Our Strategic Partners IDK reflect on the strength of the collaborative process.
We have a lot of meetings these days.
The proliferation of digital productivity platforms through working life, coupled with the isolating and dispersing effects of coronavirus has led to a relatively new working phenomenon for me, the “back to back”. Meetings, one after the other, with no break in between, all day. No time for tea, to spend a penny even.
Some days feel like a ricochet from chat to chat – barely prepared – like a pinball colliding from bumper to bumper back down the board towards the flippers, half hoping for the excitement of rebound, half hoping for a bit of time in the drain (the weekend?).
Don’t get me wrong, I love these conversations! 10:00 am Tom the Joiner, 11:00 am Magda from Counterculture, Midday, Keith the Client, 13:00 Leo a brand consultant; 16:00 Kat the writer and Justin the film maker. Phew, 5 O’Clock, now, time for a bit of real work.
IDK is a small architecture and design office, we are based in London and Paris. The name emerges from a reflection that professional services are as much about being willing to work with clients to find out, as they are about coming to the table with preconceived notions of what a service, or even an outcome, might be. We start the conversation with questions, not proposals, and then we design maps to answers.
At the initiation of the project saying, “I don’t know” is a liberating and exciting proposition. We also propose that in this age of digital self assertion, “I don’t know” is also brave. “I don’t know” is about devising strategies and processes to find out, about acknowledging that architects are generalists and, as a student put it this week, “this a super power, not a weakness”.
“I don’t know” reminds us that we are not specialists in any particular field, therefore we must collaborate; partner with makers, thinkers, clients and other professionals. We travel the road together and on the path travelled is where the wonder lies. Thinking of design in this way perhaps expands it beyond a solely object oriented mode: design as an entangled set of negotiations, contingencies and conversations from which designerly things (chairs, books, conversations, strategies, interiors, buildings, cities…) emerge. Design is an oscillation between feeling, testing, talking, finding and then realising there is more unknown, or more to know. The more we research not knowing the more certain “I don’t know” becomes as the fundamental premise of knowledge making.
So the question is “how do we find out?”
There are infinite answers to that question and we are exploring one method at the moment: partnership. Currently we are partnering with Counterculture on a number of wide ranging projects – from community master planning in North Kensington to the delivery of a Cumbrian spiritual retreat. In the throes of “lockdown one”, Counterculture and IDK, discussed a museum of mathematics and last year, together we completed a refurbishment of some learning spaces in Tate Modern. Counterculture aren’t our only friends though, last year we expanded IDK with a furniture designer-maker Tom Clowney, to create a climbing wall and down in the Southwest, for a Devon community farm , we worked closely with the community and the client to develop a unique brief and proposal. There, it was the community, not our lovely design and access statement, that pushed a contentious planning application over the line in an unprecedented show of local support. In the Devon case, was IDK solely James, Roddy, Mike, Alex, Ausra, Kit and Jess – or was it the five-hundred-plus surfers, skaters, growers, families, teachers and children that took the time to come to a workshop, to write a letter, to have a chat? It’s hard to say where the “design” part of that project starts and ends.
Perhaps this insight, and the benefits of a genuinely collaborative approach is nothing new. But, perhaps, the timing and intent are. We have partnered intentionally with organisations like Counterculture from project initiation to expand the skill sets offered to the Client beyond the typical design studio. Instead of finding Tom at RIBA Stage 3, he was in the fold offering his special talent from day dot.
We do know that through these partnerships we discover new avenues of discovery. Partnership is also about forming relations – and even if some projects don’t get as far as we might like we see partnership and process as designerly things too. If we are but the product of our experiences, so too are the things we make.
So, as I “pdf” this google doc, attach in Outlook and send it off, I begin to mentally prepare to bounce into another afternoon of back to backs. Now, I realise I am designing something, this is real work. I’m participating in an entangled and exciting process of design with every facetime, whatsapp, zoom, team chat and hangout. They are all design components of the things we make.
I’d better get the kettle on quick.