Hold the Space
001: Amy Butt
[00:00:11] Ollie: Hi. And welcome to the Hold the Space podcast, the podcast about the intersections between creative practice and teaching. Each episode features a conversation between myself, Ollie Palmer, and a creative practitioner who also teaches.
[00:00:27] Ollie: I'm really excited to introduce the first episode of this show, a conversation between myself and Dr. Amy Butt.
[00:00:33] Ollie: As you'll hear, Amy is a really interesting practitioner whose work includes building real buildings, as well as building imaginary worlds, and she imbues each and every project she works on with this boundless joy and enthusiasm.
[00:00:48] Ollie: Amy's approach to architecture, teaching and life is one that encourages participation and embodies progressive social development. She co-founded the Involve Collective who run installations and workshops specifically designed to broaden participation in architecture. Involve have worked in numerous large institutions such as Tate Britain, Open City and the V&A Museum.
[00:01:11] Ollie: And Amy's a fully qualified architect that's architect with a big A, which means that she can design and sign off on whole buildings. As you'll hear in our conversation, she's worked on a number of these, mostly in higher and further education. She also has a fascination and considerable expertise in science fiction, which makes its way into both her practice and her teaching.
[00:01:32] Ollie: Indeed, in the time between recording this interview and its publication here, Amy's been awarded a doctoral degree from the University of Westminster for her work 'Doors that could take you elsewhere: the architectural practice of reading science fiction.'
[00:01:47] Ollie: As you'll hear, Amy also teaches in the architecture department at the University of Redding, and in this conversation we touch on the ways in which he's critical of traditional architectural pedagogy. In particular, the crit, or the design critique, and how she and her colleagues are trying to make design critiques more inclusive and valuable learning experiences.
[00:02:06] Ollie: We also talk about the _way_ in which Amy works, how she maintains a sustainable mode of practice, how she manages time, what it's like to work in and with collectives, how you find and nurture a creative community, and how she runs workshops. Throughout the conversation, Amy mentions a lot of books and other resources and where possible, I've put links to these in the show notes. About halfway through, for example, she mentions a workshop she ran at the Horneman Museum. If you're curious to learn more about this, there's a link in the show notes to an article where you can also see pictures of the workshop and the things she's describing.
[00:02:44] Ollie: This interview was recorded remotely in October, 2021. I really enjoyed this conversation and it's been great to revisit it, and as always happens when I talk to Amy, I came away with my head brimming with ideas and excitement about future possibilities and ways to practice what I do better. I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did.
[00:03:05] Ollie: Here is my conversation with Dr. Amy Butt:
[00:03:22] Ollie: So the first thing I'd like to ask you is about way that you would describe your practice; both your creative practice and the way that you teach.
[00:03:31] Amy: This is one of those really interesting questions that I think particularly in architecture, we don't reflect on enough. We get very swept up in the project, which is currently at hand or the problem set in front of us. And there seems to be relatively little space for reflection on how all of the work we do sits together to create a kind of comprehensive whole or to express a particular intention or way of being in the world.
[00:03:56] Amy: So it's really wonderful to have this opportunity to kind of think through that and talk through that. For me personally, my route into architecture was very much founded in a, utopian desire to see some sort of positive change in the world. And I think that that's something which I certainly see shared with a lot of our incoming first-year students and undergraduates into architectural design courses.
[00:04:19] Amy: That really led me into working on education projects, particularly schools and colleges. And I found a real delight in working in larger design teams with groups of specialists. And I think that that's really what has influenced my ongoing work, both in teaching and in practice: delight in the opportunity to get to learn from other people, to share our individual passions and to think about the worlds that we might build together rather than taking a perhaps daunting responsibility for constructing some sort of vision in isolation, which I think is perhaps an unhelpful vision of architectural practice, which is still unfortunately prevalent.
[00:05:01] Ollie: I think it comes across so much to anyone who looks into your work at all, that there's this idea of collective practice that always comes in. This idea of conversation, but also I think you use the word delight, but there's a clear joy that comes across in the way that you carry out your work, but also the way that you talk about it and present it in such an accessible way to any audience that you're talking to.
[00:05:24] Amy: For me personally, it does feel like an incredible privilege to be able to have interesting conversations with people about what they might want in the world to the work of authors, which has inspired me and to be able to work particularly with young people or with groups of people outside of architectural practice and discourse to find out what really motivates them.
[00:05:46] Amy: It's something I take delight in because it really does feel like a real privilege to be able to do that kind of work.
[00:05:52] Ollie: So thinking about that idea of audience you, mentioned there people outside of the 'regular practice' of architectural discourse. And I'm curious how the audiences of what you would probably describe as a creative output of sort of producing architecture, which you do, I guess, less building buildings now and more sort of teaching and workshops and this kind of thing.
[00:06:12] Ollie: What's the ideal experience of your work?
[00:06:15] Amy: When I'm working with people who are perhaps outside of architectural education or architectural practice, one of the most important things that I want or would like people to get out of the experience would be an awareness of how much they already know about architecture, a kind of valuing of the existing knowledge and experience, which people hold.
[00:06:35] Amy: We are all already experts in our own built environments. And I think that perhaps one of the most important things that I would hope someone might get out of engaging in a workshop would be to value their own understanding in a way. And I feel that unfortunately, sometimes that does have to come from outside from someone perhaps with a professional background, legitimizing in some way, a knowledge that someone might hold. But that would certainly be something that I would want people to come away with.
[00:07:01] Amy: When I'm setting up workshops which are specifically designed for people who might not already have a background in architecture, one of the key things that I'm interested in is how we can find multiple ways into conversations about design.
[00:07:13] Amy: So that might be looking at fictions either in novel form or in film that we are perhaps much more familiar with, that provide a kind of common way of imagining the world or placing ourselves within the world. That's perhaps much more accessible than an architectural plan or model, which to a certain extent require preexisting knowledge of how those drawings represent and depict the world.
[00:07:43] Amy: So I find that fiction in its various forms a really wonderful starting point for people to be able to understand empathetic engagement with space, to begin to imaginatively inhabit spaces. And from that perspective to them be able to participate in discussions about how somewhere feels, or what they might hope for, and to perhaps be surprised by their own depth of critical understanding, or the reflections that they find themselves making.
[00:08:13] Amy: That's really what I'm aiming for, is that element of uncovering, both of ourselves and of one another, to be able to create something together that of us could have achieved independently or alone.
[00:08:26] Ollie: That sounds lovely, So centering the audience and probing what they already know, and in some way, validating it, but also coming to collective understandings, which are greater than the sum of the parts.
[00:08:38] Amy: Yeah, absolutely. There's an activist and science fiction scholar, Adrienne Maree Brown, who talks about science-fiction as being a way to practice the future together. That's something which has really resonated with me as a way of describing what I might hope practice achieves as well.
[00:08:53] Ollie: With that in mind, would you be able to tell me a bit more about how you came to be in the place that you are now, as a university lecturer, having studied and also an avid scifi fan, what led through from one thing to another, to get to where you are now. I can't imagine that you just landed here straight after graduating...
[00:09:13] Amy: When I'm reflecting back on the journey that I've undertaken to the place that I currently find myself, it is certainly not one that I had expected when setting out into architecture. I started my architectural undergraduate course because I'd taken art, maths, physics, and English at A level, and like so many young people with those interests, my careers advisor had said, "oh, it's architecture for you then." And it wasn't a subject that I necessarily had a huge amount of interest in, or kind of preexisting fascination with. I was always interested in visiting new places and understanding them, but it wasn't something that I had found myself sitting at home sketching, imagined cities for the entirety of my youth.
