Whether intentionally or not, architects often practice in a way that rejects collaboration. A diagram of the traditional model may be formed with the architect at the apex of the pyramid, with all others working below for the good of his/her ideas. What if filmmaking was viewed within the same framework? Who is the author of a particular film - the screenwriter? Director? Producer? Actors? Each brings his/her own authorship to the process. Like film, the making of architecture by its very nature is a collaborative process. In this model, the project is at the apex, with all other contributors below.

It is often proposed that working collaboratively produces mediocre design. This is because a collaborative process is confused with working through a committee structure. There is a difference between design by collaboration and design by committee. Design by collaboration celebrates differences, while design by committee celebrates sameness. In a community design process that engages all participants in a project, all are seen as providing a particular expertise essential to its success. This expertise is acknowledged and integrated into every decision. In other words, we may be designers, and bring a design sense to the table, but we do not live in the neighborhood in question; we may not use the programs that will be created; we probably won’t be constructors of the project; we may not be of the same race of the stakeholders. The intent of this process is to ensure that the design criteria reflect the needs and concerns of all involved through active and meaningful engagement. It also fosters a commitment and understanding of the project as a whole, and of the necessary requirements needed for its successful completion.


Through difference, thoughtful design that responds to more people can develop without sacrificing quality.


However, this participatory process does not seek consensus, but it does attempt to incorporate all voices at the table. Design by committee does attempt to find consensus, which defines a need for a “minority report.” Through difference, thoughtful design that responds to more people can develop without sacrificing quality. This should not suggest that collaboration and participatory design processes ultimately produce thoughtful design. Similar to the fact that the quality of construction ultimately lies in the hand of the constructor, the quality of design still remains in the hands of the designer - since “design” is the expertise we bring to the collaborative process. What a collaborative process does do is connect the design and programming to the direct needs and desires of those typically outside of the design activity. It challenges preconceptions and stereotypes held by all involved. It also reveals content and information early in the process essential to high quality design. A skilled set of designers can take this content to produce a thoughtful response.