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Re-Sourcing Commons

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Shaping a circular industrial ecosystem and supporting life-cycle thinking
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NEW EUROPEAN BAUHAUS AWARDS: existing completed examples
Project title
Re-Sourcing Commons
Full project title
Re-Sourcing Commons - Collective Urban Design For (Im-)Material and Social Sustainability

RE-SOURCING COMMONS by Social Design Vienna challenges non-sustainable standards in urban design routines. It uncovers hidden potentials of material circularity considering social dimensions using the example of the participatory redesign of a Viennese public park. The project demonstrates internationally transferable approaches to narrow the circularity gap through integrating previously overlooked (im)material resources of the city into a modular, repairable and (socially) sustainable system.

What was the geographical scope of your project?
Leopoldstadt (1020 Vienna)
Does your project address mainly urban or rural issues?
Mainly urban
Does your project refer to a physical transformation of the built environment or other types of transformations?
It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment ('hard investment')
Has your project benefited from EU programmes or funds?
Has your project won an EU prize?
Your project is fully completed?
When was your project implemented?
How did you hear about the New European Bauhaus Prizes ?
On whose behalf are you submitting the application?
As a representative of an organisation
Please provide a summary of your project

RE-SOURCING COMMONS by Social Design Vienna challenges non-sustainable standards in urban design routines. It uncovers hidden potentials of material circularity considering social dimensions using the example of a Viennese public park, which was revitalised resp. refurbished as a micro-center together with the local community.

The park is located in an area with many social housing units and an above-average number of young and old people. A Social Design study of the neighbourhood had shown that the open spaces close to the housing offer too little quality of stay and are underused despite the need for social spaces. The transformation of a central park into a social hub was identified as a possible lever for improving recreation opportunities and to foster social cohesion.

Building on a participatory process – revealing a strong desire for a park offering quality for everyone – the final redesign follows the principles of circular economy. All material resources derived from the former stock on site are recombined, re-used or recycled. In addition, "waste parts'' of the common park furniture installed by the Viennese municipality, currently accumulating in large quantities for disposal, were taken up as a valuable resource. A modular rethinking of the components results in a growing variety of sustainable urban furniture that the City of Vienna can use and maintain at low cost. Due to its open-source character, the project serves other cities as an exemplary strategy on how to narrow the circularity gap by detecting so far discarded materials and by promoting a socially sustainable way of (co-)creating public space.

The new typologies designed in the pilot project go beyond common park furniture, e.g. an exchange shelf, a bike repair station, a noticeboard, youth benches, a Hollywood swing, hanging seats and a smartphone amplifier. By activating and integrating the community an intergenerational network was created that ensures a vibrant park in the future.

Please indicate the main themes of your project with 5 key words
Social Design
Participatory Design
Circular Economy
Public Space
Action Research
Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of sustainability (including circularity) and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

”The future city makes no distinction between waste and supply.“ (Joachim, in: Hebel et al. 2014, 18) Urban waste is mainly attributable to the construction sector. While the conservation of scarce resources receives growing attention, the circularity of public space design still seems largely unquestioned. The project looks at the city as a perpetual source of raw materials and activates hitherto untapped potentials of a circular economy using the example of Vienna’s urban furniture.

The in-situ materials used for the redesign originate from the park’s former furniture that had not been accepted by residents. They were all recombined, reused or – if not otherwise possible – recycled on site. Ex-situ materials included plastic waste from local laboratories turned into furniture panels and previously installed broken bricks processed into recycled bricks. But, above all, the project challenges non-sustainable standards of Vienna’s urban design policy by identifying generic materials that currently generate large amounts of waste. Vienna’s public parks are furnished with a cheap model that is easy to install and maintain, but is currently designed as a throwaway product.

The redesign of the park exemplarily rethinks the most common of the generic “waste” parts – a steel tube for benches and tables – as a modular element to return it to a closed material loop. The approach creates an ever-expandable variety of flexible, repairable and reusable urban furniture that can react to different places and ever-changing demands on public space. By using proven, widely available parts and an existing legal eligibility for public space, the resulting designs stay safe, affordable and easy to maintain for the municipality. The design collection is continuously expanded in an open source catalogue by involving other designers and identifying further generic elements of public space. The aim is to explore further potentials and initiate sustainable material loops in other cities.

Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of aesthetics and quality of experience beyond functionality and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

The basis for the aesthetic approach was the stock of available materials from the old park furniture on site: The in-situ resources (former sitting area, historic bricks, brick rubble, granite blocks, steel fences) were reconsidered and recombined with the utmost care for the material, the environment and the specific spatial demands. The design also takes up "waste parts" of Vienna's standard furniture and returns them to a recycling loop. In reference to this standard furniture prevalent in Vienna and in a playful expansion of its design vocabulary, the new design invites to experience the materials and their properties in raw form (metal, wood, stone, plastic, clay). Through the new application or reshaping, some materials take on a completely different character, e.g. the plastic waste that, newly processed and pressed, now functions as table tops. Furthermore, the concept builds on re-usability, recyclability and repairability by keeping all parts dismountable, replaceable and untreated (blanks). The project brings the old, the discarded and the small - and thus above all the distinctive - back into the process of building/design; it celebrates intangible resources such as the history and identity of the materials/objects.

Furthermore, the design and choice of furniture was influenced by a study by Social Design (2017), which had shown that the quality of stay in public space and social cohesion in the neighbourhood are low. Based on a broad understanding of street furniture, the project therefore takes into account the specific needs of different user groups and tries to stimulate social exchange through design e.g. benches that can now also be used by people with limited mobility who use the park with a rollator. Hence, a central goal was to create a lively centre for and with the community through activating all (im-)material potentials of the space and thus contributing to the quality of life and experience.

Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of inclusion (equal opportunities, public participation, citizen engagement, co-design, universal design, accessibility, affordability, etc.) and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

The project is based on a low-threshold, open-ended citizen participation process that was kept as accessible, transparent and unbiased as possible. Starting from a jointly developed utilisation concept for the space, ideas about implementations were collected, condensed, transformed into drafts and refined again with residents. The communication and workshops were multilingual to cover the most spoken languages of the neighbourhood. Residents were invited to participate in different formats in different places and were offered various ways of expression to contribute ideas, criticism, comments or requests at different hours (of the week and the year). Whether publicly on site or in neighbouring facilities, the workshops were adapted to the prevalent age groups of the area and to the specific context they took place at. Aware about the alien role of Social Design Vienna in the neighbourhood, the studio allied with a broad audience by being present in the space for a long period of time, activating existing networks and entering into cooperations with local actors (elderly home, youth centre, community workers, district library).

The project claims public space as a resource for all, which must not be appropriated by private interests or become a commodity. Looking at the local context, almost one third of Vienna’s population does not have the right to vote due to a citizenship-based electoral system. Since a city and its public spaces are living organisms, RE-SOURCING COMMONS advocates for including all (current) city dwellers in the co-creation of their living environment, expressing their “right to the city” and the idea of urban citizenship. By granting people the right to co-shape and appropriate the city, the project seeks to strengthen citizens' identification with urban space. It seeks to promote care for the living environment and for fellow humans.

Further insights via

Please explain how these three dimensions have been combined in your project.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary

In recent years, the buzzwords circular economy and participation have been on everyone's lips. Many European cities are increasingly looking at possible strategies for the big issues of our time. But as soon as it comes to concrete implementation, there is a lack of experience: Recycling has reached the public mind, but the avoidance, minimisation and reuse of "waste" remains largely untouched; participation is often no more than an advertising slogan. Even more: the approaches to material sustainability promoted in public guidelines have so far neglected the social dimension of sustainability. RE-SOURCING COMMONS tries to take into account the social dimension on the way towards a circular city by acting as a role model for other cities. It shows how a socially sustainable, resource- and people-friendly co-design of public space can succeed – without also neglecting factors such as playfulness, functionality and aesthetics.

Focusing on unused potentials of material circularity, the project at the same time advocates for collective care work for the city. By encouraging residents and experts in a long-term participatory process along collective negotiations and initiating the activation of the space, the project fosters empowerment, inclusion and identification of the neighbours. To ensure a lively and sustainable future use of the park, Social Design involved various local actors and created new intergenerational networks.

