Stories & Projects

Vertical Workshop 2018: Alternative Futures


During the first two weeks of the fall semester, all students and staff at Umeå School of Architecture has been engaged in a workshop titled "Alternative Futures". The results of research, discussions and imagination have been compiled in the format of fanzines - do-it-yourself magazines. 

Alternativ Futers Plus En Hand

At Umeå School of Architecture (UMA) we start each academic year with a workshop across the school, involving all students and all staff, working together around a common project and theme. The overarching idea is to generate common awareness concerning what we assess as critical, key challenges for society as a whole and thus inherently also for Architecture as our field subject and profession. For us, the workshop is a possibility for peer-to-peer knowledge production and sharing within the school as well as with our surrounding geographical communities. UMA desires to emphasis the assessment of societal challenges - both generally as a school and particularly trough these workshops - as the result of an extensive and ongoing collaborative process.

Alternative Futures - Our point of Departure
The impact of climate change, the rising tides of migration in a globalized world, the uneven geographical development, perspectives on gender inequality and the theoretical and practical experimentations around the notion of the commons have trough such processes become important points in the framework for the school, and our efforts to develop the field of architecture.
For the fall term of 2018 we assembled after one of the warmest summer on record. At +1°C above the average temperature of pre-industrial society there are noticeable challenges. Forest fires and extreme floods are growing more likely to displace people from their homes and communities. Farmers have to handle rapid variations and bad harvests which of course affect the availability and price of food. Still the most severe consequences are, and will continue to be, unevenly distributed globally to territories, individuals and communities with less means to meet the challenges.
In a recent  essay, Human ecologist Andreas Malm suggests that, "Adaption to a world with continuous emissions in the long run is an impossible mission. Many whom have been shaken by the
heat this summer now think that they have gotten a glance of future climate change but that is a misunderstanding: With current graphs intact it will not be long until Swedes will look back at the summer of 2018 as desirably mild. What we have is not global heat: We have global warming. We are standing on the first steps of an escalator moving towards temperatures that lack a natural terminus".

VW 2018 Elever Fanzine Utstallning

Meanwhile global inequality is mounting. On a global scale - according to the international NGO Oxfam - our world's 8 richest individuals own the same quantity of wealth as the bottom 50 %: 3,7 billion people. In Sweden 187 billionaires control  half of the country's GDP. Since the global financial crisis hit in 2007-2008 there is a clear presence of political polarization. Among present-day younger generations, trust in political parties and established institutions are in decline according to the  Swedish Youth Barometer . As trust in established institutions, science and mainstream media is eroding within particular segments of our populations we see the rise of what political theorist Chantal Mouffe describe as a "  populist moment" wherein new agents mobilize, in some cases with climate change denial agendas. It seems a paradoxical situation - one, which easily (re)produces contradiction(s).
To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement - the international climate treaty adapted at the United Nations COP22 meeting in 2015, stated a common effort to keep the median temperature rise beneath +2°C - however demands radical rethinking. Even if the target is reached, this extent of temperature rise seems likely to create enormous challenges like the displacement of huge populations. Already in 2017 according to  UNHCR there were 68,5 million people on refugee globally.
As the 21st century now passes into its third decade, what is then the role of
 the architect? How can we act with care and broaden our knowledge concerning the various circumstances surrounding us, while also moving beyond them to create alternatives?

What have we been doing?
In this year's Workshop we invited various guest lecturers from fields related to societal challenges. The aim with the lectures was to provide the students with concrete know-how and inspiration for the workshop tasks but also to create broader discussions, which could continue beyond these weeks.
Ana Betancour, Rector at UMA, introduced the workshop topic and reflected on the changing roll of the architecture profession. Author Po Tidholm lectured about uneven geographical development and changes in regional policy in Sweden followed by a discussion with workshop coordinator Erik Persson about the impacts of these issues in Umeå and its surrounding region. Local artist Andreas Brännström introduced the format and culture of the fanzine with a particular focus on the fanzine-scene in Northern Sweden. Umeå Municipality's Gender planner Linda Gustafsson and political scientist Malin Rönnblom lectured on the themes of feminist approaches to urban planning and gender equality policy making. Another local artist, Anneli Furmark held a combined lecture and micro workshop about thinking trough sketching. UMA Alumni Gaia Crocella presented her master thesis in architecture "Interdine - The Strength of Action Research" on migration and architectural solutions for integration. Architect and researcher Pernilla Hagbert reflected on different scenarios around the notion of sustainability. UK-based architect and researcher Shahed Saleem presented his work around the architecture of the post-colonial diaspora communities in the UK and their relationship to the notions of heritage, belonging and nationhood, and, Lesley Lokko, Head of School at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa discussed around her work on discourses around identity, race, African urbanism and the speculative nature of African architectural space and practice.

