Nika Eremina is the founder of Living Lab Tomsk and the driving force behind a network of educational Living Labs across six different universities in the city. Over the years, LEVS contributed to several Living Labs. We spoke to Nika about the projects, their goals and implementation.
Why is bottom-up teaching new and important in Russia?
In many European countries it is normal for people to feel a sense of ownership over their surroundings. In Russia we don’t have that. The Living Labs are fundamentally bottom-up and co-creative, which means that students must take the lead, step by step. Together with the fact that we are connecting them to real stakeholders and involve them in real implementation, we see that Living Labs can foster a sense of: we can improve our society. That is a very new attitude we would say.
You want to involve students in concrete social questions. How?
A Living Lab is about empowering talented students who are ready to boost their entrepreneurship. It is an open ecosystem in which we try to solve real issues in interdisciplinary temporary design studios and launch experiments in real urban environments. Students and all kinds of stakeholders come together to work on ideas, solutions and –most importantly – their implementation. It is an educational approach, which has a global community of practitioners, who share their strategies and ‘toolkits’ openly and freely for others to use elsewhere.
So it is effective?
We believe so, yes. One result for instance, is that we see students who were previously involved in the Living Labs are now employed by the stakeholders, and we’re seeing that some of the Living Labs have had some spin off activity: initiatives by students or local companies. In the end, one of the goals is also to retain the talent that the different universities of Tomsk produce in the city. And the social and economic integration during their study time that the Living Labs create have effect after graduating.
We worked on public space together, what else do you do?
Since the first one, focussed on public space, we are now launching living labs on the natural environment in the city, on public health, on artistic engagement with the environment, on ‘smart cities.’ Right now we are especially inspired by a Living Lab that we discovered in The Netherlands actually, about smart water management. So that will probably be happening here soon as well.
Why involve LEVS?
First of all because we got inspired by examples of Living Labs in The Netherlands. Secondly, because you are actually experts in thinking of design as a tool to reshape and activate society. That’s what we are trying to give to students. And thirdly, your participation as a recognized international office legitimizes the Living Lab approach to students and stakeholders. It is that combination of quality input, experience in the Russian context and confidence boost. It’s what we look for in participating external parties. The first theme just happened to be related to architecture and planning.