People Powered Places

Metropolitan Workshop was founded as a vehicle for productive collaboration. We have always valued working 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 reflection on our own community-orientated practice at Metropolitan Workshops, 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)

Launch Event

To launch our new issue of Prospects we held a virtual event chaired by Denise Murray (Senior Associate, Metropolitan Workshop) which featured Dr. Andy Inch (Senior Lecturer, Sheffield University), Keith Brown (Independent community organiser), Chris Stewart (Director and Architect, Collective Architecture), Dhruv Sookhoo (Head of Research, Metropolitan Workshop) and Ava Lynam (Researcher in Residence, Metropolitan Workshop)

Video: Launch Event – Panel Discussion

People Powered Places is ongoing. We plan to hold a series of expert-led practice workshops throughout the year exploring the use of social value measures to drive improvements in housing design, design codes as tools for community participation in planning, and digital approaches for enhanced community-based design. 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.

We intend to use the understanding developed through expert advice, participating in expert-led workshops, and reflecting on our own practice during internal focus groups. This will allow us to inform the creation of a practice guide to better structure Metropolitan Workshop’s approach to community participation in planning and housing.

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.

Our first expert-led workshop explored the emerging concept of social value, and how integrating new measures of value into the design process can enhance design outcomes that better reflect existing and future communities needs and aspirations for the places they live and work.

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).

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).


Practice Publications

  • Ava Lynam, Dhruv Sookhoo, Lee Mallet, and Neil Deely. (2021) People Powered Places (Prospects 2, working paper), London: Metropolitan Workshop.
  • Dhruv Sookhoo and Ava Lynam, 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: https://reimagineplace.ie/ (accessed: July 2021). Paper featured in IAF Placemaking Resources.

Podcasts (selected)