[00:09:58] Amy: So I really came into the discipline without a preconception about what I might be able to achieve within it, or indeed even what it was. I found architectural undergraduate education really challenging. The current mode of teaching and delivery is still unfortunately very based on a "crit" process where you have to give presentations of your work standing up in front of a review panel. And it requires a certain amount of confidence - and I would say a certain amount of ego - to be able to present your design as a kind of singular authority on what should be done in this particular situation, and to then effectively defend it against criticism. And that always sat really uncomfortably with me.
[00:10:44] Amy: I was constantly told that I shouldn't be saying, "Oh, that's a lovely point, thank you, I'll make that change to my design work." Instead, I should be defending my position and that just didn't seem to me the way that I would want to work within the world, to be rejecting the input of other people rather than welcoming it and incorporating it into work.
[00:11:08] Amy: So I found undergraduate education, really challenging. I then went into practice and was lucky enough to be working in a very small office in Cwmbran in Wales. We were tasked with the design of several primary schools. I had only just come out of my undergraduate degree and I was effectively, along with with one colleague, given a primary school to work through the early stages of planning.
[00:11:33] Amy: I should not have been given that responsibility. It was wildly inappropriate to ask her, to a twenty-one year old to do. But it was also incredibly joyful. I got to really know the particular kids that we were working with, the teachers of the school, the local area. And I felt like the work that I was doing had a real, tangible impact on their daily lives, on the way that they felt about coming to school, on the way that they felt about being within a community.
[00:12:02] Amy: And that, that kind of really stuck with me. And I thought, okay, well, if this is what architecture is, if it's about learning from people who know places intimately, and already passionate about those places, and trying to think about how best to support them in realizing something even better, than then that's the kind of work I do want to do. And if it involves working in teams, and being very social, then that's an absolute pleasure.
[00:12:26] Amy: So I went back into education to take my masters and there was very lucky to have a couple of tutors who really valued storytelling as part of that process. One of whom, who was my master's dissertation supervisor, and found me reading science fiction trash novels in my spare time and said, "If this is what you're choosing to read, why don't you write about it?"
[00:12:49] Amy: And I think it was the first time that I had realized that I was allowed to value that part of myself, that the thing that I had thought of as a bit of a guilty pleasure could actually be part of my architectural practice, that it didn't need to sit outside as something hidden, or just a hobby.
[00:13:05] Amy: I then went back into practice, again, working in education, designing university buildings primarily. I had the opportunity to work on some really wonderful projects with passionate academics who taught me a huge amount about teaching and learning and about different ways of coming together.
[00:13:20] Amy: And alongside that, I started trying to write about science fiction in my spare time and attending conferences. And I got to the point where I realized that actually the conversations I was having with these academics, under the excuse of designing spaces for them, were tending towards discussions about teaching and learning, and that perhaps that should be the direction that I, I moved.
[00:13:42] Amy: So I, I then went into one day a week tutoring at Brighton University and at Newcastle University. And there were some really wonderful communities of academics and practitioners there who were incredibly welcoming to someone who was just starting out teaching and trying to figure out who they might be in that world.
[00:14:03] Amy: And also particularly Newcastle, groups of people who sort of invited me into research communities there, and were really interested in the way that I was starting to think about science fiction, and offered me opportunities to present work, to discuss work in a more critical way.
[00:14:19] Amy: A lot of what I've been able to accomplish has been because of groups of people taking the time to reflect positively and to say, no, actually, you can value this work that you're doing. And that meant a great deal to me.
[00:14:35] Ollie: It's interesting from what you're saying, that your role, a lot of the time in the teaching, is performing that same role with other people now. Seeing the holistic whole of a person and appreciating the knowledge and the experience that they already have, and trying to draw things out from that.
[00:14:54] Amy: Yeah.
[00:14:54] Ollie: One of the things that I think is very tough about critiques, and I completely empathize, critiques are not a great way carry out practice. They make you tough. But they also make you sealed against the world. It really favors a very specific type of individual that I would say is traditionally associated with architecture. The idea of the Fountainhead Howard Rourke sort of individualist, who's just going to creatively go off and do whatever the hell he goddamn likes! And it really isn't the most appropriate way for having conversations about the built environment.
[00:15:27] Ollie: And one of the unfortunate things about architecture in general is that because of the length of time of study, because of the the amount of privilege that it generally requires to, to know that it is a practice that is out there, it attracts a lot of that type of person. And in a lot of architecture schools, you get the same type of people propagating and continuing that adversarial approach.
[00:15:54] Amy: Yeah. I'd also say that it does a huge disservice to architecture as a profession, as a practice. That form of confrontational presentation and the idea that students taught, that they will be able to go out and have this singular vision that someone will then support in some way in no way you prepares people for the world as it actually is.
[00:16:18] Amy: And not only is it damaging to the profession and to the types of projects which are then developed, but also for those students who really do flourish in undergraduate and are celebrated for their ability to have this singular vision, to have this quite adversarial role. They are then really let down when they come out into practice, because there is no space for that. Or there are very, very few spaces for that at the heads of very large companies. And that is not the majority of architectural practice.
[00:16:48] Ollie: So do you have any good crit alternatives that you use when talking about work or finding ways to present projects? One of the big problems for me with the crit is that there feels like there's a need to have all the answers, and quite often what you need to do when you're developing any sort of creative project is just sit with something for a while, expose a certain amount of your own vulnerability, and let people see where the cracks are and then help you to come together and put something back where it should be, or to enable the shape of something, to change without having to be completely defensive about it.
[00:17:22] Amy: So within teaching, we actually had our first reviews for the incoming first year, only a couple of weeks ago at the time of recording this. And those first reviews can be a really daunting situation. For many students it's the first time that they have had to present their work in any way to a peer group or to a sort of panel of tutors and supervisors.
[00:17:44] Amy: And so the way that I run those in particular is that we make sure, first of all, that we have a set of student reviewers who sit in the front row, who are the first to speak before any of the tutors say a word. And we give everyone their guidance about how to offer supportive and constructive comments.
[00:18:06] Amy: So things like make sure that you comment on the work, not the person; that a constructive comment should make a positive suggestion for what could be improved, not a negative critique of what is already there. And we tell students who are presenting that that's the kind of comment that they should expect from both their peers and from their tutors, and that they have every right to expect that.
[00:18:27] Amy: We've found that the student reviewer system has worked really well.
[00:18:31] Amy: I think as design tutors, we can about a design proposal for hours unceasingly. And unfortunately that means that if design tutors speak first, we have a tendency to fill all of the available space. And that leaves very little room for student discussion and peer support.
[00:18:48] Amy: I found any way that by placing students as the primary respondents, not only values the suggestions and comments that peers might be able to offer to one another, but it also ensures that those are being held and valued within that review setting. And that it makes little bit easier to comment.
[00:19:07] Amy: You don't feel like the tutors have already said everything, and there's nothing left. But it also means it presents it as a slightly more discussion- based space.
[00:19:17] Amy: We, we had students reflect at the end of the reviews and they were saying that it was much less daunting than they thought it was going to be. One of them said, "Oh, it's just like having a nice chat about your work." And I thought, that is exactly what I would hope or review would be, joyful and productive conversation about your work.
[00:19:33] Ollie: That does sound lovely, and so much nicer than my experiences, both being a student and being subject to, I mean, I've been in some horrendous crits myself and seen some really horrible modes of interrogating students.
