Posted by Moa Dickmark
| 1 Sep 2014
Open Air Neighborhood (OAN) started off as a collaboration between KaosPilot Theis Reibke and architect Louise Heeboell, back in 2011. At first, the idea was simply to develop "Building Playgrounds" through co-creative processes with the users, as a way to develop the city itself. They applied for and received grants from both the EU and RealDania, and started working on the project. After meeting Ellen O'Gara at a conference in 2012, the project has since been a collaboration between Heeboell and O'Gara.
The main focus for OAN has always been on creating a strong connection with the users by making them a vital part of the processes. Here they share some insights into what made them decide to work together, what brought them onto the path of co-creative processes and what they have learned throughout the various projects
Core77: Let's start off with a little bit of history about each of you.
Ellen O'Gara: Architecture seemed like an interesting thing to study because it combined books and creativity. I liked that combination and I still do. While I studied I really liked that everyone could participate in a discussion on architecture because it is something that is relevant for all. And in some ways we are all experts.
Louise Heeboell: I was both creative and good at math and physics. Good at drawing. I thought I was going to be an engineer. But I figured that the mix of engineering and being creative was being an architect. Besides from that, I had no clue, what being an architect was about. I'm happy about my choice now. Years before Open Air Neighborhood, I worked as a 'normal' architect. But I found that there was a conflict in the way architects work and the way the city develops. I had been looking for a way to work differently, open and with the users as a central part of the development—and still be an architect.
Louise, why was this so important to you?
Because I found that the urban space that was built as a direct result of the architects drawings had no life. (And I'd been drawing some myself, so I felt bad about it!) I was interested in finding out what created the places in the city that are filled with life and where people liked to stay.
Ellen, what brought you onto the path of co-creative processes?
Ellen: I studied at the school of architecture in Copenhagen. At the beginning of every year we went abroad for two weeks to do field work. In Sarajevo, Porto, Lisbon, ... Here we were free to find something that interested us. I would walk around and talk to people. Ask them what was important to them. This would always lead to something interesting. A topic would emerge, a need, a potential. I would gather all the information I could, measurements, conversations... the rest of the year, I and all the other students would develop each our project. I find this way of working very interesting. Looking at the needs and the resources and developing a program from that. It results in some very interesting synergies and very relevant programs. It is bottom-up development.
Of course you can't always just wander around and hope to run into something interesting when a developer wants something built but it is an approach I find very valuable. So what I mean to say is that my education has very directly led me to what I am working on today.
So, when did you two start collaborating?
Ellen: We met at a conference in august of 2012 hosted by the city. We each presented projects we had worked on for the previous months. It was clear that we had the same interests and some of the same ambitions for urban planning. The conference was about a project called Skab din By. Very interesting and experimental project by the municipality.
Louise: After that, we had a coffee and I think I asked if Ellen wanted to take part in the talk, that Open Air Neighborhood was going to give at the Think Space conference in September that year.
Ellen: Yes, and from then we started building OAN together. By January, we were working full time. Doing projects for the city and housing organizations.
During the Think Space conference you each presented a project. What were these projects about?
Ellen & Louise: We presented several projects where you could see that we had some common ideas for how to develop differently, our approach to urban planning and the process by which the city is and should be made. These ideas were about including the users in developing their own urban spaces. We were both very interested in processes where the citizens take a more central part of the development, and we both had experienced first hand that this kind of process can have some good social benefits.
Posted by Moa Dickmark
| 25 Aug 2014
A few months ago, I was contacted by an organization called Women Engineers Pakistan, which introduces girls to the field of engineering and technology. Just reading the name made me curious. For those of you who don't know, I'm an architect, and I come from a family full of engineers and tech-heads. In other words, my choice of becoming an architect has never, at any point of my life, ever been questioned. I went to a technical high school in Uppsala, Sweden, always with the support of mom and dad, brothers and sister, my grandmother, aunts, uncle and most of all my wonderful grandfather. With 26 boys and 5 girls in my class, the male-to-female ratio was rather high, but my knowledge and competence was never questioned by anyone of the male gender. Not by teachers, nor by fellow students.
