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Re-Sourcing Commons
Re-Sourcing Commons - Collective Urban Design For Social And (Im-)material Sustainability
RE-SOURCING COMMONS by Social Design Vienna challenges non-sustainable standards in urban design routines. It uncovers hidden potentials of material circularity considering social dimensions using the example of the participatory redesign of a Viennese public park. The project demonstrates internationally transferable approaches to narrow the circularity gap through integrating previously overlooked (im)material resources of the city into a modular, repairable and (socially) sustainable system.
EU Member State, Western Balkans or Ukraine
City of Vienna
Mainly urban
It refers to other types of transformations (soft investment)
As a representative of an organisation, in partnership with other organisations

RE-SOURCING COMMONS by Social Design Vienna challenges non-sustainable standards in urban design routines. It uncovers hidden potentials of material circularity considering social dimensions using the example of a Viennese public park, which was revitalised resp. refurbished as a micro-center together with the local community.

The park is located in an area with many social housing units and an above-average number of young and old people. A Social Design study of the neighbourhood had shown that the open spaces close to the housing offer too little quality of stay and are underused despite the need for social spaces. The transformation of a central park into a social hub was identified as a possible lever for improving recreation opportunities and to foster social cohesion.

Building on a participatory process – revealing a strong desire for a park offering quality for everyone – the final redesign follows the principles of circular economy. All material resources derived from the former stock on site are recombined, re-used or recycled. In addition, "waste parts'' of the common park furniture installed by the Viennese municipality, currently accumulating in large quantities for disposal, were taken up as a valuable resource. A modular rethinking of the components results in a growing variety of sustainable urban furniture that the City of Vienna can use and maintain at low cost. Due to its open-source character, the project serves other cities as an exemplary strategy on how to narrow the circularity gap by detecting so far discarded materials and by promoting a socially sustainable way of (co-)creating public space.

The new typologies designed in the pilot project go beyond common park furniture (an exchange shelf, a bike repair station, a noticeboard, youth benches, a Hollywood swing, hanging seats and a smartphone amplifier). By activating and integrating the community an intergenerational network was created that ensures a vibrant micro center.
Socially-Engaged Design
Circular Economy
Public Space
Participatory Design
Transferability and Scalability
”The future city makes no distinction between waste and supply.“ (Joachim, in: Hebel et al. 2014)

Urban waste is mainly attributable to the construction sector. While the dealing with resources in housebuilding receives growing attention, the circularity of public space design is largely unaddressed. The project looks at the city as a perpetual source of raw materials and activates yet untapped potentials of a circular economy using the example of Vienna’s urban furniture.

As a main focus, the project challenges non-sustainable standards of Vienna’s urban design policy by identifying generic materials that currently generate large amounts of waste. Vienna’s public parks are mainly furnished with standard models that are cheap and easy to install, but are currently designed as throwaway products. The redesign of the park exemplarily rethinks one of the most common “waste” parts – a steel tube for benches and tables – as a modular element to minimise future material needs and propose a closed material loop. The approach creates an ever-expandable variety of flexible, repairable and reusable urban furniture that can react to different places and ever-changing demands on public space. By using proven, widely available parts and an existing legal eligibility for public space, the resulting designs stay safe, affordable and easy to maintain for the municipality.

In addition, the in-situ materials used for the redesign originate from the park’s former furniture. They were all recombined, reused or – if not possible otherwise – recycled on site. Ex-situ materials included plastic waste from local laboratories turned into furniture panels and broken bricks processed into recycled bricks.

The design collection will be continuously expanded in an open source catalogue by involving other city makers and re-thinking further generic “waste” elements of public space to explore further potentials and initiate sustainable material loops in other cities.
The design and choice of furniture is based on 2 studies by Social Design (2017 and 2020), which had shown that the quality of stay in public space and the social cohesion in the neighbourhood are remarkably low. Based on a broad understanding of street furniture, the project takes into account the specific needs of different user groups and tries to stimulate social exchange through the process of co-designing and the realised design itself (e.g. sharing resources or furniture that can be used by people with limited mobility). By creating a lively micro-centre for and with different communities, nationalities and generations, the project activates (im-)material potentials of the space and contributes to the quality of life, experience and resilience of the neighbourhood.

