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HSB Living Lab Workshop Review

Published: 22/09/15

1. Introduction

I was invited to co-host a creative workshop during Almedalsveckan 2015 for HSB Living Lab (HSBLL) and the topic was co-creation and future sustainable housing. This article is a review of the workshop that I designed in collaboration with Shea Hagy from Chalmers University of Technology and the resulting experience. Lets start with a short description of what HSBLL and Almedalsveckan is all about.

HSB Living Lab

HSBLL is a 10-year research and demonstration arena, which also includes homes for students and guest researchers. The building will be located on the Chalmers campus and be completed in 2016. The partners involved in the project range from Chalmers, Electrolux, Göteborg Energi, Johanneberg Science Park, Peab, Tengbom and many more. The research conducted at this arena stretches from architecture, mobility, materials, technology and shared spaces.


The annual Almedalsveckan is the main political and business gathering in Sweden where all top influencers of the country meet and discuss the future of the country. It’s located in Visby, on the island of Gotland off the East coast of Sweden. This is the second year HSBLL are present and they wanted to create a forum where housing can be discussed in a more creative way than just panel discussions with experts.

2. Almedalen 2015

The workshop atmosphere, as well as the weather, was good, with intense, humorous, curious, focused discussions bubbling with creativity. The turnout of attendants at the workshop was a success with 27 people participating and over 100 people observing the workshop.

The participants included people from NASA, Rice University, The Green party of Sweden, the deputy major of Gothenburg, SISP, municipality of Luleå, JSP, HSB, Chalmers, communication consultants, and more. We also had the privilege to have the only Swedish Astronaut, Christer Fulesang, visiting us. The age range of the participants attending the workshop stretched from 201 to 70+.

3. Co-creative art workshop

The two hour workshop was outlined with an introduction, three main sessions (See chapter 4), and conclusive discussion. The method is developed through a concept that has designed during the past year at numerous events and conferences, within science, IT, design and education. The main tool of communication is art.

This chapter will present each session during the Co-creative workshop, including what was executed and perceived at Almedalen.

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Session 1 – Brain writing

Brain writing was the first tool of communication that was used at the workshop. It is basically a piece of paper that all attendants receive when participating. On this paper there is a question that they have to answer in less than one minute – in this case “Choose one aspect regarding future housing that will have the largest impact towards a more sustainable lifestyle at home? and briefly describe why”.

When the question is answered they pass it to the next person in the group and comment on whatever has been written. This goes on until each attended gets their paper back and for each round there is an added 30sec. No judging or negative feedback is allowed.

Brain writing enables people who have ideas but are concerned about voicing them in a broader group to anonymously make them visible. They thus do not have to 'compete' with others to be heard. It also helps that all ideas are visible and can be easily scanned to trigger new ideas. It can speed things up because everyone is offering ideas all of the time. It is also useful when everyone have to bring in multiple perspectives on how to solve different challenges. that they want to solve.

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The last step of session 1 is to have a group discussion and summarize what have been discussed/learnt and decide one aspect of future housing that represented their brainwriting and follow-up discussion. Each group will then presented their aspect together with the other groups and together decided on three aspects that are the most relevant and assigned them a color to each. The three main aspects listed under the workshop during Almedalsveckan were:

DARK GREEN – Intiuative technology that easy to apply and effect that will support sustainable behaviours and practices.
PINK - Sharing knowledge across disciplines and generations
BLUE - Laws and rules to meet sustainable needs

Session 1 was successful in terms of getting an in-depth conversation started among all attendants where they felt interested with high involvement and interaction.

Session 2 – Paper art

We began session 2 with handing out colored papers with the three coded values from session 1. The attendants received a paper with a grid and they were asked to visually illustrate how these different aspects interact with each other. Our goal was to enable the attendants to art before they think, instead of think before they write. Thus, hopefully discovering new aspects of the previous discussion.

When the art was created we asked each group to discuss the different art-pieces based on what they see, feel or interpret. Colored paper is a very powerful tool for this purpose, as it requires no pre-knowledge to get started. The childish feeling makes people to relax and don’t invest in the notion of not being ‘good an artist. The result of the art pieces ranged from 2D abstract art, to 3D objects.

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Finally we asked all attendants to present themselves – their name and background – and of course their art work. This created an interesting atmosphere with joy, in-depth and serious discussions.

Session 3 – Digital art

The last session was designed to go from an individual art piece to a collective art piece. Thus realizing the dynamics that exist in society when co-creating the future together with numerous professions and desires.

We used Bust-a-shape, a digital art tool that functions like a chat, instead of writing, all participants communicate through colors and objects. It works real-time and everyone can position and scale all objects on the canvas. Each group got a tablet and began creating art together with the other groups. The goal was not to create a final art piece but rather to analyze how the process developed over time.

4. Outcomes and conclusions

The main question asked for this workshop was – what happens when adding art in a co-creative workshop? At this point it is still difficult to say what the value of art is in these settings but from our results we see that art creates an engaging atmosphere where attendants feel like something is happening and being involved in the topic in a creative way – not only discussing.

We got several people that were very interested in using these techniques and processes in their daily work, as this concept can work within other topics and themes as well. The workshop also created a high social media activity – mainly on Twitter.

The main conclusion from this workshop from my point of view is that people from different backgrounds began an artistic journey during this workshop. For some this was the first time they felt ownership over the title of being artist. Hopefully they continue their journey and explore how they can communicate emotions, feelings and knowledge in their daily life.

Written by Afra Noubarzadeh and Shea Hagy