About the Learning Landscapes project
collective visioning for shared spaces
Learning Landscapes (LeLa) is a two-year ERASMUS+ Strategic Partnership coordinated by the Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra, Slovakia with partners in Croatia, Poland, the Netherlands, and Slovakia. The project aims to support capacity building for democratic visioning in the context of spatial design education. The approach builds on an emerging methodology called the ‘Learning Landscapes Process’ and uses participatory digital tools for collective knowledge sharing in the ‘Learning Landscapes Online Labs’. The project started in September 2020 and finished at the end of August 2023.
The project designed a new format for collective visioning based on an innovative partnership of academia, the public sector, and planning professionals with civil society. Underpinning this understanding of the landscape is the European Landscape Convention’s definition of landscape as ‘an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors’ (Council of Europe, 2000). We built on the idea that the local landscape is the actual forum for democratic community visioning.
- To open universities to their communities in three regional contexts: Zagreb, Bratislava, and Gdansk
- To prepare university staff members for their role as facilitators who are actively shaping the ‘learning landscapes process’ in an inclusive, empowering, and democratic way.
- To include our students, the future generation of European planners and designers, into this process by adding an inclusive blended learning format to the ‘learning landscapes process’.
- To open up the ‘learning landscapes process’ to civil society by various means such as local design charrettes, open online lecture series, collaborative mapping activities, landscape walks, and storytelling events.
- To create and share knowledge by documenting the learning landscapes methodology as an open educational resource.
LeLa project partners and team
- Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra (project coordinator)
- Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava
- NGO-Partner: Ecopolis
- University of Zagreb, Faculty of Agriculture, Department for Ornamental Plants, Landscape Architecture and Garden Art
- NGO-Partner: Green Blue Sesvete
- Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk
- Gdansk Urban Development Association (FRAG)
- LE:NOTRE Institute
The LeLa Living Labs
Living labs provide a model that helps academic institutes to connect to a social and cultural context, and understand the everyday challenges of inhabitants and their environment. The Model has a valuable impact on the local community by reconciling individual with group interests and by creating common value through collective conceptualisations.
Academics in the LeLa living labs have the role of knowledge mediators, providing the methodology for the LeLa Lab activity, but they also learn, together with the students, from the inhabitants of the space they are addressing.
The creation of a living lab enables the development of “innovation”, “openness” and “spontaneity” in various processes, which generates “sustainable solutions” and “multiple benefits” as well as producing new “knowledge”.
Also, the process of co-creation and co-production gives the opportunity for university staff to support the end-users throughout the process and to integrate research and innovation in concerned communities and settings. This strengthens the impact of replication and upscaling.
The LeLa Labs function as an iterative cycle of research, action, and reflection that creates new research methods and integrates scientific with societal knowledge.
Gdansk (Gdańsk) LeLa Living Lab
The Landscape Observatory (Obserwatorium krajobrazu), was started and implemented as part of close cooperation between the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, in particular Subfaculty of Architecture of Cultural Spaces (Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w Gdańsku, Kierunek Architektury Przestrzeni Kulturowych), and non-governmental organisation Gdansk Urban Development Association (Forum Rozwoju Aglomeracji Gdańskiej). It focused on the Port Island (Wyspa Portowa) in Gdansk, which is a rapidly transformed and highly diversified area in terms of development, use, as well as its cultural and natural characteristics.
Zagreb LeLa Living Lab
The Krajobrazni laboratorij begins its work in synergy with the local NGO Green and Blue Sesvete, a very active non-governmental organisation of citizens of Zagreb’s fast-growing suburbs. Previous collaborations and projects that our department carried out in collaboration with the NGO Green and Blue Sesvete and their other projects and activities in the community were our guarantors for the establishment of a stable initial small collaborative core for the preparation and organisation of a two-year project (three-year, due to the Covid pandemic). Sesvete is a suburban settlement and part of the city of Zagreb as one of the administrative districts.
Living Lab Nitra
LeLa Living Lab Nitra at the Institute of Landscape Architecture in Nitra, Faculty of Horticulture and Landscape Engineering, Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra (Slovakia) is a living laboratory of landscape architecture, which during three academic years and five semesters created a platform for several activities related to architecture, landscape architecture, urbanism, urban planning and design across all scales. The laboratory implemented all activities through the educational process at the university within various design studios, seminars, and courses led by lecturers, mentors, and experts from practice.
