Un-Urban Experiments: Træna
Træna is a wonderland, far far north and this
summer, a small group of wonderful people gathered from all over the world
to bring life back to the most historic home in Husøya, which, in part
was closed for over two decades.
Voluntary 3 Weeks Summer Project, Summer 2018.
6 Instructors & 14 Students from SVA, Umeå & AHO.
Before it all Began
Sometime before last summer, I received a school wide email from Nicholas Stevens, professor of Interaction Design at AHO, about Un-Urban Experiments: Træna and I applied. The project would be 3 weeks and we would work in a team of 20, comprised of people from AHO, SVA New York and Umeå School of Architecture, in collaboration with DOGA.
The project was about bringing people from cities of both small and gigantic scales, to Træna, a very small island, surrounded by vast stretches of sea, with very few people and challenging what is Urban. It was about learning from small places, about very different challenges and using design methods to bring about a positive change to the lives of the people in huge urban areas.
In The Beginning
So, in the summer of 2018, we traveled to Træna, by train, plane, ferries and boat - one of the most amazing journeys I have taken. I knew from within minutes of reaching Træna that it was going to be amazing. We were introduced to the whole team and the brief and we took our first magical walk the day we arrived.
Next day, we were introduced to the plan and we met a few key people in the community. We were already accepted to the island family. We had all the help we would need and all the warmth.
The Grendahuset, the most important house on the island, was our site. It was in state of ruin, because of being closed for over 20 years. It was a small space of two rooms, with a large triangular open yard in the front. It was very easy to get excited. We were given a huge space above our site, which was a movie theater, and we set up to work.
The process was outlined for us by the instructors. There would be a mapping phase, followed by concept phase to be completed in one and a half week and then there would be a building phase of the same duration. Everyday, we were to meet after breakfast and have a check-in session, where everyone will in a word or in a phrase describe how they are feeling. And at the end of the day, we would have a check-out session. In my opinion, these check-ins and check-outs were the most valuable part of the project. This is what glued us. This is what helped us develop a relationship of care between ourselves. This is what made the project happen in three, intense weeks.
Træna is an island community of 456 people. The first part of the project was to find out what they want. We were 14 topics, such as “youth and diversity”, “demography”, “visitors”, etc., and we divided in groups, each taking 3 topics. We spent the time getting to know the people of the island and their needs. These findings were presented and we filled the walls with these insights. This also helped us involve the inhabitants from the very first day and get their say early in the process.
We came to know that the island community takes a long time to accept a newcomer as their own. The locals assume that the new people someday would leave. It takes time for people to really settle in the family. We came to know more about life in an island. We got to know the fishing industry, the most important source of economy, a bit better.
I am really glad that we spent time dedicated to the mapping phase. It helped us know a lot about Træna and the people and we as a team could align ourselves to the actual needs of the people of Træna.
After the mapping phase, we had a wall full of insights at our disposal. We shuffled groups and started to develop ideas for what can be the best project for Træna. Each group developed and somewhat detailed 3 concepts and presented to the team. With the input from the whole team, the groups further developed these concepts and these were presented to the community.
We invited them to our workplace and discussed our concepts with them. This was an exercise in co-creation and to give the community ownership of the project. We could not afford to make any bad decisions as the time was so little and this was crucial. And it worked wonders. The people of Træna got very involved after the presentation, and the Grendahuset board offered us another space as well to make something for the youth. We took that opportunity as well, as a place for the youth was a huge discussion and need in the island.
We had many concepts now, which were all very relevant, however, we had to narrow down to one concept. 20 people had to agree on one thing within a day and we carried out the Bull’s Eye process. It was painful and very mentally taxing, but, in 6 hours, we went from a complete mode of indecision to knowing exactly what to make. It was painful, but it was worth it.
We decided to make a Sun Room in one of the two rooms and a Third Space (common living room) in the other. We also decided to take up the Youth Room project as we believed that it was necessary for the community.
And so, the intense building phase began, We had to tear down all that was existing in the space as it was beyond repair. Then we carried out an intense renovation to make the space into a place where we can work. We divided tasks and we worked 24/7. Everyone did what they could with whatever skill they had. We got the community involved in the building phase, so that they feel that the new space belongs to them. We let the kids decide the color and furniture of the youth room. They helped us paint. The elders brought us carpets for the floor and let us all their tools.
We had a large dinner during the build to get everyone in the community together to see how the work was going. It was intense, but we managed to finish it. And I have never been so proud of any project.
We invited everyone on the island to the opening ceremony. The Mayor inaugurated the place. We had a huge lunch party, that extended to be a dinner as well. It was humbling to see the people use our work finally and take ownership. The handover could not have been more satisfying or emotional. We had a film screening in the youth room about how we made it. People immediately fell in love with the sun room and the third space.
The Grendahuset now has its own new identity and it is very much a part of life of the people in Træna. They consider us as family and we consider Træna as our home. I am really lucky and glad to have been a part of it.
I always feel a rush of emotions whenever I think of Træna. It was a very special time of my life and it was, most of all, because of the people. Everyone of us worked side by side, with all we had for those three weeks. We were a family. I have never loved or respected a team more than when I was there. I am in love with everyone who was there.
After having been there and worked on the project, I consider myself exceptionally lucky. The 3 weeks that I spent in Træna were the best days of my life and the project was the most wonderful experience I ever had. The people I worked with, the people of Træna and the natural beauty of that very special place, where the sun never set are very special.