All of us can recognise a conventional activist scene when we see one – a sizeable group of people, usually carrying painted signs or laying their bodies on the line, marching and sometimes holding a strike in protest of a poor political judgement or other perceived wrongdoing. We are perhaps less familiar, however, with the role that physical structures play in setting agendas and influencing the decisions of ordinary citizens and the citizens put in charge of policymaking. While most are torn between this desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world, Professor SueAnne Ware, the Head of the School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Newcastle (UON), expertly manages to do both.
“My research is about understanding the needs and wishes of disadvantaged communities and helping them to regain their voices,” the self-described ‘design activist’ elaborates. But this doesn’t mean that we come to one outcome or highlight just one opinion – it’s important to recognise competing demands and do something constructive with them… The point is to generate friction and spark debate, not to make an exhibition that looks good and is otherwise perfect”‘ (UON 2019)