Emotional Participation


After a period of time studying about participation in architecture, I gradually realized participation in architecture is an issue rather complicated, which is affected by various aspects and those all elements will create a dynamic balance along with the time passing by. A large number of discourses, specific and particular, proposed by scholars will intrigue new problems with the developments and changes. Are there any better solutions? Occasionally, I watched a commonweal TV programme named Let Harmony Redeem. This programme started with an issue, proposed by a British ideologist, Arnold Toynbee¬1, that Chinese Confucian will play an important role worldwide in 21st century. It analyzed how ancient China kept an ordered and harmonious development under the social culture based on Confucian for 3 thousand years. Combined with what I learned from architectural participation and the theory Adam Smith argued in , I want to propose a different way of thinking about participation in architecture.

Participation in architecture
Architecture, a participative process
As Jonathan Hill said in his book2, architecture is not only a building but also a whole process like human life. It’s not a simple object but an organic subject includes culture, structure, economy, environment etc. This subject varies with all the situations surrounded. It self is a process of participation. The reason is that ‘Unlike the law or medicine, architecture is not a strong, coherent discipline with internal self-validating codes that safely protect its members and exclude ‘ignorant’ outsiders.’
As Mark Cousins suggests architecture is a ‘weal’ discipline, not weak in a pejorative sense, but weak in contrast to a self-validating discipline3.

During the life of architecture, it will inevitably encounter various people as component, who will participate into the process of architecture, indirectly or directly.
Direct and indirect participants
‘Determinism assumes that the user is passive and predictable while this text suggests that the user is active and unpredictable. The fact is that both are true. The oscillation between passivity and activity is more apparent in the experience of architecture than in any other cultural phenomena.’
-------Jonathan Hill4
Direct participants, usually as a main part of participants, such as government, developer, constructor, architect and user are compulsory constituents of participation. No matter are there any intersection among them, to some extent, they can be predicted and analyzed.

Additionally, there are also large number of indirect participants, for example, designers of other architecture nearby, people who have visited, heard or even watch the building through video or pictures. Theoretically, they can be counted as participants of architecture because they have relationship with this architecture, no matter the connection is week or strong.
Intensity of participatory sense
The intensity of participatory sense is dynamically integrated with the tightness of connection between participants and architecture. Usually, the sense of participation of user is much stronger than those people who just came across the building once. This intensity of feeling is based on the dependency of the participants to architecture, both in spatial and temporal.

But under no circumstances can we ignore that this dependency essentially relies on sentiment more than function. That’s why some people only had one occasional experience with architecture during his whole life but this relationship is so strong in emotion that he can remember it forever. In this situation his sense of participation is equal to or even exceeds that of the residents.

Theoretically speaking, the more frequent a subject contacts with another, the more closer their connection are, the more probability that they generate emotional feeling. So we always arbitrarily assume that the intensity of participation will be determined by the tightness of spatial and temporal connection.

The significance of participation
Since the participants of architecture are numerous and unpredictable, which undoubtedly will induce the complexity of participation. So retrospect to the original of participation, what is the significance of participation? According to some issues and our research about the SWOT, we can partly conclude that the advantages of participation are increasing user’s ownership, improving the quality of design, enhancing interdisciplinary knowledge communication and spreading risk. After all, they are trying to propose a solution to change the attitude of participants towards architecture and generate a harmonious relationship during their symbiosis lives in different stages of architectural process. Actually, this attitude is largely determined by participant’s emotional feeling to architecture.

Art and architecture
Collaboration with artist
As a result, the previous approaches of participation by means of simply offering them an opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere of community or to take part in the process of designing and constructing, aim to get participants involved, which could stimulate emotional feelings towards the architecture. Let take art practice as an example.

Different approaches
The approach of art is a kind of perceptual cognition which is always based on sound, vision and smell during communication. This communication is considered as the simplest and original way of anthropic communication, intuitive and specific.

On contrast, architecture is experiencing a process of changing, its approach from perceptual cognition to rational one. It is because with the bettering progress of technology, human became more and more to cognize the world in rational way. They began to speculate the logical relation behind natural phenomenon, tried to conclude a theory to explain and prove phenomenon, research on the replicability as well as advantage and disadvantage of every object. But just as Deleuze said ‘theory is ‘not for itself’. ‘A theory is exactly like a box of tools. …It must be useful. It must function.’5

Different effects
In the process of cognizing and accepting subject, art is pursuing open outcomes. To some extent, due to the diversity in cultural, social, political background, people have different characteristics which embodies on various aspects such as cognitive ability, sense of values, interests and so on. The open outcome of art provides people an opportunity to cognize subject correspondingly by their own perceptual ability, which could create a harmonious relationship.

Accordingly, the rational research let people realize efficiency and interest. As Adam Smith argued human is always in pursuit of the maximum of self-love. Architecture is trying to balance the interest from every side, to make their interests in some aspect relatively the most.6

From the perspective of participation, art practice based on perceptual cognition makes the participative process more natural, harmonious and nonlinear. Because as Adam Smith discoursed, sentimental cognition is from sympathy and emotional identification7.The perceptual participation oriented from emotion is the most original and natural pattern and could be accepted by participants easily. The result of this type of participation is collaboration and integration, which make the connection more compact. On contrast, the traditional participation directed by interest is pursuing the maximum of interest in the limited scope, which finally results competition rather than collaboration.

