People Powered Places

Metropolitan Workshop was founded as a vehicle for productive collaboration. We have always valued working with existing communities, and see their stories and aspirations about the past, present and future of the places in which they live and work as integral to forming a meaningful brief, testing and developing proposals, and assessing the success of results. People Powered Places aims to enhance the rigour we bring to community engagement in planning and housing.

People Powered Places

Annual Research Project, 2020-2021

Project Leads: Ava Lynam (Researcher in Residence) and Dhruv Sookhoo (Head of Research and Practice Innovation)

People Powered Places is our second annual practice-based research project and aims to critically appraise innovative methods of community participation in planning and housing design, in order to enrich our approach to working with new and existing communities. We selected our research theme during the Covid-19 pandemic when it felt particularly relevant to re-examine our own practices in relation to emergent, collective and participatory models for shaping places to generate the enhanced quality and value that help communities thrive. While recent events have brought a new urgency to our examination community engagement, our research is also grounded in a deep practical interest in working with residents since our early projects, including in Ballymun Regeneration Masterplan, Dublin, Balham High Road and Somerleyton Road in Brixton, London. This has continued in our more recent work with communities at Westbury Estate in Lambeth, Carpenters Estate in Newham, and Oakfield in Swindon.

Our project began by preparing a working paper, People Powered Places (Prospects 2), which captured and analysed the perspectives and practices of leading community practitioners and community-based developers. It became apparent that the issue of what constitutes meaningful community engagement in practice was highly problematic, and enabled and constrained by an array of interrelated concerns and challenges. Contributors described a continuum of opportunity in which they actively sought to extend their practice beyond the consultation required by the statutory planning system. Instead, they engage with more participatory methods that support the creation of proposals that better reflect local needs and aspirations, and thus contribute to the development of lasting community resilience and empowerment.

Our project considers community engagement in its broadest terms, integrating interviews, case studies and engagement stories by innovative practitioners working in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany, that aim to develop policy, undertake community-led development, and enable participatory practices to help communities realise positive change. To this broad range of perspectives from architects, urban planners, engagement facilitators, community organisers, initiators of grassroots projects, academics, and public and private sector clients, we added reflections on our own community-orientated practices at Metropolitan Workshop, including:

  • Oakfield Village, Swindon – Kruti Patel discusses how Oakfield was able to move beyond tick box approaches and ensuring the integrity of the scheme by integrating Design Guardians and working closely with a dedicated community officer.
  • Boosting Balham – Jonny McKenna explains about how the collaborative process at Balham resulted in a unique visual language and meaningful design response that sensitively reflected local place identity and has improved the area’s image.
  • Knitting Kildare Together – Ozan Balcik describes how a genuine commitment to learn from residents and users was key in getting around challenges of consultation fatigue among different stakeholders at Kildare Town.
  • Dún Laoghaire Harbour Masterplan – Jonny McKenna shares how a call for ideas was the starting point of developing a shared vision for Dún Laoghaire Harbour, bringing together community engagement and local economic regeneration.
  • Westbury Estate, Lambeth – Tom Mitchell reflects on how establishing a regular communication forum at Westbury Estate, the monthly Resident Engagement Panel, helped to build resilient relationships with residents throughout the design process.
  • Open Heart City – Denise Murray discusses her work with a volunteer-led project aimed at collectively and sensitively reimagining historical sites of institutional trauma in Dublin.

Our working paper is organised into three sections, reflecting initial thematic analysis of practitioner accounts:

  • Policies, selectively maps discourses from architecture, planning, political theory, and sociology, that contextualise current policies and emerging visions for community engagement.
  • Interfaces, examines the roles of planning stakeholders in the planning process and their relationship with the community (e.g. architects, engagement consultants, public planners and other council stakeholders). Analysis focused on the processes of mediation between policy development and residents’ experience of change on the ground, and the tools and strategies used to enable networks to collaborate.
  • Practices, explores practice as it occurs on the ground, focusing in on approaches to self-organisation and experimentation by community members. Analysis focused on the tactics used by communities to navigate the planning system, overcome barriers and promote change through grassroot action.

To launch our working paper and celebrate the start of the practice development phase of People Powered Places, we held a virtual event examining histories of community planning (Dr. Andy Inch, Sheffield University), approaches to empowerment within engagement processes (Keith Brown, independent Community Organiser), and participatory practice in housing at the national scale (Chris Stewart, Collective Architecture).

