Sometimes, urban change starts with changing a narrative. This was the case for Team Lublin. Their focus was the story of a 50-year-old social housing estate on the outskirts of their city.
Designed based on “open form” theory pioneered by Polish architects Zofia and Oskar Hansen, the Słowackiego estate gained recognition as an important example of modernism, visited by students of architecture from around the world. But for the 45,000 inhabitants, the deteriorating quality of the housing estate — in need of renovation after half a century — has become an issue. Experts and media accounts came into conflict with Słowackiego tenants, accusing them and the housing administration of a lack of respect for the estate’s original designers and neglect of the local heritage.
Team Lublin’s aim: open a more empathetic dialogue to rebuild trust and create new stories. Use these new relationships and stories to form a local identity and sense of community where people are motivated to be responsible stewards of the housing estate.
“Architects and historians seem to forget that the housing estate is not just an architectural or urban plan. The dozen of interesting forms of blocks are inhabited by several thousand (of no less interesting!) people. In our opinion, residents are the true practitioners of the Open Form theory in housing, and our task is to strengthen their perspectives.”
Team Lublin attempted to create its own local model of communication that didn’t necessarily aim at achieving consensus, but rather opened a space for contradicting views, using art as a tool of expression. The approach they came up with was an Urban Game.
The game began as a way to engage children and teenagers, but in the end, brought in the whole community. Young people identified places important within the community – a playground, a corner where people wait for the bus – and people who are locally known, like Ms. Irena who runs the waffle shop. Participants then interviewed hundreds of residents about these people and places, collecting many narratives of meaning in contemporary Słowackiego. They then used themes from these narratives to stage plays to show the meaning and potential of different areas in the housing estate to the community living there. The main impact of the project was the initiation of a dialogue.
Utopian visions of the designers of the estates had to be confronted with contemporary needs and challenges.
The story of Słowackiego Estates has mainly been told by academic researchers and resident artists. Cultural events didn’t involve inhabitants as equal partners or potential event co-creators until the Actors project. Through their conversations with tenants and participatory social art projects such as the collection and exhibition of inhabitants’ narratives, Team Lublin helped local residents strengthen their identity and recreate a sense of local belonging and pride of place.