Edinburgh CCC – Edinburgh Collective Cognitive Cartography

Negar Ebrahimi is an architect with a Master of Science in Spatial Design; Architecture and Cities from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Currently, she is completing her PhD in Architecture while teaching at the University of Edinburgh. Negar is passionate about promoting people’s wellbeing through architecture and urban design and her ongoing research interests focus on the correlation between happiness and spatial design. Her work has been exhibited in the Royal Scottish academy of Art and Architecture 195th annual exhibition (2021), London Festival of Architecture (LFA) 2017 (in collaboration) and at the UCL Doctoral School exhibition in London as The Best Hundred Research Images of 2018. She was awarded multiple grants for her research; including Social Responsibility and Sustainability Award (UoE SRS) 2020, IAD Action Fund (Institute of Academic Development) 2019, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding award for the FoSS 2019, and Festival of Creative Learning (FCL 2019) Award. In 2020, as a Young Women Lead (YWCA @youngwomenscot) committee member she worked on an equal rights and inclusion report with The Scottish Parliament (@ScotParl); and also received the Clinton Global Initiative recognition of Commitment to Action (CGI U). 

You can find her on LinkedIn and contact her via email: n.ebrahimi@sms.ed.ac.uk.

Yixuan Wang is a PhD candidate in design working on practice-led research to explore the possibility of relieving loneliness and social isolation in later life through co-design approaches. She was trained as an industrial and product designer with a Bachelor of Engineering and a Master of Art. Currently, she is working on her doctoral project while working with the group of Wellbeing of Older Workers under University of Glasgow as a doctoral artist-in-residence of SGSAH. She holds 3 Utility Model Patents and joined the UNA Europa project EdinGo – A Virtual Fringe Platform partnered with The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, Festivals Edinburgh, and PosiFest. She is now particularly interested in the application of the theory “affordance” in the dialog of design and how design influences the subconscious emotions and behaviours.

You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter and contact her via email: Yixuan.Wang@sms.ed.ac.uk.


Context

2020 to 2021, the pandemic, three national lockdowns, “stay at home”, “rule of six”, overwhelmed, anxious, lonely, depressed. How long have you stayed alone? How long have you been bombarded with all the news about the pandemic? How long have you missed on family dinners and gatherings with friends? When was the last time you visited your favourite part of the city? That cafe you used to brunch and gossip with pals or the corner pub for a hearty football match… 

Although we know that we are the lucky ones surviving the trauma, trying to find the familiar order within the chaotic world of new norms is not an easy feat. The global pandemic and its following explosive and unexpected implications forced us to readjust our habits, our well-defined routines, and our settled lifestyles; in a nutshell it was “unsettling”. We became confused; we were disconnected with ourselves, others, our surroundings, and the city we are living in; we were too anxious because of all the uncertainty, and perhaps in a haze of the upside-down world, we struggle to recall our power, to recognise our strength, and to reconcile with our happy memories and our happy places. But fear not, here we are! This project provides an initiative to invite Edinburgh citizens to revisit and rediscover themselves and their surroundings. By doing so, the connections are expected to be rebuilt and enhanced.  

Design

Methods

Stationery spread out on a white background, including smiley face stickers with red sad faces, yellow neutral faces, and green happy faces.

Revisiting and rediscovering one’s self and surroundings could be a private and slow journey, and the restrictions due to the national lockdowns also did not allow the traditional observation methods. Remote, self-paced, novel research methods needed to be applied. Desperate times call for desperate measures! 

Close image of stationery spread out on a white background, including smiley face stickers with red sad faces, yellow neutral faces, and green happy faces.

The first activity of this project integrated two design methods: culture probes and generative toolkits. Culture probes is a remote research method collecting qualitative data by inviting participants to conduct a series of self-documenting activities. It does not require the researcher to be present the whole time, which on the other hand could also reduce the participants unease due to being observed or feeling anxious due to the activity time and so on; hence may provide more detailed information (Thoring, Luippol and Mueller, 2003). 

Generative toolkits is one of the prominent co-design methods (Sander and Stappers, 2014). By providing a wide range of prompts, materials and tools, it invites non-designers to express their thoughts; create their dreams, and convey feelings that are not easy to be spoken in words (Sander, 1999). 

Themes

Folders on a table: a red folder that says 'Intro and you', a yellow folder that says 'past', a green folder that says 'present', and a blue folder that says 'future and hypothesis'.

