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icecream architecture

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9 Nov 2011

The ice cream van has long been a prominent nucleus of interaction  within the community, its expressive chime beckoning an eager crowd to  its brightly coloured ensemble.   In an instant, a social gathering has  occurred and the surrounding streetscape has been transformed into a  hive of activity.   It is spotted at public events, school playgrounds  and residential areas, providing a point of purchase and presenting an  always appealing, sometimes wonderful and often overlooked point of  positive social engagement for communities.   A wonderful piece of  street theatre that delivers its diverse services throughout the country  cannot be over looked as the premise for an architectural practice and  icecream architecture have done just that.  Desmond Bernie and Sarah  Frood have created a young mobile organisation whose on-street presence  is highlighted by the 1971 Ford ice cream van that acts as the  connection point with communities for their varied range of projects.

The ice cream van has long been a prominent nucleus of interaction within the community, its expressive chime beckoning an eager crowd to its brightly coloured ensemble.   In an instant, a social gathering has occurred and the surrounding streetscape has been transformed into a hive of activity.   It is spotted at public events, school playgrounds and residential areas, providing a point of purchase and presenting an always appealing, sometimes wonderful and often overlooked point of positive social engagement for communities.   A wonderful piece of street theatre that delivers its diverse services throughout the country cannot be over looked as the premise for an architectural practice and icecream architecture have done just that.  Desmond Bernie and Sarah Frood have created a young mobile organisation whose on-street presence is highlighted by the 1971 Ford ice cream van that acts as the connection point with communities for their varied range of projects.

It was with this idea of the icecream van as a catalyst for sociable interaction that icecream architecture recently completed the public consultation for Glasgow City Council’s 50 year plan, the Future Glasgow: City Vision.  Together with Kevin Murray Associates, the icecream van became the beacon and hub for a city-wide consultation process that aimed to include the views and requirements of participants from every locality and background.  The van was customised to include interactive tools and methods for the public to convey their views on the future of the city. Between attendance at numerous city festivals, online interaction and on-street consultations, icecream architecture discussed and obtained almost 1,500 responses from Glaswegians covering issues from public realm to governance.   These responses were amalgamated with reactions from workshops and are being used as the basis for the City Vision.  The success of this method is based on the approachable, face-to-face nature of the way icecream architecture works; breaking down the barriers of professional formality to help make architecture accessible to a wider public.  

With this same approach, icecream architecture has delivered many architectural and educational workshops that make connections between communities, places and architectural practice.  By the creation of on-street events and workshops at locations like The Lighthouse and Zaha Hadid’s new Riverside Museum, icecream promote the work that architects offer whilst encouraging participant’s creativity and understanding of the built environment.  Recognition of this work has recently come in the form of funding from the Irish Arts Council for a month long tour of Ireland delivering workshops at festivals, in schools and at various pop-up on-street locations throughout October.  The tour, entitled the ‘Architectural Circus’ will work alongside numerous communities including a Gaelic Football Association’s development proposals for an under-used handball alley and a primary school group in the design and construction of their greenhouse.  

As the industry alters, architectural practice has been urged to become more visible to the public and partners at icecream architecture Desmond Bernie and Sarah Frood seized the opportunity to explore this possibility by founding an architectural practice that had a high level of visibility.   Just like the ice cream van, icecream architecture appear in places of interest in a bid to get noticed by potential clients as a new service.  Their visibility and connections with the community have become synonymous with their branding and icecream see a business model emerging that allows them to become involved in projects that are often over looked by other practices, working at the edges of architecture but capitalising on projects that require a similar skill-set.  Sarah Frood said, “We cannot restrict our practice to architectural design if it is to succeed in the current financial climate.  Working with communities on an equal basis is a sounder basis on which to develop projects rather than traditional top-down approaches”.

As testament to their open door and can-do attitude, icecream architecture has become involved with a diverse range of projects that cover a many disciplines from visual art to business development.  They put this success down to the broad range of transferrable skills that can be acquired over the years of training in architectural education and experience.  The icecream van has taken these skills to Campbeltown, where they are aiding the expansion of a crèche facility.  The project began with an easy going community consultation of how the service was offered to local customers and is currently undergoing remarketing, rebranding, people organisation and development proposals for indoor and outdoor spaces.  This all-in-one approach underlines the holistic approach that could be considered as a nudge towards the discipline of service design, but with icecream maintaining their origins in architectural practice.

As a community driven practice, icecream architecture was invited by Creative Scotland to engage with the community at the Tannahill Centre in Ferguslie Park in Paisley.  Partner Desmond Bernie said, “Ferguslie Park is an area which has become a casualty of its reputation where very real problems of social exclusion are evident.  The Tannahill Centre is a hub for the community that offers many local services.  Though residents rely on the centre for its facilities, community group numbers have reduced in recent years.  Icecream architecture was asked to work with existing groups to re-invigorate the community garden and present it at the Ferguslie Park Gala Day”

Icecream approached the project as a relationship building exercise focusing on uniting the various unconnected groups towards a common goal.  By integrating with the existing community and their daily activities, icecream developed a series of workshops that promoted working relationships and new skills.  Participants were encouraged to develop these newfound skills and use them in the wider community.  This culminated in the re-opening of the community garden and a new sense of direction for the overall development project.    

Recently, in collaboration with creative studio Pidgin Perfect, they have been shortlisted for two elements of the Merchant City Public Art competition.  As a young practice, icecream architecture have clearly developed a successful format for engaging with communities and they are expanding their remit and obtaining results from a distinctly un-blinkered approach to projects.   At a time when most professions, including the architectural profession, are advocating more community engagement in their work and a deeper understanding of project and client requirements, the ethos of icecream architecture seems timely and super relevant.
note:

Willie Miller

icecream architecture are exhibiting and designing part of an exhibition at the Mac
Mobile Solutions
Mackintosh Museum – 8 October to 17 December 2011
The Glasgow School of Art, 167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6RQ

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