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Practicing engagement: the value of an architect in a community asset transfer

Practicing engagement: The value of the Architect in Community Asset Transfer

This research investigates the role of architectural education and practice in supporting community-led development.

The Grange Pavilion project began in 2012 as a partnership between residents of Grangetown and Cardiff University to redevelop a vacant bowls pavilion and green in a neighbourhood park in Grangetown, Cardiff as a community asset transfer. This research project has been embedded in the Community Gateway project since its inception, pursuing questions it has raised along the way:

  • What does a ‘space for all’ mean?
  • How do ambitions for quality reconcile fears of gentrification?
  • How is ‘value’ defined?
  • What role does the architect play before and after design?
  • How can care be constructed?
  • What are the ethical consequences of a Community Civic Transfer?
  • How can a small building in a small park act as a catalyst for actions amongst fluid networks of residents and private, public and third sector partners?


Action research and live teaching has been employed throughout each stage of the project’s development to explore these questions and to precisely document the complex and demanding processes involved in undertaking a community asset transfer, supporting the launch, growth, fundraising and construction of the project, and of a community defined by a civic space.

With the launch of the redeveloped Grange Pavilion in 2020, current research and live teaching is progressing into post-occupancy analysis to support the successful activation and long-term viability of this civic space, and to test its role as a catalyst for further community-led neighbourhood action.


  • Mhairi McVicar, ‘Gathering-In-Action: the Activation of a Civic Space’, Architecture and Culture, 8 (3+4), October 2020.
  • Mhairi McVicar and Neil Turnbull, ‘The live project in the participatory design of a common ethos’ Charrette, Journal of the Association of Architectural Educators, 5 (2) Autumn 2018.
  • Mhairi McVicar, 'Engender the confidence to demand better? The value of architects in community asset transfers’, Architectural Design 90 (4) (2020) pp. 46-51.
Professor Mhairi McVicar

Professor Mhairi McVicar

Project Lead of Community Gateway

+44 (0)29 2087 4634