The soft and fluffy values

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Photo by Tobias Dahlin

Hanna Smekal, landscape architect at the municipality of Falkenberg

What the internal planning process looks like within the municipality and how it affects the final result of the park is something we tried to understand more of during our residency in Falkenberg. How would such a process and the result be affected if we collaborated more across the fields of design and architecture on an earlier stage? How can the ”soft and fluffy” values have a real impact? Hanna Smekal, a landscape architect and the project leader of planning the new park shared her perspectives with us.



Byggstudio (B): How does the process look like when a new park is planned in Falkenberg, can you for describe us?

Hanna Smekal (HS): First of all, it is very rare that a whole park is planned from scratch, as we do now. Based on that, I can only talk about how we do in this specific project. Then there are of course some stages that are mandatory in the municipal planning. The starting point was the work on a new detailed plan for a centrally located neighborhood here in Falkenberg. The neighborhood will contain both cultural centers, upper secondary schools and housing and in the middle of this the idea of ​​a park grew. As the plan has been completed, the municipality has begun to work more concretely with how we implement the plan’s content. Some work with traffic solutions, others with the buildings themselves and then we have a working group dealing with the park, and the public areas in the area.

B: Who is in the working group? What is your role?

HS: The working group in which I am a project manager consists of two civil servants from the Culture and Recreation Administration and two from the Social Building Department. Then we are waiting for an additional member from the Children and Education Administration. The group’s composition covers a variety of competences from plant composition and youth sport to design and urban construction.

B: How does the different roles/proffessions influence the working group? Does it make any difference if it only consists of plan architects or if it is more mixed? How?

HS: The working group is designed to cover the necessary expertise while being manageable. One tries to capture other perspectives than our own. Among other things, we try to manage a lot of views and wishes around the park that came from politicians, other officials and local residents earlier in the detailed planning process. We also look forward to meeting a broader reference group on a regular basis. A little farther we will also have some form of civil dialogue and around the park’s design. It is therefore important with width, while the project easily loses travel speed if there are too many involved constantly.

B: How do you work with design in this kind of process?

HS: We have been at the concept level for so long and have not worked concrete with any design yet. On the other hand, we have developed a few design principles that will continue the work. For example, the park must withstand flexible use, have a high standard of design and choice of material, and be a modern addition while keeping it in touch with the history of the site. As we approach more concrete design, the idea is to include external consultants in support of that process.

B: From an architect’s perspective, according to your experience, is there more to be desired by similar processes in general?

HS: I can not enough emphasize the value of coordination. This type of complex urban construction project affects many people, and is divided into a variety of sub-projects. It is important not to lose the overall perspective. Unfortunately, the public environment field has a tendency to end in the dark as compared to major construction projects.

B: How would, according to you, an optimal and well-functioning similar process / project appear?

HS: It’s a very difficult question. I suppose it has to do with creating a dynamic yet forward-looking process. To switch between big and small perspectives, allow to think about when needed, and put foot down when necessary and to ensure proper use of the right skills.

B: How do you think it would affect such a process of collaborating more over the professions earlier (architect / designer / artist / craft)? What are the advantages / disadvantages?

HS: I think it could positively affect the process. An advantage is that you can get a common idea of ​​the foundation that you can carry along throughout the process. On the other hand, it is not certain that the same people are involved in the early phase of the project as later, so maybe there would be something that came back during the project. A challenge is also to ensure that aspects that some can be seen as fluffy or representing so-called soft values ​​are given a bearing throughout the project and are not wasted when all the “hard” and technical issues are solved.

B: How do you think these “soft” values ​​can get more space and weight? What is required?

HS: I think there are two ways to go – partly through measurable visions or practical work (creating common references through workshop / joint study visits) that give project participants a tangible sense or experience of the soft values ​​they seek, which they can then carry / be reminded of during the course of the project. And partly by finding ways to talk about how the soft values ​​strengthen the hard ones, for example, proximity to a park proves to give higher real estate value, or through ecosystem services (that trees provide better microclimate that a beautiful planting can also serve as a recipient for water, etc.).

B: Tell us about yourself.

HS: I grew up in Uppsala, then traveled around the world to number of years before I got stuck for Malmö, where I lived for thirteen years until I and my partner decided to move to Falkenberg with our three children. Now I work as a landscape architect at Falkenberg Municipality. My daily life at work is very varied, ranging from very small concrete things to major abstract issues. I am very interested in finding unexpected intersections and exciting synergies in the complex fabric of society.

> Read about the park planning process here.