How to build a collaborative cardboard city

How to build a collaborative cardboard city

As part of my course in community arts practice with Impact Arts, I ran a series of workshops at the Orkidstudio EMPOWERMENT exhibition. Inviting visitors to the exhibition to collaboratively build a cardboard city. It was the most fantastic and fun experience.
Inspirational projects were Kiel Johnsons’ cardboard city workshops and Nathan Coley’s beautiful Lamps of Sacrifice.
The aim of the workshops was to encourage people to make their vision of an imagined future city. To design through making using simple materials like cardboard and postcards to write/ draw their vision of how the community could be better for all.
Although each week explored a theme from the exhibition; Inspire, Equality, Enterprise and Educate. But I wanted to leave it open and see what people would come up with instead of directing them,
I made a simple base from cardboard, 4 A0 boards and painted the river in. Leaving it without an obvious scale.
We used cardboard and simple tools like scissors, scalpels, marker pens, rulers, and paint.
It was a fascinating experience, seeing the cardboard city grow over the four weeks. I found that cardboard was a brilliantly easy material to use. Anyone from young kids to adults could use it. The city became a was a collective “You-topia”. A colourful re-imagined city containing a lovely mixture of spaces from a seesaw, to a range of houses, to an equality rocket and creative workshop centre. 
I asked a range of people visiting the exhibition to take part. What was lovely was that the people I thought would say no were usually the ones that said yes and took part. There were lots of children that took part from 2yrs old upwards, not many teenagers but there were a lot of adults too.
Adults absolutely loved it reminded them of their childhood, which made it easy for them to engage. A lovely couple told me they’d been at a gallery seen a kids workshop, wanted to take part and this workshop gave them that opportunity. It got me thinking about more projects I could do like this that could encourage that playful side of grown ups.
Another thing I discovered was that people like to have something to take home, a momento, something to show off. In this case each person got a polariod picture which delighted them.
Scale was of interest to me, I had originally thought of making a couple of buildings to set a scale, thinking with my architects brain but I decided to leave it without a scale. It was interesting to see as the city built up and people got more confident, the buildings got bigger and bigger.
The approaches to making varies. Kids usually knew exactly what they wanted to make, some people were meticulous spending ages getting it right while others made lots of things. Every week there was someone or a group who absolutely loved it and didn’t want to leave whether it was students or kids.
If I did the project again, I would try it with more of a structure to the city, maybe focus on a particular part, or draw in the streets. More to see how that changes people’s creative expression. In that case the brief could be more specifically focused, which was on of the feedback I got. I would also want participants to name or describe their buildings. I used postcards but not many people used them with it as it took a while. Labels would be an interesting and simple method and would give it an interesting identity. I post-rationally did this by creating a map of the city, which gave it a collective identity. I did learn that even if you keep the brief loose, there are other ways of pulling a project together to present it.
Probably my favourite thing was seeing people who at the start  they weren’t creative absolutely lovely making by then end. It was also great to meet and talk to the exhibition visitors and see how they enjoyed it. I absolutely loved the workshops and definitely want to keep doing them 😊.

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