Announcing a Summer Workshop — Un-Urban Experiments: Træna, Norway A creative summer school in the Arctic Circle

by Interaction Design January 21, 2018

How can design, architecture, and art give valuable answers to societal challenges we meet today?  Can design methods be applicable not only in the dense urban landscape, but also in the periphery, in remote communities in the sparsely populated north? What can young professionals from urban areas learn from each other, and from small and remote communities? With Un-Urban Experiments: Træna, we wish to invite you to a joint venture at the extraordinary landscape in the Norwegian archipelago. "Un-Urban Experiments" is a summer workshop that brings together students from New York and Scandinavia to work on a design challenge at the intersection of the urban and the "un-urban" in Træna, Norway, a village in the Arctic Circle.

Un-urban Experiments: Træna is a summer school gathering students from New York and Scandinavia to collaborate around concrete design issues focusing on contrasts between the urban and the un-urban in June 2018. We believe that young professionals from the fields of design, architecture, arts, and urbanism can enrich their understanding and broaden their perspectives by living and working alongside a real case study in this un-urban landscape. 

The problem space will be site-specific and based primarily on local need and conditions, but open to the unexpected contributions that students from diverse backgrounds will bring. Co-led by faculty member Eric Forman, the project and process will be framed and focused as something relevant to many remote and peripheral communities in Scandinavia. 


The program will be facilitated as a full-time workshop for three weeks, where the first two weeks are fixed and the third is an open process week, and culminates in public events including exposure to thousands of visitors to the Træna Festival, the most "spectacular music festival in the world."

The program dates are June 14 - July 2, 2018 (with an optional third week through July 8).

This program is an exciting and rare collaboration between the School of Visual Arts (New York), Umeå School of Architecture (Sweden), the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (Norway), and the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture. The Municipality of Træna and the Træna Artist in Residence Program are hosting the program with financial support from the Norwegian Arts Council.

Purpose and Goals

The workshop will focus on the contrasts between the urban and the non-urban landscape, and is designed to get deeper learning and cross-disciplinary training in the fields of art, architecture and design. In addition participants will learn from local, practical knowledge evolved over hundreds of years by the local inhabitants. It asks:

  • How can design, architecture and art give valuable answers to societal challenges we meet today? 
  • Can design methods be applicable not only in the dense urban landscape, but also in the periphery, in remote and sparsely populated communities? 
  • What can young professionals from urban areas in the United States and Scandinavia learn from each other, and what can they all learn from small and remote communities? 
  • The workshop will foster deeper learning from real-world application, one where local experiences and conditions play a role.
  • Students and young professionals will get experience from cross-disciplinary teams and site-specific work.
  • All participants will contribute directly to the local environment, and people.
  • All participants will leave with real world experience from an un-urban environment as a contrast to the theoretical and technology-centric concentrations of design and architecture in urban settings

Village of Træna.

Benefits & Outcome

  • This program will give students invaluable experience in cross-disciplinary and international collaboration, designing and building alongside of and embedded into a remote community.
  • Students will get not just theoretical but hands-on experience with a variety of skills that will complement those they already have — for example, ethnographic research, community engagement and user testing, architectural design processes, collaboration with political officials, and physical skills that inform design skills such as woodworking, structural engineering, graphic design, sign-making, advertising, and public speaking.
  • Students will have the unusual opportunity to design and build a finished project that results from an intense group process that will become a permanent part of the Scandinavian landscape, and a powerful feature on any CV. 
  • The result from the workshop is expected to be a physical and/or digital structure, a service, or a product exemplifying the methodologies of interaction design to architecture and vice versa. The resulting project will be a permanent contribution to the local community and exhibited as a documentation of the students' process and learning.

Participation Requirements

  • Five participants will be chosen from MFA Interaction Design and from each of the three participating schools by a competitive application process, for a total of 15 students. 
  • The ideal participant will be one with cross-disciplinary interests and a strong background in one or more of the following fields: interaction design, architecture, service or product design, anthropology, and design for social impact.
  • Basic building experience is required: able to safely operate table saw, miter saw, drills.
  • Students must enjoy working in teams, solving problems in a collective process where different fields complement each other.
  • Students should be interested in remote natural environments, arctic landscapes, and the environmental and societal issues that grow there.
  • Students must be comfortable with living on an isolated island where all commerce and communication is based on boats and ferries.


All-inclusive cost for the workshop: $4,000

Cost includes:

  • Airfare: Round-trip airfare 
  • Housing: Housing in Traena for duration of workshop
  • All meals: three meals per day (students will cook dinner together with ingredients paid for by the program); students responsible for their own meals during any travel days

Students have the option to stay an extra week through July 8 for the Træna Festival. If they do, the extra week includes:

  • Some but not all meals; students should budget $20-$25 USD/day of their own funds
  • Free housing, but of a more simple standard. Students must be prepared to share houses and reorganize. Trænafestivalen puts all students on the list for free accommodation and will provide mattresses inside houses or tents outside for camping. 
  • Complimentary tickets to Trænafestivalen ($175 USD value)

Village of Træna.

About Træna

Træna is Norway’s third smallest municipality with only 500 inhabitants and one store, part of a cluster of islands off the far northwestern coast. Urbanization makes small communities in the outskirts very aware of the constant threat of de-population. Large cities are just as aware of the effects of urbanization, and the conflict between flourishing innovation environments and the challenges of over-population, social segregation, and environmental issues.  

New York is in many ways its opposite, a compressed metropolis of 8 million and counting. In a world where the norm is now urban, the small and remote places far away from dense cities become exotic examples of a rural history. Norway, however, is a country where urbanization is slower, where gleaming modern cities like Oslo co-exist with the stunning wilderness that still fills the vast majority within its borders. 

The long coastline of Norway still consists of hundreds of small but functioning communities, though all with a collective uncertainty about the future. This situation offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore how design, art, and architecture can work with communities to shape the future of these remote places. 

Join us. 

Deadline for applying has now passed.

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