12 May 2009

Human-centred design for sustainable development on an urban scale

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Low2No
The built environment is now the largest negative factor in the stability of ecosystems and the climate. As populations become increasingly urbanized, the evolution of cities will largely shape the outcome of our long dependence on natural resources.

Recognising the need and opportunity to improve sustainable building practices, the City of Helsinki and Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund are organising a sustainable design competition (rather than just an architecture competition) for a major urban development project.

Called Low2No (implying “low to no carbon emissions”), the competition’s goal is to attract and identify the best teams to design a large mixed-use building complex on a reclaimed harbour at the western edge of Helsinki’s central business district, that would through its exemplary nature set out a sustainable development framework applicable to other contexts.

Despite the short application time frame, a total of 73 applications were submitted. Last week, five teams were selected from a very competitive pool of proposals to proceed to the design phase of the competition.

One of the shortlisted teams is led by the global design and engineering firm Arup, in partnership with the international architecture and urban planning agency Sauerbruch Hutton, and Experientia, the experience design company that this blog is part of.

Arup is highly regarded for its many top-level projects, but also for its philosophy and culture of engineering – and in our field for the many important contributions by Dan Hill at conferences and on his famous cityofsound blog, whereas Sauerbruch Hutton is well-known for the design of the German Federal Environment Agency.

Needless to say that we are very proud to be in such excellent company, and to be the only experience design consultancy in the shortlist.

The five teams are now working on the development of “a design strategy and approach suitable to the challenge, a framework for developing an indicator of sustainability suitable to the challenge, and a vision for the project that will inspire stakeholders to overcome the challenges of systemic change”.

The jury “will be instructed to evaluate the proposals based on evidence of systemic thinking. More than a design, we are look-
ing for a credible strategic framework for change, and the principals upon which the framework was built.”

Experientia will be taking a human-centred angle in its partnership with Arup and Sauerbruch Hutton, emphasising the fundamental impact that people’s behaviours can have on sustainability. Although we cannot disclose too much (the competition is still going on), we will surely be exploring a full plethora of research and design approaches, from ethnographic research to interaction design, and from service design to strategic communications. It will definitely be a great challenge for us to test and prove the fundamental role of a human-centred perspective in this pivotal project.

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