Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment (SCIBE)

Project Participants

The aim of Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment (SCIBE) is to explore the relationship between scarcity and creativity in the context of the built environment by investigating how conditions of scarcity might affect the creativity of the different actors involved in the production of architecture and urban design, and how a design-led innovation of the process could improve the built environment in the future.

We understand scarcity as a condition defined by insufficiency of resources. Scarcity regulates action and behaviour, but not necessarily in a negative manner. We question the modern and Western understanding of the term ‘scarcity’ as the dialectic pair of ‘abundancy’, implying that scarcity must be hidden or vanquished to achieve abundancy. What happens if we accept scarcity as a given condition to work with rather than a something to escape from?

The research is based on the analysis of housing projects and their urban settings in four different European contexts (UK/London, Norway/Stavanger, Iceland/Reykjavik, Austria/Vienna), which together form the empirical ground for the study. Each case takes a particular view of scarcity, in order that we can investigate the various kinds of parameters that shape the construction of scarcity in different social, cultural, geographic, and temporal contexts. The aim of this project is to bring the limits within which built environment professionals operate to the fore,  and to examine when and whether scarcity overwhelms the operation of creativity by presenting a set of inescapable constraints, or whether those very limits stimulate creativity in different and potentially innovative ways.

It is our objective to investigate not just the association of creativity with the objects that make up the built environment (buildings and the spaces around them) but also to investigate the processes that go into the production, materiality and occupation of those objects. The project considers creativity in the context of scenario building and the design of innovative processes, and not simply in terms of the creation of innovative objects. In the case of the built environment the processes to which creativity might be applied include:

1. Economic, social, and cultural issues at stake in the production of the built environment.

2. Design processes, including the role of the client and user in design.

3. Building processes, including the procurement of design, materials and labour.

4. The occupation of, and adjustments to, the built environment.

5. The resource cycles (such as food, energy, waste, communication, transport) that are an integral part of the built environment and determine its sustainability.

Associated Partners: 

The RSA are embarking on an ambitious national project, Design and Society, which aims to deploy design intelligence in the service of society. The programme asks designers to demonstrate how the insights and processes of design can increase the resourcefulness of people and communities. The emphasis of this work is on the designer acting as a catalyst to release the creativity of non-designers.

The SEED Foundation is a social enterprise that explores and promotes new design approaches to meet the challenges of sustainability, with an emphasis on brokering the way that designers might work with communities to create more sustainable networks and places.

The Policy Studies Institute (PSI) is one of the UK’s leading centres for policy related research, focussing on research that promotes economic well-being and improves the quality of life. The SCIBE team will be working with their Environment Group, and in particular drawing on their expertise in the area of action-based research and sustainable communities.

Finally, we shall be using the expert input of Professor Tim Jackson (University of Surrey) to advise on the relation of the project to economic theory. Professor Jackson is lead economic advisor to the UK Sustainable Development Commission, and author of the influential report ‘Prosperity without Growth’.