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Urban design for everyone - researchers and architects to link arms in new project

Participation for real. Promote health. The ever increasing digital society. These are the major issues when researchers from Halmstad University initiate collaboration with the architecture firm Krook & Tjäder regarding participatory urban design.

Skiss stadsplanering

This autumn, the project PUD (Participatory Urban Design), will seriously get under way. The research methods, which were developed at Halmstad University, will be used to help citizens become more involved in the architects´ and town planners´ work process. This implies that knowledge within digital design will unite with architecture and urban planning.

– For us, it is an opportunity to exchange different methods. We get new information concerning the future of cities and urban planning, as well as being able to study and make prototypes of practical examples in Halmstad. The partnership also fits well into the University´s profiles, i.e. health innovation and smart cities, says Pontus Wärnestål, lecturer and interaction designer at Halmstad University.

Pontus Wärnestål is involved with the project PUD together with Jens Nygren, associate professor of medical science and nursing professor Petra Svedberg, both from Halmstad University.

Get to know eachother

According to the Halmstad-based architecture firm, Krook & Tjäder, examples of the benefits of PUD are e.g. getting the citizens´ needs to the drawing board, a better public dialogue as well as involving the users in a better way in the planning process.

PUD will last for three years, and the first step is that academia and companies learn about each other’s field. Researchers learn from the architects and city planners on how they work with public dialogue and participation. At the same time, researchers can show the architects their methods of work.

The project builds upon knowledge from Halmstad University's previous research project: CHIPS (Children, Health, Interaction, Participation, and Service Innovation). It was about children who have survived cancer – and, therefore, through their experiences - can offer each other support via a virtual schoolyard. In the preliminary studies to make this schoolyard work, personas were used, i.e. archetypal figures who create images and scenarios. In this way, the children were involved in the design process and were the co-creators of the schoolyard.

– The use of personas is nothing new; however, the project CHIPS used them in a special way, partly because the focus was on health promotion and partly because it concerned co-design with children in a delicate situation, says Pontus Wärnestål.

All involved participate

Since health promotion and participation are crucial even in PUD, the methods are also suitable for urban planning. All involved groups should participate in the planning. It is not enough just to hand out questionnaires which are mainly answered by people familiar with the project, and with good ability to express themselves in writing. For example, getting new Swedes with immigrant background involved is important.

– It is essential that we have a method, an approach and not least a use of language that suits different groups. Naturally, we couldn´t talk about the specifications and systems with the children in project CHIPS in the same way as we do with an engineer or architect. If we had, it would not have been co-creation and participation for real, but a form of exercise of power or just a show for the public, says Pontus Wärnestål.

The method of personas is based on creating a common language and work. Everyone can become involved and engage in discussions and scenarios. Everyone's knowledge is needed:

– We researchers are adults and have more knowledge and experience of building systems – but we had less knowledge of what children, who have been treated for cancer, need to feel good. Similarly, as with the sick children, you can use in urban planning, knowledge and experiences of individuals who represent major groups; in this case citizens, says Pontus Wärnestål.

Influence of digitalisation

Another angle of approach in the collaboration between Halmstad University and Krook & Tjäder is to see how urban planning is affected by the fact that society is so permeated by digitization. Both at the political level as well as the individual level, digitalization is seen in many aspects in our lives; e.g. how we work, commute, shop, communicate and monitor are all influenced by digitalization, which in turn affects urban planning. Smaller private living spaces and more common areas is a trend that is already visible in urban planning of today.

– It is possible, for instance, to imagine that in a few years more people will participate in car sharing via an app; therefore, fewer households owning a car, which means less garages required. At the same time, maybe more people order food to be delivered home rather than go to the supermarket, which will have an influence on road networks and traffic flow, says Pontus Wärnestål.

– Maybe there will be a digital designer in all urban planning projects in the future? says Pontus Wärnestål.


Pontus Wärnestål

Pontus Wärnestål

It is essential that we have a method, an approach and not least a use of language that suits different groups


Petra Svedberg

Petra Svedberg

Jens Nygren

Jens Nygren

Updated 2016-07-07