What is community?

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Andersen (imagined communities): power of nationalism to define and prescribe a sense of community that transcends physical nature, but is located in mind and heart

Wenger (communities of practice): community is about working together as a practice

Nursey-Bray: community has been defined as a place; as in a territory or place-based community where people have something in common, or there is a shared geography

Cohen: communities are formed via attachment, and they are communities of meaning

Tonnie: community related to gemeinschaft, thus a group of people that share common bonds around traditions, beliefs or objectives

Bartle: community as a collection of human individuals organised as a socio-cultural system within six dimensions relevant to community and culture (i) technological, (ii) economic. (iii) political, (iv) institutional (social), (v) aesthetic-value amd (vi) belief-conceptual.

Lee-Newby: community as a set of interrelationships among social institutions in a locality

Kaufman: community is first a place and second a configuration as a way of life, both as to how people do things and what they want, to say their institutions and goals

Johnson: community as a collection of people who share a common territory and meet their basic and social needs through interaction with one another


Nursey-Bray, M. (2020). Community Engagement: What is it?. In Dominique Hes, Christina Hernandez-Santin (Eds.) Placemaking Fundamentals for the Built Environment, Melbourne, Australia: Palgrave macmillan, pp. 83-105

Associology Uncertainties

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First source of uncertainties: No Group, Only Group Formation | Intermediaries versus Mediators | Intermediaries: is what transports meaning or force without transformation/ defining input is enough to define output | Mediators: they transform, translate, distort and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry/ their input is never a good predictor of their output. (Groups are made)

Second source of uncertainties: Action is overtaken | Who and what is acting when we act? Actor is not the source of an action but ‘the moving target of a vast array of entities swarming toward it.’ An actor on stage is never alone in acting. By definition action is dislocated (…) Just as actors are constantly engaged by others in group formation and destruction (the first uncertainty), they engage in providing controversial accounts for their actions as well as for those of others (…) Will we have the courage not to substitute an unknown expression for a well-known one? (…) We have to resist pretending that actors have only a language while the analyst possesses the metalanguage in which the first is ‘embedded’. (agencies are explored)

Third source of uncertainties: Objects too have agency | power, like society, is the final result of a process and not a reservoir, a stock, or a capital that will automatically provide an explanation. Power and domination have to be produced, made up, composed (…) the flagrant asymmetry of resources does not mean that they are generated by social asymmetries. (Social) is an association between entities which are in no way recognizable as being social in the ordinary manner, except during the brief moment when they are reshuffled together (…) what is new is that objects are suddenly highlighted not only as being full-blown actors, but also as what explains the contrasted landscape we started with, the overarching powers of society, the huge asymmetries, the crushing exercise of power (…) objects overflow their makers, intermediaries become mediators. (objects play a role: they become from intermediaries to mediators)

Fourth source of uncertainties: Matters of Fact vs Matters of Concern|Even more so than in art, architecture, and engineering, science offered the most extreme cases of complete artificiality and complete objectivity moving in parallel (…) we began using the expression ‘construction of facts’ to describe the striking phenomenon of artificiality and reality marching in step (…) for other colleagues in the social as well as natural sciences the word construction meant something entirely different: made up and false (…) Objects of science may explain the social, not the other way around (…) ‘factors’ are unable to transport any action through any event reduced to the status of intermediary (…) a concatenation of mediators does not trace the same connections and does not require the same type of explanations as a retinue of intermediaries transporting a cause (…) the word ‘translation’ now takes on a somewhat specialized meaning: a relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into coexisting (…) there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties, but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations (…) How could a fact be that solid if it is also fabricated? (…) The discussion begins to shift for good when one introduces not matters of fact, but what I now call matters of concern (…) It is the thing itself that has been allowed to be deployed as multiple and thus allowed to be grasped through different viewpoints, before being possibly unified in some later stage depending on the abilities of the collective to unify them (…) Once you learn how to respect shifting ontologies, you can tackle more difficult entities for which the question of reality has been simply squeezed out of existence by the weight of social explanations

