Darkness. Cold. Things that threaten to break Aalto students’ relationships with nature. So why not create playful and light-touch interventions on campus that celebrate twilight each day?
Nick Talbot
Saitej Pisupati
Sara Monacchi
Aalto University Architecture Department, Aalto University Campus and Real Estate (ACRE)
Aalto - City as a Service - platforms to co-create value
At first glance, the Aalto University redevelopment plans drew attention to "laboratories, workshops, test halls, and mega-infrastructures". But were the unique natural surroundings on campus being undervalued? There are health, productivity, academic, and creative benefits from spending time outdoors. Yet even before the COVID pandemic, estimates suggested that Finland, like many other countries, spent 90% of time indoors. So, collaborating with architecture students at Aalto and the service designers working with UKAA, we decided to shake things up. We proposed a collection of interventions that responded to both students' and nature's schedules, targeting the most challenging hours of the day – the darker, colder ones. We want to create an outdoor activity that could start from twilight till the evening. By bringing touches of light, colour, and group activities to outdoor locations, we hoped to attract campus residents to spend that little bit of extra time in nature on a regular basis.
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Combining students’ user journeys…

Our users are initially intended to be students who study and live on campus. After conducting research, it became clear that Aalto students’ experiences are affected by cycles across many timelines. Daily, weekly, and monthly routines. As well as variations in social calendars and intensity of work throughout academic terms and years. Therefore, many complex user journeys exist. And so, our interventions needed to be responsive and adaptable - not just the usual 9-to-5 hours of many services. At the same time, these unusual patterns presented opportunities for transformative experiences and rituals. We focused on the twilight hours, because this was the time when students had the headspace to embrace playful interactions, and would likely already be outdoors on the way home or to a social event. In effect, our suggestions are attractive, collective ways to “decompress” in nature, which rely on a small and subtle diversion from existing routines.

…with nature’s cycles and behaviours

After analysing the data for daylight and weather in the region, we noticed natural rhythms that affected impressions of the environment on campus. For example, one challenge is that term times at Aalto University don’t occur during the warmest, brightest days in summer when students don’t need encouragement to spend time outdoors. There is a reluctance to go outside in less favourable conditions even though term times avoid the wettest, darkest periods. However, despite Finland’s reputation for darkness and poor weather, Otaniemi lies on the southern coast. Therefore, it benefits from slightly better weather. As a result, it means that by closely aligning our interventions with the natural cycles, we can take advantage of better climatic conditions when they do come. Potentially, students would not only be encouraged to seize the opportunity to go outdoors, but also experience a nice surprise that could lead to a collective sense of celebration.

Take-aways from the iltahämärä project
iltahämärä is an attempt to broaden the stakeholders and outcomes we consider when designing, to include people and planet. Our work is an exploration of which perspective we design from. User-centred, or environment-centred? Service design, or architecture? Something in-between, or something else? So, in order to understand the complexity at play we combined the routines, cycles, and behaviours of human and natural stakeholders through qualitative and quantitative research. This helped highlight problems as well as opportunities. And throughout the project, efforts were made to ensure the proposed interventions were light-touch: both environmentally and financially. Hopefully you enjoyed this holistic approach to exploring our relationships with nature. And the dynamic ways we suggest could transform them. We couldn’t cover everything in this short summary. So if you want to chat about this project, or anything else that comes to mind, please get in touch! - Nick
(Credits: Image 1 [top], photoshopped concept – original layer from: Image 2 [above] - Image 4 [below], photoshopped concept – original layer from:
special thanks
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