COMMUNITY RESEARCH POBES
In collaboration with our undergraduate architecture studio Unit C at Oxford Brookes University we explore new ways of community centered design. For our research trip to Salo, Finland in January 2019 the students have produced design research prototypes, "probes", tailored to the specific context of the city: 50 km east of the capital Helsinki, Salo was the epicentre of Nokia operations and production for over 20 years. As the company grew, the community and supporting town grew with it – a thriving society with the forefront of tech at its heart. Microsoft bought Nokia in 2014 and began the gradual shut down of all Nokia operations in Salo. Faced with an uncertain financial future, a generic architectural vernacular and a large community, Salo had to find a new way forward. With lots of empty premises, Salo has not a problem concerning physical space. But new impulses and interventions can help leveraging these assets to support the town in diversifying, experimenting and developing into a resilient post-tech future. For this, it is key to identify the pressure points, unmet needs and latent potentials of its community.
The term "probe" is often correlated with a device collecting information about a physical environment. The emergence of interaction design and situationist movements brought about the idea of "cultural probes", focusing on gaining insights from communities rather than from the (built) environment alone.
In January - equipped with custom made research probes - Unit C set out to unveil some of Salo’s intangible context: the memories, the knowledge and needs that connect people to a place. The development of functional prototypes allowed us to proof the concept of our community engagement devices, facilitating focussed interaction with locals as much as stakeholders, and successfully producing key insights.
Greg’s interactive device tests the community’s knowledge of the forest.
Fenton records Saloan landscape compositions to paint upon his return to Oxford.
Josh‘s interactive game allows the player to walk around a virtual Salo, to collect vernacular elements.
Harry developed storytelling stamps to recored people‘s memories.