Fifth (and final) source of uncertainties: Writing Down Risky Accounts (networks)|namely an uncertainty about the study itself: bring into the foreground the very making of reports (…) A text, in our definition of social science, is thus a test on how many actors the writer is able to treat as mediators and how far he or she is able to achieve the social (…) (The Network) is nothing more than an indicator of the quality of a text about the topics at hand.It qualifies its objectivity, that is, the ability of each actor to make other actors do unexpected things. A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations (…) So, network is an expression to check how much energy, movement, and specificity our own reports are able to capture (…) The fact is that no one has the answers—this is why they have to be collectively staged, stabilized, and revised (…) Assembled around the ‘laboratory’ of the text, authors as well as readers may begin to render visible the two mechanisms that account for the plurality of associations to be taken into account and for the stabilization or unification of the world they wish to live in (…) We, the little ants, should not settle for heaven or hell, as there are plenty of things on this earth to munch our way through.


Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Full text available here

the Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL: back to the future

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These two resources, read in parallel, offer a fascinating read. I have mentioned the Whole Earth Catalog before when discussing ecological architecture, but up to now I hadn’t quite investigated what it was about. Fred Turner’s article ‘Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy’ discusses the Whole Earth catalog in detail and how Stewart Brand -the catalog’s master mind- sought to establish a common ground for all dispersed individuals living in communals in the 1960’s by offering a venue where they could communicate and form a single social network. These individuals had stepped away from agonistic politics and the bureaucratic myth of ‘objective consciousness’ and sought to change the world by establishing exemplary communities and change the consciousness of individuals.

The catalog presented reviews of hand tools, books and magazines arrayed in categories (..) It also established a relationship between informational technology, economic activity and alternative forms of community that would outlast the counterculture itself and become a key feature of the digital world

The catalog aimed at creating ‘a countercultural style of consumerism’ by making product suggestions but also to ways of thinking and speaking; a transformation of the self. Personal power believed Brand, develops from the power of the individual to conduct his own education and environment.

After the significant success of WEC (the catalog was fully operational for ten years after which Brand continued to publish additional versions), back in the 1980’s when Brand was approached by Larry Brilliant (founder of Network Technologies International) to help him promote computer conferencing systems, Brand came up with the idea of WELL. By now an online platform (a bulletin-board system then), WELL is based on the countercultural conception of community to create a network forum.

Brand wanted The Well to appeal not just to the Whole Earth crowd but to a wider audience: he wanted hackers, he wanted journalists (…) At the same time, he had a hunch that, in addition to electronic dialog, there should be a strong face-to-face element to The Well (…) He sensed that the most interesting possibility to arise from knitting electronic dialog into the fabric of everyday life would lie not in championing either the virtual or the human-contact model but rather in finding the place where they overlapped (…) But probably the most important of Brand’s early convictions for The Well was that people should take responsibility for what they said

For many members of the WELL, on-line collaboration offered a chance to revivify the spirit of the counterculture farms while also establishing and supporting a new type of individual professional, one that cultivated professional and interpersonal networks and key sources for future employment. The latter was directly related to the changes in 1980’s company culture and the dismantling of hierarchical systems towards the formation of corporations. WELL technology and thematics supported this new type of individual. Interactivity was instantaneous and yet collective: it was possible to exchange smaller, time-sensitive
pieces of information, ranging from data on a not-yet-announced technology to a bit of gossip and the forum could enhance the reputations of its users.

I keep that WELL has been ‘a non-hierarchically organized social form in which scattered individuals are linked to one another by an information technology and through it the experience of a shared mindset.’ As web communication had not yet been centralised, these forms of network exchange were the first manifestations of networked online learning communities: people learned from each other. Whilst WELL perhaps focused more in the interaction part than content sharing, and despite its shortcomings, it represented a more democratic medium for co-existence where everybody had a name and were accountable for what they believed and wrote. Thus we come to the second part of the title ‘back to the future’: on our way ahead we fell behind on what made networked communication so alluring in the first place. The possibility to openly speak our minds but to also stand up for and take responsibility for what we are saying.


Turner, F. (2005). Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy. The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community, Technology and Culture 46 (3), pp. 485-512. Full paper available here

Hafner, K. (1997). The Epic Saga of The Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL). The Wire magazine. Full article available here

EAR36 – Format matters

Last minute gift from Edinburgh Architecture Research (EAR) Journal just before 2020 ends. This is an article written back in 2017 discussing the application of the Cooperative Studio format at undergraduate level. It’s true that my PhD research became even more relevant due to corona and the emergency of distant education, but I’d like to think that transformational blending and networked learning in architectural education are more that mere trends imposed by the current conditions. In fact, their relevance emerges mostly from changes in the process of learning itself and the current models for creating knowledge and meaning.

