Building briefs for action by connecting communities

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The Urbanism team at A&DS are supporting the European Architecture Students [EASA] event in Helsinki this year. EASA is a self organised community of students of architecture from across Europe, who settle in a place for a fixed period of time, work through a theme and deliver learning to each other in a supportive context on an annual basis.

This year, the theme of the EASA conference is Wastelands, currently undeveloped land within cities that contain the potential for more sustainable forms of place. This is about exploring new ways of doing things, a new architecture. Using the context of the area of Suvilhati in Helsinki, the EASA community will examine how creative and pragmatic learning responses to this urban context might be developed. Already, a series of ‘pop up’ installations are forming by communities in Suvihati, from pop up herb gardens, a sauna, café’s and graffiti zones. This is a different place to the rest of the city.

The Urbanism team are supporting the ‘Visioning Helsinki’ project. The focus of the workshop is on the process of briefing. It starts with understanding the authentic story of the EASA community, the communities of Suvihati and the specific, actual urban contexts of the wastelands. The project seeks to link learning from the ‘Learning Towns’ process in Scotland, and thinking by the Helsinki Design Lab, in tacking the difficult urban problems of our time by starting with an understanding of the ‘architecture of the problem’.

The objective of Visioning Helsinki is to develop a briefing process to support this part of Helsinki as a ‘learning place’. There are four elements to the workshop: the architecture of conversation, mapping the potential for learning, developing an infrastructure for collaborative ‘dealmaking’ to co-deliver projects and the process of realising physical interventions. The key concept for the workshop is to apply reflective learning to the EASA community, and use this learning to connect with the communities and potential of Suvihati.

The EASA community forms every year by using existing spaces in the host city. In these spaces, the community assign tasks to make the community work, from preparing food to delivering learning. Each task is assigned to a member country in the community. In this context, the community has a structure, responsibilities and a flexible concept of space, all organised to deliver learning. The question for the participants is to explore how this concept of a self organised, adaptable community can be used to bridge with established communities in the area and shape a brief for collective action.

Reflecting on the idea of deliberate community, embodied in the EASA community itself, the ‘Visioning Helsinki’ workshop started off with a discussion about the fundamentals of what is needed to make a community work, what the threats are and what the potentials are. The discussion began to frame a concept of community structure, which is summarised in the diagram below. This structure is being used as a framework for engagement with the communities surrounding the Suvihati site, and as a framework for collaboration with other members of the EASA community to deliver projects on the site.

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The initial stage of the Visioning workshop also brought out ideas about the social and spatial contexts of community, and how members of the community participate. This discussion is captured in this briefing note which is forming the basis of collaborative project development.

At the conclusion of EASA 2012, the participants of the Visioning Helsinki workshop will present their findings at a small exhibition and seminar in Glasgow and map the process of shaping participative briefs for action in a place using the specific contexts of Suvihati.

As part of a confident Scottish contribution to this international event, Pidgin Perfect are also supporting the EASA event through a workshop which uses creative engagement to shape discussions about the different potentials for wastelands as positive drivers for better city places.

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Place and leadership

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