The Bartlett School of Architecture


Taking Back Power - Bartlett International Lecture Series

03 February 2021, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm

Block West, AUAR Labs with KWMC, Claire McAndrew and Knowle West residents, 2020 Image: NAARO

This event is free.

Event Information

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The Bartlett School of Architecture

This event will be streamed live on The Bartlett School of Architecture's YouTube channel at 18:00 GMT. No registration is required.


Streamed live on The Bartlett School of Architecture's YouTube channel, this event will be a discussion between co-hosts Danae Parissi and Mollie Claypool, and speakers Melissa Mean, John Bennett, Amahra Spence and Amber Caldwell.

This event forms part of The Bartlett International Lecture Series Spring 2021.  


Today, community-led architecture and design initiatives around the world are providing a wholly different way to do place-making and new development, challenging the “business as usual” approach to place-making at the individual, community and system level. Across the UK, local communities such as those in Bristol and Birmingham are already showcasing their power for change, by reclaiming the means of design technology and construction automation to build for themselves the homes and spaces that they need. Community-led housing is leading the way into a future of a values-centered, cooperative, for-all approach towards architecture and construction.

In Taking Back Power: Working at the Intersection of Communities, Arts, Design & Technology, co-hosts Danae Parissi and Bartlett Lecturer and Director of Automated Architecture (AUAR) Labs Mollie Claypool will be joined by Melissa Mean (Knowle West Media Centre & We Can Make, Bristol) John Bennett (a local Knowle West, Bristol resident and Knowle West Media Centre Trustee), Amahra Spence (Co-Founder and Creative Director of MAIA Group, Birmingham) and Amber Caldwell (Co-Founder and Company Manager, MAIA Group) to discuss their shared visions around enabling communities to access new forms of design and making.

The panel will explore how ‘dispersing’ knowledge, expertise and visions around design, advanced digital tools, and new building systems into communities can enhance local capacities for change. They will discuss frameworks and tools that they use to localise ownership and form social and technological place-making infrastructure that is sustainable and scalable. 

In this event the short film ‘Block West’, a project that was a collaboration between Knowle West Media Centre, AUAR Labs and local residents in Knowle West will be screened. 

Speaker biographies

For over fifteen years Melissa Mean has worked across the arts, urbanism and public participation. She is Head of Arts at digital arts organisation Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) in Knowle West, Bristol and Project Lead of KWMC’s We Can Make citizen-led housing project. Previously Melissa ran the Cities Programme at the think tank Demos, working with cities across the UK and internationally, including Glasgow, London, Helsinki and Barcelona. Her work exploring the role that the arts can play in business development, social action and regeneration is vital to this project’s interdisciplinary and community-led nature. 

John Bennett is a bricklayer by trade and local resident in Knowle West, Bristol. He is a KWMC Trustee and involved in the We Can Make project, and will be a recipient of one of the first We Can Make homes in 2021. He was also part of the community crew in the Block West project. He is also a Trustee of Knowle West Media Centre.

Amahra Spence co-founded MAIA in 2013 after a background in youth work, community organising, performance and entrepreneurship, and is Creative Director at MAIA Group. She brings an interest in culture, spatial practice, social equity, liberation politics and the Built environment into the creative direction of the organisation. Amahra continues to work as an international artist and cultural producer, regularly writes for media, consults and has sat on a number of boards and advisory councils, including Creative Industries Federation and Birmingham Opera Company. She also regularly speaks at conferences, including NESTA Creative Economy summit, TEDxBrum and keynotes at University of Birmingham.

From a background in dance and performing arts, Amber Caldwell co-founded MAIA in 2013 with aspirations of developing stronger platforms for creatives working within the industry. She is now Company Manager at MAIA Group. Her passion for arts and organising stemmed from working in production and administrative roles with organisations including T-Mobile Big Dance, Impact Dance Company and Accelerate Productions. Amber’s commitments to justice, holistic wellbeing and community directly shape the way MAIA operates.

MAIA is an art and social justice organisation in Birmingham, UK, building, investing in and making things for change in our environments. They are currently developing a series of spaces that redistribute the cultural sector's hospitality spend to invest in systemically underinvested-in communities.

We Can Make is a Community Interest Company that takes an arts-led approach to community-led housing. We Can Make is part of the Knowle West Media Centre family, a digital arts centre, community anchor organisation and NPO in Bristol, UK.

More information

Image: Block West, AUAR Labs with KWMC, Claire McAndrew and Knowle West residents, 2020. Credit: NAARO