Christopher Day, the Welch architect and author, gave a presentation on Consensus Design at our school almost 4 years ago. Ever since that evening we knew we would use his method when designing our new school campus. Fast forward to February 2015 and we embarked on 10 days of consensus design workshops lead by Wellington architect, Matthew ter Borg. Matthew has taken Christopher’s method and adapted it slightly, and he prefers the name Participatory Design.
Prior to Matthew arriving we undertook two community workshops to focus on our values and principles. The school community was soon to become owners of a farm so it was a good time to re-visit our vision and mission. The first workshop was attended by Trustees, staff and new campus members. The second was an all community event. Both workshops created blackboard vision lists. These were then combined into a vision list from which a vision statement was drafted.
Another exercise was to list our values, our principles and the actions that were needed to realise the vision. This was compiled onto a wall mandala which will be a valuable reference document in future.
While Matthew was with us we had days where he worked with 1-2 people, and days with over 20. The first big day started with us learning about consensus design. See here for details. Starting with our existing building we learned to observe the physical, and note our impressions. Then we looked at the life, or movement, of the spaces. Thirdly we learned about the moods and feelings of spaces. Lastly we attempted to define our essential purpose or aims. We found that the following quote from Rudolf Steiner was a good summary.
“Receive the Children with Reverence, Educate them in Love and Send them forth in Freedom”.
That afternoon we walked the land and used our new skills to observe and feel spaces. This was collected together on large sheets of paper, one noting what we observed, one noting the gesture of the land, and one representing the moods.
The next day we broke into groups and started envisaging physical solutions. This master planning resulted in some drawn solutions and highlighted some physical challenges. On day three we condensed the many plans and sketches into one plan which we took onto the land for field testing. We discovered that some ideas that worked on paper did not work on the space or the slope available. Over the next few days a changing group worked with Matthew to design then test various layouts. One method was to use bamboo stakes to mark the various buildings and better see the spaces created. By Friday we had a site plan that we were happy with. This was presented to the wider school community after school on Friday and again on Saturday.
We also wanted a presentation drawing that would convey the design more accurately and artistically. The first step was to create an accurate 3D computer model of the land and add the building bulk. This work was done by Gabrielle Bell who then generated perspective images. Matthew ter Borg used these images as a base for hand drawings.
Our experience with Consensus Design was positive and productive. We, as a community, have made a number of design and site layout decisions. We now have drawings and a wish-list which an architect can start using as a brief for more detailed design. Just as importantly, we did it as a community.