Performing care(fully)

Portrait of disabled artist Nina Muhlemann, smiling and pointing at an award held in her other hand.One of the very positive outcomes of giving presentations is meeting so many people already active in this field. At ETH Zurich Caroline and I met disability activists, including Nina Muhlemann (pictured) – one of the other speakers – whose ongoing performative project is called Future Clinic for Critical Care. You can access a description of previous work in Berlin here. Quite shocking to hear stories from disabled participants about how difficult it is living in Switzerland – a place they say where disability is kept out of sight as much as possible.

There was also discussion about how architecture is taught here, and whether formalist (non-social) approaches are still dominant. The debate was a little fraught at times; enough for us to talk afterwards about how to be able to start from where different people come from, to listen to and respect diverse opinions, but also to be clear about how ‘common sense’ attitudes act to perpetuate marginalizing and discriminatory assumptions about both disability and about what is valid architecturally. Important, then, to support the continuing concerns with non-normative bodies being explored by Theory lecturers Torsen Lange and Gabrielle Schaad, and to talk to design professors like Adam Caruso about future directions.

Bloomsbury Festival London – update

Screenshot from Bartlett website advertising Bloomsbury Festival

On Saturday 20th October 2018 three DisOrdinary artists – Rachel Gadsden, Zoe Partington and Noemi Lakmaier – will be running interactive drawing and audio-description workshops as part of the Bartlett School of Architecture and UCL’s contribution to this year’s theme “Activism and the Architecture of Change”. For more details, click here. For access information, click here.

We also have a small exhibition about the Architecture Beyond Sight research workshop, as part of the Festival, in the foyer of Bartlett, 22 Gordon Street, WC1H 0QB. This was commissioned by Prof Alan Penn, Dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment UCL – and held in September 2018 – as the first stage in designing a course that enables blind and partially sighted people to study architecture. The exhibition shows our one-day intensive design workshop, exploring differently visual and non-visual design methods and processes for creating architecture.

‘Care work’ at ETH Zurich

Post for 'care work' event' based on Caroline Cardus's Way Ahead series.

Currently working with artist Caroline Cardus to prepare a DisOrdinary Architecture dialogue for the upcoming ‘Care work’ seminar at ETH Zurich (29th October 2018). Along with speakers – architect Adam Caruso (a professor at the school, currently leading a studio entitled Hidden Interiors) and Nina Mühlemann, a scholar and activist working on disability, arts, and queerness – we will be exploring ways of challenging unequal or normative spatial practices, focusing on how conventional care-relationships produce specific spatial settings. The event is been organized by Torsen Lange and Gabrielle Schaad, as part of their Theory of Architecture course Architectures of Gender – Care Work at ETH.

The poster for the event (shown above) is based on Caroline’s well known 2004 series The Way Ahead.

More in Manchester


Group of six students, some standing, some sitting at computers, smiling as they discuss their work.

Really fabulous to be teaching a bit at Manchester School of Architecture again, and excited that tutors there are working with us to further embed DisOrdinary Architecture artists into the curriculum across the whole school next semester. This is towards enabling more creative ways of engaging with disabled and diverse ways of being in the world as just a ‘normal’ and everyday part of what students learn during their studies. We had very positive student feedback last year from the workshop led by 6 disabled artists (Zoe Partington, Tony Heaton, Pam Newall, Simon Raven, Simon McKeown, Mandy Redvers-Rowe) so will be building on this. As Emily Crompton, first year leader, told us afterwards:

I had some really encouraging feedback from Year 1 student representatives a few weeks ago – completely unsolicited, they said that they had really enjoyed the workshop – one said that it had had a real impact on the designs of their group, and the next day everyone was pouring over their plans and changing things because of what they had learnt. For me this is an excellent outcome for Year 1, as I had hoped it would start to increase awareness, but it seems to have gone beyond that even in such a short timeframe.

‘Doing Disability Differently’ in Glasgow

A4 coloured poster advertising Jos's talk, pinned to the door of the ladies toilet.

