The Graham Foundation is pleased to present Where If Not Us? Participatory Design and Its Radical Approaches, an exhibition of visual research by architect Mathias Heyden and artist Ines Schaber. Focusing on the work of seven U.S.-based community design architects and planners and their projects, the exhibition presents the findings of a multi-year research project funded by the Graham Foundation.
Rarely documented and not yet comprehensively researched, the participatory design movement—a socially engaged architecture and planning practice that cultivates citizen involvement and empowerment—began in the 1960s and grew out of a common concern to democratize design by actively involving all stakeholders. Thousands of projects have been realized throughout the U.S. in the past 50 years by community design centers and professionals who advocated for those without representation in the development process. Recording the history of the work of these pioneering practitioners is crucial as a new generation of architects and planners begin to re-imagine contemporary public interest design.
Acknowledging the difficulty in capturing this legacy using traditional methods of architectural documentation, Heyden and Schaber’s research method is designed to suggest how participatory architecture and planning is actually used and how that use develops over time. In addition to photography and interviews, multiple site visits were intrinsic to their research methodology—revisiting them with the protagonists that lead the projects sometimes decades after their initiation. Through these case studies, the exhibition reexamines the development of the participatory design movement and provides an alternative visual strategy for better understanding the social impact of architecture and the role that it plays in building communities.
Presented for the first time, the exhibition brings together Heyden and Schaber’s findings in the form of a dialogic installation consisting of in-depth video interviews with the projects’ protagonists, color photographs of exemplary projects visited and revisited throughout the five-year research period, a series of posters, and booklets that include detailed accounts of each project while offering an investigation of each protagonist’s position on questions about radicality in the field of community design. Additionally, there is a reference table with publications significant to the history, theory, and development of the participatory design movement and documentation from a previous publication and exhibition project that Heyden completed on the subject in 2008 with German architecture magazine An Architektur. Seen as a whole, the project does not simply document rarely visualized participatory design projects, it also puts forth a new mode of investigation that utilizes oral histories alongside visual research to both record and activate this under recognized history