Publication: People Powered Places (Prospects 2)

Video: Launch Event – Panel Discussion

Expert Workshops

Throughout 2021, we held a series of expert-led practice workshops to explore emerging issues relevant to community participation in planning and housing. Our first expert-led workshop explored the emerging concept of social value, and how to integrate context specific measures of value into the design process to enhance design outcomes and better reflect existing and future community needs and aspirations. Our second workshop examined approaches to establishing the needs and aspirations of children and young people, and engaging them meaningfully during community participation. Our third workshop investigated participatory, visual methods to communicate the socio-economic constraints and opportunities affecting development outcomes, in order to support more informed participation by communities during design iteration. These topics have been selected because they relate directly to ongoing reform of the planning system and procurement approaches in the United Kingdom. We hope that by proactively addressing these emergent issues we are better able to meet our ethical commitments to new and existing communities across our projects in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Workshop on Social Value

Video: As part of an extended workshop, Nicola Bacon (Social Life) and Mellis Haward (Archio) introduce what social value means to them through an exploration of their participatory practice.

Workshop on Child-friendly Cities

Video: Extract from extended workshop exploring child friendly cities, Dinah Bornat (Director, ZCD Architects), in conversation with Ozan Balcik (Architect, Metropolitan Workshop, Dublin), Tom Mitchell (Director, Metropolitan Workshop London Studio) and Ava Lynam (Researcher in Residence, Metropolitan Workshop).

Workshop on Communicating Economic Opportunities and Constraints to Communities

Video: Extract from extended workshop examining approaches to communicating economic constraints and opportunities to communities, Gemma Holyoak and Michael Kennedy (MEAD Fellows), in conversation with Andrea Doyle (Architect, Metropolitan Workshop, Dublin) and Dhruv Sookhoo (Head of Research, Metropolitan Workshop). 

Practice Guide to Community Participation in Planning and Housing

People Powered Places is ongoing. A core aim of Metropolitan Workshop’s work within its ongoing research project, is to critically appraise our own approach to community participation. Using expert-led workshops, internal practitioner focus groups, and expert interviews, we are developing a practice guide, which will outline a series of principles to underpin our particular approach to working within communities during planning and housing projects.

People Powered Places: facilitated resident review of our practical guide

The Glass-House Community Led Design / Metropolitan Workshop

A core aim of Metropolitan Workshop’s work within its ongoing research project, People Powered Places, is to critically appraise our own approach to community participation. Using expert-led workshops, internal focus groups and expert interviews, we will develop a practical guide that will outline a series of principles to underpin our particular approach to working within communities during the design process. Within this process, we view incorporating input from community members as essential to ensure criticality in our work by challenging our professional preconceptions. The practice guide will therefore be opened up to feedback from the perspective of residents who have lived experience of community engagement processes during complex estate regeneration or new housing projects, offering a valuable opportunity for us to reflect on our practice.

Metropolitan Workshop has teamed up with The Glass-House Community Led Design, a national charity focused on connecting people with the design of their local places, while enabling inclusive and collaborative design processes. Drawing on their experience of supporting communities engaging with design and development in their neighbourhoods, the Glass-House will host and facilitate an intensive workshop alongside key community representatives, during which they will critically review our practice guide and consider its applicability from the resident perspective. During the discussion, community participants will draw on their own lived experience to explore and evaluate the themes and principles within the document, suggest areas for refinement, and provide feedback that will feature in our research diary for the project and shape the ongoing development of the practice guide. The participants recruited by The Glass-House will also be able to see what impact their advice has had in a follow-up session.

Through the support of The Glass-House facilitation, the intended outcome of this review process is to gain critically informed direction on how to proceed with implementation of the principles we have developed, which will be subsequently tested during live projects for further refinement and dissemination. This process then represents our commitment as a practice to reflect on the everyday needs of people, and integrate them more concretely into our processes towards designing People Powered Places.

Tom Mitchell, Studio Director, Metropolitan Workshop
Sophia de Sousa, Chief Executive, The Glass-House Community Led Design

People Powered Places (Working Paper)

Editorial Team (working paper): Ava Lynam, Dhruv Sookhoo, Lee Mallett (Urbik) and Neil Deely.

