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Spatial designs and society

An in-depth study of street art in Denmark and beyond.

Photographs: Monica Bastos

Text: Skyler Bentley Hall

This year I had the pleasure of mentoring Monica Bastos as part of the Greater Copenhagen Career Program, a creative and ambitious MSc. Candidate at Roskilde University (RUC). She is a dual citizen and second-generation Canadian with family from Portugal and Mozambique. Monica is delighted to share a bit about her RUC experience studying a Masters in Social Science, Spatial Designs & Society (SDS).

Spatial designs and society

SDS at Roskilde University melts together geography, anthropology, sociology, and urban studies as well as more practical design thinking and consultancy approaches. Students apply theoretical frameworks to research-based ethnographic methods to explore various real-life cases and research queries. The programme is people-centric and rooted in the curiosity and critical assessment of design processes and spatial designs.

Projects and study outcomes

I participated in projects relating to mobility and tourism, wayfinding, and museum-going practices. In a unit on consultancy and design processes, my group contributed to uncovering life-long learning frameworks for universities to adapt continuous learning principles. We also fashioned proposals to increase daily civic life in Copenhagen's Meat Packing district. Qualitatively researching traditional courtyard spaces uncovered best practices and uses, which might help design inviting social and communal spaces in the vertical courtyard. We collaborated with the public and private sectors (e.g. Gehl, Urgent. Agency, København Kommune, DGI Byen), and through ethnographic methods, we uncovered nuances and intricacies of designs, relating our findings to theoretical and conceptual frameworks. As a result, I have become more critical of city spaces seeing how spatial design impacts how we live and how people interact with and in spaces. Now, I perceive communities and urban spaces as pseudo-design objects.

"Organising street art in public spaces requires a lot of interdisciplinary coordination between radically different stakeholders. Having academics with a broad interdisciplinary foundation (like Monica) participate in the processes is invaluable to the overall quality of our projects." - Steffen Gray, Founder of Street Studies

RUC thesis

This has been an opportunity to study something that I love – street and urban art. I enjoy graffiti and am fascinated to understand the correlation between street art and society – or street art's social impacts. My thesis predominantly focuses on commissioned pieces such as murals and organised street art festivals and their relation to urban revitalisation and renewal. I am interested in exploring the nuances and impacts of murals and street art on redeveloping urban areas. More specifically, I observe how murals and street art culture can fit into municipal goals and urban aesthetics/fabric.

Street art projects

My study site is in Copenhagen's Nordvest district, where, from 2018 to 2019, murals changed the gable façades of the AB Mønten housing blocks and the visual fabric of the Rentemestervej corridor. Intending to comprehend street art culture, I broadened my fieldwork methods to include volunteering at a local street art festival. Meeting of Styles Copenhagen is organised by Street Studies – a non-profit organisation founded by Steffen Gray. They are committed to street art projects and bridging the gap between street art, qualitative studies and community initiatives that bring about positive and creative city branding and placemaking for safer and more vibrant spaces. In addition, I have interviewed and discussed street art in other locales, including Calgary, where I grew up and where urban mural projects have recently added colour to various building façades. I also participated in less scripted encounters such as street art walks in Copenhagen, Faro and Olhão. I love creating opportunities to understand the intentions of the art, artists' creation of street art-related events, municipal initiatives, and organisational processes.

Revelations and realisations

The natural encounters rooted in identifying shared passions with new connections (locals, tourists, guides, organisers, artists) are unique opportunities for unscripted revelations and realisations on the impacts of street art as a phenomenon. Though mindful of the ethics of collecting data, I am transparent about communicating my interest on a personal and academic level. I aim to ensure that individuals know how I use communication to feed my soul and my thesis project.

Experiential fieldwork

One of the key outcomes of studying SDS is connecting my learning with real-life experiences. It is fulfilling to submerge into a study, and the more experiential the fieldwork, the more access points and better-rounded vantage points for analysis. Flexibility and openness debunk biases, and diverse perspectives only bolster the study in identifying repetitions and patterns in the data set. This program has brought to the forefront the importance of curiosity and critique. These two things are essential in understanding how we live, ideating, and creating better designs for people.

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