Torsten i lokalen för testbädden, Steneby, Dals långed
Torsten i lokalen för testbädden i Dals långed

Torsten Hild Lets the Hand’s Thoughts Be His Guide


He is a professor at HDK-Valand – but without Gothenburg and its academic setting as his workplace. Hild’s professorship and teaching at HDK-Valand’s branch campus in Steneby rest on experience and the importance of making, which are also the foundation for the test environment for interior and industrial design he is developing on the Steneby Campus.

Torsten Hild has left the forests of Dalsland for some meetings and to take care of the business of linking together HDK-Valand’s programmes in Steneby with the main institution in Gothenburg. He decides that the good weather will hold long enough to sit outside and have a lunch omelette while simultaneously explaining that a pancake has multiple sides. 

‘Purely cognitively and theoretically, a pancake is its constituent parts: flour, milk, egg and a little salt.’ he says. ‘But if you want to describe it based on experience and perception, you might perhaps say that it is hunger, longing or maybe even your childhood or your grandmother. That turns the pancake into something much larger and more interesting.’ 

The question is what pancakes have to do with being a professor of furniture design. Quite a lot, as it turns out. Throughout Hild’s entire career, both as an interior architect and as a teacher at HDK-Valand, he has been building knowledge and conveying it with experience and perception as his foremost tools. 

‘At the Steneby Campus, we have developed a working method that is distinct from a conventional design process,’ he says. ‘Instead of focusing on theoretical research and analysis, we go into the workshop at a much earlier stage and engage the body in the research effort. We let the material react and guide how we act.’ 

torsten hild undervisar studenter
Photo: Maja-Kristin Nylander

Learning with the Body 
The method builds on teaching theories in which making is central to the construction of knowledge. Through the body and its perceptions, we can build experience and knowledge that go beyond the cognitive. ‘You could say that we “think with our hands” and get from it what is sometimes called tacit knowledge, since it cannot necessarily be defined in words,’ says Hild. 

He has always been interested in processes and how they are structured. He earned a degree in interior design at HDK-Valand and worked for several years at different architecture firms before starting his own studio, which gave him a chance to delve deeper into working methods. He noticed that the construction process was dysfunctional and began wondering about how they planned and conducted their projects. The result was that they started investing much more time in preliminary studies. By allowing the beginning of the process to take time, he could increase the chances that all stakeholders would come to share the same vision of the project goal. And in the end, that saves both time and money. 

Hild’s method attracted interest across the university, and HDK-Valand offered him a professorship. 

After five years of teaching and academic advising of students in the master’s programme in master's in Applied Arts specialisation in Wood Oriented Furniture Design, Hild’s professorship is now taking a new direction. With roots in the significance that the process and the making have for knowledge, he is working to establish a test environment for sustainable production and consumption in the field of interiors and furniture. 

Lokalen där testbädden ska byggas
Photo: Maja-Kristin Nylander

Test Environment for Sustainable Development 
‘We have been given a grant from the Västra Götaland Region,’ Hild explains, ‘to form an organisation with representatives from different design institutions, such as the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås and the Nässjö Wood Centre. Together we appeal to the business community and offer companies a chance to explore ideas that can contribute to their development in a sustainable direction. These companies choose questions for us to explore, and we put together a team of experts.’ 

This team will have access to newly constructed workshops, project managers, process leaders and technicians on site on the Steneby Campus. The test environment, which is funded by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, appeals primarily to small and medium-sized companies, which don’t always have the resources required for changing course. 

Torsten Hild leans back in the hard café chair, happy to have decided to sit outdoors. Then he talks about why he’s enjoying himself at Steneby. ‘It’s isolated out there in the countryside,’ he says, ‘surrounded by beautiful nature, and with a tempo that’s different from life in the city. The environment fosters focus and a form of creativity born from the fact that you can’t just go and buy or take care of whatever you might need.’ 

HDK-Valand’s programmes on the Steneby Campus attract a high proportion of foreign students. According to Hild, there are many reasons for this. One is just the place, which is often perceived as exotic. Other reasons are the programmes’ unique concentrations and the fact that the notion of Scandinavian design is still attractive. 

This autumn, the Steneby Campus will be reasserting its place on the design map when the test environment officially opens and becomes a national centre of expertise in interior and furniture design. At present, the driving force is sustainability, but Hild can see other aspects that will eventually have important places in the test environment. 

‘Practical making has also been shown to be good for our health,’ he notes. ‘There are lots of questions and ideas to explore in which making, interior architecture and furniture design can contribute to our well-being.’ 

By Åsa Rehnström 

More about the test environment

The project to start a test environment within wood for the furniture and interior design industry is owned by Mötesplats Steneby, in collaboration with HDK-Valand Campus Steneby.
Mötesplats Steneby is a collaboration hub, an idea developer and generator for the creative and cultural industries in Dalsland, commissioned by the Västra Götaland regionen.
If you want to know more about the project or Mötesplats Steneby? Visit