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As part of the recurring event ‘Science Talks’, BLOXHUB invites you to participate and engage with leading researchers as they share their perspective on current topics related to sustainable urbanization. Pernille Berg, fil.dr. and Science Manager in BLOXHUB, has conducted a Q&A session with Anne Tietjen, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture and Planning, University of Copenhagen who is the upcoming speaker at Science Talks. Together, they discuss Anne Tietjen’s experiments with using architecture exhibitions as a collaborative method to investigate Public Space in Social Housing (the so-called PUSH project). Furthermore, they talk about the unique value of transdisciplinary collaboration and the value of presenting and debating research findings in new ways.

There are topics which matter greatly to many people, e.g. public space, democracy, and citizen engagement. There are topics which many people have an opinion about, e.g. social housing. How can we make new knowledge about these important topics and how can we make this knowledge matter on the ground?

That is exactly what the PUSH project is exploring by working with architecture exhibitions as a collaborative research tool for researchers from many disciplines, practice partners, stakeholders and citizens.

Q: What is the PUSH project?

A: The PUSH project is concerned with the futures of post-war social housing estates: We investigate the publicness of spaces on European social housing estates to better understand how social and cultural encounters happen here. How do spaces work as public spaces or not? We study dynamic interactions between people and the physical spaces they share guided by the question: How do people and architecture mutually affect each other so that living with others that are different from oneself becomes possible

Q: This sounds extremely interesting and timely as we are currently witnessing many discussions re. the ways in which these social housing estates have developed and whether they achieved the normative objectives which were expressed during their creation and construction – or not. In Denmark, we have for example witnessed a very heated debate pertaining to the decision to demolish buildings and completely restructure the public open spaces at Gellerup Parken in Aarhus to open the area up and better connect it with the city.

In your project you experiment with architecture exhibitions as a collaborative method to investigate public spaces in social housing. How do you work with architecture exhibitions?

A: “We are a multidisciplinary team of international researchers with different backgrounds (architects, landscape architects, urban planners, architectural historians, anthropologists, and sociologists) and collaborate with many associated project partners (from an art photographer to local housing associations and national and European NGO’s) and with local citizens on the ground. To make knowledge together with so many different people, we use exhibitions both as a tool for knowledge exchange and for collaborative knowledge development. We collect and make visual documentation, analysis and interpretations of how publicness is produced on social housing estates: photos, videos, drawings, analytical maps and diagrams. Throughout the project, we share and debate these findings in a series of physical exhibitions at transnational and local workshops to jointly drive the project forward. Edited versions of these exhibitions are then published on our website as a continuously evolving online exhibition.”

Q: We often talk about the important value of transdisciplinary collaboration in urban design and development of public space; why is this also important when it comes to a research project? It was quickly quite evident from talking with Anne that working with architecture exhibitions provides researchers and collaborators the opportunity to challenge each other and to critically discuss findings across cases and different theoretical lenses and different ways of doing research in different fields.

A: “The physical exhibitions have taken on the character of collective pin ups, work-in-progress, which gives us freedom to explore and discuss things freely and sometimes also quite controversially. We also need to focus on and literally show the concrete spaces that we investigate and then it can happen that we see quite different things or interpretate what is happening in a space quite differently. There is a big difference between the social housing estates and mass housing estates we investigate in the welfare states in Norway, Denmark and Switzerland and the social housing estate in Ponticelli, Naples. One example – a small guerilla garden can seem a radical gesture of bottom-up appropriation in the vast, well-maintained green spaces of the Norwegian estate, but this is definitely not perceived as radical by our Italian colleagues. Context matters a lot. We may assume that a visual representation conveys one thing and can only be seen as one thing and that is not the case. This may be quite banal but still poignant when it comes to research and creating new knowledge about public space in social housing across Europe.”

Q: Using architecture exhibitions to do research together with laypeople can also be seen as an attempt to do citizen science, which literally means research done by amateurs (and not by academic researchers) but also includes participatory research where researchers and laypeople do research together.

A: “Making exhibitions is a way for us to engage non-academic partners in the research process. We also collect and present local knowledge from people who live in the social housing estates and by so doing we give them a voice in the research. We want to get their perspectives, their insights and what are their matters of concern.”

Q: Why is there a need for citizen science?

A: “It is (potentially) a way to make knowledge that matters on the ground, because it is really relevant to the concerned people, and because this knowledge is shared with the concerned people from the start it may also have the potential to gather the right people to address problematic issues and bring about positive change.’

Our conversation ended on the note of the importance of finding ways of democratic involvement and engagement also in research and although this research project does not necessarily possess all the answers or every nuance, PUSH provides us with some insights, some learnings, and some challenges which Anne will address at our coming Science Talks.

The PUSH project is supported by Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) and conducted by the University of Copenhagen, NMBU, ETH Zürich, and University of Naples Federico II. Unless where otherwise noted, the content of this website is distributed under the Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA).