June 2024
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HFBK Hamburg: Savamala Design Studio

Savamala design studio

Public design is not only a tool that improves the aesthetic qualities of our environment but, at the same time, something that can be used to create social value. The Hamburg University of Fine Arts (HfbK Hamburg) has taken this perspective as their objective and is engaging with Savamala through Public Design Support and the Toolkit projects


Kraljevića Marka 8


Jesko Fezer, Marjetica Potrč and HFBK students

Designing our environment always involves a social dimension, as it creates new relationships between various actors: people that are responsible and people that are affected, experts and ordinary citizens, representatives of pro and contra. In this sense, design is not only a tool that improves the aesthetic qualities of our environment but, at the same time, something that can be used to create social value. The Hamburg University of Fine Arts (HfbK Hamburg) has taken this perspective as their objective and is engaging with Savamala through two projects.

The Toolkit Project / A Toolbox, a Toolkit and a Manual

A Toolbox

Your personal toolbox contains such tools as a spoon for cooking and an electric drill for building things.

A Toolkit

The toolkit is a mobile working unit. Put your toolbox on the toolkit and push it from the workshop to your destination in Savamala, where you will work and exchange knowledge with your new acquaintance, who is a craftsman in their own right.

A Manual

Inspired by the figure of the journeyman (Wandergeselle), students work with residents to acquire a particular craft and learn about the social and economic systems that support it. The goal is to create an open-source manual, an analysis of present-day ways of working and living in Savamala at a time that Belgraders refer to as a perpetual “crisis interval”. The toolbox and toolkit are relational objects, which students use in carrying out their work.

Although the Savamala neighbourhood is, as the architect Ivan Kucina describes it, suffering “a state of decay while hosting the major traffic infrastructure of Belgrade – two central bridges, the main bus terminal and parking lots, a tourist river port, a heavy trucking corridor, a railway and riverfront that are used as a cemetery for abandoned ships“, it has, paradoxically, “the most attractive prospects in the city”. Changes are expected to happen in the very near future; among other things, the heavy trucking will be rerouted and the rail traffic along the banks of Sava River will be terminated. This will open up the centrally located Savamala neighbourhood to neo-liberal development and gentrification, which up to now it has been able to avoid because, in fact, of the difficult conditions here. But soon the neighbourhood will again become a popular place to live and work. The question is whether the local ways of living and working can survive the changes.

In the tradition of learning by doing, students work with neighbourhood residents, exchanging ideas with them and learning from their experience. The Toolkit Project seeks to learn from, and map, the local knowledge before the Savamala neighbourhood undergoes fundamental change. Among other things, we will look at the residents’ practice of preserving foods (instead of buying industrially canned foods) and recycling waste (in the absence of any municipal recycling programme), their traditional barter economy (an exchange or gift economy), and their illegal building construction (in the absence of enforced regulations). What does local sustainability mean in Savamala? Is this something we should consider when we search for a sustainable future beyond the neo-liberal present – a time characterized by the dissolution of the social state and fears about climate change? We have learned that today sustainable living is based in the local. What does the local identity of Savamala say about our own way of living?

The open-source manual aims to give value to local traditional knowledge and help the people who live in Savamala appreciate the knowledge and skills they possess. Savamala is an long-established but fragile community, ill-prepared for the coming changes. By highlighting and giving value to alternative models of production within the city – to the way of life in Savamala – the Toolkit Project raises awareness about the importance of local identity and enhances the residents’ pride in their neighbourhood. As such, it is a community-building effort that seeks to strengthen the resilience of the area and empower the local residents. The Toolkit Project shows the city as produced by the people who live in it. In Ivan Kucina’s words: “This is not the city of the municipality or the city of the developers. This is your city.”

Savamala today is stuck in a state of stagnation. But considering its attractive location and its historical substance, it is only a question of time until new investment, new residents and new life styles will change this city quarter. Can old-established traditions of life and work survive this change?
The Toolkit Project is an attempt to trace, understand and archive local everyday practices. Students from Hamburg University established communication with Savamala residents in order to learn from them: for example, how to conserve food, how to re-use residual materials, or how to solve structural problems of commercial or residential buildings and apartments. This re-discovered local knowledge is documented in an “open-source manual”, which contributes to uncovering the fragile and invisible everyday knowledge of citizens and highlighting its local cultural value.

The “Public Design Support” project is a contact point where Savamala residents can find advice and active support for their own design and construction demands and requirements.
Students of Hamburg University have renovated a suitable space in Savamala to host the project. Here, Savamala residents can find a new place in which they can discuss their design and construction problems and, together with the students, work out practical design options and establish an open dialogue with the neighbourhood to collectively find solutions to their problems. The “Public design support” project has therefore not only enable the development of construction and aesthetic design but also the creation of new intercultural exchange in the neighbourhood.