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Collaboration in Architectural Practice

Some good conversations in the lunch break, including with my colleague Christy Collis here at QUT, whose mum apparently also reads my blog - hi! Christy and I will share some ideas about approaches to teaching with technology and teaching media studies in a non-historicised format soon.

A conference like SPIN also opens up some very interesting questions - will I choose the sessions I see based on their blogability? In this session, I have - I'm in a session with relatively traditional scholarly papers... First up is Joanne Cys from the University of South Australia, presenting on 'Collaboration: Experiment, Mess and Risk'. She begins by discussion collaboration in a professional context (here, architecture), and notes the increasingly blurry disciplinary boundaries which might in turn blur the lines of what is and isn't collaboration. Architecture is problematic here as it has placed relatively low value on collaborative practice for some time. The common view is that 'those secure in the knowledge of their own field make the best collaborators.'

In South Australia, more recently collaboration has come to be regarded as a form of creative infrastructure, and an SA Collaborations Steering Committee has been set up; there is some interest in building a regional identity. Further, the Design Institute of Australia has established a collaborative design award category, with the Royal Australian Institute of Architects also setting up a similar awards category. There have been various exhibitions in this field as well. Awarding collaboration (especially between architects, designers, craftspeople, and visual artists - so beyond the architecture discipline itself) presents a problem of outcome and ownership, however; also, the redeveloped awards categories were generally unsuccessful in attracting a good number of entries (there was one each in 2003 and 2004).

The drive towards collaboration in South Australia happens within the overall Strategic Plan in that state, which builds heavily on Richard Florida's work in calling for the development of the state as a creative region. Adelaide has set up a Thinkers in Residence programme, and some of these (including Charles Landry) significantly promoted a view of architecture as being important to the overall nature of the city as a creative place. Thinker group Blast Theory further stressed the importance of collaboration to creativity.

Within this context, then, the SA Collaboration Steering Committee devised the 'match' collaborative tournament for creative disciplines covered by the Committee (i.e. designers). Teams in the tournament had to respond to specific design challenges within the Adelaide environment (designing an object, street furniture, a shelter, and an urba space in specific locations each within 6-8 weeks). The aims of this tournament were to provide practitioners with the opportunity to build and exhibit their collaborative skills, and overall was seen as a success - it shows the need for experimentation in a messy and risky mode.