The Systems Innovation Platform

The platform presents viewer with an understanding of how innovative systems can emerge by way of employing systems thinking and new technologies for tackling complex problems. It monitors and explains the restructuring of existing units into new organisational forms that bring transformative change into a complex system.

Platform is available here

Horizon2020 Program SoPHIA: First Research Findings

SoPHIA is an ongoing Horizon2020 program that aims to promote collective reflection within the cultural and political sector in Europe on the impact assessment and quality of interventions in European historical environment and cultural heritage at urban level. Consortium comprises of Roma Tre University (project leader), Interarts, the European Museum Academy (EMA), EDUCULT, the National Technical University of Athens, the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) and the Institute for Development and International Relations (IRMO). However, SoPHIA’s goal is to create a broad community of practice and therefore, is supported by a large number of renowned professionals working in the field of cultural heritage who act as members of SoPHIA’s Advisory Board and an equally impressive number of stakeholders directly or indirectly related to the objectives of the program.

The National Technical University of Athens led the first stage of this project and I am very happy and proud to have also been part!
Here are the first stage research findings along with keynotes from the Athens workshop that was held online last summer (due to corona). Stay tuned to SoPHIA’s official website for more information.

Emotional Learning Design

Visceral (appearance): the automatic, unconscious reaction we have to experiences (…) System 1 thinking: these reactions are fast, immediate without reflection (…) Real world imagery and photography may create the right first impressions for such learning (…) The Gestalt Law of Proximity is often quoted in interface design and states that items close to each other are perceived as groups (…) The Gestalt Law of Similarity states that items similar to each other will be grouped by the user.

Behavioural (performance): This is about emotion and feelings around actual use or usability (…) There is a massive amount of good practice in interface design around usability. It is vital that the interface is a simple, consistent, predictable and easy to use as possible, as time and cognitive effort spent on the interface detracts from the cognitive effort needed to learn (…) Without challenge, difficulty and cognitive effort, you will not have the deep processing necessary for learnt knowledge, skills and behaviour to stick (…) Inducing emotion may be ideal when you want attitudinal shift in diversity, equality and other belief shift or self-awareness training but can be dangerous in non-affective training, where it can induce the illusion of learning

Reflective (memories and experience):  System 2 thinking, the rational, reasoning side of the brain (…) This is complex and involves much more than just getting a score on the assessment, although that can be an important feeling of success (…) Challenging cognitive effort can propel the learner forward and make them feel as though they really are making progress. Feedback is also a powerful accelerator of learning, so personalising learning and feedback can move things forward making the learner feel good about themselves (…) It is easy to forget that one learns for a reason, ultimately to apply that knowledge, so the transfer through to action really does matter.

Donald Clark, Emotion in Learning Experience Design – Norman’s 3 facets; Visceral, Behavioural and Reflective…, Full article available here

“Circular Building Products for a Sustainable Built Environment” Profed Course, launches October 7.

A new, fully online Profed course on Circular Economy at an advanced level will be available by TU Delft, October 7. Come join us at the “Circular Building Products for a Sustainable Built Environment” online course, register now and enhance your learning on Circular Economy.

The course is suitable for architects, product designers, managers, supply chain actors and other professionals working towards the development of future products used to create sustainable, circular buildings. TU Delft’s Circular Built Environment hub (CBE) has designed and developed this course working with leading industry and research partners, to achieve a higher level of applicability and relevance. It is based on real world case studies and provides you with the tools to create new products and business models. It will help you to fully understand the complexity of the task and to be able to evaluate existing circular approaches. You won’t be alone: a group of highly qualified people will support your learning throughout the course. For more information please visit our page.


Design after Design

I have just read Jeremy Till’s Design after Design lecture and it is so inspiring.

Till discusses the ‘modern project’ using the principles of progress (“If the modern project is underpinned by the need to maintain progress on all fronts, then design is used as a messenger for that urge“), growth (“the modern project is only deemed credibly progressive on the back of markers of growth“), order (“The modern project was, and still is, a project of ordering and categorising, and with it a project of excluding and privileging“) and reason (“the application of rational thought to a given context in order to better it“) and how they are currently challenged by climate change. The modern project, he claims, does not respond to ethics. It will only address its own demise. Climate emergency also defies reason and the scientific method.

