July 01, 2023

it’s our turn #6

I build the world the way I like it.

My monthly column tells the stories of people who work at the intersection of architecture and responsibility. Why? Because the built world has a major impact on climate, the environment and society – both positively and negatively. The good news is that we can all make our contribution to a better built world. Like Lena Alipoé-Schnetzer and Michael Barsakidis, whose professional disciplines work at very different poles, but who both use good old LEGO® bricks to translate and generate answers and possible solutions.

Lena Alipoé-Schnetzer, Foto: Christian Clarke
Michael Barsakidis

Dr. med. Lena Alipoé-Schnetzer is a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy, trauma therapist and group therapy therapist specialising in depth psychological therapy and analytical therapy. Many therapeutic focuses that are used in her colourful practice on the former manor in Hanover-Bemerode. Lena took over the practice rooms from her predecessor at the beginning of 2020, together with all the staff, the patient base and all the furniture. “How much newness can the practitioners and patients tolerate without feeling “transplanted”? How can I make my staff more visible? And how do I give the practice (my) own signature without completely replacing the furnishings from the 90s and 2000s?” were some of the many questions she juggled and laid out in front of me at the time. For me, as a graduate engineer in interior design, sustainability manager and expert in communication and leadership, I saw the three pillars of sustainability addressed here. The first two points clearly negotiate social sustainability, while the third question highlights the economic (also financial) and ecological (in the sense of resource conservation) aspects.

Together with the practice owner and doctor Dr. Alipoé-Schnetzer, I developed a low-budget and up-cycling concept under the motto “unika” (“unique” in Esperanto), which we implemented in the practice rooms in only three weeks of construction time. Today, the colour concept creates calm and orientation at the same time; also the different pieces of furniture in a room have come together conceptually through repainting. Each treatment room also has a motif that emphasises its distinctiveness. The patterns of birches, butterflies, leopards and zebras were the inspiration for the theme of uniqueness – and in the doctor’s room even the stain, a supposed flaw, is staged. More than three years ago, this courage and the accompanying openness of my client impressed not only me but also the entire practice team.

The differentiated design of the treatment rooms gives the therapists the opportunity to choose the right room for each session. Regular room changes are even desired and have become part of the therapy method.

But it’s not only the treatment rooms that are colourful; the large colour palette is also used in small things. We’re talking about LEGO® and its miraculous effect in the context of therapy! This magical plastic stuff not only brings pain to your feet when you accidentally step on a stone in the children’s room at night, but also therapeutic benefits. With the sticking bricks, children and young people can unleash their creativity, improve their fine motor skills and train social skills. Above all, however, the plastic stones can act as bridge builders and “enablers” when, for example, people with attachment problems or inhibitions find it difficult to interact.

When a colourful sea of building blocks pours between patients and therapists, a new world can emerge with every touch and every click. At the same time, a story is told, despite the sometimes prevailing inner resistance to enter into conversation. Incidentally, this narrative bridge, this translation service, is not only built between children and therapists; it can also be walked by parents together with their child during the session.

While the colourful waiting area of the practice sets the mood for the different treatment rooms, it brings those waiting into contact with LEGO® and DUPLO® even before the actual therapy session. To one side of the room, grey building boards are mounted in a long line on the wall. In front of it is a bench, its upholstered surface interrupted in two places by boxes of building blocks. Instead of nervously “sitting out” the waiting time or distracting themselves with their mobile phones, the patients (and sometimes their parents) get creative, build individually or together and constantly change the LEGO® wall through their individual actions. While the youngsters tend to reach for the bricks in unobserved moments and leave secret LEGO® messages, it is not uncommon for the younger children in particular to proudly take their constructions into the treatment room and start the session by presenting what they have built, says Lena Alipoé-Schnetzer. Asked about the noise that regularly arises in the waiting room due to the search for THE right stone, the doctor reports great differences between the provocative diggers and quiet builders. Despite the noise, she does not want to miss this opportunity to play. On the contrary: “I enjoy the fact that the wall always looks different every day. Recently, during Pride Month, rainbows suddenly appeared among hearts, flowers, abstract shapes or buildings.”

