Urban-Rural Projects

Exhibition: Urban-Rural, Shanghai 2019

Urban-Rural Exhibition – slideshare


Our urban-rural projects and Xskool workshops connect the “what is?” with the “what if?” – often in the context of a bioregion. We invite domain experts to work with local project and community leaders; together, we identify and develop new opportunities.

Above: At the Unbox Festival in India, we explored ancient water systems in Bangalore with @zenraiman

Grottole, Italy
Many city people yearn to reconnect with nature and the land – but city and rural are dis-connected. What are we to do about it?  In southern Italy, we are working with @CasaNetural to develop a new kind of learning destination – a base from which to connect with farms, watersheds, bioregions, ecomuseums, food routes, industrial heritage, and agro-ecology.

Our approach at Wonder Grottole is to combine the “What Is?” (above) with the “What If?” For example: shown below is Giuseppe’s Ape (with a curious cargo). We ask,:”What other services could the Apes of Grottole support?” In exploring that question, we look far and wide for inspiration – for example, Go-Jek in Indonesia.

Back To The Land 2.0, Pontio, North Wales
If the health of people, and the places where we live, are connected, what kinds of business can help them thrive together? In September 2018, we’re helping launch a new Relational Design Masters with Pontio; students will explores live approaches to innovation that are centered on people and place, tech enabled, and design-led. They will learn how, for example, to connecting adventure sport (below) with the $3 trillion wellness industry.

KTH, Stockholm
A ‘leave things better’ economy is emerging in civic ecology and green infrastructure, wetlands restoration, fibersheds, and Ecological Restoration Camps. At Sweden’s premier architecture school KTH  (below) we explored  the ways in which ecological restoration is not only multi-disciplinary; it also works at multiple scales of geography and time.

Ecological Restoration by Design, Schumacher College
On this short course at Schumacher College in 2017 (below), which we led with Lisa Maria Enzenhofer, we explored ecological restoration at multiple scales of geography and time. We went on a Deep Time Walk (below); looked at micro-environments in former factories; and met people working on regenerative agriculture; civic ecology, green infrastructure.

Back To The Land 2.0 with Konstfack, Sweden
Our annual summer school with Konstfack, in Sweden (where the sun always shines) combines online work with a week on site in at Hjulsjö. In 2017 (below) we crafted and tested small actions to do with soil fertility, ecological and economic value, biodiversity, food webs. We asked: how best might we support ongoing actions in rural situations like this one?

City-Rural Connections, Abadir Academy, Sicily
Our short course on City-Rural Connections @Abadiracademy in Sicily was part of its Relational Design masters.We visited local projects, such as a permaculture orange farm (below) and discussed ways for city people to reconnect with rural projects.

CasaNetural, Matera, Italy


If the ‘souvenir’ of tomorrow were to be a reciprocal relationship between city people and a rural place, what would it be about? Together with @CasaNetural, a hub in southern Italy, we looked for alternatives to the ‘visit-spend-leave’ model of mass tourism – for example, the opportunity to learn a skill from artisans, or farmers, as part-time ‘remote apprentices’. (Below: the @CasaNetural team in Ganges).

Back To The Land 2.0, Stir To Action, England
In Bridport, England, we explored new ways for city people to re-connect with the land—and how to make them happen: Ways that are part-time, but long-term; ways that involve an exchange of value, not just paying money; ways to share knowledge, land, and equipment in new ways; ways based on historical links between town and country—but reinvented in an age of networks and social innovation. Afterwards, the Agroecology Land Trust made a to-do list of practical issues that need to be addressed.

Back To the Land 2.0, Chora Connection, Copenhagen
This Chora Connection workshop in 2016 brought together 12 pioneering project leaders who are developing real-world examples (see map) of how local living economies work. We discussed the fact that city and rural are dis-connected – and what to do about it. Chora connects new partners: regions, municipalities, associations, guilds.

DK map

Bioregions by design, South Devon, England
A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the unique places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among watersheds, foodsheds, fibersheds, and food systems – not just  in cities, towns, or ‘the countryside’. Together with Isabel Carlisle and Regenesis we helped to run a  two week course at Schumacher College.

