WISH Project: Double interview with Martina Bertani (Academy of Architecture) and Justyna Ubostad (NTNU)

Longyearbyen, a glacier near the Trollsteinen
Longyearbyen, a glacier near the Trollsteinen
The group discusses the project.
The group discusses the project.
Longyearbyen, view on the city from the Taubanesentralen
Longyearbyen, view on the city from the Taubanesentralen

International Relations and Study abroad Service

19 December 2021

The WISH project (Workshop on International Social Housing) is a design course of the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, conceived with the specific intention to face and investigate, through architectural design, the collective and social housing topic.

The course has a profound international vocation and tries to establish with interested countries and institutions, a fruitful academic collaboration. Every year, selected students from the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture and from a partner university get together to tackle the theme of collective accommodation.

In 2021, the project took place in Longyearbyen, Norway, together with NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology).

A few hundred kilometers from the North Pole, the Svalbard archipelago is a land where the human footprint is limited to sporadic settlements, almost all concentrated along the coast of Isfjorden (the ice fjord). Longyearbyen, the capital of the islands, is in fact one of the cities in the world where the effects of climate change are most rapid.

The WISH studied the relationship between new possible housing models and the effects of climate change by investigating the difficult link between man and the environment.

Martina Bertani (Master’s student at the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio) and Justyna Ubostad (student at partner university NTNU) have shared with us their experience with this year's WISH.

Why did you choose to apply to the WISH project?

Martina: “The main question I was going through while applying to WISH concerned the design process in general: how can a project, through its continuous change of state and evolution during its various phases is able to keep its original energy, in terms of quality, without dissipating the one put into it? Towards the end of my academic path, that is the one fundamental gymnasium within which I conceive the need for isolation of variables and the simplification of reality to a model, I would instead aim to an effectiveness that would try to correspond at the minimization of this energy dissipation before mentioned, while embracing a new complexity to be approached in an outstanding format.”

Justyna: “Every summer during my studies I have participated in some sort of architecture workshop to gain additional experience. This has usually been more physical workshops that resulted in full-scale structures. When I saw the announcement for this year's WISH project, it caught my eye with the interesting area the project would take place in. For me, this was a unique opportunity and something I was motivated to learn more about. The focus on social housing was a subject that also interested me. The project took on an important theme that I haven’t had the chance to investigate to the same extent in earlier projects. I also wanted to get another perspective on the field of architecture before finishing my degree.”

How was your experience? Have your expectations been met?

Martina: “I see, for the moment at least, architecture as a discipline that undergoes as much as acting on a complex system in motion made of politics and society, loaded with history, science and technology, ecology and regionalism. In this sense, architectural practice is that mean, that language with which I imagine I have a voice in every debate. The discourse we produced within the workshop embraced the progressive junction and the necessary simultaneous decomposition of this real complexity of facts, on several levels. It happened in a fast yet very effective jump of scale within personal and collective efforts. A kind of speech made of a vocabulary that reached successfully ourselves accomplices, local inhabitants, and administrations. My experience carries the memory of always natural efforts, induced by the striving for a strategic methodology, a logic, a sensitivity, a precision that is contemporary with a breadth that has produced and produces now, it seems to me, coherent results and which are anyways dear to me."

Justyna: “I enjoyed my time in both Mendrisio and Longyearbyen a lot. The whole project, especially the part in Mendrisio, was more intense than I first expected. It was also more difficult to work around the complex problems that are found in Longyearbyen without seeing the place first. In the start, I found it challenging to decide on an issue that I wanted to work on since there were so many, to begin with, and the task assigned for us was also very open. However, we got a lot of good advice and guidance from the team in Mendrisio, which was very helpful considering the short time we had. This project was also a good exercise to learn more about landscapes and the different problems it brings along. I learned a lot in a very short time period, which is an experience I definitely will use in the future. I also think it was good to see how architecture students from other schools work and how the process of design looks like outside of NTNU. My overall experience of the workshop was very good and I’m glad that I got the chance to be a part of this project.”

What did you like the most?

Martina: “The proof that we can, or we can try to act in harmony, hence contextually, still with more or less rupture, even very far away from here and ourselves both culturally and geographically, when in control of our means of expression, yet simultaneously loaded with care. In this regard, I recall an expression used by Prof. Pedrozzi that is "city passages” or “brani di città"; a term that is more typical of a musical composition or a more or less extensive part of a piece of writing. The image that emerges is immediately rich in all the meanings, with an instinctive reference to harmony, and the aforementioned stratified themes that our cities and their territories contain, to which, among other things, social housing must necessarily refer.”

Justyna: “I really enjoyed getting to work with architecture someplace else than I’m used to. This was very refreshing to me. It was interesting to get to develop a project for a particular place in terms of climate and typologies like Svalbard. Since we worked on the site before actually visiting the town itself, it was even more exciting to finally visit Longyearbyen and see the place with my own eyes. This was probably my favorite part of the workshop.”

More information about the WISH project: http://www.wish.usi.ch/

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