, before the national lockdown, 25 people from across Scotland were paired up with 25 architects, designers and artists to share their hopes and dreams for the future of the places they call home.
The architects and designers then used those wishes to explore ideas in response to challenges communities are facing. A year later, their responses went on public display for six months at the What if...?/Scotland exhibition at the V&A Dundee.
How the project came about
What if...?/Scotland was delivered by award-winning design practice 7N Architects.
The project sought to re-ignite design professionals’ civic role. It was a response to the theme at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice: How will we live together?
The Venice exhibition was where the project was designed to be staged, but it was relocated to Scotland due to the pandemic.
Where the people were from
The 25 citizens came from five places across the country:
Wester Hailes in Edinburgh
Paisley in Renfrewshire
Annan in Dumfries and Galloway
Elgin in Morayshire
Lerwick in Shetland
The questions asked
The citizens were asked how they would like their towns to be changed for the better with open questions like: “How will we live together?”, “What if…?”, “What does the future of your place look like?”, and “What if you could change it?” This encouraged collaborative thinking between designers and communities.
They were then invited to frame a “wish” about the future of their place, and the designers responded visually with an idea: a “What if…”. The exhibition also asked museum visitors what they want Dundee to look and feel like in the future.
The importance of involving communities in design
As Scotland emerges from the pandemic, the notion of its communities coming together to plan for a better future has never been more important. Project lead Ewan Anderson of 7N Architects explains more about What if...?/Scotland’s collaborative approach:
“If the past year has shown us anything, it is the importance of community, so the Biennale Architettura 2021’s theme ‘How will we live together?’ is more salient than ever.
With What if…?/Scotland, we really wanted to encourage collaborative thinking between designers and communities to demonstrate how community-led, grassroots engagement can stimulate big ideas from conversations about people’s wishes for the future of their places.
‘What if…?’ is an open question that can and has stimulated fantastic and energetic discussion, debate and creative thinking within the communities we have worked with across Scotland. It’s pointed towards ways in which we can make meaningful and positive change.
In the face of a changing and uncertain climate, it’s vital that conversation and participation and ambitious ideas are prioritised when we design our collective future.”
A&DS and V&A Dundee also delivered a series of digital events that discussed key issues:
What if…/ we lived in spaces of small distances?
What if…/ we consider how we live together?
What if…/ young people designed our future?
The events brought together more than 230 people from around the world. Speakers came from Scotland, England, Ireland, Denmark, Kenya and Romania, with guests from Jordan, Sri Lanka, Dublin, Brussels, Canada and the UK.
Creatives were brought together with students and recent graduates on projects to explore What if…? through talks, workshops, drawing and tutorials.
The What if...? exhibition:
won the Edinburgh Architecture Association Ambassadors Award
welcomed more than 100,000 visitors
collected more than 10,000 wishes from the people of Scotland and beyond
Series of short films
The collaborative process was captured in a series of short films by Basharat Khan. These provided the narration for the exhibition. Each place’s story was told by its citizens and set within the rich landscapes of rural and urban Scotland.
The films were displayed in an immersive environment designed by 7N Architects and O Street. It had spaces for reflection and inspiration.
The Scotland + Venice Partnership
Scotland’s contribution to the International Architecture Exhibition (Biennale Architettura) is delivered through the Scotland + Venice partnership. The ambition of the partnership is to commission and showcase art and architecture that reflects the best of contemporary practice and thinking in Scotland.
Hosts, designers and citizens
Shelley Bell, Economic Development Officer, Dumfries and Galloway Council
Andrew Piggott, 7N Architects
Sam Boyle, 7N Architects
Nicola Atkinson, Beautiful Materials
Jordan McCrae + Sean Fitzpatrick, Collective Architecture
Nick Wright, Nick Wright Planning
Heather Claridge, Architecture and Design Scotland
Niamh O’Reilly, 7N Architects
Lisa Mackenzie / Landscape Architecture
Ben Scrimgeour and Rosemary Scrimgeour, Building Workshop
Claire Hope, BuroHappold Engineers
Andrew Macpherson, MOXON Architects
Suzanne Shearer, Team Leader, Shetland Island Council
Ewan Anderson, 7N Architects
Daniel Clark, Gaada
Thomas Hamilton, Hoskins Architects
David Muir, Rankinfraser
Richard Gibson and Emma Gibson
Leonie Bell, Strategic Lead, Paisley Partnership
Ffion Roberts, 7N Architects
Graeme Nicholls, Graeme Nicholls Architects
Ian Alexander and Henry McKeown, JM Architects
Gerry Grams, Threesixty Architecture
Anne Duff and Cathy Houston, Voices of Experience
Dr Valerie Wright
Leah Black, Chief Executive, WHALE Arts + Eoghan Howard, Wester Hailes Community Trust
Katie Hay, 7N Architects
Mike Harrison, Harrison Stevens
Ian Gilzean, Chief Architect, Scottish Government
Rowan MacKinnon-Pryde and Nicky Thomson, Studio NIRO
Daisy Narayanan, Director of Urbanism, Sustrans
Header image credit: Alan Richardson