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cv Schum Charette 2016

School of the Moon, Scotland
We explored new ways to connect with the ecological and cultural assets of ‘Big Tree Country.’ Our group included a blacksmith, a digital arts producer, a land owner, a raspberry farmer, a soldier turned master mead maker, an expert on the ecosystems to be found in dry stone walls, a service designer, an artist who makes outfits that disguise you as a rock, the tutor at a forest school, and a designer of water cleaning systems. Our host was with Clare Cooper from Cateran’s Common Wealth 

aa xskool rock, Ayliff Dalziel-Scullion

Space 10, Copenhagen
It was a thrill to follow in the steps of Tomorrow’s Meatball. We were invited by the Danish Design Centre to run an “Ask Me Anything” lunch at Copenhagen’s latest creative innovation lab, Space 10. Our free-ranging discussion revolved around design thinking, business models, emergent technologies, complex challenges and sustainability.

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Re-thinking urban-rural mobility, Vienna

Together with StadtFabrik (City Factory) – MAK Vienna’s real-time research lab – we helped a multi-disciplinary group  develop a new story about mobility and infrastructure in Vienna. Our guest projects were Biotope City; Komobile,who design decision-support software for cargo bike systems; and Cargo Bike Collective.

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Wild work: connecting the social and ecological by design (California)
A week of workshops at California College of the Arts, San Francisco (John is shown with our host Leslie Roberts). An explosion of new economy models is surfacing all around the world: Sharing. Peer-to-Peer. Commons’ ownership. Mobility as a service. Bioregions. Local money. Transition Towns.  Something is happening – but is there a pattern?

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Lab for Change Makers, Amsterdam
What is an economy actually for? Together with deWaag, we invited social change makers, inventive life hackers and enthusiastic self-organized communities to explore the power of small actions to transform the bigger picture.

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Service Innovation, Santiago, Chile
We ran a Pro-Am workshop on service design (below) during the Service Design Congress held in 2015 at the  Universidad Católica de Chile

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Leathershed Lab, India
Together with our friends at the Unbox Festival in Delhi, and designer Mansi Gupta, we went the heart of India’s largest leather-producing region. We discussed ways to develop products and services that combine clean forms of leather making with direct connections between between producers and customers.

xskool leathershed

HIGHLIGHTS 2005-2015

Systems Thinking In Stockholm’s Archepelago

Fifty designers, artists and architects spent a week at our Xskool on Grinda to explore two questions: What does this food system taste like? and, How does this forest think? One team performed the Soil Tasting Ceremony shown above; we were  invited to compare the tastes of the teas and soils in silence.

soil-tasting B

Edible Campus, Växjö, Sweden
What would it take to transform a campus covered in  hard surfaces into a resilient social-ecological ecosystem? Our Xskool at Linnaeus University (above), named after a founding father of ecology, developed-campus wide proposals for what could grow where, who would do what, and the business models to sustain this transformation across future generations. 

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Ecological Learning In Katoomba, New South Wales
Together with the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre (below), we brought together local government officials artists, designers, environmentalists, teachers, students, architects, tourism operators and business people. The outcome was a shared commitment to develop forms of tourism that involve ecological learning.

XSKL Katoomba

Informal Economies And Service Innovation, Barcelona
When Claro Partners hosted the first Informal Economy Symposium in restorationBarcelona, we ran an xskool session (above) about the opportunities for service innovation in food systems.


A Social Enterprise Hub in Fremantle, Australia
In Freemantle we explored practical ways to accelerate the growth of social micro-enterprises – with a special focus on the kind of hub, lab, or platform needed to sustain this kind of work through time. The highlight was a visit (above) to Myre, a former deparrtment store now occupied by a thriving community of designer-makers.


Sustainable Tourism in Brisbane
We brought together (below) five eco-tourism businesses for a hands-on day that combined a lecture, brainstorm and service design clinic. For David Morgans, Queensland’s Director Destination & Market Development, the day “helped me to seek opportunities outside the square for solutions & inspiration”


Carinthia, Austria
For the Austria Tourist Board’s ATB Experience, we briefed 300 international delegates on emerging forms of eco-tourism from around the world. The cheese (below) was freshly-made by the nuns who welcome visitors to a 16th century convent in Wernberg.