[00:19:48] Ollie: I remember the first time I was invited to be part of a panel, I felt privileged and crazily intimidated about it and towards the end of the day, one of the other tutors came up to me and went, you need to say something, you need to just ask a question. And was so intimidated by the act of asking a question, because it felt so much like a performance. You know, that whatever you say is going to be taken very heavily sometimes by students. And if you misphrased something, maybe it's going to be interpreted in the wrong way, or maybe you're not even clear about what you're trying to say yourself.
[00:20:25] Ollie: The power dynamics of the standard crit set up make their way through to everybody in the room. And the fact that in most circumstances, the invited panelists, the panelists who - hopefully are being paid to be there, but more often than not in architecture schools, not paid to be there - the power setup of the school filters through to those people and it filters through to the students. And it is just setting them up for conflict.
[00:20:49] Ollie: The fact that you're sort of enabling this conversation to form and providing guidance on how to have that healthy and productive conversation, what are the boundaries and the limits of you should be commenting on? Sounds so much nicer.
[00:21:00] Amy: Certainly hope so. I owe a lot of that to observing particularly careful and caring practices at Brighton University in particular, where I remember one memorable occasion, I remember a colleague who had a student who had issues around anxiety and felt very concerned about presenting, which is entirely understandable, and partway through their presentation they expressed that they weren't able to continue. Rather than draw attention to it or stop the review or criticize their to continue - which was in itself a real act of maintaining their own mental health, and so should be applauded - the colleague who knew the project best actually stood up and said "Okay, why don't you sit down for a moment, gather yourself while you're working on centering yourself, I'll continue presenting your work for you. And you can just step in and correct me if I present anything wrong."
[00:21:51] Amy: And it meant that the student was able to get all of the feedback they would have had on that project. They didn't miss out on feedback and that they were able to gradually re-introduce themselves into the conversation by correcting their tutor their project, which obviously they knew better than the tutor did.
[00:22:06] Amy: And to me, that was a really lovely handover of power that happened in a moment when a student really needed it. So yeah, that really stuck with me.
[00:22:14] Ollie: Oh, that is really nice. It means the student is the implied expert in a way that majority of the time we don't have that relationship with students in - and this, this goes through to sort of like institutional teaching, where there is always the need to grade things, there's always the need to mark things.
[00:22:33] Amy: Yeah, it really does feel like a flattening of the complexity of any kind of design process to be able to assume that it can be reduced to a number or a single letter grade. And I think for any design tutor, that's a really horrifying prospect.
[00:22:47] Ollie: Quite often in institutions, critiques are required, final presentations are required, but they're really not appreciated by most people and they're not something that makes students feel good. You end up sort of with a log- jam at the end of term where the majority of work happens in these all nighters before a crit. And I think that part of the responsibility that we have as teachers is setting out the idea of a sustainable mode of practice, which students can take and move into their professional lives, whichever creative profession they move into, that doesn't rely on completely unhealthy working habits and things that become very selfish.
[00:23:31] Ollie: There are numerous behaviors within the architectural community which are unhealthy, for example, tendering for work via competitions that require a huge amounts of work to go into something that probably won't go anywhere, that is unpaid. I think we have a responsibility as tutors try to help students find a new way of doing things, which doesn't rely on essentially a sense of exceptionalism that what you're doing is so important that everything else in your life has to go by the wayside you
[00:24:02] Amy: um,
[00:24:03] Ollie: be a good friend, a good son, a good daughter, a good whatever else, because you've got this massive 'thing' on.
[00:24:13] Ollie: I'm not trying to say that what we do is not important because I really believe in design education, in creative practices. But I also don't think that those things should exist at the expense of everything else.
[00:24:26] Amy: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. I think there was a recent study which showed that architecture is one of the most privileged professions still. And I think a lot of that comes from these cultures that you're talking about and working practices you're talking about. In particular, the practice of working incredibly long hours and working without pay early on in your design career, really does set it up as an industry where only those who are perhaps independently wealthy or who have family support or other networks of support available to them can even afford to enter.
[00:25:00] Amy: And it certainly has no space for those who have other responsibilities within their life. You know, caring responsibilities, family responsibilities, as well as, as you said having very little space for other personal needs. And I think that with an architectural education, we are encouraged to do a lot to widen participation, to bring people into architecture and into design education. But that has to be coupled with tangible campaigning, for change within the profession as well, to change working conditions so that it is possible for people to leave architectural education and participate productively without doing damage to themselves or to the communities that they're part of.
[00:25:41] Ollie: I couldn't agree more with that. And I just think of architect, friends that I have, who take it in turns to look after the children and don't have any time together because one of them's in the office till you know, some terrible time in the morning. And it's really frowned upon to, to leave before 1:00 AM or this kind of thing, which is absolute nonsense.
[00:26:03] Ollie: It just doesn't need to exist in that way. And I'm sure it doesn't produce the best work by draining people of every ounce of life they have.
[00:26:11] Amy: It's probably a good point to put in a small shout out to the Society of Architectural Workers, the architecture union, which is available to anyone in architectural education or practice in the UK. It's relatively recently set up. It's a branch of UVW, United Voices of the World, and already is doing amazing work campaigning around workplace safety, around working conditions, and I think collectively is really the only way that we can hope to readdress some of these issues within the profession. So I would heartily recommend anyone who is eligible to join up and I will see you on our next rally or picket line.
[00:26:51] Ollie: I'll also put a link to that in the show notes. Thank you so much for mentioning it.
[00:26:55] Ollie: Maybe, now's a good time to shift to talking about an example of a project that you've done, which embodies these values. Can we talk a little bit about the way that you set up workshops, and specifically the project that you did at the Horniman Museum recently?
[00:27:11] Amy: I should preface this by saying that I was able to do this work thanks to wonderful colleagues at UAL, in particular Dr. Dan Smith who is a very central member of a lot of utopian studies work who is in his practice, continually inviting people in to work together in new ways to think about utopian studies and to think about design practice.
[00:27:34] Amy: So this workshop was based in the Horniman Museum handling collection. For those of you who haven't had the chance to visit the Horniman museum, it is one of those classic old museums where everything is in glass cases, with very small labels. They have a really wonderful selection of sort of old stuffed animals with their fur worn down. And alongside that, they also have a really wonderful new anthropology wing, which looks at kind of global cultures in really fascinating ways.
[00:28:05] Amy: So it was a real joy to be able to work with that museum in particular. And they have an object handling space, which is a room set aside for objects and for school groups in particular that are able to be taken out of their cases, able to be handled, that are perhaps slightly more robust, and that you can really get a sense of going behind the glass to interact with a particular object.
[00:28:31] Amy: So I felt incredibly lucky to be able to work within that handling collection because it meant that the objects that we were talking about didn't have to stay behind a glass panel in a case. Instead, they could be things, that we could bring out into the room to pass between ourselves. And to perhaps recontextualise.
[00:28:48] Ollie: What kind of objects are these?
[00:28:50] Amy: Some of them are from the natural history collection, so things like eggshells, nests, stuffed birds, the scales of shed skins of snakes. And some of them are more associated with the global cultures and anthropology collection, so they're things like shadow puppets, and masks, and moving right up to the present day, things like old mobile phones, and geodes, and lenses, and crystals.
[00:29:16] Amy: So they're a really eclectic selection of different objects that crossover, what we might think of as being very distinct collections within a museum setting, actually here, all being jumbled up, and just being presented as objects that can be interpreted in multiple ways.
[00:29:31] Ollie: So a real cabinet of curiosities.