So, what about design then? “What we see,” says Till, “is a radical shift from design being attached and addicted to the production of the new, and into practices that pay attention to what comes before the object and what comes after it.” Design now “accommodates difference,” it is “a collective enterprise of sense-making,” it is “sensitive to systems of production, both material and human.”

Full article available here

TU Delft MOOC: Circularity in the Built Environment is open again at edx!

After a very successful second re-run, our MOOC has been launched again last Monday! This is a self-paced MOOC, so you can start any time and also follow it in your own time. If you are a student, a working professional in the field of architecture, urban design and engineering and you want to know more about the circular economy, join the course and the instructors from our department will guide you through.

 About this course

Building construction is one of the most waste producing sectors. In the European Union, construction alone accounts for approximately 30% of the raw material input. In addition, the different life-cycle stages of buildings, from construction to end-of-life, cause a significant environmental impact related to energy consumption, waste generation and direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

The Circular Economy model offers guidelines and principles for promoting more sustainable building construction and reducing the impact on our environment. If you are interested in taking your first steps in transitioning to a more sustainable manner of construction, then this course is for you!

In this course you will become familiar with circularity as a systemic, multi-disciplinary approach, concerned with the different scale, from material to product, building, city, and region.

Some aspects of circularity that will be included in this course are maximizing reuse and recycle levels by closing the material loops. You will also learn how the Circular Economy can help to realign business incentives in supply chains, and how consumers can be engaged and contribute to the transition through new business models enabling circular design, reuse, repair, remanufacturing and recycling of building components.

In addition, you will learn how architecture and urban design can be adapted according to the principles of the Circular Economy and ensure that construction is more sustainable. You will also learn from case studies how companies already profitably incorporate this new theory into the design, construction and operation of the built environment.

               What you’ll learn

At the end of the course you will be able to:

  • Recognize the principles of circularity and their application to the built environment
  • Identify the scales of the built environment from materials and products to cities and regions
  • Identify the life-cycle phases of building products and how they can be circular
  • Discuss design principles in building of products and key aspects such as stakeholders, incentives, time-frames, business models
  • Discuss the circular design and development approach for buildings and recognize the impact of a building on society and the environment during its life-cycle
  • Recognize the flows at different city scales and how they differ depending on the actors and the local context
  • Reflect on the complexity and variety of possible circular solutions in terms of energy, water and waste management
  • Analyze and map the different stages and value webs of building materials at the regional level
  • Reflect on possible environmental impacts of the different building life-cycle stages and activities along the value web
  • Explore the potential of intervening to steer the value web towards more circularity

You can start learning all about the circular economy by clicking this link right now! Also, if you are interested in the work that is going on in the field of circularity, have a look at the Circular Built Environment Hub.

The mirroring effect in education

As we have seen above, the self defining nature is a means of maintaining authority, in the one instance over society, in the other over students. Teachers set the problems and provide the means to solve them. The fact that theories are developed in artificial environments means that their behaviour become entirely predictable. As Argyris and Schön note;

..techniques make self fulfilling prophecies for the professions. These techniques tend to be used to achieve a self-reinforcing system that maintain constancy…The artificial environments are designed to enable the professions to realise objectives as he sees them control the task, render the behaviour of others predictable, and thereby control it.

The same level of control is equally apparent in the profession of the teacher. It may be seen therefore that self-defining rational theory also leads to self-fulfilling theory. Nietzsche is withering in his critique of the rational mind’s pursuit of the truth and its apparent limitations:

If somebody hides a thing behind a bush, seeks it out and finds it in the self-same place, then there is not much to boast of respecting this seeking and finding; thus, however, matters stand with the pursuit of seeking and finding ‘truth’ within the realm of reason.

What this points to is the dangers of the closed circuit. Theory guides practice which in turn becomes the basis for theory; at best this a refining process in pursuit of the perfected theory defining a universal truth; at worst it becomes like a dog chasing his tail. This system generates a mirroring effect, whereby the precepts of the theory are reflected in the actions of practice.

Jeremy Till, Contingent Theory: The Educator as Ironist, 1996. Full article available here (highlighting is mine)