GXN: Design is not about hocus pocus

Credit: GXN, Visions for Gadehavegaard, Theme weeks at the school.

Through two Desire theme weeks, pupils at Gadehavegaard have been introduced to translating ideas and wishes into concrete design proposals. The experimental process has provided knowledge in both directions and now the experience will be translated into principles that others can use when they want to involve users in design processes.

Published on October 3, 2023. Text Hanne Kokkegaard, DTU. Image above: GXN 

"What do you like to do when you are free? What would you like to do that you don't have the opportunity to do now?"

During the two theme weeks, 40 eighth-grade school children from Ole Rømer School at Gadehavegaard in Høje-Taastrup have been developing ideas for creating an appealing natural space that can serve as a communal hub for children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly in the urban area.

The theme weeks have been part of the New European Bauhaus project Desire, where the partners work with citizen involvement in the green transition.

Gadehavegaard is a residential area with social housing. By 2030, there will be substantial changes in its development, and they aim to actively engage the residents, including the school children, in this process.

This has been an experimental journey where Desire partners, in collaboration with the company AGORA and the school, have organized teaching sessions for the children. They have actively contributed their ideas to the design of the green urban space.

Desire partner GXN, an innovation and consulting company affiliated with 3XN Architects, has been responsible for the design and planning training and has been involved throughout the process. They are very satisfied and happy, says Kåre Stokholm Poulsgaard, Partner, Head of Innovation.

"We have focused on showing the school children that coming up with ideas, developing ideas and shaping ideas is not hocus pocus, but something you can work through with some defined techniques. We also really wanted to show them that they actually have a lot of knowledge and ideas themselves. And that they can help give those ideas life and form," says Kåre Stokholm Poulsgaard.

Credit: GXN, Visions for Gadehavegaard, Theme weeks at the school.

Credit: GXN, Visions for Gadehavegaard, Theme weeks at the school.


The idea process from start to finish

Throughout the themed weeks, the school children have followed a very similar process to what one would typically undertake in a professional studio.

"From the very beginning, we asked them: What do you like to do when you're free? What would you like to do that you don't have the opportunity to do now? What type of activity or zone could that be? And what needs to be in it for it to work? And then just as slowly, we started sketching it out with the youngster," explains Kåre Stokholm Poulsgaard.

These two theme weeks have been intense and challenging for the young participants, starting from scratch and culminating in an exhibition. Different groups presented their proposals for the future green urban space to people from the housing association in Gadehavegaard, the mayor and his people from Høje-Taastrup Municipality and parents.

The children's ideas, own models, sketches/drawings, pictures and descriptions have been transformed by GXN's team into photorealistic 3D images depicting how the building or area could look.

"They have drawn everything themselves. There's nothing you see in the renderings that doesn't come from their drawings, models or materials. I think it's been extremely exciting to see that they've been so good at it. And it's great that it's not something we could have made ourselves. The suggestions show that children have a completely different creativity and wildness than adults. I know that the design team, who have given shape to the children's ideas by working with the renderings, have had a lot of fun taking these sketches and translating them graphically," says Kåre Stokholm Poulsgaard.

Credit: GXN, Visions for Gadehavegaard, Theme weeks at the school.

Credit: GXN, Visions for Gadehavegaard, Theme weeks at the school.


When everyday life hits the design process

The theme weeks have been organized in alignment with the objectives of the New European Bauhaus initiative, emphasizing engagement in green processes with a specific focus on biodiversity and circularity of materials.

The children have gained new knowledge along the way, and this process has also been enlightening for the Desire partners. These themed weeks have served as an experimental approach to understanding what makes a place appealing to 14-year-olds and why certain elements are successful in achieving that appeal.

"We've had plenty of time to talk to the children about what's important in their world, what they care about and what they think is needed. And we've also been surprised. All the children we talked to wanted kiosks in the area because nowadays you have to go out to buy something to eat and drink. So the rather practical things that are sometimes overlooked, about what it takes to make a place good, have also been exciting for us as professionals to learn more about."

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Practical knowledge sharing on the way

GXN is now joining forces with AGORA and the other Desire partners involved in Gadehavegaard to develop a toolkit with design principles for catering to young people's needs and achieving meaningful user involvement in design processes.

A toolkit could, for example, describe the phases you go through: What can be the input and output of each phase. What exercises you can do in the phases. And how to bring it all back together in an output that makes sense in the further development and design process. Including how to get the principles reflected in a tender.

"It's important that we share our knowledge from a process like this in a way that can be copied by others. And then, of course, we collect the children's designs in a catalogue of ideas that will hopefully also inspire the area's future designers," explains Kåre Stokholm Poulsgaard.

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard


Fact: Therefore, Gadehavegaard must be transformed

The social housing area Gadehavegaard in Høje-Taastrup 20 km from Copenhagen is one of a row of areas in Denmark that will be redesigned as a residential area to ensure a special preventive effort according to the Danish law for parallel community (formerly called ghetto).

Folketinget - the Danish Parliament - has agreed that a number of residential areas must have a significant boost in the coming years to get more people into work, more people to receive higher education after primary school, fewer people to be convicted of a crime and the average income must increase.

The developing plan for Gadehavegaard is adapted to the needs of the area and the surrounding area with different types of housing.

Social housing must be demolished, social housing renovated and new social housing for the elderly and new private owner-occupied housing must be built and institutions established, including a campus area and a neighbourhood house, so that the area opens up to the surroundings. At the same time, a 30,000 m2 park area must be established in the area by closing down two large parking lots and a four-lane road.

Link to the plan for Gadehavegaard (Danish)
Source - Blandede boliger (Danish)

Gadehavegaard September 22, 2023. Photo: Hanne Kokkegaard


A walk in the Gadehavegaard of the future

Selected quotes and descriptions that AGORA has collected from the groups' presentations.


1:
"The three friends were walking around GHG (Gadehavegaard) and came across a house that looked interesting. Everything was blue in there and there were little stars. They went inside and found a place to sit.

“Wow, this is beautiful!” said one of them.
"Yes!" answered the other.
“Just try to look here; there are drawers with books and games.”
“Do you want to play kalaha?” Agnius Amin asked.

Medina found a place to sit down to read while the others played the kalaha. There was a cosy atmosphere in there. People were talking and laughing.”


2:
"We walk towards the old parking lot, and there is a lot of greenery, many plants and flowers, and there is room for many sports such as basketball, football, volleyball, etc. It is a huge long staircase with people watching movies and a café right next door where you can buy snacks and something to drink. We go further and see a large and new playground with many young people of all ages. The apartments have become nicer and look much better than before.”

3:

“There are also lots of wooden benches for the elderly, so they can sit down and watch their children/grandchildren play. There is also a playground for even smaller children. Many insects have arrived and there are flowers everywhere.”