2012 ATB Austria

Living Systems on Grinda, Stockholm Archipelago
In what ways can design help people interact with living systems in ways that help both of them thrive? Our  xskool on the island of Grinda (below) was a partnership with Konstfack with the participation KADK in Denmark as part of the FuturePerfect Festival

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Cycle Commerce As As Ecosystem In Delhi
At the UnBox Festival in Delhi (below) we brought together service designers, cargo bike designers, and city planners to explore practical steps needed to accelerate the growth of cycle commerce as an ecosystem

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Service Design For Rovaniemi, Lapland
During Rovaniemi Design Week, we visited small and large companies to identify ways that service design can improve their work. Below: in our coldest xskool so far, we debate sustainable forestry with forest managers and experts from Ponsse.

2013 Rovaniemi

Food As Green Tourism In Llubljana
For the Regional Development Agency of the Ljubljana Urban Region, our talk and workshop identified a short-list of new business opportunities in food and tourism at the scale of a bioregion.

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Alba, Beirut


Watershed Regeneration, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Together with Box1824, we organized a learning journey to favelas, organic kitchens, watersheds – and a creative digital hub. Our visit to a favela called Brasiliandia (below) focused on ways to combine social enterprise with the regeneration of damaged local watersheds.

Food Systems In Istanbul, Turkey
Growing The BioCity was a a workshop for architects, city developers and planners. We developed proposals for new ways to share food knowledge between city and country (below).

Social Design At Ambedkar University, Delhi
One of India’s newest universities occupies one of the country’s oldest and most beautiful sites (below). We ran a faculty workshop to develop projects for AUD’s new social design masters programme. 

2012 AUD

Venice: From Gated Lagoon to Bioregion
Together with a team of urbanists and ecologists (below) from TU Graz, we ran a workshop in Venice around the proposition: From Gated Lagoon to Bioregion. Our report on the workshop is here

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Soup + Bike + Service: Zurich, Switzerland
In Zurich Eco Lab we sought out grassroots social innovators and asked them: what aspect of your business could  be improved with the help of service design? One of the green gems in the Zurich’s ecology scene, Suppen und Pedale (below) have grown their soup delivery business from 10 litres to 1,000 litres a day.

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Living Systems In Dundee, Scotland
What happens when social innovation meets living systems in the city? Together with Dundee’s Fleet Collective, we gathered together the best projects from the city and asked: in what ways might service innovation help them do better? One of the
highlights was meeting Dundee Urban Orchards (below).

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A Rural Hub At West Lexham, England
We took 18 social innovators to explore the concept of a rural enterprise hub at an old Norfolk farm. We cooked meals in a cob oven (below) met with local brewers, and built a path.

Rural Innovation, Bangor, North Wales
For an xskool entitled Innovation In A Small Nation, we explored how a resilient economy can emerge in a region with one foot in a rural economy, its other in a world of universities and nuclear power (below).


Post-Car Mobility, Fiat Isvor, Brazil
We challenged forty designers and managers from Fiat Isvor to construct a manifesto on the theme mobility – with the instruction not to design any cars. They responded brilliantly!


Design And Permaculture, Angsbacka, Sweden
At the first Future Perfect Festival, in Sweden, our conversations were face-to-face, not face-to-screen – sometimes in the permaculture garden shown below.

Social Asset Hunting, Luzern, Switzerland
In  an xskool event called Asset Hunting, we sent young designers to find a neglected social or ecological asset somewhere in Luzern. One group developed the idea for a business that will enhance  one church’s revenues (below)by opening it up to  bouldering in the city.


Power Station As Social Hub, Iceland
During a Who Needs Oil Road Trip we explored new service ideas for the coolest new social hub  – this disused electricity power station in Reykjavik. From left to right (below) are our hosts: Dori Gislason, Andri Snaer Magnason, Soley Stefansdottir.

HIGHLIGHTS 2000-2010

St Etienne, France
We organised City Eco Lab (below) as centrepiece for the main French design biennial. 80,000 visitors came to interact with more than 50 projects from the region; they met urban farmers, watershed restorers, and bicycle couriers – and  ate at Cantine  50km.


St Etienne, Design Clinics Common to all our xskools is an over-riding question: In what ways can design help people interact with living systems in ways that help both of them thrive?  Shown below, a group from the Casino supermarket on
a visit to the urban farming section of City Eco Lab.

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New Delhi, India
In Doors of Perception 9 on food systems and design, we took specialists from 20 global cities to the
markets,communal kitchens, street food (below) and farms of Delhi.