The esthetic approach is based on "waste parts" of Vienna's standard furniture and a playful expansion of its design vocabulary. Changing a single-use routine to a closed loop, the design shows the (aesthetic) potential of re-use, inspires new approaches to public space design and invites to experience the materials and their properties in raw form (metal, wood, stone, plastic, clay). Further, the in-situ materials (former sitting area, historic bricks, brick rubble, granite blocks, steel fences) were reconsidered and recombined with the utmost care for aesthetics, the material, the environment and the specific local demands.

Through the new application or reshaping, some materials take on a completely different character (e.g. Viennese standard fences which, newly refurbished and bent, function as a book and toy swap shelf). Furthermore, the concept builds on re-usability, recyclability and repairability by keeping all parts dismountable, replaceable and untreated (blanks). The project brings the old, the discarded and the small - and thus above all the distinctive - back into the process of building/design; it celebrates intangible resources such as the history and identity of the objects.
Social Design Studio Vienna allied with a broad audience by being present in the space over a long period of time, by activating existing networks and by entering into cooperations with local actors (elderly home, youth centre, community workers, district library). The project is based on a low-threshold, open-ended citizen participation process that was kept as accessible, transparent and unbiased as possible. Starting from a jointly developed utilisation concept for the space, ideas about implementations were collected, condensed, transformed into drafts and refined again with residents. The communication and workshops were multilingual to cover the different nationalities/communities of the neighbourhood. Residents were invited to participate in different formats in different places and were offered various ways of expression to contribute ideas, criticism, comments or requests at different times (of the week & the year). Whether publicly on site or in neighbouring facilities, the workshops were intergenerational and adapted to the prevalent age groups of the area resp. to the specific context they took place at.

The project claims public space as a resource for all, which must not be appropriated by private interests or become a commodity. Looking at the local context, almost one third of Vienna’s population does not have the right to vote due to a citizenship-based electoral system. Since a city and its public spaces are living organisms, RE-SOURCING COMMONS advocates for including all (current) city dwellers in the co-creation of their living environment, expressing their “right to the city” and the idea of urban citizenship. By granting people the right to co-shape and appropriate the city, the project seeks to strengthen citizens' identification with urban space. It seeks to promote care for the living environment and for fellow humans.

The project aimed to join bottom-up and top-down forces, as it requires interdisciplinary collaboration that looks beyond power relations and hierarchies to build resilient cities. The involvement of residents and local initiatives during the design and implementation phase of the park's redesign was core to generate a socially sustainable impact. In a first step, residents could contribute their suggestions, criticism and wishes at public workshops on site: How should the park be (re)designed to respond to the lack of social infrastructure in the area and what are specific needs (for urban furniture) of young and old? Participants were able to express themselves in various formats (conversations, drawings, writing, with objects/materials, models). The ideas collected were condensed into drafts for circular urban furniture that in turn were put up for public discussion and refined. Following an agonistic planning theory, which understands conflicts as an immanent part of a pluralistic democracy and accordingly as a motor for social change, the model of sociocracy formed the basis for the condensation process of the diversity of ideas. The outcomes informed the choice and design of the street furniture, which responds to concrete usage needs, e.g. a barrier-free Hollywood swing was implemented because many older people expressed the desire for something playful in public space.

During the workshops residents were invited to reflect on their living environment and their role and responsibility in (co-)shaping it. A need for regular activities in the park was revealed, i.e. the park should be a vibrant centre for the neighbourhood. By networking with local actors (e.g. youth centre, senior citizens' residence), concrete ideas were developed on how people can get involved in activities and hence how the park can be permanently revitalised (e.g. through choir concerts by residents of the community buildings or handcraft markets organised by seniors...).
Haus Prater, elderly home (local)
project partner, residents of the house as experts for public space from a senior perspective; regular exchange and various workshops for the development of utilisation concepts, age-appropriate and age-specific designs (and activities), common activation of the park after the re-design;

Bassena Stuwerviertel, youth centre (local)
project partner, kids and teenagers as experts from a youth perspective; regular exchange and various workshops for the development of utilisation concepts, age-appropriate and age-specific designs (and activities) on-site, co-creation and testing of prototypes, common activation of the park after the re-design;