[00:29:33] Amy: Yeah. And I suppose also important to say would be that because they are presented in this way, that is designed for people to just be able to kind of reach in and grab things out, there are very few explanatory notices about what something is. So it already invites you to start to speculate.
[00:29:50] Amy: It asks you to think about what knowledges you already carry about what that object might be. What ways of using it, what ways of interpreting it, you might be able to imagine, rather than having that dictated by the institution before you've even had the opportunity to examine it closely.
[00:30:05] Amy: So within that setting I was working along with Dan and with the handling collection staff, with a group of students from UAL, who, as I say, cross. A number of different disciplines through Fine Art, Museum Studies, and curation. And we split into three groups, and I gave each group a short extract of a text from a science fiction novel, which described a museum of the future.
[00:30:32] Amy: So we were looking at the palace of green porcelain in HG Wells' 'The Time Machine'. We were looking at the ancient house in Zamyatin's 'We', and we were looking at the Remember Rooms in Sally Miller Gearhart's 'The Wonderground'. And I asked each group to read that text between themselves and to find an object within the collection that they think spoke to some of the themes which were present within that text.
[00:30:59] Amy: I then asked if they would use the materials that we had to hand, so the tables and chairs that we were sitting around, the rug which was on the floor underneath us, and the object that they had chosen, to try and restage the scene which was being described within the extract that they'd been given.
[00:31:17] Amy: Although there were some parameters within which we were operating, it was a relatively open design question that was being posed.
[00:31:26] Amy: At this stage, I really had very little idea what people would come up with. People were approaching these texts for the first time. I hadn't known in advance what materials we would have in the room. We had no idea of knowing what objects people would select to talk about.
[00:31:40] Amy: So the group who were discussing The Time Machine went first. They picked a stuffed bird, they hid it in a corner of the room and covered it up with a blanket. When I, when I asked them, I said, oh, you know, can you, can you present your work to us? They sort of steadfastly refused.
[00:31:57] Amy: They said, no, no, it's already here. And we were all sort of standing there looking around, thinking, what do you mean is already here? We can't see anything. And eventually one of them went over to the corner and sort of whipped this blanket off with this grand flourish to reveal this, this bird, what should sort of they'd wedged in the corner next to a radiator.
[00:32:17] Amy: And it was. Entirely not what I would have expected from a extract, which they'd been given, which is about the palace of green porcelain, this very traditional, imagining of a Victorian museum structure, this kind of grand entrance way that our protagonist walks through moving dust off various cabinets to be able to kind of reveal very well curated objects.
[00:32:41] Amy: So it felt really disruptive that they had suggested that actually this was a process of kind of accidental discovery and that you wouldn't even know it was there. It wouldn't be this kind of grand museum. But the thing that they were really interested in, in that text was their sense of the unexpected, the kind of encounter with an object.
[00:32:58] Amy: The idea that the protagonists was sweeping away the dust to reveal something which had been hidden and didn't know what would be within. And this led into a really interesting discussion that we had about what it means to encounter an object out of time or out of place, the kind of the notion of estrangement.
[00:33:16] Amy: What might it mean to be seeing this object, imagining that we're encountering it in the future? And that's something that we will be judged on? So we had a very long discussion about someone's lens cap and about how it became entirely meaningless as an object without the very precise camera that it matched with.
[00:33:36] Amy: So there was a huge amount of technological mastery, which had gone into the refining of petrochemicals, the precision of the engineering of this object that could be rendered useless so very easily. If we were a future civilization judging that, what might we say about that kind of obsolescence and about the use of resources which had gone into it... the extractivist processes, which were implied by that object... the responsibility that we have in this present moment around the creation of objects, imagining their continued future lives beyond our lifespan -which was entirely not where I had expected a conversation about the time machine to take us.
[00:34:16] Amy: So that was that, that was a real delight.
[00:34:18] Ollie: I like with that whole conversation that so much of what we think of when we perceive objects is so temporally based; the latest iPhone or whatever else is only going to be, not just coupled to the camera in the case of the lens cap, but also coupled to the time and the context in which it's consumed, that, if you had something that was the state of the art thing 10 years ago, it's completely useless now.
[00:34:45] Ollie: As I think probably everybody who has a studio of any kind realizes periodically when they realized they'd been carting around a bunch of obsolete cables or a load of, you know, that you can no longer plug in at all to anything because they just don't fit.
[00:35:00] Amy: Absolutely. And I think that was something that really came out again a bit more in the second one, which was looking at the Ancient House in Zamyatins' _We_ .So we as a very dystopian or authoritarian image of the future, but in amongst it, there is this single old house, which is a home, as we might understand it now an existing under this glass bubble.
[00:35:21] Amy: So the whole thing is this kind of preserved museum object. And the group there, were really interested in the, the choice to sustain something or preserve something: you know, how do you choose what to keep and what to allow to decay? And they chose a birds nest from the Hampton collection, which was incredibly fragile and was kind of cushioned in this protective box on cotton wall.
[00:35:47] Amy: And then they asked us to try and protect it together, and so they put it on a plinth in the middle of the room. And we then use the chairs that were to hand to construct this sort of chair fortress around it with all of the legs pointing out in this very spiky and defensive way.
[00:36:05] Amy: And it was really interesting in the process of doing that. People were talking about their own memories of interacting with wildlife, encountering birds as children and what that had meant to them and the preciousness of those memories. And the nurturing instinct, which was seemingly present within this object.
[00:36:23] Amy: And then the very striking juxtaposition between that and the quite defensive protection of the plastic box it had been put in and then our own response to it. This structure of chair legs actually ended up being quite nest-like in the way it looked, but also it was incredibly precarious.
[00:36:42] Amy: We were having to hold it in place and it seemed very ironic that by attempting to protect this object, we were in effect putting it at higher risk. We had created this hot, very unstable environment for it to exist within. And the, again, the member of curatorial staff there was, I could see them kind of holding themselves back in the corner of the room from stepping forward at various intervals to to, to defend this object.
[00:37:08] Amy: It led to some really interesting conversations, not only about those personal lived experiences and provided a space for us to have a discussion around those. But also to talk about acts of care more widely and to reflect on the labor of care that goes into institutions like museums in the role of custodial staff, curatorial staff. While we were at the same time generating exactly that kind of labor of care for the poor member of staff, who was that with us.
[00:37:36] Amy: And thinking about who held power in those kinds of relationships, who it was, who was undertaking that labor and why became a really fascinating topic of conversation.
[00:37:46] Ollie: It sounds like such an enjoyable workshop. Both of those examples sound like they've gone in a direction, which I guess nobody would have predicted; neither the museum staff responsible for protecting these things in the corner or any of the students at the beginning of that day.
[00:38:03] Amy: I don't think there was any way that I would have been able to predict the directions that those extracts would have taken us in.
[00:38:10] Amy: We felt the assumptions of pre-existing frameworks of knowledge, which happened within museum institutions as well, that you perhaps come to an institution without an understanding of how they are established without wanting to participate, perhaps in dominant social narratives around technological progress, for example, they can be very challenging spaces to encounter.
[00:38:34] Amy: And that there are people who are going to be sort of I would say, unintentionally excluded from those spaces and from those conversations. And so we ended up having a discussion about how we might be able to encourage greater poly vocality within responses to objects, or kind of leave our response more open, and what those kinds of spaces would be, what those kinds of curatorial techniques might be that would allow for that kind of generative conversation without dictating a particular value structure.