Carrying further the approach and enabling an expansion on city level, RE-SOURCING COMMONS involved the city administration from the beginning and identified viable realisations that could be carried on by them after the pilot project with little effort and high profitability. The project already succeeded in initiating a rethinking among the authorities. It will continue to demand (im)material sustainability by developing proposals for possible, city-wide implementations and new public guidelines/policies.

Please give information on the results/impacts achieved by your project in relation to the category you apply for

Public space is the essence of every city. It gives a city its character and is the place of exchange and encounter. It can improve the quality of life of city dwellers – or not. Through an expanded understanding of urban furniture as far more than purely structural elements in space, but as a potential facilitator for social exchange and thus social cohesion, RE-SOURCING COMMONS manages to contribute to a more sustainable design of public spaces both in terms of circularity and social sustainability.

The project regards cities as an inexhaustible source of raw materials that can supply themselves again and again. It succeeded in drawing the attention of the city administration to the fact that completely new approaches to a sustainable design of public space are conceivable and can be implemented in practice. Gaps in the current cycle were identified and solutions shown: “waste” parts were re-integrated; the systematic, modular approach allows adaptability and international transfer. But also on a very local level, it has succeeded in contributing to a socially circular and thus resilient community by stimulating the sharing of resources and skills through the furniture pieces, e.g. the public bulletin board and the open exchange shelf.

In general, the project focuses on the careful use of intangible resources – i.e. the residents themselves, who were actively involved in the (co-)design of the park. The right of people to participate in the design and appropriation of their environment strengthens their identification with their surroundings and accordingly their responsibility to take care of it and fellow human beings. The project thus goes far beyond the pure physical transformation of the space – it activated the social fabric and bundled knowledge. Following a Citizen Science approach, people are considered experts of their living environment – they harbour countless possibilities for action and thus represent the most crucial resource of cities.

Please explain how citizens and civil society were involved in the in the design and/or implementation of the project.
Please also explain the benefits that derived from their involvement.

The project aimed to join bottom-up and top-down forces, as it requires interdisciplinary collaboration that looks beyond power relations and hierarchies to build resilient cities. The involvement of residents and local initiatives during the design and implementation phase of the park's redesign was core to generate a socially sustainable impact. In a first step, residents could contribute their suggestions, criticism and wishes at public workshops on site: How should the park be (re)designed to respond to the lack of social infrastructure in the area and what are specific needs (for urban furniture) of young and old? Participants were able to express themselves in various formats (conversations, drawings, writing, with objects/materials, models). The ideas collected were condensed into drafts for circular urban furniture that in turn were put up for public discussion and refined. Following an agonistic planning theory, which understands conflicts as an immanent part of a pluralistic democracy and accordingly as a motor for social change, the model of sociocracy formed the basis for the condensation process of the diversity of ideas. The outcomes informed the choice and design of the street furniture, which responds to concrete usage needs, e.g. a barrier-free Hollywood swing was implemented because many older people expressed the desire for something playful in public space.

During the workshops residents were invited to reflect on their living environment and their role and responsibility in (co-)shaping it. A need for regular activities in the park was revealed, i.e. the park should be a vibrant centre for the neighbourhood. By networking with local actors (e.g. youth centre, senior citizens' residence), concrete ideas were developed on how people can get involved in future activities and hence how the park can be permanently revitalised, e.g. through choir concerts by residents of the community buildings or handicrafts markets organised by seniors.

Please explain what kind of global challenges the project addressed by providing local solutions

The project challenges non-sustainable standards in the routines of urban design and city administrations to counteract climate change by drastically reducing material consumption and by making street furniture fit for re-use. The identification of so far unseen and unused resources on a city level uncovers the city as a perpetual source of material.

The project addresses the urgency of degrowth. Society does not depend on permanent growth and the continuous exploitation of materials for linear production, it rather can’t afford to go on as usual. RE-SOURCING COMMONS creates a growing variety of circular street furniture.

The project claims a more resilient society by building crucial social infrastructure and by strengthening the cohesion of citizens. Be it by the long-term participation process, the activation of existing networks, connecting neighbours and initiatives, encouraging the activation and the appropriation of space – or by building a low-threshold social public space. A well-linked society not only defies more and more extreme effects of climate change but also fosters (mental) health and wellbeing, balances inequalities and strengthens solidarity.

