Co-design, or co-operative design as it was first publicised in Scandinavia in 1970s, might well be described as the highest – and hardest – form of collaboration in the architectural profession. We certainly had our own in-house glimpse of its challenges – and rewards – when refurbishing a one-time rental car depot into our current fit-for-purpose Hamilton studio. Every stakeholder in the office had clear ideas of what could or should eventuate. The outcome is a tribute to our collective creativity – and collegiality!
By its very nature, genuine co-design can be difficult to get right. It requires the involvement of all key stakeholders throughout the whole design process; it demands effective facilitation and communication at all stages. It is a co-operative endeavour, not a hierarchical one. The final outcome is developed with, not for, those most affected by the project. The final result is truly collaborative. That is why it’s a design approach that we enjoy.
Understanding and incorporating different cultural, community and organisational perspectives is a particularly important aspect of co-design. The interactions involved are both extensive and intensive: successive design iterations can demonstrate how well all voices have been heard and viewpoints considered. For community facilities especially, the local sense of ‘ownership’ is real when an effective co-design approach has been followed. Moreover, whatever the scale of the project – the refurbishing of Auckland City Hospital’s Whānau Rooms or the creation of Awarua, Gisborne District Council’s new administration centre, for instance – the sense of shared achievement is profound.
Now often referred to as participatory design, co-design is a powerful approach, harnessing the creative and collaborative impulses of all who are involved.