Furthermore, the perceptual way of participation is more efficient than rational one. Adam Smith argues that when cognizing and judging, people have double standard according to their emotional feeling. Different standards lead to different judgments8. In the contemporary architectural participation, Do-it-yourself is exactly a good instance by using the theory of double standard. Through DIY, between participants and architecture, emotional connections are imperceptibly established. Ownership is just one of those connections. These connections can not only promote the attitude towards architecture but also can solve some substantial problems. That we called ‘try first to make their mistake sound less serious and then to reduce it to nothing at all’

When talking with O’Shea, she admitted that during her participatory practices, substantially, the progress she achieved is not the quality of design but the participants’ attitude towards her design. She held an event which impressed me rather deeply: as students studying on top floors of the arts tower, we seldom paid attention to other departments on the rest floor. In order to cognize and perceive this building she asked us to do some participatory activities such as talking to strangers we never know, collecting something interesting from any corner of the building and making some notes and marks on some places we find meaningful within this tower. After experienced the event, our attitudes towards this tower have been changed. I began to notice strangers in the same lift, to see whether they are the person I talked with or even asking whether they know the people I met before. Besides that I always concern about the marks and notes I made and want to have a look at them once I have chance. We all have the same feeling that we are connected with arts tower emotionally.

Sustainability of emotional participation
Influenced by the dynamicity of participative process, emotional participation in architecture does also need a dynamic development which could offer a dynamic system for high density participation.

Just as Jeremy Till argued that, ‘If participation acts as a palliative to ensure that stability, then that is acceptable. If participation acts as an agent in the transformation of the values of the state, then it is not acceptable. In this light, Pateman argues that ‘participation, as far as the majority is concerned, is participation in the choice of the decision makers. Thus the function of participation is solely a protective one.’ Protecting, placating, participation is really no more than a placebo.’9

Take a review of the whole history of participation, the conflict mostly happens between the users and other roles. It is not strange after comparing the time of different roles spend with architecture, thanks to high-efficient and prefabrication, an original plan can be realized from a proposal via blueprint to a building while the users have to spend half of their life with the building.

Living style, neighborhood culture and numerous aspects will changes with the social developing, which will inevitably create new conflict among different participants related to architecture.

Anne Querrien indicated in her article that ‘The local now includes the global within it, and this can come out through collective development, not only through building, because building is limited to representing a certain moment in time…’10 How can a certain participation, which takes place at the very beginning of architecture, reflect the whole social need during the life of architecture? Participations which are fragmentary and individual can only abate the conflict but can not eliminate it essentially.

However, emotional participation needs to be connected with specific subject such as community as a carrier to apply the emotional participation all along over the life of architecture.

Teddy Cruz mentioned in his discourse: ‘In our view, housing is less about a collection of objects and more about participatory community processes and the resourcefulness and organization of people. By bridging between the planned and the unplanned, the legal and the illegal, the object and the ground, as well as man-made and factory processes of construction, the “Manufactured Site” questions the meaning of manufacturing and of housing in the context of building community.’11

Therefore, we need to be aware of that in the architectural participation, we create a dynamic system, for example, in form of community, could adapt with the changes and developments. Apart from the former participation which is Results-oriented, the new one is process-oriented, in another word, as a subject rather than object it concentrates more about the emotional feeling generated during different stages of participation.

In this essay, what I argued seems not substantial to architectural participation or solved material problems. I just want to analyze what I learned before and propose a new angle to perceive and cognize architectural participation. This emotion-based participation that has been applied in art practice naturally, however, is neglected in architectural participation. The way of integrating perceptual cognition and rational cognition, macro and micro is just the spirit Confucian has been advocating. From the perspective of sentiment, we could re-perceive and re-cognize problems in architectural participation and, from the origination, to create a sustainable and dynamic way of participation.

1. Arnold Toynbee, 1989, Choose Life: A Dialogue Between Arnold Toynbee & Daisaku Ikeda, Oxford University Press.
2. Occupying Architecture – between the architect and the user, Edited by Jonathan Hill, Routledge, 1998
3. ibid p. 5
4. ibid p. 143
5. Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, ‘Intellectuals and power: a conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze’, in Donald F. Bouchard (ed.) Language Counter-memory, practice: Selected Essays and Interviews (New York: Ithaca, 1977) p. 206
6. Smith, Adam, The theory of moral sentiments / Adam Smith; edited by Knud Haakonssen . - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
7. ibid p. 12
8. ibid p. 32
9. Jeremy Till, Architecture & Participation, the negotiation of hope, Spon Press, 2005, p. 26
10. ibid. (Anne Querrien, plan of participation.)
11. Teddy Cruz, Residential architect Magazine, Publication date: January 1, 2005

Arnold Toynbee, Choose Life: A Dialogue Between Arnold Toynbee & Daisaku Ikeda, Oxford University Press (1989)
Bauman Irena, (1956- ), How to be a happy architect, London: Black Dog, c2008.
Architecture & Participation, Edited by Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu, Jeremy Till, Spon Press,2005
Occupying Architecture – between the architect and the user, Edited by Jonathan Hill, Routledge, 1998
This Would Never Happen in Accrington, Studio 5, Bank of Ideas, 2007
Smith, Adam, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. London: Ward, Lock, 1920
Smith, Adam, The theory of moral sentiments / Adam Smith; edited by Knud Haakonssen . - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, ‘Intellectuals and power: a conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze’, in Donald F. Bouchard (ed.) Language Counter-memory, practice: Selected Essays and Interviews (New York: Ithaca, 1977)
Teddy Cruz, Residential architect Magazine, Publication date: January 1, 2005