Fika (Swedish) v. – a short coffee break with something sweet Aug07


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Fika (Swedish) v. – a short coffee break with something sweet

Written by Carey Moran, Benjamin Ahearn, and Kristin Karlsson

View to the North

View to the North

Why is it, when collaboration is so highly revered, that group work in school is so…despised? The prospect of compromising your ideas or doing all the work seems sacrilegious and exhausting. In theory, group work is meant to simulate the “real world,” yet the lack of hierarchy in a classroom often induces dueling egos, which does not ring true to an office experience.

It is no wonder that the students of the Timber in the City Competition studio began the winter quarter with some trepidation. The Timber in the City Program included a wood production facility, 180 housing units (studios to 3 bedrooms), a digital fabrication studio and a bike station. The entire program was over 180,000 square feet.  The site was located in Red Hook Brooklyn an area that was inundated with flood water during Hurricane Sandy.

It wasn’t long before we, the members of team Swamp Machine were collaborating, actually collaborating! Not passively participating, or micro-managing, but fully engaging the project and each other, capitalizing on the skills we each brought to the table. With no sense of status or ownership our ideas were freely expressed, considered, casino developed and re-worked.

Re-worked…or rather re-working as nothing the Swamp Machine made was ever complete. Our work was constantly being passed around, if one of us had an idea we would push it as far as we could, hit a wall, and then turn to each other. This was in many ways the key to our success, not only did it allow us to develop the project far beyond what we would have been capable of as individuals, but it also forced us to share ownership, which dissolved egos.


What may have appeared to be bickering, or disagreement to an outsider, was in fact the Swamp Machine pushing forward, developing new ideas and validating the decisions already made. It was an incredibly collaborative process; the kind we have all heard about in any idyllic lecture on group work, yet never seems to pan out in the reality.

swamp machine

For Swamp Machine, the competition was important, but it never became our end all, be all. We often made decisions based on what we believed were the best solutions, as opposed to what might win a competition centered on the innovative use of timber products. As backwards as it may seem, it was this recklessness, or disregard for certain ‘rules’ that created a project, which stood out among the rest. In the end, hard work, determination, luck and fika* propelled the Swamp Machine to an Honorable Mention in the ACSA 2013 Timber in the City Competition, and a nomination for the AIA Regional Student Awards.

*Fika (fee-ka) is both a Swedish verb and noun that roughly translates to a short coffee break, usually accompanied by something sweet.

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