“Connecting Augustenborg”

To identify ‘Malmö Matters’, or special topics within Malmö of interest or concern, this was the brief for one of the student-groups for the course of Codesign: design participation and democracy. The three students, Erika, Freyja and Tülay, chose the area of Augustenborg as their place of concern, a neighborhood which has unfortunately been negatively depicted within the Swedish media. It was here where the local housing company MKB recently built the Greenhouse, an experiment in sustainable multi-family housing.

By working and designing together with the actors of both the neighborhood and the Greenhouse through various co-creative workshops, the group discovered that Augustenborg has a strong motivation to be a sustainable place to live for everyone.

Hidden treasures and surprising insights

“Choosing to work in the area of Augustenborg was really interesting, in that sense that my assumptions kept on being challenged throughout the whole project.” (Freyja)

The students started their project by exploring the area surrounding the Greenhouse. By talking with the various local residents, the students first of all found out that a lot of the negative assumptions about Augustenborg were not correct, and that people are actually happy to live in the neighborhood.

By mapping out visually what they learned from these explorations under the labels of existing assumptions, hidden treasures, and surprising insights, the students managed to highlight the existing differences between the Greenhouse building and the neighborhood.                                                               As a hidden treasure within the area, the group discovered that there is a strong motivation to inspire others in the neighborhood of Augustenborg through their own sustainable lifestyles. One of the surprising insights was that people wanted to be actually involved with each other, despite the lack of structure to do so.

A series of four workshops with various actors of the Greenhouse and Augustenborg, including MKB, was then set up with the aim of connecting the various parts of the network within the area, in order to inspire the people within the area to work together

Sustainable features

“Suddenly, pockets of well-intentioned people with their unique skills have found out that they are not alone in wanting to create something more with the people around them, which I believe will leap progress in the area forward.” (Erika)

The various building blocks and tokens used during the workshop

The group designed a kit of blocks for the local actors to build with during the workshops, including the greenhouse symbol, as well as tokens that represented the various actors within the network.  Furthermore, every workshop the group would take blank cards with them, adding more and more knowledge each time, so each workshop became more and more defined. With the help of these blocks and tokens, the residents could map out their future ideas about linking the Greenhouse and the various parts of Augustenborg, and how it could become a more sustainable place to live in the future.                                                                                                                   For the students it was really interesting to see how the actors, completely unaware of each other’s skills, had assumptions how the other actors would act when put in a certain situation, thereby showing that they truly wanted to create something together.

The workspace after one of the workshops

As a result of these workshops, the group and the participants came up with various possible features for the neighborhood, which would use the available resources within the area of the Greenhouse, in order to make the actors of the Greenhouse and the neighborhood meet and work together in a sustainable manner.                                                                                 One example of these implementable features was the idea of growing stuff. By connecting the growing networks in the area, together, all of Augustenborg could be used produce their own special products. The residents and people within the neighborhood could start cooking together, and by this get to know each other, or they could start a local weekly market to sell their produce.

Designing various sustainable features to be implemented in the future

The features were eventually handed over to the stakeholders in the hope of inspiring them in the future.

Reflecting forward

“I didn’t expect this course to become more than going deep into the research process to me as a product designer. Thinking out of the box without just focusing on the “solutionism” has expanded my horizons.” (Tülay)

Besides countering the unfair and negative assumptions surrounding Augustenborg by working together, the students found out that working with the idea of co-design changed their own view and approach on design as well.                                                                                                                 The group realized that actually designing with the users, instead of merely for the users, has proven to be a far more appealing and rewarding approach. In the future, this participatory approach will therefore likely be implemented in their own field of working as well. Erika: “I’m intrigued where my newfound knowledge will take me in my practice, and will be looking for cases where co-design can be (or has been) applied in larger architectural projects.”

By Tim Verhoeven, student of the K3 master program Media & Communication Studies at Malmö University. This article is part of a series of publications by Malmö University DESIS Lab, with the aim of showcasing the various projects of K3 students about design, sustainability and social innovation.