[00:39:03] Amy: This was very familiar ground, I think for a lot of the curation students who were there. But certainly nothing that I had encountered before and to my own shame and detriment, I think that their knowledge and expertise that they brought to that conversation has immeasurably enriched my own experience and my own understanding of museums.
[00:39:20] Amy: And so I really did leave that one feeling incredibly grateful for the participants who had shared that knowledge and expertise with us.
[00:39:28] Ollie: Wow. It sounds like you're describing more than a day of conversations or more than sort of however long it was.
[00:39:35] Amy: Yeah, it was very brief; it was only an afternoon.
[00:39:38] Amy: I think there is something in that time pressure as well. The fact that you have to just make something there's no time to overthink it. When I was reflecting later I was thinking a lot through Jill Dolan's work on performance. And my thanks go out to David Roberts for introducing me to this scholar.
[00:39:54] Amy: And Dolan talks about the utopian performative as being this moment in performance where people come together. But that it might be incredibly fleeting and transitory, but that doesn't stop it being important. And I think that that's something that I've really as a way to understand these particular workshops, because when compared to an architectural project, which takes several years to design and that you hope will stand for decades to come, it can be hard to appropriately value a 15 minute conversation about something or a structure, which you put together and then you have to dismantle again within an hour.
[00:40:31] Amy: But I think thinking about it in that framing of the utopian performative really helped me realize that the importance of something can't be measured in its duration or in its permanence; instead it's about what it means to the people within that moment. Also the people who hear about it or encounter it.
[00:40:49] Ollie: I'm curious about the way that you manage time... as somebody who has to teach, who runs workshops, who participates in conferences and writes papers collectively and all of these other activities: how do you get it all done? How many projects do you have open on your desktop at once? How many unfinished browser tabs out there that are sort of that are there for you right now?
[00:41:14] Amy: Vast numbers of browser tabs. It is frankly horrifying. And my, my desktop is an absolute nightmare.
[00:41:21] Amy: I think that when it comes to time management I was incredibly fortunate in my architectural training that I took on the role of project manager for several large build projects and did some project management training.
[00:41:32] Amy: And although it seems a process which might be constraining to a design development process or practice, I find that relatively regimented division of time is the only way that I can feel calm about my work. I am a habitual list-maker. I have hundreds of lists on the go at any time and I will set aside days and schedule out time that I'm deliberately going to do tasks in the future.
[00:41:59] Amy: So my calendar is full of events that, you know, this is the day to write this presentation, this is the day to do that piece of work. And those habits really come out of the fact that if I don't have that practice, and if I feel like everything has to be done now and within this present moment, that absolutely overwhelms me and I stall very quickly in that situation.
[00:42:19] Amy: So I need to feel like I'm able to spread out my work. I've described it to students as well, and when we're talking about how to manage course workload and I've said that I feel like I have to set aside that time later in the week for specific tasks. And then I have to undergo a process of kind of letting go and trusting my future self, that my future self has got that, and I can rely on her to look at that project on Wednesday. And that means that I can get on with what I need to do today, because it's going to be in safe hands later on.
[00:42:49] Amy: And I think that alongside that allocation of time, that process of trusting yourself is the difficult part of time management, because you have to trust that you'll be able to do the work in the time that you've set aside and that you will be in the right place emotionally and intellectually to be able to do that work when you need to. And that isn't always possible. That's incredibly challenging.
[00:43:12] Amy: This term in particular, the autumn term is always incredibly hectic for me. I'm admissions tutor for incoming first years. We're interviewing the next year's cohort. I co-run first year and teach design studio first year and visualization in communication. so there's a lot of very physically present, active teaching that needs to happen.
[00:43:32] Amy: But alongside that, I do try and carve out small amounts of time to continue research and to continue the work I do with communities outside of the university institution.
[00:43:43] Amy: When I was in practice, I made the decision to go down to a part-time role at initially four days a week with one day where I was teaching, which was paid. And then down to three days a week where I had one day teaching and then one day that I left open for research. And that one day that was unallocated space was on a Wednesday.
[00:44:02] Amy: My research outputs at the moment, all of my research work or my collective work is still in a folder on my computer entitled 'Wednesdays'. It feels like it's a of reminder to me that in order to start off doing this kind of work, I had to really fight for a space set aside day. And that that day became very precious to me. It had cost me quite dearly, both financially and in terms of the kind of work that I could do in my practice, the kind of projects I could be involved in.
[00:44:32] Amy: So it came with a, a kind of burden of expectation that I placed on myself about what I would use that day for. But it also felt like an incredibly privileged space to have that because I didn't have you know, caring responsibilities, which had particular time demands or financial responsibilities to other people, it meant that I was able to take that on pay day to dedicate to research or community work, or have workshops and other forms of practice, which might or might not be paid. And I keep the name of that folder on my desktop, because I want to remind myself that that space is so important and is such a luxury to have. So it's reminding myself of its necessity and it's delight at the same time.
[00:45:22] Ollie: Speaking of _Wednesdays_ is there anything that you do, is there a mode of practice or methodology that you run through, if you want to start a project or anything that you you do that takes you from one place to another place within project that you're working on?
[00:45:38] Amy: This is such an interesting question because I think that when I approach my teaching, I'm very aware of trying to make sure that there are multiple ways into a project for students to discover so that they can choose the one that suits them better. So that there's perhaps a way which is encouraged him, which is through precedent studies and looking at other people's work; another way, which might be through a piece of text, or through model making or through site analysis.
[00:46:05] Amy: But I realized that when it comes to my own practice, I very rarely reflect on that moment of, of trying to crack open a problem or a project for the first time, trying to find that way into it.
[00:46:19] Amy: The last few projects that I've been working on have centered on a very small phrase, a short extract from a science fiction novel, something that's only a couple of words long. And I think this has been a bit of a trajectory for me through my practice that when I was initially producing work writing about science fiction, I would write about three novels, five novel novels, a whole decades' worth of work one paper or talk. And that that's gradually kind of whittled down to a single book. And now I find myself really using a single line or phrase as a way to enter into a new way of thinking.
[00:46:57] Amy: So for example, most recently I was working on a project, looking at a Ursula K Le Guin's, The Dispossessed and the cities in that novel on the anarchic moon of Anarres are described as being ' as plain, as spilled salt'. and I thought that was just an astoundingly rich description of a place portrayed with incredibly stark and direct language.
[00:47:20] Amy: And for me taking that extract out of the context of the novel, then set it up as something which was open for interpretation. I began to think through, okay, well as a designer, how might I imagine a city as plain as spilled salt? How might I think about what that could be constructed out of? What would it be like to live in? What kind of atmospheres would it create? Are there any places that I've encountered that I think could be described in those terms? And then, what kind of social situation would that set up? Would that be a place which was very direct, which was very crystalline in its purity, or would it be a place which was about flavor and vitality in some way?
[00:48:04] Amy: And this really led me down a road of quite a lot of personal associations and reflections, which then provided the prompts to reapproach the entirety of the novel and critique it from a place where I felt like I had already uncovered my own understandings through that particular phrase.
[00:48:23] Amy: I think there's also something in that process, which to me speaks to the wider practices of science fiction scholarship in particular, which is about holding and valuing something, which is very much part of pop culture and is very easily dismissed. So science fiction scholarship historically has had to do quite a lot of work to legitimize itself within academic settings as a form of scholarship and still carries quite a lot of package to do with that.
[00:48:53] Amy: I think it's why science fiction communities can be quite tight knit and supportive of one another because they have in some ways had to seek out that mutual support within an academic setting that wasn't necessarily accommodating or appreciative of the work that they were putting forward.
