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Urban Action Ukraine: 200 hours in the UK with Metalab

Metalab team, Je & Joost in Stour Space Courtesy of CANactions

Courtesy of CANactions

Metalab team, Je & Joost in Stour Space
Project planning in the Studio Weave office Courtesy of CANactions

Courtesy of CANactions

Project planning in the Studio Weave office
Metalab team, Je & Joost in Promprylad Courtesy of CANactions

Courtesy of CANactions

Metalab team, Je & Joost in Promprylad

5 July 2017
by Niamh Tuft

In January Metalab, an experimental lab for urban change in Ivano-Frankivsk, was selected as one of two winning projects in Urban Action, a partnership between British Council, Goethe Institute and CANactions (Ukraine’s educational platform for architecture and urbanism) which supports the development and implementation of the most exciting and promising urban development projects in post-industrial cities in Ukraine. They were paired with UK mentors Studio Weave and Architecture 00 who were also selected by an open call in the UK to advise and guide one winning project.


As part of this exchange Je and Joost – from Studio Weave and Architecture 00 – visited Ivano-Frankivsk to get to grips with Metalab and help to shape its development. The project is part of a wider redevelopment of Promprylad, a factory occupying 30 000 square meters of the city, led by Ivano-Frankivsk based NGO Teple Misto . In April, the second-leg of this international exchange brought Alex and Anna of Metalab to the UK. A combination of visits, meetings and intensive workshops organised by Studio Weave and Architecture 00 offered Alex and Anna an insight into places and people shaping culturally and civically led ‘urban actions’ in the UK. Guided by Je and Joost their 200 hours in the UK took them to large-scale regeneration projects in Kings Cross, Hackney Wick and Brixton, to Impact Hubs in Birmingham and Brixton and socially motivated organisations Bootstrap and Stour Space.

Here Bogdan from CANactions and Alexander from Metalab reflect on their time in the UK.


What were your impressions of the places you visited in the UK? Is there anything you didn’t expect?

Alex: The places we visited in the UK were carefully selected by our hosts Je and Joost. We never expected so many different possible forms and models for creating spaces like this. It’s not all about how a space looks - a place built of old sea containers can be as impactful as new urban developments like we saw in Kings Cross. We also didn’t expect people to be so open about what hadn’t worked or their failed attempts which has been really important for us.

Bogdan: London is a simmering cauldron of culture places and initiatives - so each stroll around the city gave an opportunity to absorb something. However, it's worth noting that this tour was more about people, their philosophy and approach - and the opportunity to meet them, discover their story and get hints from them was priceless. Birmingham Impact Hub and StourSpace were particularly inspiring because of the people. The energy they possess and are ready to share means they can transform any place/container/barn. What impressed me most was that these people are really good at collaborating and organizing themselves in collectives. In Ukraine, I think, we're still at the stage where even an innovative leader works top-down within his or her organization.

Where do you think are the parallels between the UK and Ukraine in culture-led regeneration?

Alex: I believe Ukraine and the UK are in parallel in some aspects with of culture-led regeneration. But there is an "age gap" in development between these two countries in terms of progress and results. In theory, the story of British development may be taken as a cord to follow when it overlaps with the Ukrainian context and to see what worked and didn’t work. In our project we’re able to respond to the specific Ivano-Frankivsk context and also to have a reference point to the UK to see if things synchronize or not with British practice.

Bogdan: From my impression, there are a lot of similarities (even more than I expected) since in both countries culture-led initiatives work within the niche where the state either fails to address challenges properly or market forces don't allow young creatives to work professionally and earn for leaving by that. This is where the best ideas and solutions are coming from.


Tell us a bit about Metalab and Promprylad. What are you most excited by in the project? What are the biggest challenges you face?

Alex: Metalab and Promprylad are completely new in the context of Ivano-Frankivsk. Every day we are facing changing circumstances while revitalising the factory to a community space. It is exciting but from other hand needs lots of resources. Metalab aims to be a platform for urban projects where anyone can develop their idea using the expertise and network of the lab. 

Creating a sustainable model from all points of view - a place, which generates projects, values, funds for new projects - is a challenging and complex but very inspiring thing.

Bogdan: This is a very ambitious project, but it is very much based on the energy of a group of people. It's going to be a long journey and is experimental in its approach aiming to test different strategies but not all of them will be able to be completed. The team are trailblazers in Ukraine with their approach and so they have to find their own model. Of course, I believe in their project, it will have its ups and downs but the crucial thing is for the community in Ivano-Frankivsk to embrace a place like MetaLab and Promprylad.


Can you tell us a bit about working with Studio Weave/00 in this project and what you look for in the collaboration?

Bodgan: I really appreciate the devotedness and seriousness with which Je and Joost are involved in the project. The constellation of expertise and experience is just what the project needed and their desire to motivate Anna and Alex to go an extra mile and push the project concept and implementation further should definitely be appreciated. I also think it is a good lesson in the culture of a project and team work, Je & Joost have been really hands on throughout the development of the project. They wanted to work with Metalab not only because of the strength of the application but because they really understand what kind of value they can bring to the project.  

Alex: Working with Studio Weave and 00 in this project was something completely new. It took us some time to get used to each other’s working culture but it was a great lesson for us how to work effectively across cultures. We dove deep into a strategic session in Ivano capturing the both the core thoughts but also the small details that were important to us.

When we arrived in London not sure of what to expect we made the great discovery that humans are alike - people in UK which is so progressive face similar and sometimes the same challenges and issues when they try to build places for community and social impact.

We have seen first-hand the efforts / results ratio in many various approaches and interventions which no-one writes about this in books or reports.

To sum up - in such project you need to have passion on one hand and patience on the other.

Metalab launches in Ivano-Frankivsk in August, to find out more visit the Metalab website.

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