Whitehawk and Craven Vale Allotment Hub Shelter, Community Engagement Project, Brighton: Experimental Architecture.

A personal account from studio 06 graduate Chloe Simons on a community engagement project conducted over summer 2016.

The Studio 06 Experimental Architecture design team consisted of Neda Soltani and myself, supported by Graham Perring and Andrew Paine. Working in a small design team I think gave each member more pressure and responsibility but a larger variety of tasks and an increased involvement in the project overall. We were given the task of designing a hub shelter for Craven Vale and Whitehawk Hill Allotment Society to hold community events, workshops, harvest lunches, talks and meetings, with the wider aim of building a stronger community between the plot holders on the site as a whole. The current hub shelter, a standalone metal container, was too dark, too small and insufficiently insulated for the desired purpose but it had particular significance to the allotment society, being the first hub when the allotment society began, after a housing development scheme was proposed on the allotment land. Thus, a covered area adjacent to the container was required.

We had to consider the exposure to the strong winds being on top of a hill, the steep slope on the southern frontage of the container, the rules of the allotment, and the applicable building regulations as well as budget restrictions. All these influenced material choice, scale of the roof and decking, and the depth of the foundations and seating groundwork. We began the design process by categorising all of our research into four proposals that each responded to the brief and site in a different way. At the ideas workshops and design presentations we had to liaise with many different allotment members and other interested parties. The in-person discussions helped us gather the opinions of the allotment members who were present whilst the 3D models generated were helpful for illustrating the ideas. Ultimately, these meetings were invaluable in helping us to get a clearer picture of how to progress the design whilst incorporating the client requirements.

Nonetheless, being such a large and diverse client group in which everyone had an equal veto, and only having a short commission time, made it very difficult to create a viable design that compromised between and pleased all. There were comments both for and against the revised design and thus no design decision was reached. Ideally, there would have been a main decision maker amongst the client group. This collaboration was however good experience in learning how to evaluate and agree on ideas with real life clients. The process was useful and interesting, I think, for all involved. The feedback I gained has helped me to both progress and develop my skills and understanding of architectural practice. I learned and achieved a lot but most importantly, not to forget to communicate the joy and creativity of the design we’re creating even in a real life project.