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NEW EUROPEAN BAUHAUS RISING STARS : concepts or ideas submitted by young talents (aged 30 or less)
Aesthetics of Boredom
Full concept/idea title
Post-soviet neighbourhood preservation. Case study of Laumas microdistrict in Liepaja, Latvia
We tend to preserve what we find aesthetically pleasing. However, boredom creates our mundane life while being unnoticed most of the time. Similar to microdistricts, repetition of blocks has lost any deeper attention apart from standing still. This project invites us to stop and stare into everydayness as an act of building the mindset of tomorrows.
Here I ask myself; what can be done to awaken the sleeping blocks, giving them a chance to thrive again?
Where is your concept/idea being developed or intended to be implemented in the EU?
Please provide a summary of your concept/ idea
The aim of this research is to discuss urban aesthetics from the viewpoint of residents in micro-districts. Environmental aesthetics is a relatively new concept within the contemporary urban planning scholarship. Even though architecture and geography are the leading fields in multidisciplinary urban planning, examples of Nordic countries show the importance of humanities' place in city planning. The interdisciplinarity will be stressed through theoretical base merging disciplines such as sociology, urban aesthetics, heritage studies, and urban history. Only with a new way of researching post-soviet neighbourhoods and re-constructing the aesthetics of boredom, locals and other involved agents can imagine the future for microdistricts.
To avoid ignorance towards stigmatised neighbourhoods, the city planning itself is in need to change. This is one of the reasons why contemporary urban planning aims to adapt interdisciplinary work, where the city architect is replaced with professionals from many fields. Time changes and so do the aesthetic preferences. Soviet mass housing plans were never meant to be boring, on the contrary, they were shown as highly futuristic at that time.
In this project, the focus will be on the case study in Laumas microdistrict in Liepaja, Latvia. Resident inclusion is planned through photovoice, where all participants will be provided with disposable cameras to take pictures from what they find important, aesthetically pleasing, and boring. After the picture development photos will be discussed in an interview with the author of the images. This method can be used to outline the hidden meanings and values that are important and should be preserved despite their aesthetic values.
The process and results will be shared in a form of blog posts, minimising the gap between the academic environment and wider society. Gathered data will be curated into a format of a photography exhibition and a booklet.
Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of sustainability and how these would be met
Even though mass housing provided much-needed shelter in the most economically feasible manner at that time, nowadays they need technical upgrades to meet contemporary living and energy standards. Baltic modernism architecture and microdistrict designs were led by the economical situations in the first place. Even though the block buildings were not built according to sustainability standards, their demolition also would not solve the issue. In this project, preservation is an act of building the mindset for more sustainable and inclusive neighbourhoods. By changing the perception about the already existing from bottom-up (through residents), before there are any changes taking place in the built environment.
The discussion about preserving and humanizing the grey corners of the city needs to start within the communities. And where there are no communities, the residents should be encouraged to share their experience, creating common responsibility for the neighbourhood in collaboration with local infrastructures. The shift between residents relying on municipalities taking care of all urban planning aspects and taking ownership towards the neighbourhoods need to be encouraged. Interestingly, in Laumas microdistrict there are no local Facebook groups or any other visible communities.
To re-shape the perception of the built aesthetics by shifting what is beautiful and what is boring can go further than we think. Re-using and re-imagining the already existing built environment starts within people's minds, that is the most carbon-free way of building “new neighbourhoods”.
Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of aesthetics and quality of experience beyond functionality and how these would be met
The aesthetics that build our everyday experiences are affecting us more than we think. The latest research in urban planning has outlined more focus on mental wellbeing within the urban environment. However, the aesthetic qualities most of the time are not taken into account. Environmental aesthetic experiences in urban settings are experiences that people living in cities are facing every day. For this research, the focus is on mundane experiences, outlining the everyday aesthetics rather than exceptional interactions in the city, like travelling. Everyday aesthetics capture the sceneries and landscapes we are facing daily and because of their mundane characteristics, they can become almost invisible. Using the term mundane strongly relates to a state called boredom when one can find oneself in a position where nothing seems interesting anymore.
Last year, since the world was struck by a global pandemic, the role of home and closest neighbourhood merged into one - workplace, gym, home, movie theatre, cafe, holiday destination and so on. The experience of being locked in our homes made us question our surroundings. Sometimes all we need is to stop and stare into our everydayness. Eventually, by working directly with residents of microdistricts and inspiring them to show the neighbourhoods from their perspective, challenges them to see their own environment in a new light and creates space to reflect on their daily experiences.
Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of inclusion and how these would be been met
One of the goals that build the overall message for this project is multidisciplinary planning. Contemporary urban planning aims to adapt interdisciplinary work, where the singular architect of the city is replaced with a plurality of professionals from many different fields. Coming from a Cultural Sociology background, it is a challenge to find a place in urban planning in the university environment and also in real case studies. This research encourages a practice where everyone can become a part of building the future of tomorrow.
Even though I struggled to find my own voice within urban planning, I can only imagine how helpless the residents might feel in changing their own environment, and more importantly, thinking for themselves of what they need in it to live happy and fulfilling lives. How can a mother who works a 9 to 5 job every day be able to impact her surroundings? Through this project, regular people from different age groups, social background and daily routines will provide their insight into post-soviet microdistricts.
Instead of creating research where data is gathered by academics, this project gives the opportunity for people living in microdistricts to become artists themselves. In an interactive way of gathering information on their mundane surroundings, the power is given back to residents, keeping space for their own reflections. The curation instead of creation is not only inclusive but more reflective of urban environment values that are already existing.
Please explain the innovative character of your concept/ idea
The Aesthetics of Boredom is a concept that challenges us to reflect on our everydayness by creating nothing new. The idea of researching microdistrict aesthetic experiences from the viewpoint of day to day encounters creates space for honest discussion of our urban surroundings. The aim is to discuss soviet neighbourhoods within the contemporary environment that has been neglected due to uncomfortable relations with the Soviet regime. After reaching out to the first respondents for the ethnographic research in Laumas district in Liepaja, most of them were surprised, questioning “but there is nothing beautiful to capture in this neighbourhood”!
Contemporary planning and architectural focus on microdistricts have mainly been on how to upgrade and re-design Soviet blocks. But maybe all we need is to shift attention to the residents and find the value through observations? Maybe these buildings are enough as they are without “face-lifts” and grand renovations.
Despite the fact that in a university environment it is common to learn about sustainability and inclusive urban planning, it is not practically used in many EU countries, like Latvia. Taking an example from Nordics where these systems are developing, the necessity of resident opinions to be heard needs to be outlined. Photovoice (visual research method) is used in community-based research in order to document and reflect on existing reality. This process can show new ways of creating ownership by residents towards neglected neighbourhoods, where nothing new is currently planned by the local infrastructures.
These neighbourhoods are mostly seen as a mass of people, where the data has quantitative nature. By producing qualitative research, the standardised Soviet blocks create stories and deeper understanding behind them. Due to covid-19 all research is being planned remotely and has additional value as a case study of ethnographic research in times of pandemic.
Please detail the plans you have for the further development, promotion and/or implementation of your concept/idea, with a particular attention to the initiatives to be taken before May 2022
Until now the theoretical research has been written and reviewed by project supervisor Sanna Lehtinen (Doctor of Philosophy, Aalto University). Currently, two households from Laumas microdistricts have agreed on participation in this project and have had the first remote interview about the photovoice process. Photovoice includes a pre-interview explaining what needs to be captured, following up within 2 week time to discuss developed photographs and hearing the stories behind them.
June (2021): The second interview with each household member discussing the pictures they have taken. Releasing a web page where the process of this project will be shared in the form of blog posts. The main aim is to open up the possibility for discussion on everydayness in microdistricts.
July - August: Analysis on the ethnographic research pilot version, improving photovoice process for post-soviet neighbourhood resident inclusion. After promotion of the project and first outcomes, choosing three more households to run the research the second time.
September: Photo and in-depth interview transcript analysis. Interview with the municipality of Liepaja; sharing the ethnographic research outcomes with the municipality.
October: Submitting research project as a final thesis for MA in Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Helsinki.
November: Presenting results of the research “Aesthetics of boredom: post-soviet neighbourhood preservation”. Sharing results on a web page “Aesthetics of Boredom”.
December: Presentation for all interested students from University of Helsinki and Aalto university in collaboration with student organisation Mesta Ry.
January - March (2022): Looking for opportunities to collaborate with local schools and the municipality in Liepaja, Latvia (research outcomes presented in a form of exhibition/presentation);
The project outcome would work as a beginning for further research that can expand in a variety of forms, for instance, installations.
By ticking this box, you declare that all the information provided in this form is factually correct, that the proposed concept/idea has not been proposed for the New European Bauhaus Rising Stars Awards more than once in the same category.