This (below) was our convention centre at Doors 9 on food systems.  Every evening, with Indian experts, we discussed the lessons learned on these expeditions.


North East England For Designs Of The Time, the UK’s social innovation biennial, we ran live projects that explored what life in a sustainable region could be like. More than 20,000 citizens came to the Dott Festival (below) on the banks of the  River Tyne.


Thing Link
A highlight of Dott, in 2007, was a presentation called Thing-Link (below) about the potential of tracking technologies to  enhance transparency in supply chains.


Alzheimer 100
Also for Dott07, we enabled people with dementia and their carers to describe the range of practical actions that might improve their lives. They presented these stories at our festival on the banks of the River Tyne.


Bangalore, India As part of Doors East 2, we took our delegates (below) to meet researchers at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT)


Halifax, Nova Scotia Doors of Perception helped to organise Four Days Halifax. Our starting point was that many elements of a resilient Halifax already exist in embryonic form – but not all of them are visible. To change that, we made a pop-up scale model (below) in the middle of the street.


Southern California In our Sustainable Everyday Life Project Clinic
  we asked, What would life in a sustainable world be like?” Together with The Planning Center, we brought together participants from grassroots organisations (below).


Stanford, Off-Grid Water Together with Stanford University’s ’Design For Change’ programme, we ran a professional design clinic on the theme of “off-grid water”. It focused on entrepreneurs in the Palo Alto region who were developing tools to help citizens manage water sustainably.


Amsterdam, Project Leaders Round Table



2013 MexicoB
Four Days Halifax (week of sustainability events, Halifax Nova Scotia, 2009)
The Landfill Designers (Programme for BBC Radio 4, 2009)
2012 Imperative Teach-In (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2009)
Off-Grid Water (Service design clinic, Stanford University, 2009) Sustainable Daily Life (Projects Clinic, The Planning Center, Southern California, 2009)
Travel Without Moving (Design clinic on ‘sustainability immobility’ at Pixelache Festival, Helsinki, 2009)
City Eco Lab (Sustainability festival, St Etienne, France, 2008)
Eco Design Challenge (Schools’ sustainability competition, North East England, 2006-2007)
Designs of the Time (Dott07) (Sustainability festival, North East England. 2007)
Food systems: the design agenda (Doors of Perception 9, New Delhi, 2007)
Aspen Design Summit (international conference, Aspen, 2006 )
Social Innovation Observatory ‘Emude” (European design research consortium, 2005-2007)
Platforms for social innovation (Doors of Perception 8 on “Infra”, New Delhi, 2005)
Tools For Citizen Services (Project Leaders Round Table, Amsterdam, 2004)
Time In Design (24 hour workshop on time and sustainability, Delft. 2003)
Fused Space (A competiton about new ways to use new media, The Netherlands, 2003)
Mobility, Geography, Access (DoorsEast2, Bangalore, India, 2003)
Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (Helping set up a new instituion, Ivrea, Italy, 2000-2003)
Design and Local Knowledge (Service design conference, Oslo, 2002)
Hong Kong Design Task Force (Expert advice to government task force, Hong Kong, 2002)
Amsterdam Medical Centre (AMC) (Participation in think-tank, Amsterdam, 2002)
Post-spectacular tourism (Eco-tourism workshop, Narva-Joessu, Estonia, 2002)
The design challenge of pervasive computing (Doors of Perception 7 on Flow, Amsterdam, 2002)
Life in the learning economy (conference for 1,000 professors, Amsterdam, 2001)
The design challenge of pervasive computing (vision development for European Union Convivio 2001-2003)
Design and Innovation Research Centre (DIEC) (Planning a new design and innovation centre. Newcastle upon Tyne. 2001) Quality Time at High Speed (Service innovation workshop, Breda, The Netherlands, 2000)
Local knowledge: the design and innovation of tomorrow’s services (DoorsEast 1, Ahmedabad, India, 2000)
Doors of Perception 6 on “Lightness” (international design conference, Amsterdam, 2000)
Design Clinic for Entrepreneurs (Workshop, Highlands and Islands of Scotland)
Virtual Platform (Advice to Dutch government on new media policy, 2000-2003)
E-Culture Fair ( Marketplace of new media prototypes and research projects, Amsterdam, 2000)