The project promotes the idea of co-designing and collective care for our (urban) environments by joining top-down and bottom-up forces, by granting a voice and responsibility to citizens and by collectively activating the built environment.

The project addresses the barriers of authorship and intransparency in the mainstream of urban design by an open source approach. The ideas and designs are accessible, expandable, improvable - and aim to be copied in Vienna as well as in other cities around the globe.

The project rejects discrimination and social injustice. It stands up for equality and inclusion. RE-SOURCING COMMONS follows the idea of urban citizenship and seeks dialogue with all neighbouring residents, no matter their age, health condition, socio-cultural background, origin, sex or gender.

Please highlight the innovative character of the project as compared to mainstream practices in the field of the project.

Looking at the waste hierarchy pyramid, prevention, minimisation and re-use are the three most efficient ways of reaching circularity. RE-SOURCING COMMONS fundamentally questions the status quo of the mainstream and aims at minimising waste instead of accepting urban design routines and throwaway standard products. It points out how materials for urban furniture need to be prepared to make them durable, modular, flexible and reusable without refraining from usability, aesthetics and social requirements. By extending already existing and affordable systems, the city can overtake the proposals almost effortlessly.

Any city can become an inexhaustible source of raw materials – a kind of material storehouse for public space and its furniture – while the furniture is constantly expandable in its repertoire and can react to site-specific conditions.

Encouraging rethinking of the authorities is a first step. Next steps of the project seek further direct linkage to the city administration and legal frameworks. The rethinking needs to be anchored in guiding principles for urban design, in construction plans for standard furniture as well as in competitions.

The open source approach keeps the project transparent, accessible and publicly improvable at all times. It serves as a base for a collective work on sustainable cities.

The project values "intangible" resources – i.e. the residents themselves, who are actively involved in co-shaping their environment. Granting people the right to participate in the design and appropriation of space strengthens the identification with their surroundings and thus their responsibility to take care of it and fellow humans. The project thus goes beyond the mere physical transformation of the park – it activates the social fabric and bundles knowledge and skills. Citizens are considered experts of their living environment – they harbour countless possibilities for action and thus represent the most important resource for resilient cities.

Please explain to the potential of transferring the projects’ results or learnings to other interested parties and contexts.
Please provide clear documentation, communication of methodology and principles in this context.

Every city has valuable resources that it has simply not yet recognised as such. Looking at international generic street furniture designs, most of them are still disposable products, built in with irreversible methods. Piles of “waste” end up at municipal depots or directly at the landfill. RESOURCING COMMONS shows concrete approaches to minimise disposable components by generating new material cycles. The tracking down of (so far) linear material consumption and the application of a modular, repairable and (socially) sustainable design can be adapted to other cities.

Experimenting beyond established solutions and routines was not well-received within the authorities. E.g. an open and processual redesign concept – a long-term organic and collective appropriation of the park, continuously changing over time – could not be realised. Many (circular & social) approaches have not yet arrived in administrative practice. Still, the project managed to initiate a new perspective on the responsibility of urban design among the authorities. Social Design now works on transferring the knowledge to the municipality on a city level by translating the design ideas and the collective approaches with citizens into policies proposals.

The whole process was built on transparency as well as on local and international exchange of knowledge on various levels. Be it by the continuous presence on site or by the platform, where findings are regularly shared. Due to its accessible and transferable character, the project can serve as a role model and offer other cities targeted assistance in tapping into local (im)material resources for the design of public spaces.

To pass on findings and learnings to other “city makers”, citizens and authorities as well as to expand the collection of potential application areas, the project in a next step aims to create a growing open source platform for designs and international exchange.

Is an evaluation report or any relevant documentation available?
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The project was supported by the district administration of Vienna's second municipal district and the two municipal departments MA42 (municipal department for parks and gardens) and MA19 (municipal department for architecture and urban design). The project was implemented in collaboration with numerous partners (including elderly people's home Haus Prater, wohnpartner Engerthstraße, youth centre  Bassena Stuwerviertel, Precious Plastic Vienna, Wienerberger Austria, Haanl Seile, workshops at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, asphalt-kollektiv, SimZim landscape architects, Bollinger und Grohmann architects) as well as colleagues, students and alumni of the Social Design Department at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.

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