Further residents of the neighbourhood (local)
regular exchange and various workshops for the development of utilisation concepts, site-appropriate and site-specific designs (and activities), co-creation and testing of prototypes, common activation of the park after the re-design;

Wohnpartner Wien, caretakers for social housing in Vienna (local/regional)
Project partner, expertise on social housing, multiplicator, official caretaker of public book and toy shelf, dissemination, common activation of the park after the re-design

Bezirksverwaltung Leopoldstadt, District administration department, city of Vienna (regional)
Partial financing, exchange of expertise and knowledge, regular meetings, transfer of approach to city level, naming of the park after the re-design

MA 19 - Architecture and urban design department, city of Vienna (regional)
Project partner, partial financing, exchange of expertise and knowledge, regular meetings, transfer of approach to city planning level

MA42 - Park design department, city of Vienna (regional)
Project partner, partial financing, exchange of expertise and knowledge, regular meetings, support in the planning process, transfer of approach to urban planning level and urban planning guidelines

Libraries of the city of Vienna (regional)
The project builds upon an extensive transdisciplinary network and exchange.

Social Design Studio was mainly represented by expertise in urbanism and design. On an external level, experts from the fields of architecture, urban planning, statics and landscape design supported the planning process in various exchanges and in the form of consultations. The interdisciplinary approach to planning enabled a well-reflected, multi-perspectival and multi-vocal process, adding to the quality and inclusivity of the project.

Being connected to the administrative knowledge of the city of Viennna and having regular exchange, helped to bring the project on a meta level that can be scaled and transferred to other contexts. The approach can now be anchored in guiding principles for urban design, in construction plans for standard furniture as well as in competitions. The permanent coordination with the city further ensured that the requirements for the furniture in public space are met – and that the maintenance could be taken over by the city itself.

RE_SOURCING COMMONS further profits profoundly by the knowledge of local social institutions (as the elderly home, the youth centre, the wohnpartner…) and residents. Regular exchange and presence on-site was key to activate residents of all generations and many nations in the neighbourhood, to reveal tacit local knowledge, to understand the context of the area, to figure desired qualities, to vitalize the design process, to foster exchange, to open up formerly exclusive communities, to counteract racism, to activate the space.

By building alliances with local craftsmanship and productions, the project managed to find new material circles, to establish new networks, to test and prove prototypes, to find new recycled materials.

The immaterial knowledge and skills of residents empowered fellow residents and filled the park with life and meaning after finishing the re-design (e.g. bike repair workshop, handcraft market,...)
Looking at the waste hierarchy pyramid, prevention, minimisation and re-use are the three most efficient ways of reaching circularity. RE-SOURCING COMMONS fundamentally questions the status quo of the mainstream and aims at minimising waste instead of accepting linear urban design routines and throwaway standard products. It points out how urban designs need to be thought of to make them durable, modular, flexible and reusable – without refraining from diversity, usability, flexibility and social requirements. By extending already existing and affordable systems, the city can moreover overtake the proposals almost effortlessly.

The project sees urban design as a means to foster democracy and resilience and envisions the city as an inexhaustible source of raw materials – a kind of material storehouse for public space elements – while the furniture is constantly expandable in its repertoire and can react to site-specific conditions.

Contrary to common praxis, RE-SOURCING COMMONS sets great value on the (social and design) processes before and after the physical re-design. It builds on an extensive stocktaking on site, the activation of a neighbourhood and its networks, preliminary planning to unravel circular potentials and the common activation of the re-designed park after the completion.

The open source approach keeps the project transparent, accessible and publicly improvable at all times. It serves as a base for collective work on sustainable cities.

