Welcome to the first issue of arki_news!
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We’ve developed this quarterly newsletter to keep you in the loop about what’s happening at arki_lab, just in case you missed it. Every quarter, we’ll open with an article about a selected hot topic that we’re eager to share with you, and finish with some of our latest projects and prospects. Building and nurturing the arki_lab community is important to us, and we want to keep you informed about all the exciting things we’ve been up to, and continue the conversation that is so dear to our hearts: the importance of designing cities with people. Be sure to follow us on facebook, instagram, twitter, and linkedin to stay up-to-date between arki_news issues!


Scandinavia routinely leads the world in surveys on happiness or sustainability. Notable for having the highest taxes on Earth, and thus large, comfortable social safety nets, child care is mostly free, as is education, and unemployment benefits linger. Everyone is on an equal footing with income and social status, and the strong tradition of democracy is palpable.

In the field of urban design, these dreams are grounded in physical and social infrastructure. Topping the charts each year, Scandinavian cities have become the most commonly used examples of high quality urban life. Copenhagen is the point of departure into a working world of high cycling rates, balanced densities between population and green space, beautiful streets and active, happy public life. So much so, in fact, that some have tried to export its success to other cities around the world. To Copenhagenize a city has recently become the goal for many urban planners and designers. But critics suggest that this copy/paste approach is doomed to fail, as it attempts to solve one problem with a solution to another.

The same could be said for trying to involve citizens in the design process. There is no one-size-fits-all Copenhagenize approach that can be applied to a project for the successful involvement and engagement of citizens. It's entirely dependent upon who the users are and what their vested interests are in the project. Who uses the area most? How old are they? Is there a secondary user group? Do they use the area for the same purpose? Understanding the users at a basic level will inform which tools might be most effective in uncovering more information about their values and desires. A small focus group of seven elderly people calls for a different method than a room full of three hundred rambunctious children.

arki_lab Partner, Jeanette Frisk, conducting a workshop for three hundred children at Lykkebo School.

Tools to activate the users
Once we select a tool or series of tools to apply to a given situation, we start to form a more robust image of our users. Where do they come from and how do they get to the site? What parts of the area are important to them? What are they missing? How often are they here? At what time of the day? What sorts of challenges do they face on the site and which potentials for improvement do they see? Gaining this insight might mean that we discover the need to conduct a second or third workshop, in order to delve into one or two particular points that came out of the first workshop. Without the first round, we wouldn't know which set of tools would work best for the second or third, so a copy/paste solution just wouldn't work.

Students from Blågård School building a pavillion for our Park(ing) Day event.

There is no one-size-fits-all in citizen involvement

The trick here is that we don't come up with a cookie cutter workshop that we can unpack from our briefcase at any workshop around the world. Because we aren't the designers at this stage. We facilitate the design process using tools based on what the users want and need, which yields a different workshop experience time and time again. By focusing on the context-specific details of a project and its stakeholders, we can ensure that the tools we select and their application will give us the most helpful and relevant information possible. And the more quality information we uncover, the more likely it will inform a successful design solution that the users will be happy with.

One of the projects that best exemplifies how we tailor-make our process to the users and context is Skole+. Skole+, a project for Haarby school located in southern Denmark, was a collaborative design project dealing with the redevelopment of the school environment into a space with enhanced capacity for physical activity among its users.

Different generations discuss ideas over a game of arki_nopoly at Skole+.

The goals for the redesign of Haarby Skole were to establish user involvement in the actual design process and to collect as much data as possible from and about the users to ensure that the design would correspond with their needs and wishes. This data was then communicated to the users in a comprehensive way to double-check its accuracy. Afterwards, all the knowledge gathered from this process had to be translated into an initial redesign proposal based on the user-driven approach, which was then to be further developed and shaped by our partners. 

In this project, gathering information was mainly done using arki_nopoly. One of our most flexible tools to involve and activate citizens, arki_nopoly is a board game that follows the universally accessible board game design principles, which makes it easy for everyone to relate to and grasp quickly.

arki_nopoly helps to bridge the age gap when collaborating.

Knowledge through play

The game is centered around an area, which could be as small as a room or as big as a city, and the aim of the game is for the players to get to know their immediate surroundings (with all of their potentials and shortcomings) better, analyze it, reflect on it, and come up with suggestions for its improvement. All of this is done in a simple way: through a set of questions placed around the board. With every new question that is answered, the players acquire more insight into the area. After all the questions are answered, the players are asked to look at all the information that they have gathered throughout the game, and come up with design solutions for the area, based on their previous findings.

For the Skole+ project, we played arki_nopoly in several sessions with a diverse range of users including teachers, students and parents, where they sat in mixed groups and shared their different ideas and experiences about the space. Playing arki_nopoly prompted them to discuss their immediate surroundings, criticize them, and see potentials. It enabled them to see their schoolyard as something they can have an influence on, instead of something immutable that they just had to live with.

The final design product for Haarby School was made based on this community engagement and it will hopefully transform Haarby Skole into a place with improved infrastructure for physical activity, sports and learning through movement. Read more about arki_lab's contribution to the project and see how the ideas we uncovered during the citizen involvement process were translated into the final design here.

arki_lab acts as a mediator between citizens and professionals.
Need a hand with how to involve citizens in the design process? arki_lab specializes in working as the mediator between citizens and professionals. We have extensive experience in designing tailor-made workshops and activities for all ages, with a particular focus on working with youth. Have a project you want to collaborate on? Get in touch!
We're joining the conversation about the importance of involving people in the process of designing our cities, with a particular focus on what young people can bring to the table.
Get your copy today!
Together with a super talented team including SLA and Rambøll, we'll be working on the redevelopment of Hans Tavsens Park and Korsgade in Inner Nørrebro in Copenhagen - just a stone's throw from our office!
We've spent the last three weeks touring around Australia! Read more about our adventures, including a 2-day arki_nopoly workshop we held in collaboration with the University of Wollongong!
After four intense days of building, the space at Johannes High School officially opened! Watch this non-place become a sustainable learning space using recycled materials and (edible) greenery.
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arki_lab ApS
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