In what way do you see CANactions School for Urban Studies as providing a new or experimental model of education or academic institution?
Vladyslav Tyminskyi The first thing to say is that we’re not providing an academic education. The initial idea was to develop a post-diploma course for people with a strong interest in urbanism and urban development, but coming from very different perspectives – we’ve got architects and urban designers, but also engineers, sociologists, graphic designers and journalists on the course. They’ve all already taken specialist first degrees and built up skills in practice, but have a strong interest in exploring new tools and working in interdisciplinary teams. We aim to create an environment where the potential from such new collaborations can be realised: that’s one of the purposes of the school. It is neither about research nor about design and planning: it is about combining them all in the frame of one programme.
How do you see the experience that your school provides feeding back into and affecting the future of architecture, the city and society?
VT It is through developing this network of people who share similar values focused on making positive changes – both tangible and intangible – in our cities. We’re also helping people to acquire skills which they cannot get at university or in their jobs. Everything that we do is primarily based on teamwork and secondly, on a new approach to urban development which Urs can talk more about. Our initial statement of intent was to move from a general planning approach to a guiding planning approach: from static tools of developing cities to dynamic tools.
Urs Thomann The core of the experience is the practical studio-based teamwork which gives the participants new insights and experiences, helping them work differently in their future careers. In urban planning, in terms of both training and practice, Ukraine is still quite isolated, with approaches that originated in the twentieth century: i.e. Soviet-based planning or old hierarchical ways of cooperation – across both private companies and in the public sector. Here at CANactions, as Vlad said, people sharing similar values are given the opportunity to work together: in the first phase a research project and in the second phase a project taking a strategic overview and plan for city development, but also focused on specific case study sites, like the ones we currently have in Ivano-Frankivsk in the Western Ukraine and Kramatorsk in the Eastern Ukraine.
Can you explain the importance of both the strategic vision and the more tactical side of things exemplified by these case studies?
UT One of our aims is to combine these two things: it’s important but it is also quite difficult – so it is still evolving! Our ambition is to stick everything together: top down and bottom up; strategic and tactical; public sector and activists; large and small scale. In German there is a good phrase for this all-angles-covered approach: “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” – an-egg-laying-wool-milk-sow, one that of course provides meat as well!
VT In Ukraine now it’s very important to develop both directions. Firstly to establish principles for strategic thinking, planning and design and, at the same time, to develop the first steps leading to these strategies. You can work with a good strategic plan for a city, but it’s not always understandable for people, unless you convince them through a specific tactical, tangible project. So from the beginning we were challenging ourselves with the task of combining these two different approaches: that’s the magic of it.
Apart from the School for Urban Studies, the other strands of CANactions activity include the International Architecture Festival and a public programme. How do these complement each other?
VT CANactions actually grew out of the Architecture Festival. This had the ambition nine years ago to initiate new thinking and new approaches in contemporary architecture and urbanism by inviting people and experts – many from abroad – to talk about the latest concepts from around the world. Then it was quickly realised that it’s not enough to have this for one week annually during the Festival, so the year-round public programme was developed as well, with open lectures and workshops for everyone interested in architecture and urbanism.
Then, one year ago, we started the School for Urban Studies project. For me and Urs this was our first experience of working at CANactions. We’d like to synchronise all the strands of activity as much as possible, to build a common framework for the institution, educating and inspiring people in line with our mission.
UT It’s important to mention here the ambitions of Viktor Zotov, the founder of CANactions. He’s an architect and for him it has always been important to put Ukrainian architecture in a global context.