Q&A: Johanna Muszbek

Budapest studio Hello Wood’s ‘Project Village’ was initiated three years ago in the woods at Csóromfölde, near Hungary’s Lake Balaton, as an architectural education experiment. The summer camp’s curator discusses its genesis and where it’s going

Johanna Muszbek
Johanna Muszbek

How did a small Budapest studio get to set up Project Village?

Hello Wood had been doing installation experiments for years at Hungary’s public festivals, having a fascination with temporal, portable architecture. In 2014 it proposed a rural settlement analysing the building of structures around themes of adaptive building methods, craft and collaboration. The studio asked me to curate a complementary programme around the social themes raised at this summer camp.

When does it run and who gets involved with it?

The 2017 summer school has just finished but it’s getting bigger every year. There are pre and post events but the residential studios take place over eight days. This year we had nearly 150 people from 25 countries. The AA’s GroundLab ran one of the seven studios, each of which has 12-14 students. They pay a minimal fee and teachers get expenses paid.

So what happens there?

We ask each studio to develop a project – either a building to add to existing ones or an experimental response. As well as community buildings and a kitchen block, we’ve dug a well for water,  and built showers and composting toilets. We use a petrol generator but hope to install solar panels. We have evening symposiums and social events, and actively engage with the local village. We try to keep in mind an ideal of social sustainability.

But isn’t it abandoned for the rest of the year?

The community is nomadic and transient by definition, so yes. We haven’t the funds to protect it – and wouldn’t anyway. Whatever happens to the village merely creates the extant conditions for its next iteration. That said, nothing’s ever been stolen or vandalised.

Doesn’t the camp just throw up the same issues of the strongest designers getting to control the output of the students?

Interesting question. We’d like to think we challenge traditional design hierarchies and test collaborative processes so we discuss this at the end of every camp. I believe in design roles based on merit and skills. We don’t use craft as a means of investigating forgotten techniques but to organise people into work processes that generate collective efficiencies.

So Project Village is refreshingly ego-free is it?

There are conflicts; but they are important and used as an educational tool. It’s not a camp of hippies but young, opinionated architects who all have views. Some people don’t like compromising their projects to adapt to another; but that raises big questions about how we design cities and respond to our localities.