Designs on Democracy

An architectural and urban design competition for town halls, exploring the role that design can play in deepening and strengthening democracy.

This was a joint undertaking between ippr and CABE, with the Design Council and the Architects Journal. 

Why did designs on democracy happen?

In 2002, there was a renewed interest from Central Government, particularly the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), about local democracy as a positive to affect change - from establishing elected mayors, to putting citizenship as part of curriculum or creating one-stop-shops for local services.  However the business of local government, its structures and remit had changed beyond recognition leaving many local authorities with outdated and inappropriate buildings; with very little attention having been paid to the role that design could play in rejuvenating local democracy.

When Tony Blair launched his ‘Better Public Buildings’ initiative, promising to place much greater emphasis on good design in the public sector, he omitted, significantly, to mention town halls.   This project planned to redress this point.  

The competition

Designs on Democracy was a two-stage competition that focussed on:-

  • Inviting architects and design teams to make design proposals, which gave form to and encouraged contemporary local democracy 
  • Explored the role which design could play in deepening democracy and promoting citizen engagement in local decision making.
  • To raise the profile of town halls as active and important civic buildings and to develop ideas for how democratic engagement can be promoted by design

Three town halls were selected for the competition, Stockport, North Hertfordshire and Bradford, with each site presenting very different technical and operational challenges for the teams.

Public consultation and engagement was an inherent part during the competition process, where the selected design teams had to present their proposals to a public workshop at each site. This was to:

  • Ensure that local people had an input into the evaluation of the designs
  • Ensure that local people would feel a sense of ownership of the project
  • Ensure that the design teams could gain an understanding of what people want form their town hall
  • To begin a process of public consultation about the town hall and local democracy that would continue after the competition.

The results

The first stage brief was downloaded by more than 600 individual users and the website had over 3650 hits. Over 80 architect–led teams applied to take part in this competition. Nine were invited to develop designs, three working on each town hall.

The three winning teams were announced at an exhibition of the designs, held at the RIBA in 2003, and launched by Tony McNulty MP, ODPM Design Champion. The three winning teams were: ABK Architects (Stockport) Bauman Lyons Architects (Bradford) DHDSA (Letchworth).