Winners for the 2013 Grapevine Design Awards were announced on Friday last week. For the first time ever, Grapevine awarded best fashion design too, and the award went to… Torg í Biðstöðu!

Run by the city, Torg Í Biðstöðu is a programme that makes use of various ‘meanwhile spaces’ in Reykjavík. It invites and funds enthusiastic creatives (not just design professionals) to reconsider their relationship to their surroundings.

Torg Í Biðstöðu has a great impact on the community, revealing how design and design thinking can change our society with little money and effort. While meanwhile projects take place in all big cities around the world, very few other capitals directly encourage and support it the way the City of Reykjavík does. It is also a clever path past the heavy, time-consuming city planning agenda in trying new things fast. We like the focus on “doing.”

What Torg Í Biðstöðu may lack in professionalism (even if the 2012 programme was bigger, better, more professional and better run than the previous years’ programmes), it more than makes up for in the joy it brings to people working on things together and enjoying our city during the short Icelandic summer.

Torg í Biðstöðu (“Meanwhile projects”) is a program run by City of Reykjavik. Through the program, the city assigned areas that have been sidelined in the planning process to artists and designers to create temporary works, test and play with the current and future of the cityscape. Some dozen “meanwhile projects” were visible across town from the city centre to the more distant neighborhoods surrounding it.

The architect and urban designer Hans Heiðar Tryggvason, formerly running Torg í biðstöðu had a little chat with us:

What was the starting point for this project?

You can find lots of examples on projects that focus on temporary use of public space around the world. Relatively small and low-budget compared to more conventional approaches [to city planning], these projects have had an enormous impact. Hence, the idea for doing something like this here in Reykjavik had been bouncing around within the city’s planning department for some time.

After a long period of building and planning new areas,  most of ongoing developments stopped or were delayed due to the financial crisis of 2008. It forced people to realize that even though we have many new buildings, we had neglected to think about the space around and in-between them, especially in already built environment and older areas in the city. I think this influenced our willingness to re-think what we could do about our day, to day environment.

In early 2010, I held a small lecture about temporary urbanism and the use of tactic measures in city planning for the city’s planning department. Soon after, they contacted me about a temporary project, an outcome of which was an experimental bicycle street on Hverfisgata. At the time, I was in touch with other creative groups that were experimenting with public space downtown Reykjavik with great success. After that, the wheels were in motion.

In developing Torg í biðstöðu, we focused on coming up with new ways of making these meanwhile public spaces interesting in collaboration with creative people with different backgrounds and with all types of stakeholders.

 

What is great design in your opinion? What did you and your team aim at when working on Torg í biðstöðu?

This is probably one of the most tricky questions you could ask a designer and I could answer it in many different ways, each one just as right.

In terms of designs, plans, buildings and places I’ve seen, the ones that can both stand and evolve with time; that after many changes, restorations and erosion can still inspire you, make you feel good and be functional for people, are truly great designs.

The main goal I have for Torg í biðstöðu is that the project is always evolving. It needs ambition to constantly try to adapt to new situations, conditions and methods and not being satisfied with some one right way of doing this. That’s why it is so important to focus on collaboration with many people with different backgrounds, as well as being flexible, creative and constantly evolving, to be able to see new potentials and learn from each project.

 

The path to success is rarely direct – did something go terribly wrong in the Torg I bidstödu project? Could you share funny stories from the history of the project?

This project is an experiment in it self, so mistakes and things not going quite as well as you would like is just as important part as things going well.

Also, it’s not guaranteed that the citizens understand what we are doing. I remember it bothering me at first, but now I see it being just a part of coming up with new unexpected things in unexpected places. For instance last year, one group designed these really interesting and complex wire structure outdoor furniture. We were on site to see the project one day, when an elderly lady came up to us and asked us why the city had put up all these traps for cats. Even if she didn’t know it was benches and chairs that she could sit on, the project made her curious and changed how she experienced the space.

 

 What are your thoughts on the current state of Icelandic architecture and city planning?

I think these are interesting times in terms of planning. There are so many new challenges that we are facing and we need to show that we have learnt from our past mistakes. We cannot continue planning new neighborhoods at the outskirts of the city and have to focus on finding new uses of the spaces within the city’s boundaries.

The involvement of citizens within planning decisions is increasing which changes how we do things and is exciting. I also think it is really important to ask ourselves what we want to do with our cultural heritage and how we want this city to evolve.

 

What are your must-see tips for DesignMarch 2013?

I am definitely going to see the DesignTalks on the Magic of Creativity at the National theatre. There are really interesting lecturers there! I’m especially keen on hearing Maja Kuzmanovic’s experiences in design as a multidisciplinary collaboration.

You may also have a look at the official appearance of the project on the town of Reykjavik’s Website here.

Images are courtesy of Torg í biðstöðu