Practice Contributors (working paper): Denise Murray, Jonny McKenna, Kruti Patel, Ozan Balcik, Tom Mitchell, Peter Kent

External Contributors (working paper): Catherine Greig (make:good), Ciron Edwards (Iceni Projects), Dick Gleeson (formerly, Dublin City Council), Helen Dowling (Ansuz Action), Keith Brown (independent Community Organiser), Lesley Johnson (Phoenix Community Housing), Lev Kerimol (Community Led Housing London), Dr. Michael LaFond (Spreefeld Cooperative and Statbodenstiftung), Naomi Murphy (Connect the Dots), Nick Woodford (Mesh Workshop and Peckham Coal Line), Nicola Bacon (Social Life), and Stephen Hill (C20 futureplanners).

Communications and Graphic Design: Alys Mordecai, Andy Syson and Simon Rhodes (Smiling Wolf), Richard Robinson, Pia Berg, Kruti Patel.

Launch Event (London): Dr Andy Inch (Sheffield University), Chris Stewart (Collective Architecture), Denise Murray (Metropolitan Workshop (chair)), Keith Brown (independent Community Organiser).

Workshop on Social Value: Applying New Measures to New Neighbourhoods (Workshop 1): Nicola Bacon (Social Life), Mellis Haward (Archio), Tom Jarman (Urban Splash), Michelle Tomlinson (Metropolitan Workshop), Shaun Matthews (Metropolitan Workshop).

Workshop on Child-friendly Cities: Play and Community Participation (Workshop 2): Dinah Bornat (Director, ZCD Architects), in conversation with Ozan Balcik (Metropolitan Workshop), Tom Mitchell (Metropolitan Workshop) and Ava Lynam (Metropolitan Workshop/TU Berlin)

Workshop on Communicating Economic Constraints and Opportunities to Communities: Gemma Holyoak and Michael Kennedy (MEAD Fellows), in conversation with Andrea Doyle (Architect, Metropolitan Workshop) and Dhruv Sookhoo (Metropolitan Workshop/Newcastle University).

Review of Guide: April 2022 TBC

Closing Event (Dublin): June 2022 TBC

Practice Focus Group: Members: Andrea Doyle (Dublin); Denise Murray (Dublin); Michelle Tomlinson (London); Ozan Balcik (Dublin); Ryan McCloskey (London); Shaun Matthews (London); Sinead Jennings (London). Tom Mitchell (London, senior team sponsor). Facilitators: Dhruv Sookhoo; Ava Lynam

Practice Publications

  • Ava Lynam, Dhruv Sookhoo, Lee Mallet, and Neil Deely. (2021) People Powered Places (Prospects 2, working paper), London: Metropolitan Workshop.
  • Ava Lynam and Dhruv Sookhoo (2021) Overcoming participatory idealism, London: Metropolitan Workshop.
  • Ava Lynam and Dhruv Sookhoo (2021) Different values, different currencies, London: Metropolitan Workshop.
  • Ava Lynam and Dhruv Sookhoo (2021) Centring children in the participatory process, London: Metropolitan Workshop.
  • Ava Lynam and Dhruv Sookhoo (2021) Increasing financial transparency, fostering trust, London: Metropolitan Workshop.
  • Ava Lynam and Dhruv Sookhoo, People Powered Places: a practice guide to community participation in planning and housing, London: Metropolitan Workshop, forthcoming.

Invited Contributions (selected)

  • Kruti Patel and Dhruv Sookhoo. (2021) Oakfield Village: A Healthier Kind of Suburb, Newcastle upon Tyne: Newcastle University. Guest lecture delivered to Masters of Urban Design and Masters of Architecture students as part of Principles and Practice of Urban Design.
  • Dhruv Sookhoo. (2021) Fundamentals for Creating Local Identity/ Use, Activity and Supporting Community Life (Code School), London: Urban Design London.
  • Dhruv Sookhoo and Jonny McKenna. (2021) People, Powered, Places: A context for community participation in planning and development, Land Development Agency, Dublin.
  • Metropolitan Workshop (2021) People Powered Places, in Irish Architecture Foundation. (2021) Re-Imagine [Online-Internet]. Available at: (accessed: July 2021). Paper featured in IAF Placemaking Resources.
  • Denise Murray and Jonny McKenna. (2021) People Powered Places, RIAI Conference 2021, RIAI: Dublin, 03 November 2021. Available at: (accessed: November 2021).

Podcasts (selected)