Baugespann: Can Service Design Learn Anything from Swiss Planning Regulations?

We should do more with cardboard
This post isn’t as weird as the title suggests, so please stick with me. It does however sit in the ‘curious things you learn when you are walking the dog’ folder. The reason for the cardboard office picture will be explained shortly, I promise.

Baugespann, Bauprofile and Aussteckung.  These are all lovely words from the world of Swiss Building Construction Regulation. The basic idea is that before you get to build anything permanent, you have to put a life size profile of the proposed building on the site, for a month.

This is typically an arrangement of vertical posts and angle pieces that allows neighbours or anyone else who might be affected by the building to ‘experience’ what it might actually look like. The idea is that if you are concerned by the proposals you can then make representation to the planning authorities.

For anyone who wants translation of the German:

  • Baugespann – Construction Span
  • Bauprofile – Building Profile
  • Austeckung – Outline

If you are really interested you can read some more on Swiss Planning Regulations here , look at this Guardian article; ‘Ghost Buildings to help public envisage impact of developments’ or enjoy this video from (very neat and efficient) Swiss Construction Bauvisier.

Clever Job Creation or Something Better?  After watching a few of these Swiss construction company videos I did start wondering if the whole Baugespanne idea was some sort of clever job creation scheme dreamt up by engineers? Anyway, putting my scepticism aside, I can see some real benefits from putting up a life-size profile of a building before permission is given.

Firstly. It really does give you a sense of impact. All the drawings in the world, cardboard models and augmented reality building ‘fly throughs’ don’t quite do that. There’s a lot you can ‘smooth over’ in an architect’s drawing.

Secondly. It gets over the hassle of trying to unearth the plans from your local planning department. This is a bit of an issue for me which I wrote about ages ago in: Beware of the Leopard, Vogon Planning Revisited.

Travelling to and navigating the planning department can be very difficult and intimidating for lots of people. Having the developers take on the ‘burden’ of actually showing you what they plan to do, takes away some of that hassle. It might even impact upon their behaviour and get them to think more carefully about the impact of their plans. 

Back to the Cardboard Office: I promised this would be explained. Here goes. 

I do wonder if there is an opportunity to extend the Baugespann concept into public service design? There is a lot of talk of ‘prototyping’ in public services at the moment, but I don’t see a huge number of examples I would recognise as a prototype.

The cardboard office is an example of a prototype that came from an post I wrote a while back. It emerged after a visit to a manufacturing company and you can read here about how they literally built a manufacturing process out of cardboard to test it.

There are some stand out examples of organisations like Bromford Lab who take the process of testing and prototyping ideas seriously. On a visit to them I got to sit in an actual bus seat, where they were testing the user experience of what it would be like to access their services on a mobile phone, on the bus. The set up didn’t cost a fortune, and it put you firmly in the shoes (and bus seat) of the service user.

Apparently there is a suite of rooms somewhere in Swansea University that can be set up to simulate ‘real life’ and the DVLA have a Usability Testing suite which you can read about here. However, the routine testing of concepts at an early stage, using things like life-size cardboard models isn’t something I bump into every day. At the risk sounding slightly obsessed with making things out of cardboard, it think it would be a good thing to try.

Finally: The Baugespann concept was introduced to me by a neighbour.

I was out walking the dog and he asked me “how is the house building work next door going?” An explanation of Swiss Planning Regulations followed, it’s that sort of neighbourhood.  Unfortunately the dog got bored after 10 minutes and I was dragged off into the woods before he could share the full details (I love that dog).

Next door, they haven’t quite gone for the aluminium/wooden poles and profiles, but this steel frame does give a fair impression of what they have planned.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. The Baugespann approach does mean that the people who will be affected by the change (constructing a building) get a real opportunity to experience the likely impact. I’m not sure this sort of rigorous approach is applied to most public service changes.
  2. The process of constructing a bauprofile (building profile) is likely to have an impact on the behaviour of the people designing that building. They have to ‘live’ with the design and might be a bit more thoughtful in what they design. Would there be any change in behaviour if you had to ‘construct a life size model’ of your new service?
  3. There are some examples of people like Bromford Lab taking the ides of testing and prototyping ideas for new types of public services seriously, but it’s not as common as Baugespann.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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