Hearing about an organization like this and its origins was inspiring, and it takes more then a bit of willpower and skin on the nose (Swedish expression) to start something as groundbreaking and controversial in a country where female students are told that they should reconsider their choice to study engineering and start studying something more suitable for women...
In this interview, I've had the great pleasure of talking directly with Ramla Quershi, the co-founder of Women Engineers Pakistan. She recently moved to the U.S. to study engineering on a full Fullbright scholarship. So even though she's busy with the big move and getting her bearings, she set aside some time for this interview. I hope you get as inspired by reading this as I did from writing it.
Core77: Tell us a bit about the organisation and the thoughts behind it.
Ramla Quershi: The organization is a budding startup, which looks to increase participation from Pakistani women in Pakistan in engineering. Women have always been by and large in domestic and agricultural jobs in Pakistan, and their participation in science and technology has been minimal. We realize that women make over half the Pakistani population and we're working to prevent that potential talent for technical prowess from going to waste. We're working with young girls at high schools to encourage them towards science and math
When did you start working on getting Women Engineers Pakistan up and running?
It started with a Facebook page last August. But it's wasn't until six months ago that we started working as an organization.
Why did you decide on starting WEP?
Throughout my engineering degree, I felt a nagging lack of women in this field. We were often discouraged by our professors that engineering is a 'big boy' area. It was disheartening to realize that there weren't many role models set out for us. So I created this organization to give women engineers a platform to represent themselves.
When the professors talked about it being a "big boy" profession, how did your fellow male students react to those sort of comments?
My fellow males knew that I was good at my studies, so they would often turn up for a group study option and ask me to explain things to them. So they had found out that the women in their class were just as good (some even better) engineers. Barring a few, many were courteous and encouraging. However, there were some 'go make a sandwich' sort of comments—but not many.
There must have been many ideas/incentives to make it go from an concept into reality, what were they?
Oh yes, there were. Initially it was just a Facebook page, but then it started getting attention, and I realized that I had hit a niche. We were contacted by the U.S. Embassy through the Facebook page for meeting with a NASA engineer coming to Pakistan. And i thought, 'Oh wow, not much representation for the women in engineering crowd.'
Posted by Moa Dickmark
| 19 Aug 2014
Cansu Akarsu is one of those people who you can't help but notice when she enters a room: Her bubbly and positive energy more than makes up for her small stature. I met her during the INDEX: Design Awards a few years back, and have had the great pleasure of seeing her grow as a designer with her many socially conscious projects. Her résumé includes projects such as Happy Baby Carrier, Pad Back and Soap Shish. She moved from Copenhagen to Stavanger, Norway, this year and is now working at Laerdal Global Health.
Tell us a bit about your background?
Cansu Akarsu: I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. I studied at an American high school called Robert College in Turkey, followed by studies at Istanbul Technical University (ITU),
which lead to an exchange semester at TUDelft, Netherlands, and a year as an exchange student at Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Tech.
What led you to study design?
At the international school, I had a chance to chose courses more focused on my various interests, which gave me a chance to study and experiment with web design and graphic design. I was very lucky, my school was very good in this way. They also conduct various personality test as to help you understand where you fit on the job market, and how you can direct your studies in that direction.
If you think about your closest family and friends, have they influenced you in any way?
If you ask my mom, my 'design genes' came from my father's side :). They fell in love at the university as my dad helped my mom with her technical drawing courses. So far, I am the only industrial designer in my family of engineers. What fascinates me most about design is the human aspect—that we focus more on the everyday behaviors of people than technical solutions to products.
For the last few years, you have been working with socially conscious design. How did you get started with that?