Many children and adolescents need something concrete that they can seamlessly build on in the next therapy session, I learned during the practice renovation. Lena Alipoé-Schnetzer and her team therefore like to work with building boards on which the mental worlds that are created in a session are fixed. But where to put all the built-up boards? We have briefly declared the works to be art and installed illuminated cubes in the practice corridor, where the works are safely waiting for the next session of their builders. Precisely because the translation of the colourful stones into a specific (patient) history can only be done by the therapists and builders, the exhibition of the works is also unobjectionable from the point of view of data protection and medical confidentiality. On the contrary: the therapeutic process thus receives additional recognition and appreciation.

When Michael Barsakidis from Hanover, founder of the LSP Arena, reaches into the LEGO® (trick) boxes – the plural is deliberately chosen here, because about 750 grams of material are recommended per workshop participant – his goal is often “strategy development in real time”. To achieve this, he uses LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP), an innovative and co-creative communication and problem-solving method. “It is based on the fundamental idea that any complex thought, experience or project can be visualised in the form of three-dimensional LEGO® models and metaphorically simplified in storytelling,” Michael explains on his website. SERIOUS PLAY® means that concrete topics and problems from business and organisational practice can be worked on in a moderated process. Although this takes place in a playful context (“PLAY”), the method still ensures in-depth communication and goal-oriented topic processing, just “SERIOUS”.”

Michael Barsakidis has been working as a communications manager since 1996; he was the owner of an advertising and communications agency for 15 years. During his time at the agency, he took several certification courses to become a LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator in analogue, digital and hybrid formats and is now an experienced LSP facilitator. With his passion for “creative thinking with your hands” and teamwork, he supports organisations and teams to realise their full potential. Michael knows how to create a safe and open atmosphere where all voices are heard and innovative solutions emerge. I was so enthusiastic about the methodology at the last CSR Communication Congress that this year I had myself trained as a LEGO® Serious Play® Facilitator – by the master himself. Michael combined the LSP method with knowledge and application examples from sustainability management. For me, the perfect “match made in heaven”.

Like me, Michael also observes that sustainable management is increasingly becoming one of the decisive competitive factors for companies in the future. At the same time, he perceives a very hesitant behaviour when it comes to “getting things done”. “If you want to secure the future of your company, you cannot ignore factors such as demographic change, the associated shortage of skilled workers, energy and raw material prices, the increasing world population and changing social awareness,” says Barsakidis. “At the same time, more and more companies are experiencing that strategic CSR and sustainability management pays off and brings economic benefits to companies, such as reducing costs by saving resources, differentiating from competitors and opening up new markets or increasing employee loyalty.”

If my clients’ intrinsic motivation to act is not enough, I reach for the same carrot. The construction industry is particularly concerned about the shortage of skilled workers and the challenge of employee retention. Or the other way round: If ecological reasons and image alone are behind a company’s commitment, it is quickly perceived by critical stakeholders as green-, white- or pinkwashing. Accordingly, it is important to have a comprehensive, consistently communicated and measurable CSR and sustainability management that pays attention to all three pillars of sustainability, i.e. ecology, economy and social issues.

I am convinced that in view of the clear effects of the climate crisis, we should all actively take responsibility or increase our commitment as quickly as possible. But I regularly ask myself how I can inspire (even more) people to take responsibility – and I found what I was looking for in LSP.

In order to bring a touch of humour into the serious discussions, I now sometimes arm myself with the colourful plastic bricks when the topic of sustainability management in the construction industry wants to be discussed in the conference rooms.

Imagine a team of architects, engineers, project developers, journalists and communicators sitting around a table, picking up small building blocks and letting ideas emerge. A giant windmill on the roof of a high-rise building? Why not! A green façade that attracts bees and butterflies? Sure! And who would have thought that a model of gender-neutral toilets would generate enthusiasm?! That’s what happened recently at the REAL ESTATE ARENA, a new real estate fair that took place in Hanover for the second time this year – and accompanied by a lot of encouragement. Led by Michael Barsakidis, we explored the question of how everyone can contribute to making our built world more gender-equal. In concrete terms, we took a co-creative look at our potential impact on SDG 5, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 5 – gender equality.

At the end of the day, the participants left the room with new insights and a smile on their faces. After all, who would have thought at lunchtime that plastic building blocks could help develop sustainable solutions for the construction industry? LEGO® Serious Play® inspired them to push the boundaries of thinking and generate creative ideas in a playful way.

So, dear construction professionals, unpack your construction helmets and your inner child and let’s revolutionise the construction industry together – with a pinch of fun and a bunch of colourful LEGO® bricks!

Kathrin Albrecht in Stadtkind Magazin 7/23