The activities are organised under 5 themes: Self; Past; Present; Future; and Hypothesis. Each theme involves a range of activities inspiring participants to recognise and rediscover themselves and their surroundings by recalling their knowledge and skills, revisiting their past experiences, documenting their present moments, and imagining future and hypothetical situations. 

Pages spread on a white background, an off-yellow page in the centre and red and white pages spread around it. Pages are mostly unreadable, but some have word clouds, and one says 'Word Cloud'.
Theme – Self

Pages spread on a white background, with four alternating columns. Two columns are blue and yellow and say 'past: the time machine'. Two columns are white pages with unreadable yellow text.
Theme – Past

Pages spread on a white background. Three pages are maps. One is white with a green border and says 'present'. Six pages go out of frame and are light grey with green decoration and unreadable green text.
Theme – Present

Pages spread on a white background, with four columns. The two left columns are blue and grey and say 'future' with an unreadable description. The two right columns are grey pages with unreadable blue text.
Theme – Future

Pages spread on a white background, with four alternating columns. Two columns are grey and orange and say 'hypothesis' and 'What Would You Do Differently in This Situation?' with an unreadable description. Two columns are light grey and orange pages with unreadable brown text.
Theme – Hypothesis

Journey

After 10-days self-paced journey, rich and superb materials were created by 11 participants ranging from diverse age groups, professions and social backgrounds based in Edinburgh. 

Four white tote bags decorated by group participants.
White tote bags were provided for wrapping the tools and easy transportation. Surprisingly, they also became the canvases of creativity for some participants. 
Four images of a booklet with information and spaces to fill out for participants.
A ingenious homemade booklet created by one of the participants using provided materials and self-printing pictures, texts and charts to depict Edinburgh in her eyes, and the feeling of living in this city.
Flowers pressed into a notebook with 'Viola!' written beneath.
Each participant was provided with a blanket diary and invited to record their daily focuses and moods, which allows the researchers to catch a glimpse into their lives and what is important and valued to them on a daily basis. The picture above shows the lovely dry flowers made by one of the participants.
Triangles of fabric added to the bottom of a yellow page. 'Some nice fabric, bright, colourful, happy' written above it.
A paper project. Purple pages with handwritten words on either side of a drawing of a woman with red hair, red trousers, and a purple shirt.
Each participant was invited to create an autobiographical newspaper. The hints were: what makes you proud of yourself? Let’s imagine, if you got grandchildren, or were surrounded by a group of children, what story about yourself would you like to tell them? Do you have some special skills; knowledge or experience you want to pass on to them? What do you want to share about yourself with your fellow Edinburgh citizens? The picture above shows a creative self-introducing newspaper produced by one of the participants with a gifted self-portrait.


Collage of words taken from participants' work.
Words of wisdom conveyed by participants.

A camera on a white background in the top half of the image, and a pile of pictures spread across the bottom of the image.
A disposable camera was also included in every tool bag and inviting participants to take pictures when they were walking in their favourite places.


A gif of a word cloud of responses to the questions 'where have you been happy? How does your happy place look like? Describe a time that you were at your happy place, what draws you to your happy place?
An online workshop was organised after the self-discovery activity, where participants were provided an opportunity to connect with each other, and share their experiences and insights. 

Reflection & Future

Lockdowns have continued sporadically around the world for 17 months, which bring the global human beings into a huge experiment of loneliness, the disconnection between humans and the disconnection between humans and places. The thresholds of the public realm were never shaken so weightily in recent years, public places never less public, common areas never less common, shared spaces never less shared, our bodies never less place-bound. In this project, frustration, anxiety, and the desperate desire for a real hug are voiced; but also hope, spirit, and the belief in tomorrow are all conveyed by participants through the drawings, pictures, and words.  

Today, streets are hot with the enthusiasm of dwellers again. Some are wearing face masks, many are not. Some trying to adhere to social distancing in sidewalks, some carelessly cough without covering their mouths. Some shops and cafes have closed or changed their facades while some have reopened to welcome long lines of shoppers. This month, many of the government restriction and lockdown measures were lifted in Edinburgh. But has the shadow of the pandemic also been lifted? To acknowledge the trauma is the first step towards healing. And it is vital to recognise we are yet to weather the storm in order to greet the upside-down world head-on. Edinburgh CCC was able to record a snapshot of Edinburgh citizens and the city in these challenging times, their hopes and fears, their day to day urban existence and their reflection of the past and dreams of a happy future. May the city nurse us back to a healthy mind and body through staging connection and presence.