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Summer Workshop: Un-Urban Experiments in Træna, Norway



Træna, Norway

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.

MFA Interaction Design students are invited to join a multi-disciplinary team of design, art, and architecture students to work on a concrete challenge defined and presented for the participants by local community members in the Arctic Circle. 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. The project and process will be framed and focused as something relevant to many remote and peripheral communities in Scandinavia. 


The workshop will consist of two weeks of intense collaboration and building, with one additional (optional) open week that culminates in public events including exposure to thousands of visitors to the Træna Festival, the most spectacular music festival in the world.

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. 

  • 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.

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. 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
    • The extra week includes 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. 
    • The extra week includes complimentary tickets to Trænafestivalen ($175 value)

About Træna

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 challenges of over-population, social segregation and environmental issues. Træna is Norway’s third smallest municipality with only 500 inhabitants and one store. 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 gives a great opportunity to explore how design, art, and architecture could be used as interventions, and contributions, to shaping the future of these remote places. 

Apply now. Deadline: Feb 28, 2018.