CAS – Participatory planning of ecological outdoor classroom, Jaffa, 2009

The first project of CAS was a collaboration with pupils from the Jewish-Arab School in Jaffa. It focused on re-designing a public space at the edge of the school, in the heart of a central Jaffa neighbourhood. The space was designated as a community garden but hardly any people used it and community liaison asked to find plans that would make the garden usable by both the community and the pupils.  The aim of the project was also to re-build the local community that had suffered fragmentation due to gentrification. So the project was less about the design of the space than about a tool for community empowerment.

The design of the space started through conversations with the pupils, and drawing and model-making workshops, with the students demonstrating and discussing their ideas for the space. In turn, the students’ ideas were scrutinised by the pupils. The proposals were exhibited to the community as part of Open Houses Architectural Week and then were submitted to the local council. Some member of the council supported the project but lack of funds and bureaucracy made the project fade away. However, due to the interaction with the community and the publicity that the project generated, and maybe even through fear of change, the community garden started to receive more and more interest from the neighbours and has become one of the most successful in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

The project, based on dialogic and critical pedagogy, and carried out as an action-research,  tested many limits and constraints that exist in architectural education. It also introduced to the school architectural thinking and interdisciplinary project based study. On another level it shifted the power relationship between the studio tutors and the students, and between the professionals, i.e. the students and tutors, and the users of the space, i.e. the pupils. While “participation” has become popular, it has also often been carried out in an offhand and improper way. Through the methods used here, we believe, the users of the space had an active role in the design proposal. And even though the project was not realised, feedback from the teachers, the pupils and the students, showed that it achieved many of the project’s objectives, both academic and social.

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