ProjectCharged Utopia

Charged Utopia

Charged Utopia is an ongoing research through design project that has produced, in 2016, an interactive exhibition, a bachelor course at the Umeå School of Architecture and is currently focusing on the realisation of digital material aimed at the valorisation of the cultural heritage of the island of Norrbyskar, in Norrland. The project started as an assignment by the Norrbyskars museum and Umeå Kommun, and eventually involved a wider group of stakeholders: Umeå School of Architecture, RISE Interactive, KFUM, RATS (Research in Arts and Technology in Society, Stockholm University), individual artists and local inhabitants.

In Norrbyskär 1895 the industrial magnate Frans Kempe created the workers society of his dreams. He placed an essential lumber factory on the island and conditioned the comfortable houses, the school and healthcare for the workers with their abstention from involvement in unions and drinking. The first manifestation of this research project has taken place on the 19th of August 2016 in the shape of an interactive exhibition on the road to Norrbyskär, on the island and in Norrbyskärs museum. The experience has drawn from the rich historical material from Norrbyskär and staged it in dialogue with current questions on immigration and the challenged utopia of the Swedish Folkhemmet. Charged Utopia points to the price that every utopian vision pays. More specifically, the themes we addressed were: trips vs. borders, groups vs. negotiations, the place vs. home, identity vs. passport and, finally, designing the utopia. The participants to the event were invited into the role as active co-creators of the event itself. Every transition was built around space, triggers through design and storytelling and a personal reflection from the participant. The journey of the participants was a metaphor for an imagined immigration process to enter a utopian community and dealt with the risks and costs of such process.

Participants to the event included inhabitants of the island, tourists exploring the island and the museum, and finally a group of approximately 70 invited guests from local institutions (including university, government and local industry). Along the way to the Museum, visitors found posts, that confronted them with questions about the kind of citizen of Utopia they want to become.Once reached the Museum hall, visitors could take the time to explore the consequences of their answers and were finally granted the passport to Utopia. This event was followed by a debate, moderated by Stina Haglund, where Nicola Fackel, director of the Norrbyskärs Museum, Ana Betancour, head of the Umeå School of Architecture and Peter Juneblad, business alderman of Umeå Kommun took place. We kindly recommend to watch the video of the event, to better get a grip of the complexity of this experience. 

This first collaboration on the interactive exhibition sparked a second stage, where the School of Architecture and the Norrbyskär Museum partnered up in the realisation of an obligatory component of the second year curriculum, centered around the island. Students started from the physical comprehension of a territory on the island and its social and cultural layers in order to come up with proposals for a new architectural landscape to revitalize the place, while dealing responsibly with its industrial heritage. This has determined a revitalisation of the residents’ cultural activities in the island, some of whom have lived there in independent communes started during the 60’s. They have reached out actively to the partners of the project, in order to tell their stories and activate cultural events. Moreover, some have become involved in the ongoing development of design and architecture projects on the island, as well as proposing new ones on their own. In 2017, the research project is continuing, with the aim of realising a guided interactive experience of the whole island, based on the same notions that the first phase lifted, but extended to the whole territory. 


In addition to the employees listed on the right column, under "people", other collaborators contributed to this project:

Jose Carlos Sanchez Romero, Carla Collevecchio, Toby Reid, Carlota Fuster, Randy Cottin and Rosa Van der Veen.