Three Projects Put Community First

A hospital in Senegal, a museum in Winnipeg, and an urban planning intervention in Los Angeles demonstrate a sea change in architecture and the process of community engagement.

The production of architecture is both defined and plagued by the relationship between designers and users. In the past, the architect’s concept or the client brief was paramount, but those models have given way to a more iterative, fluid practice that aims to incorporate a multiplicity of stakeholder needs and voices—especially those of the users. As awareness of identity and historical inequity begins to drive architectural agendas, designers are looking both inward—at how their own disciplinary practices have entrenched cultural hierarchies—and outward, to learn more about the communities for and with whom they work. This dynamic touches on issues of representation and authenticity, necessitating humility and a willingness to adjust—or altogether throw out—initial designs in light of new input. As these three projects demonstrate, community engagement is a process that can stretch out over years and continue beyond grand openings and ribbon cuttings. Spanning three countries and three typologies, these vignettes offer insights into how architects are negotiating considerations of history, function, cultural engagement and representation, and their own roles.

As awareness of identity and historical inequity begins to drive architectural agendas, designers are looking both inward and outward.

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