Forelasning VW 2018 Lesley Lokko

All students where allocated into 24 groups and through randomized selection handed a specific site for investigation. As in previous workshops students from different years are mixed within the groups. The scale was neither a single building nor the abstract view of a municipality, a region or a nation but rather something in-between. Departing from our theme "Alternative Futures" the main objective was to generate critical and context-grounded potential solutions. We wanted to discuss how and if to deviate from the present course through the investigation of particular possibilities and challenges found within a multitude of localities. Using the inspiration from guest lecturers as a broad framework, the site investigations where specific. The core question was if the site contains relationships, structures, features and tensions that could be nurtured, scaled, dismantled or spread to favor sustainability in a sense were the ecological and social dimensions are interlinked. 

VW 2018 Utstallningsytan Med Affisher Och Elever

The work presented - a network of 24 fanzines
Each group has gathered their findings, research and imagined future solutions for the site into the format of the do-it-yourself fanzine - together forming a multifaceted, playful, creative draft document of common knowledge and esthetics.

Group 1 has worked with parts of Västerslätt discussing the relationship between the residential districts and the industrial area with a focus on different environmental angels. Group 2 played with situations of flooding and climate disaster trough an investigation of Bräntberget. Group 3 took on the area around the walking- and bicycle bridge "Svingen", contrasting future plans for densification with user thoughts. Group 4 experimented around the notion of the "city as part of a human", looking into the institutional facilities of the regional hospital and main university campus. Working with parts of Tomtebo, group 5 created a hypothetical disaster scenario of forest fire as a point of departure for a discussion about local self-sufficiency. Group 6 worked with areas around Tvärån and the notion of the right to public space. Group 7 focused on traces of citizen activity in the public spaces of the area Väst på Stan. Around one end of the Nydala lake, group 8 examined boundaries and obstacles in the pathways under the theme "inside/outside". Group 9 where allocated in parts of Berghem, and focused on the lack of changes in the area during the past decades along with residential thoughts on criminality. Group 10 engaged with the area around the railroad in central Umeå, discussing the usage of public spaces and the conditions for local cultural life. Group 11, the attention was on Söderslätt handelscentrum / IKEA discussing for example its impact on residents and activities in the near surroundings. Group 12 looked into the Volvo factory and close-by residential areas of Böleäng reasoning around the want for "status quo" among other things. The cabins around the Nydala lake was the main interest of group 13, discussing a hypothetical scenario were the lack of municipal determination opens the door for privatization and exclusive development. Group 14 created a post-apocalyptic scenario around the area of Röbäck were future technology is used to farm wetlands. Group 15, allocated to Strömpilen, focused on the competition between external shopping malls, creating a satirical propaganda approach to make this loosing actor great again. Group 16 embraced the notion of the "green utopias", envisioning a future for residential area Mariehem without cars. Group 17 chose to investigate the area of Carlshem from the topic of relationships to food, hinting suggestions for developments.

VW 2018 Mingel Vid Fanzinbodert Vinkel Uppifran FIN BILD

Group 18 looked into the Gammlia sport facility area and its neighboring residential districts discussing citizens needs for social spaces which lead the way for an experimental idea around dogs as the social connector. Group 19 had their view at student corridors and notions of co-living in parts of Ålidhem, discussing premises of this situation and possibilities for improvements. Group 20 discussed the possibilities of using to reusing trough investigations of the area of Östteg. Group 21 contrasted outside prejudices about the neighborhood Ålidhem with the vantage point from residents. Group 22 looked into Ön, an island in Umeå river, from the view point of different concerned actors trying to form a broad pictures of conflicting ideas. Group 23 discussed the area of Sofiehem and Tunnelbacken trough the notion of the "commons", creating a imaginary scenario of housing privatization and displacement including a creative solution based on further sharing. Lastly, group 24 investigated development plans on Grisbacka/Grubbe, contrasting them with thoughts of residents and suggestions of improvement.     

VW Narbild Elevbakifran Fanzine I Utstallningsyta

During Friday September 14th an open to the public exhibition was opened were the fanzines, selected pages printed as A1 posters and GIF-presentations on digital screens presented the work. The exhibition has remained in the entrance of the school until September 21st.

For more information about the Workshop, its brief, the fanzines produced etc - please contact workshop coordinators:
Sara Thor or Erik Persson

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