Interview for the Berlin Change Days


Recently I was interviewed by the Berlin Change Days team. Please visit their Webpage and register for a unique program of workshops and talks!

BCD: Tell me, who is Jascha Rohr, who is the person that we are going to meet in November 2010?

JR:I am situated in Oldenburg, in Northern Germany, and I live here with my family, I have a son. My background is Sociology and Philosophy, I studied in Germany and in England, London, after I was trained as a musical instrument maker in building lutes. And then, sitting in the workshop I noticed that my intellectual hunger wasn´t satisfied, so I started studying Sociology and Philosophy, and while doing that I founded my first business. That was the Permaculture Academy. Permaculture is a design approach for designing sustainable habitats. I started it to make this knowledge available in Germany.

But the Permaculture Academy was a small grassroots business and it wouldn’t be sufficient to sustain my family. Also professionally I became more and more interested in design thinking and participation and the power of generative processes. So together with my partner who is a landscape architect, we founded the Institute for Participatory Design. We had basically two main qualities in our work: one is participation while we understand participation not only as participation of humans but also of the context, the environments. So in our work we try to let the environment participate as much as possible, in the same way as we participate with people. The second basis is the design approach. Often participation is thought of as deliberative processes: discussions, dialogues; and we wanted to shift it more into the direction of design and action e.g. hands-on prototyping, drafting, writing concepts. Our goal is to enable everyone to work more or less with the same methods as professional designers, architects, concept developers work. So, that’s where I am now.

BCD: What are the things that you are most passionate about in life? What moves you?

JR: That is a good question. I think it’s a combination of love and admiration for this world, for the beauty of it, and the potential of it, and at the same time it’s anger and sadness about what often is done to this possibility and beauty, or not done to it. So what moves me is to enable us to our full potential as designers to positively change the world.
BCD: Do you have any stories about enabling people to become designers that has made a positive change?

JR: Yeah sure. (Laughs) Well, what I find most intriguing with our work is that most often there is a point of crisis before people move into the state of actually be the shapers or designers of their environment. In the beginning we thought that we were doing something wrong. But people often shift into a kind of crisis during a design process and only later we find out that this was actually the point of transformation, where we learned something about ourseves and about the project we are designing.I remember a workshop in Karlsruhe. We did the workshop with permaculture students and worked on a public park. It was no official job, it was an experimental workshop for the students. What I found very interesting was that the park had a kind of a theme: basically no one cared anymore about it. Karlsruhe is a city which is based on a geometric master plan from the 19th century, and it is only this one place that is not part of that geometric pattern. When working with that park, participants started connecting with their own personal stories of being left alone. We didn´t plan this but it happend automatically by deeply connecting to the theme of this park.

So at some point we all weren’t quite sure if we would work on the park or on our personal stories. At the end of the workshop we had some brilliant designs for the park which tackled exactly the question of loneliness and abondoness. Since it was a practice, we knew that our drafts wouldn´t be build but somehow most of us left the workshop with the feeling that we had altered some patterns in ourselves. That was very rewarding.

I think the lesson for me, and that’s what I find out with our processes again and again, is that good design ideas come from connecting to what we call the field, connecting to what is already there with all the meaningful patterns we find. We should stop seeing designers as standing outside of what they design, but rather the design is an inner transformational process which is in connection with the outer process. If the designer is willing and bold enough to go into this process she arrives at deep and good design solutions for the project. In the end the designer and the project has positively changed.

BCD: That is basically what you workshop is going to be about, at the Berlin Change Days, the field theory, right?
JR: Yes. It is something I am still trying to understand, because our work is pretty much experimental in a way. We do have lots of methods and processes we use, but we try to be open, to learn from the actual process we go into with our groups. We’ve tried to work for a long time with the idea of designing sustainable systems, but that was pretty functional, and it didn’t enable us to understand the patterns of resonance we often feel when we go into a process. The idea of becoming part of a field and working from a position of connection helped us much more. So we started exploring field theory, but sadly there is not that much good literature on it. Working with field theory sometimes feels like neo-shamanism: it is this notion of working from a source of connection and designing from being connected.

BCD: So one who comes to your workshop, what will they experience?
JR: Well, what they can expect is the sharing of stories of design processes. We will talk about process experiences and we will try to understand them from the perspective of field theory. And I will share practical methods, approaches and attitudes which help facilitating design processes. Those are methods, which enable us to connect to fields, to establish connections which can inform us about the patterns of the field, and to tap into our creativity to have good ideas and innovative approaches for our own designs, products, and concepts. Establishing these connections is not easy and once we have them it’s easy to loose them again. So the real question is: how to stay connected. Thats what I call the flatrate to the field.

If you are interested in Jascha Rohr’s workshop, or keynote, you can register for the Berlin Change Days 2010 by clicking here.