[00:49:08] Amy: And so I think for me to take a single line like that and to interrogate it is the kind of practice which might be very common within English literature practices within study of poetry, for example, where it's imagined that the author is able to write in a way that would grant each line specific weight and value.
[00:49:31] Amy: And I think is less commonly practiced within science-fiction studies because pieces within that are more easily dismissed. So it's a very deliberate valuing of something that might be easily overlooked: conscious valuing.
[00:49:44] Ollie: It also sounds like it reflects the earlier comments you're making that you can run a workshop that takes an afternoon, that leads to revelations that lasts a lifetime, and that change the way you look at very specific things. And that it could have an equal ranking in your own past as an entire month long project or a year long project. As you read a scifi book, you know, it's hundreds of pages long, but the bits that really stick with you are these fragments and these moments and these feelings, that are generated by that thing. There are very particular bits which will give you the flavor the scene and have the impact.
[00:50:22] Amy: Yeah, absolutely. This way of reading as well also reflects this idea of the science fiction novel and the absent paradigm. So that's an idea which is set out very clearly by Kathleen Spencer. She talks about the way in which a science fiction novel presents itself as if there is a world complete, that's kind of hidden behind the novel that the authors imagined in its entirety. But that it can only be presented to us as readers in fragments of description so that it is always necessarily incomplete and fragmentary.
[00:50:57] Amy: And then, then it's up to us as readers to draw on our own personal experiences, our memories, other fictions, that we've encountered, stories of friends to fill in the gaps and to write ourselves into that story.
[00:51:12] Amy: So I do feel that by taking just one of those fragments, I'm exacerbating or exaggerating that process of imaginative construction and imaginative world-building, that I'm allowing the glimpse of that imagined world, that the author constructed to be a really tiny pinhole camera view into something else.
[00:51:32] Amy: And to then rely upon my own experience to construct the world around it, acknowledging that that may well be at odds with what the author had intended in many ways. But that it perhaps might open up new ways of reading and would certainly for me offer me an opportunity to critically reflect on my own experiences and my own interpretations of, of both the written and the built.
[00:51:53] Ollie: When you're describing the workshops, there's such an importance in this, idea of community and contextualization through the introduction of other people. When you're developing something how do you go about getting feedback on it? Who do you develop ideas with?
[00:52:09] Amy: I think I am incredibly lucky working within science fiction in particular. The science fiction, scholarly community, at its best can be an incredibly supportive and welcoming group of people. I know that there are issues within it, as within all disciplines of individuals acting as kind of gatekeepers to knowledge, or setting up particular requirements that people have to meet in order to be able to participate, but I've been really fortunate in the groups that I've encountered particularly through kind of utopian studies through the London science-fiction research community and through Beyond Gender science-fiction research community that these groups have been established and are maintained by people who are dedicated towards science-fiction scholarship in its most open sense towards inviting in different perspectives on these texts and always thinking about the world.
[00:53:00] Amy: So I rely incredibly heavily on those communities. cannot understate the importance of their support to my ability to work and to my ability to function as a, as a human being to be able to feel confident and joyful in the work that I put forward.
[00:53:17] Amy: And that can be really small things, like I was recently writing a book chapter that was about verticality in science fiction. And I wanted examples of interesting staircases. And I, I put a note on the London Science Fiction research community, Facebook page saying, "can anyone think of any interesting staircases in science fiction?" And, you know, within a day or two, I must've had 30, 40 responses of intricate and really well researched, references of, " Minute 16 of the Doctor who episode Castro Balbo, you will find it really interesting Escher inspired stair..." People who had gone away and done research on my behalf with no expectation that that would be in any way recognized or reciprocated, but just for the love of the subject that they were able to share.
[00:54:08] Amy: And so I do feel incredibly lucky to be within a discipline that operates on that kind of basis. I know science fiction, scholarship likes to refer to itself as a hive mind. But we are all contributing to one another's work in various ways. And I really do think that that is true in very specific instances.
[00:54:30] Amy: The London science-fiction research community in particular has been very important to me. Anyone can join, you don't have to be based in London. It is a series of reading groups, which stretch across a year, generally undertaken around a specific theme. So last year theme was activism and resistance.
[00:54:49] Amy: And those reading groups are an opportunity for anyone. You don't have to be within a particular field of scholarship. You don't have to be within an institution or within an academic environment to discuss a book together. And then at the end of the year, they organize a conference which specifically addresses the themes that have come up over those conversations and the books which have been watched on, I think this year as well, we had a couple of films, we played a couple of computer games together. So it was really a mix of media. And the thing that I really like about the way that that is set up is that. It offers people who perhaps are interested in science fiction or interested in science fiction scholarship, a way to participate in discussions, which might otherwise happen behind closed doors of an academy, or might happen behind a paywall in some way.
[00:55:39] Amy: Academic conferences are very expensive to attend. And so if you aren't already affiliated with an institution that might pay your conference fees, or if you see yourself as someone who's just a fan and not a scholar, you might have felt like that was a place for you. But because there are these open reading groups at the beginning, it feels like everyone's already contributed to that academic conversation. And that what you see then in the conference is the refinement of the ideas which have been prompted.
[00:56:07] Amy: So I've certainly found that some of the most interesting work I think I have produced has been absolutely thanks to conversations about particular texts that have been had in those reading groups that I've then been able to reflect on in terms of my own personal practice and then present back to the same community at the conference and, and get continued feedback on.
[00:56:30] Amy: So I really can't understate how important that has been to my work. It's certainly not something I do alone by any stretch of the imagination.
[00:56:39] Ollie: That sounds like, the dream of creative communities, people who are going to support one another without asking for anything in return, to gather around something that they love and to help each other indulge and enjoy and find new things in that shared interest.
[00:56:53] Ollie: The London scifi communities that you're talking about, does that involve the Beyond Gender research group that you've done collaborative writing with lately?
[00:57:02] Amy: That group actually stemmed from that, I suppose. We met one another at those events and discovered in conversations around those particular texts that were being shared and also, in the socials, in the pub afterwards. There was a group of us who had a real interest in the way that gender was portrayed in science-fiction and a kind of passionate frustration with the continuation of heteronormative or patriarchal modes of expression within science fiction stories, when science fiction should be a place which can demonstrate the startling breadth and complexity of gender. And so we decided to set up a reading group and a research group that looked very specifically at science fictions that in some way, started to discuss gender in the ways that we might hope that science fiction would.
[00:57:56] Amy: So we sought out examples of texts that we thought began to work in the way that we would like to see more of within the world, rather than railing against its absence, to celebrate where it did occur. In those conversations, and that quite traditional reading group and research group set up, we rapidly realized that if we were truly interested in feminist modes of practice, in poly vocality, in alternative ways of being in the world, then that should be something that we would enact within our encounters with one another and as a research group: as well as making that the subject of our study, it should be the focus of our practice as well.
[00:58:34] Amy: And so we then decided to try and implement that in the way that we approached academic writing. So academic journal articles are, within the humanities anyway, very typically sole authored. It's much more common to have groups working on things within the sciences, but that's relatively rare within design, within the humanities. And we really wanted to see how we might be able to generate work together collectively.
[00:59:01] Amy: And part of that desire also came out of the fact that we are a group of people who come from a really wide variety of different fields and specialisms. We have people who are PhD students, who are lecturers, who are designers working entirely outside of academia. We have people who are in anthropology, in science studies, in law. In architecture. So we felt like we had a really rich set of voices that were being present in these discussions. And that to narrow that down to being a singular voice would be to do a disservice to the complexity of the conversations, which we were lucky enough to be participating in, in our reading groups and in our discussions together.