The Bratislava Living Lab
The Landscape Democracy Seminar
This project builds on a previous process, during which we have tried to define landscape democracy as a conceptual framework for our shared action.
It is important to remember that we understand landscape according to the European Landscape Convention (ELC, Council of Europe, 2000). In that sense, landscape is defined as an area as perceived by people, thus the individual human factor regarding the definition of landscape values is really relevant. Furthermore, the ELC avoids a polarisation of the landscape concept between urban and rural. According to this document, landscape includes urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, both outstanding and degraded ones. The convention is a clear pledge for the everyday environment that starts in front of our doors and calls on everyone to take action and responsibility. The ELC builds on the idea that equal access to a healthy, safe, and meaningful landscape is part of the human rights agenda that the Council of Europe aims to promote and protect.
This leads clearly to the democratic dimension of this approach. Landscape is no longer a sectoral expertise. It is supposed to become both, an integrated political objective and a contemporary cultural project. We believe that new methods are needed for achieving this important objective.
The mission of this project is therefore to promote the development of competences for landscape democracy and understanding landscapes as a platform for learning. But, landscapes are complex and there is no ready-made approach that would work in any context. What we discuss and offer is a set of values that guides us along a process.
The participants of the LeLA Living labs followed for this an online seminar that was developed as a part of the LED2LEAP Erasmus+ project. The content, learning aims, methods, presentations, and recordings can be consulted on this wiki.
The LeLa methods and tools
The target groups of the Learning Landscapes project are university staff and students, local community stakeholders such as cultural representatives, educational institutions, NGOs, policy-makers, administrations, and local community associations. Through the ‘Learning Landscapes Process’ the project will also address members from civil society in general and specific social groups such as school students, the elderly, youth in general, ethnic groups, or refugees. For this, the project develops a handbook on the learning landscapes process and its methodology and on the staff development process: The Learning Landscapes Process (Output 1), which will be published in the second half of 2023.
Substantial capacity and skills development among the core target groups of the ‘Learning Landscapes’ project, which will be transferable to other European audiences and future forum locations.
The LE:NOTRE landscape forums and student competitions
The Learning Landscapes project is implemented in close coordination with the annual landscape forum of the LE:NOTRE Institute, one of the project partners. Therefore, the host institutions of the 2019 forum in Zagreb and the 2020 cross-border forum in Bratislava are participating, as well as the 2021 forum host, the University of Fine Arts in Gdansk. Each university is collaborating with a local NGO to ensure close relations with communities, citizens, and stakeholders.
The three forum locations provide the basis for a new dialogue and knowledge-sharing process:
- The community of Sesvete is part of the urban agglomeration of Zagreb in Croatia. Sesvete is in the process of community-based green space development. In addition, the wider green and blue infrastructure development of Zagreb, as studied in the international student competition and discussed during the landscape forum in 2019, was revisited and deepened in workshops and student projects.
- The cross-border area east of Bratislava in Slovakia brings the urban periphery of a European capital together with rural areas on the Austrian and Hungarian sides. The Universities of Nitra and Bratislava followed up on the process that started in the fall of 2019 with the international student competition and the digital landscape forum held in April 2020.
- The coastal landscape of Gdansk and its agglomeration was the focus of the 2021 landscape forum. The student competition focused on the Gdansk Port Island as a landscape of transition facing multiple challenges.
The results of the international student competitions related to each forum can be viewed on the LE:NOTRE Forum website.
Workshops and dissemination activities
- International workshops in Gdansk (2021) and Bratislava (2022). These events took the form of design charrettes with strong community involvement.
- Two dissemination events, one linked to the landscape forum in Gdansk in 2021 and one hosted by the University of Zagreb in the summer of 2023.
Resources and reference material
Three web-based interactive platforms documenting the Learning Landscapes process at each location and facilitating its follow-up activities in a cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary partnership: Learning Landscapes Online Labs:
- The Zagreb living lab: https://lela-landscapes.agr.hr/
- The Gdansk living lab:
- The Nitra living lab:
- The Bratislava living lab: