The Oslo Forest creeps back into the city, in Sofie Finnøy Vestøl and Tina Mee Johnsen’s proposal

Strategic design for society: Making the Oslo Futures Catalogue

Making the ‘Oslo Futures Catalogue’, on the first ‘Strategic design for society’ course running at Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), 2021

Download the catalogue here
You can download a copy of the Oslo Futures Catalogue v1 (PDF) here. We have also reproduced the opening essay from the Catalogue separately, which delves a little deeper into the thinking behind the course.

Preparing the ground

Our lectures, which we would start each week with, covered aspects of strategic design theory and practiceTrojan Horses and Macguffins, Maginot Lines and Levers, Probes and Place-types, Half-Steps and Kits-of-Parts, Nolli Flips and Value Models, Snowploughs and Snowballs (and perhaps I’ll write about all that separately, part of a sequel to this.) We also worked thoroughly worked-through the concept of social infrastructures as the keystone in our imagination of the Scandinavian neighbourhood, extending Klinenberg’s powerful, if US-oriented, work in multiple directions—including nature-based infrastructures, distributed ‘non-grid’ technologies, Nordic civic architectures and ‘public luxury’. See the accompanying post for a little more on this thinking, as well as this backdrop in the Slowdown Papers.

Ways of seeing

Einar started this aspect with great talk covering the branching narratives of Loki to the poetic evocation of place in Will Eisner; the embedded activism of Jane Jacobs to the oblique insights possible via street photography; the composed pacing of a Chris Ware page to the diagramming of food moving through domestic spaces (from Quaderns 271 About Buildings and Food), and the intriguingly evocative and ‘off’ drawings in Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno, all via the backdrop of Henri Lefebvre, and an investigation of ‘everyday life’ (discussed a little more in this adjacent piece). Einar also included necessary critiques of typical tech-led design fiction, such as the many research—cough—actually promotional films made in the last 15 years by tech companies, placed in the context of earlier tech-led visions of the future.

Grabs from Einar’s scene-setting presentation on narrative formats and research activities
Slides from my presentation on observing and representing
Slides from the presentation on observatoins and narrative formats
Slides from presentation on narrative formats
Neighbourhoods: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, Pippi Långstrump, Mare of Easttown
Aside: I’d usually throw literary fiction, music, visual art and other narrative forms in there if this was an Imagining the Modern City course, from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway to Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist to Cyprian Ekwensi’s Glittering City to Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap ... (indeed, 20 years ago I curated an exhibition on just this topic.) But this was a short project within a design degree, and the focus was on observation and representation within that frame. Yet the art of 'world-building' in a film like, for example, In the Mood for Love, reveals a lot about urbanism, domestic architectures, infrastructures, communications technologies, food cultures—everything we're working with on this course.
Slides from presentation on narrative fiction and non-fiction examples
Slides from presentation on speculative design, design fiction, and ‘paper architecture’
Slides from presentation on narrative formats
How to study public life, Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre; The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, William H. Whyte; The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs; Soft City, Jonathan Raban; Soft City, David Sim; Sitopia, Carolyn Steel; Networks of New York, Ingrid Burrington; The Field Study Handbook, Jan Chipchase; Finding the Mother Tree, Suzanne Simard; The Eyes of the Skin, Juhani Pallasmaa; In Praise of Shadows, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki; What Can a Body Do?, Sara Hendren; Making Space, Matrix; Redesigning the American Dream, Dolores Hayden; Feminist City, Leslie Kern

To work

So with all that and more in their heads, the students were also out in the streets—walking around, taking photos, talking to locals—as well as doing documentary research, from the city’s official strategies to some historical documents.

Photos by students from the course
Photos from urban explorations with Speed Architects. When we started the course the weather was like this; it was very snowy by the end of it. Equally lovely, of course.
More photos from urban explorations with Speed Architects
A near-random selection of the hundreds of photos taken by the students

A glimpse of the Oslo Futures Catalogue

So, to a glimpse of portfolio of glimpses, beginning to elicit ideas for possible neighbourhoods in an innovative Oslo. Download the Catalogue to get a sense of how the students interpreted the brief, the place, and these techniques and perspectives. (It’s in a mixture of English and Norwegian, and the various translate platforms available work well enough on that conversion.) And read the introductory essay for some thinking behind this first iteration.

The Catalogue’s sketches of ‘What is’

Again, the accompanying article goes into a little more of the thinking behind this emphasis on social infrastructures and neighbourhoods, but this is how the Catalogue frames this first observational ‘What is’ section:

A few of many insights around growing, food, biodiversity and environment, in the context of Oslo neighbourhoods

The Catalogue’s sketches of ‘What if’

Following the above, this is how the Catalogue frames this first observational ‘What is’ section:

Sketches to do with food systems and shared food cultures in the neighbourhood
The ‘short supply chain’ looks at super-local food provision
Oslo Booths idea, played out across multiple touchpoints and use-cases
Suggestion box concept, and touchpoints, including outcome of bench
The Oslo Forest creeps back into the city, like a benevolent version of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, in Sofie Finnøy Vestøl and Tina Mee Johnsen’s proposal
Citizen prototyping unlocking the possibility in shared and public spaces
Explorations of the green and blue city by Johanna Sofie Brämersson and Kamilla Bedin
Kristin Marie Brudeseth and Anna Malene Vik used a comic book format to explored the topic of growing up, and the daily life of teenagers.
Ed. Subsequently, in early 2022, I taught the third iteration of our 'Transformation by Design' module of the Masters of Public Administration at UCL, and added in further perspectives on ‘observing’: from Pallasmaa’s critique of ocularcentrism, and the need for multi-sensory understanding (including what he calls a post-Aristotelian understanding of what senses even are), as well as indigenous knowledges (pointing students at Steffenson, Yunkaporta, Page & Memmott in particular) as well as Watson’s Lo—TEK, and Simard's Finding the Mother Tree.
‘Potespor’ comic, seeing the shared neighbourhood from a cat’s point-of-view
Girjegumpi: Sámi Architectural Library, by Joar Nango (The National Museum, Oslo, 2021)

Learning whilst Covid

Finally, whilst Oslo has, generally speaking, been less affected than many other places, the Covid-19 pandemic still completely disrupted the plan for the course. Although students were often on-site at the college, the dedicated studio space—usually essential to this kind of work—could not be used. Students were often present on Zoom only, due to sporadic sicknesses, which meant awkward hybrid teaching with some in class, some at home. With me based in Stockholm, I was only able to visit in-person twice over the three months (normally I would be on the Stockholm-Oslo train every Sunday night; that train wasn’t even running). My contributions were usually via the denuded interface of Zoom, which in terms of actual teaching and learning interaction often feels like trying to communicate by shouting through a series of drinking straws strung together across the countryside from Sweden to Norway. The end-of.year student show could not be meaningfully held at all. But somehow, it all still worked, a tribute to both the staff at AHO and the students.

Kicking off the course bathed in the strange orange light that AHO rooms have in late summer
Me talking about ‘Architecture without Architects’ to a lecture room without a lecturer (L); Einar setting up our odd but functional hybrid space (R)
Me Zooming in from my attic room in Stockholm, into student presentations at AHO in Oslo
Students, teachers and work around big table in a room, with students, teachers and work on Zoom too—a strange hybrid
Student presentations at AHO

The Oslo Futures Catalogue: A portfolio of glimpses of possible neighbourhoods in an innovative Oslo

Download the catalogue here

You can download a copy of the Oslo Futures Catalogue v1 (PDF) here, and read more about the thinking behind the course, the work, and the catalogue itself in this accompanying article.


See fuller set of references for this work in the accompanying ‘sister’ article: The Oslo Futures Catalogue as a garden of ideas.



Digital Urban Living is a research group at AHO that focuses on design for urban- and societal development. We are exploring how strategic design, urbanism and digital tech can enable new ways of designing services and polices for addressing sustainability, equity and innovation.

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Dan Hill

Designer, urbanist, etc. Director of Melbourne School of Design. Previously, Swedish gov, Arup, UCL IIPP, Fabrica, Helsinki Design Lab, BBC etc