[00:59:45] Amy: So we set out trying to think about how we might be able to write collectively. And that has been a challenge and a delight in equal measure. So one paper that we wrote recently had 12 authors. We are all co-authors and it's all under the title of Beyond Gender. So that even those who didn't participate in the active writing of that piece are able to claim ownership of it because we were all part of the discussions and of the group, which enabled that to be possible. So there's absolutely no sense of ownership over a particular piece of writing.
[01:00:17] Amy: And the way that we structured that was that we had a series of texts that we had agreed that we were interested in. So that included works like Nalo Hopkinson's _Brown Girl in the Ring_ and _The Salt Roads_. The short story, 'Your Faces, O My Sisters!' by James Tiptree Jr. As well as _Glass Houses_ by Laura Nixon.
[01:00:37] Amy: And. We were really interested in how all of those different texts approached kind of singular theme. In this case, we were looking at ideas of urban environments and navigation. And we divided ourselves into little bubbles. People who fancied talking about that book in particular could choose to read it and discuss it amongst themselves. And we then shared what we discovered together, determined some themes, which looked like they perhaps united or moved through all of those texts in interesting ways.
[01:01:06] Amy: And we then used Google Docs to begin to work together, to write. And the use of that particular program was very deliberate. We were interested in trying to find a way of writing, where someone might contribute a piece of text to a document, and at the moment that they had a press return, kind of released it, their name would no longer be associated with it, so it becomes anonymized immediately. And we really wanted to try and use that, specifically so that once a piece of writing, a paragraph, or a sentence that someone had constructed was placed in that communal document, they very powerfully kind of gave ownership of that over to a wider group, that it no longer became something that was their individual property or thought, instead it was something which was shared other people were able to cut into, edit, reshape.
[01:02:00] Amy: And that required a great deal of vulnerability, to be able to place that you have perhaps crafted and spent time over into the hands of other people and to trust them with that knowing that it probably won't end up looking the way that you initially wrote it. But I think it also meant that we then were able to very openly comment and improve on pieces of writing and support one another in a way that might've been very difficult. If you were feeling that you were giving, reviewing, or giving a critique of another person's work.
[01:02:36] Ollie: So the, the way that you're setting up that document and the way that you're setting up those conversations is deliberately framing it around a mode of discourse that will enable all the voices who are there to be represented. And those voices that traditionally wouldn't be in, for example, a crit situation well heard, to be truly voiced.
[01:02:58] Amy: Yeah, absolutely. We've recently produced a piece of writing where we were reflecting on this methodology a little bit more and a couple of the key thinkers that came up for us. First off was the work of Davina Cooper who talks about utopian prefiguration which I think is just such a wonderful phrase.
[01:03:15] Amy: And it's the insistent behavior as if a utopian moment or future already exists. So rather than, in this example, waiting for academia to change, we are hopefully as a group insistently behaving as if this space for this kind of writing already exists, and that we will continue to work in that way, regardless of the way that it is received, because for us, it is very important and valuable.
[01:03:45] Amy: And another thinker who's, who's kind of a lot for us as has been Donna Haraway and immodest witness. There's a reflection on the idea of solidarity being rooted in friendship, shared purpose, and persistent hope. And I can barely read that without tearing up! I love that idea so very much - that the idea of persistent hope of dedication towards creating what it is that you want to see in the world. But also this idea that that has to be rooted in friendship. And the writing that we have done recently was supposed to be, I suppose, a kind of strict methodological analysis of how we write collectively.
[01:04:28] Amy: And we insisted that our final section in that was titled _'friendship'_ and it is about the necessity of care to be able to produce work collectively and the joy that we find in one another's company, and the support that we find there, because I think that makes the other work possible. And to a certain extent, even if there was no other work that would be reason enough to be present within those communities.
[01:04:53] Amy: And I think that that is something which is perhaps trivialized or undervalued within most working environments: that kind of support, the value of friendship as a way of being with others in the world. And certainly in the case of this group, it's meant that we have been able to, particularly over lock down, which has been a really challenging moment for so, so many people create spaces together online, where we can just come and talk about, what a horrid day we're having today, and that it doesn't need to be about producing a piece of writing together or about output in any way, it can just be about sharing how you're feeling with a group of people who you trust in both a personal and a professional setting. And it's also meant that we've been able to make more tangible contributions to support one another.
[01:05:43] Amy: So for example, one of our reading groups took place on the picket lines that were present within UK around in academic settings, protesting against precarious working contracts in particular. And so we very deliberately held our, held our reading group on, on the picket line as a way of both being together and of standing in solidarity with our colleagues who were striking at that moment. So by grounding it within those ideas of friendship, shared purpose, and persistent hope, it allowed us to find opportunities to support one another that we might not have otherwise imagined possible within traditional academic settings.
[01:06:23] Ollie: The term friendship almost never comes up when you ask people about goals that they have within their own creative practice. And it's something that I hardly ever hear students refer to. But when I think about what makes me happy within the work that I do, so much honestly about friendship. If you don't have that aspect of it and if you're not going for some sort of shared purpose and sharing a persistent hope, then it's very lonely. And particularly when we talk about kind of the, the economic factors that quite often impact creative practices, which are, in general, you don't graduate and make a million dollars and just be happy the whole time. It's, a long and sometimes lonely road, but it sounds like you've found ways of mitigating against that and providing support, friendship, care for other people, that pay back in return.
[01:07:22] Amy: I think something that we are still struggling with is the fact that while this is an incredibly important group for, I would say the majority of us who were involved in it, it certainly feels to me like it's some of the most valuable work that I'm doing and the most important work I'm doing it is then set against the wider context of, as you said, financial instability, the demands that are placed particularly on early career researchers within academia, in terms of mental health and workload, and in some ways it feels that it can never be enough. But it is on the other hand, something which is incredibly precious and I feel very lucky to have. So while it feels very small, it also feels incredibly important.
[01:08:10] Ollie: Yeah. It sounds very precious and it sounds like from what you've described, like it is a great community of people, and also that you play a great role within that community.
[01:08:21] Ollie: We've talked about several things so far across different modes of practice, but I'm wondering if there is a way that you could summarize what you see as success criteria within the type of work that you do.
[01:08:35] Amy: I think that's such an important, but also a very difficult question, to judge, I think. Particularly because we have so many value systems and success criteria imposed upon us by institutions that we practice within. I know that my research advisor within the university's definition of success would be in terms of referable outputs and numbers of citations of documents, where that would hold perhaps less value for me.
[01:09:05] Amy: I suppose the success criteria that I would place on, it would be something that's both rooted in, perhaps what I might get out of a particular project, but also what I might be able to contribute or enable to happen for everyone else who was involved.
[01:09:21] Amy: In terms of what I might want to get out of a project, I would want to take from it, some of those things, which I get from science fiction in so many ways, which is that glance of fresh strangeness, that unexpected moment of encounter, the startling rediscovery of a world that is stranger than you ever expected it to be.
[01:09:41] Amy: And I think that if I can come away from a project feeling that it has surprised me in some way, that I've learnt something from it, then that feels like an an enormous gift to have been given by a creative process. I do have to admit to being a faithful for my, to my design training as well though, in that if it could also be beautiful, then that is certainly something that I value very highly.