There were many small events to lead to this decision. One of them being a trip to the eastern part of Turkey that I took with my class at ITU. I had traveled a lot to different countries, but i had never visited cities outside of Istanbul, and I thought that they were going to be more or less on the same level when it came to the standards that I knew growing up. I was surprised and shocked to see the lack of resources that existed in my own country. This inspired me to see what sort of impact that I, as designer, could have on peoples' everyday lives. I understood that I could do something to help the development of my country and the world as a whole and that was really exciting for me. This is one of the reasons why I decided to participate in OpenIDEO. Here I attended the design challenges, and it was one of the places where I found that design skills could be used to address worlds' biggest problems.
Posted by Moa Dickmark
| 18 Jul 2014
In part one of this two-part series, we introduced Natalia Ivanova, educator and founder of the Hal X parkour training center in Copenhagen; as a passionate traceuse, or parkour practitioner, she has long incorporated physical education into her work with children. Here is a more detailed outline of her method.
Getting the kids involved and excited about a new project is normally never an issue—they are more than happy to get out of their routines and try something new. Seeing as this is the case with most projects, the challenge is to make the project become a part of the everyday culture, to ensure that the students continue to practice after the official project is over and Natalia and her crew leave the school. Unfortunately, she has yet to come up with an answer... so No, no formula to be found here. At least not yet.
(When working with co-creative processes at various schools, my colleague Heidi and I encountered the exactly same problem. No matter what approach we tried, we never really managed to implement the way of thinking and working we used when collaborating with the students and teachers in such a way that it became a part of their everyday culture.)
Breaking Down Borders
No matter how much we try to ignore it and think or act otherwise, the fact remains that we live in a system where the gaps between the various social classes are visible to the naked eye. Just as with other sports, parkour is a means of breaking down these imagined barriers and connecting people from various cultures and social groups
Parkour transcends these social borders by creating a common ground—wall, ledge or bench—for participants.
Posted by Moa Dickmark
| 17 Jul 2014
For those of you who conduct interviews with a voice recorder, you know that the transcription is typically a slow step. If you're lucky, the interviewee speaks slowly or spends a long time thinking before answering, and the transcription process only takes two or three rounds. This was not the case when it came to Natalia Ivanova: On the contrary, the words flow as quickly from her tongue as the movements that flow from her limbs. She has a fluidity and energy in her way of thinking that comes across in everything she does.
Ivanova is the founder of Hal X, a small indoor training hall for parkour in Copenhagen, and the coordinator of especially designed courses, where parkour is a force for positive change for youths.
Originally hailing from Russia, Ivanova speaks fondly about the memories she has of jumping from garage roof to garage roof in the oppressive heat during summers back home. She remembers how fun it was to run as fast as she possibly could, in bare feet on the burning hot rooftops. Jumping over the gaps between the buildings, she knew that one misstep could mean an unpleasant tumble into rubble that might contain rusty scraps of metal, crushed glass and used needles.
Needless to say, this love for exploring urban spaces and challenging herself with her surroundings has been the defining element of through life. As a child, the hijinks and hyperactivity were just called "fun"; now it's called "parkour," and it has spread around the globe with the help of aficionados and YouTube like wildfire.
However, you may not realize that—beyond the physics-defying wow factor of the sport—parkour can serve as a positive alternative to destructive social cultures. In contrast to several other street activities, the philosophy behind Parkour is not only to challenge yourself and push boundaries, but to develop the best version of yourself. You have to have a totally clear mind if you want to be able to get the most out of your practice. That means little or no alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. If you are under any kind of influence, you risk not being able to judge distances properly and having a serious accident. "Alcohol and other substances are off the table since your mind has be clear and focused for practice."
Observers who aren't familiar with the sport and the philosophies behind it might see nothing more than loose-limbed young folks jumping from building to building, doing double backflips and hanging from rails, which might lead one to the conclusion that these people are more than a little bit crazy. But as with any sport, parkour practitioners—known as traceurs or traceuses—must train extensively, with utmost dedication, and exercise discipline on every level of their life in order to do what they do. You will never see a traceur leave empty bottles or discarded sandwich papers smeared in mayonnaise behind—they don't want to mess up their surroundings, their space for practice.