Live Works plays leading role in the growth of Urban Rooms across the UK

Towns and cities are opening Urban Rooms - spaces where people can come together to help create a future for their local area. Our urban room, Live Works, was set up in 2014 and is the first permanent university-funded urban room in the UK.

The urban room, Live Works, showing students interacting with the public in the forecourt outside the Urban Room

The School of Architecture was a founding member of the national Urban Rooms Network which was set up in 2015 to promote the recommendation from the UK government-commissioned Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment - “every town and city should have an Urban Room”. 

Carolyn Butterworth, Director of Live Works and Founding Chair (now Co-Chair) of the Urban Rooms Network, speaking at the recent opening of Newcastle’s urban room, explained, “An urban room focuses on the urban environment, it’s about the city, the streets and the neighbourhoods that we all share, and it should be located in the place you’re all working with. It’s really important to have an open door - everybody should feel welcome - so we need to work hard to include people who are traditionally under-represented within placemaking, planning and the built environment.”

Urban Rooms build on the legacy of the Urban Studies Centres of the 1960s-70s, the community architecture movement of the 1980s and the Architecture Centres of the 2000s. A distinct characteristic of Urban Rooms is the diversity of organisations and multi-sector partnerships that set them up, including community groups, local councils, arts organisations and universities. 

Live Works opens up the School of Architecture’s teaching, design and research to the benefit of the city of Sheffield and the wider region. As well as offering an Urban Room on The Moor, a busy shopping street at the heart of Sheffield City Centre, Live Works is a project office that employs students and graduates to work with local civic and community partners. This work is closely aligned with the School’s Live Project programme and offers ‘pre-project’ and follow-on support to our Live Project clients. As a result the School of Architecture can build long-term relationships with partners in Sheffield and the South Yorkshire region, resulting in sustained impact on the ground. For example, Live Works has played a key role over the last decade in the grassroots development of Castlegate, in partnership with Sheffield City Council and local community groups, arts and heritage organisations.

Urban Rooms Roadshow poster, most of which is unreadable apart from "welcome to U R roadshow".

Several schools of architecture have followed Live Works’ example and have set up (or are in the process of setting-up) urban rooms to engage their students and researchers with local communities and decision-makers in their place, including Cambridge, York, Newcastle, Cardiff, Reading, Ipswich, Kent and UCL.

In 2023 Live Works continued to play a leading role in the Urban Rooms Network and the development of urban rooms across the UK. The Live Works team is delivering a series of events and workshops called the ‘Urban Rooms Roadshow’, funded through UoS Knowledge Exchange. This programme is raising awareness through dissemination of the Urban Rooms Toolkit, developed by Live Works in collaboration with the Urban Rooms Network membership, and supporting local groups to set up their own urban rooms in Chatham, Ipswich and across the West Midlands. 

Building on the Roadshow's success, Urban Rooms Network has exciting plans for 2024, with more Roadshow workshops and a national symposium being planned in collaboration with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). Speaking on the success of the Roadshow event in Wolverhampton, Salla Virman, Strategic Lead for Culture & Heritage at WMCA, wrote, "Had a fantastic time learning more about Urban Rooms...definitely something we want to support at West Midlands Combined Authority.”

To learn more about and engage with Urban Rooms, check out the Urban Rooms Network website and the Urban Rooms Toolkit

Carolyn Butterworth has also given talks about Urban Rooms to other institutions, including this one given earlier in the year at the Farrell Centre, Newcastle

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