Bethany Wells (left) STEPUP Creatives Ensemble, Designer

From Both Sides Now

I’ve been studying alongside architecture students and working in an architectural studio for the last 7 years, but I don’t think its healthy.

I don’t thrive working behind a computer screen in an office with air conditioning.  I would much rather be working with passers-by on the street, my neighbours, people in parks, on rooftops and in shopfronts.  I like making the kind of spaces that collide with everyday life, that are sensory and intriguing, not just the type that provide a neat glossy corporate layout.  I enjoy making inflatable quilts, tents, dens and temporary classrooms.

During my MA at the RCA my practice shifted from being concerned with designing new buildings towards a more impromptu/politicised/nomadic way of working, concerned more with the way we activate, re-activate and de-activate spaces, and the performative qualities of public space.

I am particularly interested in the question of ‘where’ designers work – i.e. not hidden away behind a laptop in a studio, but out and about, making and changing spaces directly.  Over the last few years I’ve set up guerrilla gardening projects, built a wood-fired sauna in front of the Royal Albert Hall, facilitated workshops and set up educational events to inspire people to take ownership over space and use it creatively.
I was drawn to New Perspectives because I’m passionate about culture being taken to rural areas, using unusual and community venues.  It has been exciting so far to meet and work alongside performance-makers who are used to approaching performance from different sides, from writing, devising, directing and producing.  I see the process of performance design as working outwards from the core of the text, story or message; because an observation of human experience is at the core of the design brief, the design task is as much about focussing and helping to distil as it is to ‘dress’ and provide a backdrop.

We started playing with this way of thinking in a workshop I led last week, where we explored the sensory and emotional impacts of spaces we remembered through drawing, diagram and discussion.  It was a fluid and enjoyable way into design-thinking, coming from atmosphere design, rather than space-planning or technical requirements.

What’s next? Be prepared to be inventive, entrepreneurial, hands-on, experimental, brave, political, questioning, active, messy, curious, propositional, radical, careful, wet and windswept, tired.

Bethany Wells
Follow Bethany on twitter: @preparedtobe or the whole STEP UP Creatives training ensemble in one handy list.

Bethany Wells


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