[01:10:04] Amy: So not necessarily kind of neat aesthetically, but if it can have moments which are visually exciting, or where I feel that there is perhaps a poetry in the mode of expression of writing or speech, then I think that that's something that was quite deeply ingrained in me in from architectural training, is that kind of value of the the aesthetics and the mode of presentation, as well as the subject matter.
[01:10:31] Ollie: Yeah, I think that it comes back to what you were describing about identifying those four or five words that sing to you, in that that what you're doing will be encountered by other people who are going about their lives in the world. And hopefully you, through creating whatever you're creating, can provide something that sings to somebody else along those.
[01:10:53] Amy: Now that I'm thinking about it, what I would hope that other people might get from the work that I produce would be almost exactly the same. If I could feel that I created work, which allowed to realize something about themselves or about the world that they encountered that presented it in a new light, which allowed them to perhaps cherish something which had been overlooked either within the built environment or within themselves, and that would certainly be a phenomenal thing to have accomplished. And again, yeah, if it can also be something which they have found to be beautiful in some way, then that would be wonderful.
[01:11:31] Ollie: Hmm.
[01:11:31] Amy: I think when I'm approaching a project, I'm trying to think quite hard about what I can contribute towards that.
[01:11:40] Amy: I feel very fortunate that design education, for all of its many flaws, is a really wonderful form of training in drawing out things that might be interesting out of a place out of people and presenting it back to people to refine a discussion into a drawing, for example, to be able to show someone something that they have said in passing, perhaps, but perhaps never expressed in particular set of terms. I think architecture does train us quite well to be able to do that. So that's really where I see what I can offer to a particular situation.
[01:12:17] Ollie: Fantastic. That's so nicely summarized.
[01:12:20] Ollie: The last thing I'd like to ask you is: we've talked about your own success criteria. And so much of what you've described is not necessarily what one might expect from an architect to talk about. You touched upon the aesthetic beauty of things in a very brief way, but so much of what you've described is these modes of care and these modes of practice that are about how you set up and how you participate in communities, how you can find the places that enable you to have these conversations, which are so nourishing and the enable you to also help others.
[01:12:57] Ollie: So much of the description of your ethos is not necessarily about the artifact, but it's about the process. And I'm wondering if you would have any advice for people who are interested in the ideas that you've talked about: how you set up and how you participate in communities, how you can find the places that enable you to have these conversations, which are so nourishing and the enable you to also help others.
[01:13:25] Amy: I think my, first piece of advice would be not try and do it alone; that I think too much pressure is put on us to be able to work in isolation, that we might have to approach people with an idea that we have come up with already, which already has value in it. And I think that that puts an enormous amount of pressure on us as individuals. I don't think it reflects the majority of design practice. And I don't think that it necessarily allows for practices which might truly be open or might lead to unexpected places. So if it's at all possible, I would say don't place that pressure on yourself, and try and gather together things that inspire you or interest you and then share them widely and joyfully as possible in order to gather in the people who also find them fascinating.
[01:14:22] Amy: So there's a a running joke amongst one of my science fiction groups that we are a group of bowerbirds. We are all signaling to one another, our niche interests, laying out our little glittering pebbles that we have gathered, our scraps of plastic, desperately rearranging them in the hope that they will signal to somebody else that, might choose to come and value us. And that within a science-fiction community in particular, that that signaling happens through the celebration of perhaps niche, interests of texts of particular thinkers that you might very cautiously share this precious and heartfelt love of something and that someone else might see that and reveal that they have always loved it as well, and that, that can be the beginnings of something.
[01:15:11] Amy: But I am very aware that that requires a a deal of confidence. It is a very vulnerable position to put yourself in because you aren't presenting fully formed ideas. Instead, you're saying, you know, "These are the kinds of things that interest me in the world. If anyone else is interested here, I am."
[01:15:29] Amy: I would say that for those of us within academia, much as academic conferences are an incredibly pressurizing space, presenting at a conference can be one way of showing the thing that you're interested in, of putting it out there, of hopefully gathering people around it.
[01:15:47] Amy: For those of you within science fiction communities, I would say conventions can also be that joyful space. You can literally embody the characters that you love most in the world, and hope to stumble across people who are also working within the same fictional world or fandom as you.
[01:16:06] Amy: I would also say for me personally, a lot of this has come much later in my life than I might have perhaps expected it. I thought I was setting out on a very particular trajectory into architectural design. I undertook the full seven years of professional qualification, I was working as a project architect, building things and presenting at building conferences about construction methods, and procurement strategies. And so I had not shown that vulnerable and precious side of myself anyone. And nor had the world kind of demanded that of me in any way. I think practice was very happy for me to continue along a very, traditional path of professional progression. And that it was certainly seen as quite a strange choice to have made, to take time out of that, to perhaps discover more about what I might contribute.
[01:17:01] Amy: And then even once I was in academic communities, it does take some time to be able to find those particular people, certainly years in my case, to get to a point where I feel like I have communities within scholarship, that I could rely upon, that if I came up with an idea, I might know someone who might also be interested in that.
[01:17:23] Amy: So I'd say it's a very sustained practice. I think that also, the other thing that I would say is that I am now in a incredibly fortunate position as a full-time lecturer to have access to resources in terms of time and space and scholarly networks that I certainly had noaccess to when I was working in practice.
[01:17:49] Amy: And I do remember when I was first entering into academia, that there were some people who were established lecturers who went to great lengths to introduce me to other people, to say, "I know that you're interested in this particular book. I heard that so-and-so had also read it, perhaps you might want to meet up."
[01:18:05] Amy: So I think one thing that I need to do more on, personally, is to make sure that I am doing that work to bring people in and put people in contact with one another. Especially people who are perhaps outside of architecture or outside of academia, which can be very insular and isolated institutions .To begin to blur the edges and kind of disrupt the boundaries of our protectionist ideas of knowledge and practice. But that's certainly something that I have not yet accomplished and would strive to do more on in the future.
[01:18:39] Ollie: What an excellent goal to have. It's so easy with any creative practice, to look at something and think that _you_ have done it. So often in creative practices, those communities that surround you are the foundation of the things that you're making.
[01:18:54] Ollie: When I think of students that I've seen go through this process, the ones who consistently manage to be the happiest in the work they're doing are also the ones who are the most involved in the communities around them. Trying, to live in a world where there is an abundance of generosity and abundance of care for each other, and if it doesn't exist making it happen yourself.
[01:19:18] Ollie: Amy, it's been an absolute pleasure talking today. So thank you so much for talking to me today and thank you for all of the insights that you've given into the way that you work and the way that you help others work.
[01:19:31] Amy: Thank you so much for the opportunity. It's really been wonderful to have the time and space and the, push, I suppose, to actually reflects on these things that so often go unsaid or reflected, and are so critical to the way that we practice. So, yeah, I really appreciate it. Thank you.
[01:19:51] Ollie: Thank you for listening to this episode of Hold the Space. This is a new podcast and I'm still working out the best way to make the format work. If you have any comments or suggestions, if you think it's too long or too short, please send me a note. There are contact details in the show notes.
[01:20:09] Ollie: Many thanks to my guest, Amy Butt, for generously donating her time to this episode. The next episode will feature a conversation with experience designer, artist and filmmaker Nelly Ben Hayoun.
[01:20:22] Ollie: This podcast is made possible by the Situated Art and Design Research Group at Caradt: that is, the Centre for Applied Research in Art, Design and Technology. Each episode is recorded, edited, and mixed by me, Ollie Palmer. For more information, including full transcripts for each episode, links to relevant work or resources, please visit the podcast website at www.holdthespace.art, or click the link in the podcast notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.