The project creates social infrastructure. By co-design, the activation of the social fabric, the construction of an international and intergenerational space, it bundles and connects people of the city, knowledge and skills.
Artistic and scientific research:
_ Expert interviews
_ Interviews with residents
_ Emotional and mental mapping
_ Visual sociology (photographic examination)

Co-design / socially engaged design (Action research / Artistic participative workshops/interventions):
_ Age-specific (artistic) workshops for elderly with various means of communication
_ Age-specific (artistic) workshops for youth with various means of communication
_ Artistic public workshops with various means of communication
_ Co-design workshops on-site for the re-design

Prototyping and testing on-site

Circular economy planning & design / modular design

Empowerment of local communities

Community events in the course of the planning and after the re-design
Every city has valuable resources that are not yet recognised as such. Looking at international generic street furniture designs, many are disposable products, built in with irreversible methods. Piles of energy-intensive materials end up at municipal “waste” depots or at the landfill. RESOURCING COMMONS shows concrete approaches to minimise disposable components by proposing new material cycles. The tracking down of (so far) linear material consumption and the application of a modular, repairable and (socially) sustainable design can be adapted and extended to other cities.

Considering circularity from the beginning of a product’s lifecycle, the project insists on a “phase 0” as a key element of future planning: What is already there and can be built upon? What does really need to change? What can stay as it is? What can a sustainable, open-ended approach to the project look like?

RE-SOURCING COMMONS questions routines of urban planning and promotes a focus on the planning and co-design process to ensure long-term sustainability. Many (circular & socially-engaged) approaches have not yet arrived in administrative practice. Still, the project managed to initiate a new perspective on the responsibility of urban design among the authorities and to loosen up the idea of planning strictly to rule. Social Design now works on transferring the knowledge to the municipality on a city level by translating the design ideas and the collective approaches with citizens into policies proposals.

The whole process was built on transparency as well as on local and international exchange of knowledge on various levels. Be it by the continuous presence on site or by the online platform, the project can offer other cities targeted assistance in tapping into local (im)material resources for the design of public spaces.

To pass on findings and learnings, the project in a next step aims to create a growing open source platform for designs and international exchange.
The project challenges non-sustainable standards in the routines of urban design and city administrations to counteract climate change by reducing material consumption and by making public space fit for re-use. The identification of so far unused resources on a city level reveals the city as a perpetual source of material.

The project addresses the urgency of degrowth. Considering planetary boundaries, society can no longer build on permanent growth and the continuous exploitation of materials for linear production. RE-SOURCING COMMONS creates a growing variety of circular street furniture with social surplus value..

The project claims a more resilient society by building crucial social infrastructure and by strengthening the cohesion of citizens. Be it by the long-term participation process, the activation of existing networks, connecting neighbours and initiatives, encouraging empowerment and the appropriation of space – or by building a low-threshold social public space. A well-linked society not only defies more and more extreme effects of climate change but also fosters (mental) health and wellbeing, balances inequalities and strengthens solidarity.

The project promotes the idea of co-designing and collective care for our (urban) environments by joining top-down and bottom-up forces, by granting a voice and responsibility to citizens and by collectively activating the built environment.

The project addresses the barriers of authorship and intransparency in the mainstream of urban design by an open source approach. The ideas and designs are accessible, expandable, improvable - and aim to be copied in Vienna as well as in other cities around the globe.

The project rejects discrimination and social injustice. It stands up for equality and inclusion. RE-SOURCING COMMONS follows the idea of urban citizenship and seeks dialogue with all neighbouring residents, no matter their age, health condition, socio-cultural background, origin, sex or gender.
The project established new, low-threshold connections and networks of local actors and residents. Wohnpartner, a Viennese care unit for social housing residents, took over the caretaking for the book and toy swap shelf in cooperation with the local city library. The cooperation still exists and the swap shelf now works on its own. Haus Prater, the elderly home of the area (employees and residents), became attentive about the park and started using it more.

The park – that previously did not work as a social space and echoed xenophobic resentments – now is a functioning small micro-center for neighbours from different communities, nations and generations. The main focus groups (elderly and youth) are present and established new points of contact through the new use and the long-term co-design process in the course of the project.

Vienna’s circular economy department is (internationally) promoting the approach and outcome of the project and is currently interested in finding a bigger scale of application. Two further departments of the city administration approached Social Design Studio to develop follow-up projects and to intensify the approach. The two projects are currently being set up.

A part of the modular design approach was already implemented in a guideline for tenders.

The material research turned out new material compositions for recycling materials (recycling bricks, furniture sheets from disposed plastics…).

The newly established cooperations started in the project are still ongoing.