The Little Houses on the Black River project marks a new collaboration among three design schools – Parsons The New School for Design, St. Etienne School of Art and Design, and Konstfack University College of Arts, Craft and Design – to design and install a cluster of artist-in-residence dwellings for the House of Design in Hallefors, Sweden. These dwellings explore tactics of sustainability, methods of production and assembly, and community engagement, housing artists and scholars during their stay at the House of Design (opened November 2005). The site for the project is an abandoned train bridge over the Black River; the aim is to rehabilitate this valuable infrastructure and stimulate alternative modes of temporary inhabitation, providing a new facet for the House of Design and a valuable attraction for the town and its visitors.
Parsons is guiding the project as part of a year-long junior level design studio in Product Design. Students from Parsons and St. Etienne will design and build two resting/sleeping cars (one each) that can be rolled into different positions along the bridge, inviting visitors to create various dwelling configurations. There will also be a fixed “service car” at the entrance to the bridge, forming a gatehouse that will incorporate cooking, bathing and w.c. facilities: this structure is being designed as an unprecedented collaboration among faculty and students from Parsons and St. Etienne. (During winter months, when the dwellings are uninhabited, the dwellings will be “docked” into the service car and all will be covered as one complete unit.) Meanwhile, students from Konstfack are designing and prototyping the provisions that visitors will use during their visit – these products will provide opportunities for visitors to reflect on the nature and impact of their personal dwelling habits.
On various thematic levels, this project is about creating a Meeting Point. The train bridge is itself a literal meeting point over the Black River, its tracks offering a reminder of the town’s industrial heritage (steel and logging) and opportunities for revitalization, through the imaginative reuse of existing infrastructures by new institutions and community-centered initiatives. The dwellings will also provide a meeting point for visiting artists to the House of Design, as well as with members of the community. More generally, the site and design problem offers a project-based meeting point for students and faculty of Parsons, St. Etienne, and Konstfack, under the auspices of the House of Design – a collaboration, it is hoped, that will continue indefinitely.
Drawing from the unique resources available in the community of Hallefors, the students will devise structures that explore tactics of sustainability. On one level, this exploration has considered local materials and manufacturing and immediate site conditions. On a more subtle level, this project has centered on the notion of sustainability as communal engagement, in its fabrication, use and life cycle, expanding on the House of Design’s vision of learning through design. It is hoped that local residents – not only visitors – will be able to spend time in the dwellings, to experience the site and their own personal living habits from new perspectives. There is also the shared hope that this project generates a new tradition for students and faculty from Parsons, St. Etienne, and Konstfack – a sustained collaboration with the House of Design and the Hallefors community that periodically revisits and revitalizes these convivial goals and structures.