Just back from a very interesting session with first year architectural students at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA). For the very first project of the year, they were asked to use ergonomic drawing techniques to map an everyday activity, first as undertaken by a ‘normal’ body and then by a ‘disordinary’ body. Lovely to talk with students about how these analytical techniques help develop close observational and scale-mapping skills, but also to see them becoming aware of what ergonomics ignores. Through attempting to map disordinary bodies, students noticed how ergonomics is limited by its focus on the average; misses out our full range of sensory experiences; and makes bodily functioning appear ‘neutral’ and separate from our social attitudes and behaviours, rather than being completely entangled with them.

Also gave a public lecture to the whole school. So many thanks to Missing in Architecture for inviting me – three GSA tutors who are working together to open up what gets left ‘on the margins’ in architectural education and practice.

Bloomsbury Festival London 17th-21st October

Black and white photo of artist Rachel Gadsden exploring drawing with participants, overlaid with dynamic lines and colour, expressing her interpretation of the event.

Three DisOrdinary Architecture Project artists will be taking part in the  Bloomsbury Festival  (Wednesday 17 to Sunday 21 October 2018) as part of the Bartlett UCL celebrations. Events led by Zoe Partington, Noemi Lakmaier and Rachel Gadsden will include free drawing workshops. We are also hoping to exhibit some of the work from the Architecture Beyond Sight workshop held at the Bartlett recently.

For more information and tickets go here.

Disability as a design disruptor (at the V&A)

Text reading: 2. Dis/ability is a powerful critique of ‘what is normal’. 2a. Start from disability to challenge everyday social, material and spatial practices where these act to enable some whilst disabling others 2b. Start from disability to investigate how architectural and built environment education and practice perpetuates particular patterns of inclusions & exclusions, and find creative and critical ways to change these towards transformative social, material and spatial justice.

Really great event at the V&A last Friday. Called Disruptive Design: Disability Driving Architectural Innovation it brought together architects and designers who work in inventive and creative ways around dis/ability. Such an interesting group of people (both speakers and participants) – all  talking about and doing disability differently in many diverse ways across architectural, urban and product design education and practice.

The image above is from my introductory keynote; arguing, as many other speakers did, that disability is 1.) a vital creative generator and that  – as illustrated – 2.) it is a powerful critique of ‘what is normal.’

This event was in support of the V&A’s current History of Place exhibition in the Architecture Gallery, co-curated with Accentuate and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Many thanks to Olivia and Whitney V&A curators, and Esther from Accentuate.

New BEgoingplaces project begins

Two images show Danna and Jos giving their presentation in front of screen asking participants for supportHave been working with the fab Danna Walker of Built By Us to bring her mentoring knowledge and skills to also support disabled architectural students, educators and practitioners. As with disabled people everywhere, those who are studying or work in the architecture and built environment disciplines have to daily navigate ‘normal’ attitudes to impairment, that are likely to adversely affect their opportunities. Disabled people are more likely to drop out of education, may be sidelined to ‘access’ roles, and often feel obliged to hide their impairment or choose to downplay it.

The end result is that only 1% of architects disclose as disabled (when disabled people make up at least 10% of the population.) We believe that until there are more disabled people working across the built environment as creative producers and managers, access and inclusion will continue to be marginalised in building and urban design.

Danna and I put our case at a recent RSA Engage event in London, called Design for Social Impact; and had lots of interest. We are currently looking for more partners with both built environment education and with architectural and construction practice (starting with London-based organisations for our initial iteration). If you are interested please get in touch by emailing

Architecture Beyond Sight at the Bartlett

Bartlett Professor Alan Penn introduces blind architect Carlos Pereira at the beginning of his Bartlett public lectureWe have just had a very valuable 3 days of collaboration between blind and visually impaired architects, artists and writers, working with sighted architects and educators at the Bartlett School of Architecture UCL. The workshop, commissioned by Prof Alan Penn, Dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment, explored how starting from blindness can challenge the centrality of the visual in architectural design thinking and methods. This grew out of a meeting between him and blind architect Carlos Pereira, who also gave a public lecture at the School.

For Alan, enabling more blind and partially sighted people to study and practice architecture and related built environment subjects opens up the discipline to alternative – differently visual and non-visual – methods for mapping, analysing, designing and communicating built space. Finding a variety of approaches de-centres vision as a dominant mode of engaging with buildings and spaces, and enables innovative new ways to map our full range of embodied and sensory relationships to the world.  It also challenges the ‘normalcy’ of current architectural education and practice, to ask what it values, and what it leaves out.

You can read more about this project here.