Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vasby Labs / Workshops

How does one approach “development” and city growth in a landscape of countries going bankrupt? If it seems like the populations of the eurozone are hostage to a continuous exchange between banks and governments, where does that leave the citizen, and how should the architect or designer accept commisions?

Thats when urban sociologist and consultant Mia Lundstrom and writer, curator and urban thinker Jan Aman approached me with the idea of proposing development methods for a community just outside of Stockholm, Vasby.

Vasby is a typical Stockholm suburb, or rather, it is so typical as to be definitive of the type. Built during the Million program, it is the perfect mix of state funded apartment blocks and semi-detached homes.

[moving services around sometimes allows for better circulation]
The idea was to developing Vasby not only in financial or investment terms, but to develop it socially, to use the construction development as a tool for social restructuring, and to do this with the support and approval of the current citizens.

[cars and traffic are not always bad]
The project would be structured around a series of workshops, and I was initially asked to design a pavilion where the workshops would take place, and which could act as a “headquarters” for the project.
[urban planning exhibitions can happen in shopping malls too]
It would be a quick and fun project, but somehow I felt that a new structure was not what the project was calling for. Jan and Mia had made it clear that we would be working with the existing buildings, reconfiguring and re-programming, as much as proposing brand new development possibilities.

[sometimes you just need to position yourself where the citizen likes to be]
So instead of accepting the commission for a pavilion, I proposed to place the workshops in the local shopping mall, where civic activity was already taking place. Like this we would not need to officially invite the locals to participate, but rather we would position ourselves casually in their midst.
[a shopping mall corridor can make a great conference room, everybody is there]
Once in the mall, we saw that there were empty shops available, but decided to push the envelope a step further, and located some of the workshops right in the middle of the shopping mall corridor.
[modular boxes as workshop equipment]
(When in a shopping mall, I cannot help but think of Margaret Crawfords' excellent “The World in a Shopping Mall”, which perfectly captures the space of the contemporary consumer. 

[a shopping mall is a miniature city]
How a person entering a shopping mall usually slows down because they don't know exactly what they are looking for, but rather they are in browser mode, open to suggestions.
[in Vasby the mall exists right in the center of everything. or everything just grew around it]
Of course when Crawford wrote that text, she was talking about malls, now the internet is our mall and we are live in continuous browser mode, citizens of browserville.

So, the idea was that the Vasbians would stroll over to the workshop desks, where the participating architects and the bosses of development companies would be obliged to explain what they were planning for their community. 

[workshop modules can grow up to become exhibitions, rooms, desks, bookshelves, community centers]
And perhaps the Vasbians would have suggestions to make and even preferences to voice. 

[the mayor of Vasby presenting, while Vasbians shop for soap and stuff]
The citizens of Vasby would be participating in the process of designing their community, spontaneously, while doing their shopping or just hanging out. 

[plinths and boxes instad of pavilions]
And personally, I was fascinated by an "architectural proposal" that does not propose a structure but rather a social situation with potentially such far reaching consequences.

[part two: proposals, coming soon]