‘Street Society is a weeklong design event facilitated by architecture staff from Queen’s University Belfast. As an annual outreach project since 2010, it brings clients from community and voluntary sectors together with talented students of architecture, to produce in five days something remarkable and stimulating.
Street Society is a place of co-constructive learning in a post-conflict context. The students learn skills from one another and about the challenges facing their clients, and the clients gain insight into the process of design, the value and potential of their built environment. This open learning process does not result in deliverable architectural solutions, instead it demonstrates possibilities, capturing ideas that already exist at community level and exposing their value. Together with their community clients, the students demonstrate in one week a high level of listening and learning, and an ability to visually capture ideas, releasing new potentials, new futures. The process places students and the community on the same level: with no hierarchy. Ideas, needs and aspirations are voiced, responded to and, with skill and youthful passion, translated into proposals.
The outputs of Street Society (sketches, plans, 3-D images, maps, models, artifacts and ideas) can lead to further more supported community discussions, or become directly embedded into community funding bids. Some have moved onto government capital lists for further brief development, leading towards built initiatives further down the line. But the really valuable outcomes are richer awareness and new relationships within and between communities, statutory bodies and future built environment professionals: a dialogue about the built environment at street level.’
This is the text with which we promote Street Society. It is a positive projection of an 8 year-long and often hard-won process. Beyond educating architecture students, Street Society has set itself the aim to develop and test a collaborative, creative and social space of urban rehearsal. The paper will critically examine how and whether this aim is met. It will begin by outlining the rationale and shift towards a street level, ‘dispersed’ university model, in response to a post-conflict context, and go on to discuss the mechanisms of Street Society and its collaboration with a government initiative over the last two years. The paper draws on improvisational theory to better understand the social and ethical nature of the project and examines how the concept of rehearsal speaks to Street Society and live projects more generally.