Designing social hubs for urban nomads – Follow-up report
Bubble me, Domino, Giver Space, Anonymus and Play Local: Five innovative ideas for transforming strangers into a community within a co-living project, linking up newcomers with locals, and turning an unfamiliar location into a temporary home. In the TU Munich's "Community Design Lab", 30 participants from 15 nations, students and professionals from the fields of architecture, sociology, management, business and IT – 30 strangers who had never met before – came up with new ideas, tools and conceptual approaches in the space of just two and a half days. Even better, the participants grew together as a community in a very short time, true to the theme of the event. The task was to develop spatial, technological or social interventions for transforming a co-living purpose community into a real community that might even last in the long run.
Three experts, Kerstin Sailer from the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, Layla Keramat, Executive Creative Director at spark reply and Philip Tidd, Principal and Head of Consulting Europe at Gensler were there to provide ideas and for interview purposes. Christos Chantzaras from the Architecture Research Incubator of the TU guided the participants in the context of a multi-stage, creative development process consisting of keynote lectures, working sessions, interviews, analysis, consultancy, presentation phases, the development of concrete ideas and a concluding public pitch, through a tight and challenging timetable extending from the initial idea almost through to a business model. Facilitators from MINI Living, the start-up accelerators URBAN X and UnternehmerTUM, architecture journal Detail and the Technical University of Munich supported the teams throughout the entire duration of the workshop.
Team Bubble me
White helium balloons with LED lights are distributed throughout the presentation room, interfering with the projector presentation – precisely what they're meant to do in order to illustrate the idea of "Disruptive Design" that lies behind Bubble+. Team Bubble me's approach is to develop real interfaces that will serve as contact points within the building – but also as Bubble Hubs distributed across the city of Munich – providing various types of information for newcomers to Munich and also locals (in the case of the Bubble Hubs) and facilitating social participation. For the team, the Bubble symbolizes dynamism, interaction, fun and real interpersonal contacts. In addition to an app (which naturally also exists for Bubble me), Bubble+ extends the virtual space into the real space. The Bubbles serve as contact points, meeting points, and places where people can meet and get to know each other in order to make establishing their new lives in Munich easier. They offer various activities, information and orientation, with gamification and personalisation intended to increase their attractiveness. The aim is to use the Bubbles to establish a close link to the respective location, so that the experiences in each city are unique and never interchangeable. However, the team leaves the question of the physical appearance of these Bubbles open.
Self-made giant mobile phones out of cardboard, and comic speech bubbles that wander across the stage in theatrical style: The idea of Domino could not have been better illustrated, with the team creating a kind of "analogue app". What sounds absurd at first is the simple idea of reconnecting the digital and the analogue world more strongly and deliberately not exploiting all the technical possibilities, but rather bringing back important components in order for the game to function in the real world. The idea is simple: Each inhabitant – and in this case the offer is indeed initially limited to the co-inhabitants within the co-living community – sees a domino displayed in the Domino app at regular intervals, behind which lies a coupon for a gift or local activity which, however, can only be redeemed if they find fellow players with the same domino. The search is deliberately not carried out using the app but via real communication. All the players are forced to talk to each other in order to each week put together the right teams within their community and redeem the vouchers. The prizes, such as a free drink in a beer garden or a city tour, are provided by local businessmen and women or can also be added and managed by the organiser of the co-living project. In this way, therefore Domino also gives rise to a business model.
Giving is nicer than receiving! Whether it's yoga classes or pasta dinners, each member of the community has to contribute three things to become a Giver Space participant. Regardless of whether they are services, activities, knowledge, experiences or simply objects that are useful, interesting or entertaining for the community, the Giver Space platform, using artificial intelligence, automatically controls and manages all contributions, searches for and books, for example, the required spaces and takes over the organisational aspects in the background. Each giver is automatically a receiver, because it is a closed system. It is not possible to consume without contributing something yourself. All the participants are informed about all the available activities or events by app or display screens in the common areas. Residents and neighbours also have the opportunity to become part of the community – the same framework conditions apply to them, enabling a close personal link to be made to an extended community. The great advantage of Giver Space is that participation doesn't end once participants move out of the building; as a constantly growing "alumni" community, successful entrepreneurs can continue to allow young start-up companies to benefit from their knowledge years later or can simply drop by for a barbecue when they're back in town.
The Anonymus team wants to create security and closeness, a feeling of home and community through the individualisation of the personal living space. Anyone who lives in a co-living house is only in a city for a short time and spends most of their time working. The private accommodation in which they stay is mostly functionally furnished, since the short length of the stay means that there is no point furnishing the room or the apartment according to personal preferences. Notwithstanding this, it is still frustrating for those people to come to a dreary home after a long working day. Anonymus offers users the possibility of designing a personal living space in advance via a platform. They can choose from a variety of furnishing and decorative items contained in a large furniture pool or contributed by the residents. Once again here, the principle is based on give and take. Anyone who uses things during their stay leaves objects behind after moving out, which then enter the pool. Furthermore, the platform also has a sharing function, enabling things to be shared within the community. Which urban nomad has a waffle iron or a tent? With its exchange platform, Anonymus connects people via things.
The idea behind Play Local is, as the name suggests, to document the local area in a playful way and highlight places or activities otherwise reserved to local residents. Using a gamification tool, newcomers get to know the city, collect points, reach levels and move from task to task or location to location through the city. They not only get to know the city, but also the other players. Locations are chosen by the users themselves, who can enter their favourite locations. Restaurants, bars, shops and events can also use the platform to draw attention to themselves. Contents still need to be curated, however. The community idea is seen here in a broader context. Play Local not only involves a close co-living community within a residential property, but is also available to anyone who wants to get to know their city better, including locals. Transfer of the concept to other cities is also conceivable.
The pitches showed that fun, motivation and added value are just as relevant for the participants of a community as the desire to contribute oneself to its success. Community can only be created through joint actions, and the digital and spatial possibilities are used as tools to organise these actions or to pack them into a playful framework. Further elaboration of the ideas is conceivable, and after the loud, almost euphoric pitch presentation, UnternehmerTUM invited all participants to a boot camp in the MakerSpace in Garching to develop them further.
The Community Design Lab took place within the framework of the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union BauHow5 and was carried out by the TU Munich in cooperation with UnternehmerTUM, MINI LIVING and DETAIL.
Further information about the discussion and lecture event "have we met?" are available here.