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Earthworks is an experiential clay-based public engagement workshop for the built environment that marries Jo Pearl’s expertise as an architectural PR with her passion for the expressive power of clay.

More effective than sterile questionnaires, when clients need to slow down the conversation and gather in-depth feedback from the general public, Earthworks is a highly engaging and playful way to involve the public in generating ideas. Participants spend time thinking, discussing and modelling their ideas in clay. Ideas for how architectural projects could/should be realised. This highly accessible tool encourages proper buy-in from the community, all the while having fun.

Why clay?

Because it is easy and fun to model. Because it is of the earth and so highly appropriate medium for exploring ideas of how we use and develop public spaces (built in the ground) and buildings (built often from bricks – made from clay).

Who are Earthworks?

Earthworks is lead by Jo Pearl, who worked for 6 years as an Architectural PR both in-house at Foster and Partners and as a freelance consultant for architects and projects for the built environment from the millennium opening of Dixon Jones’ new wing of the National Portrait Gallery to the Hampstead Theatre by Bennetts Associates. This expertise has led her to understand issues relating to planning constraints, architectural design concepts and public opinion. She loves sharing ideas with people and while retraining recently as a ceramicist at Central St Martins, she had a significant “Ahaa” moment when working on a client project to save the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden from redevelopment. She suddenly realised she could combine her two careers as an architectural PR and a ceramicist, to stage powerful public engagement workshops using clay and focused on planning issues. Jo draws together teams of clay facilitators from her network of ceramic practionners and activists to deliver these public workshops.

What happens?

Earthworks set up a communal clay installation and invites stakeholders to join in sculpting what they would like to see included in the proposed plans for their public realm and why. We film the discussions had while making this communal sculpture.

Who can take part?

Anyone from the ages of 3 and 103 years. Almost everyone has played with mud or Plastercine at some point in there lives. Most people have not touched it in years. Participants invariably experience a beguiling pleasure in touching clay again, modelling shapes and thoughts with this highly plastic, malleable and natural material.

Why is this helpful?

The quiet time taken to make their creations is a great opportunity for Clay Facilitators to open up conversations about what participants think about proposals for their public realm. Earthworks record these conversations, and can be part of a communication programme facilitating compromises, understanding of priorities and getting agreement on how to move forward.

What are the outcomes?

  • An ideas generating mechanism to uncover and harness the community’s ideas, concerns and priorities.
  • An eye-catching temporary installation that collectively expresses what local people think and value in a potential development.
  • Playful and highly accessible experience for all ages and levels of physical ability.
  • Rich raw data ( aka public views) gathered via filming both the conversations as well as the 3D elements that have been created.
  • Key elements from the sculpture can be fired and kept as conceptual maquettes for the project.

Photographs by Sandra Keating, Simon Kidd and Jo Pearl