Theme: ”A European digital design – myth or reality?”
The Scalability of Cultural Production in Europe – Designing innovative digital solutions across societies and cultures
Introduction, Background and Aims
The European Street Design Challenge “kicked off” its international activities with an inter-festival collaborative event at PICNIC 2010 in Amsterdam, bringing together young French and Dutch designers for an ambitious urban design challenge. This exercise focused on the future, but was based very much on realities faced by the Amsterdam and Paris / Ile de France municipalities: to redesign and regenerate “challenging” areas of the city. In the case of Amsterdam, the “core” streets of the historic Red Light District, an area of strong identity, heritage, and charm, but also urban tension and notoriety, were selected for the challenge.
Six teams of design students and young professionals from Paris / Ile de France (ENSCI, Strate College, Les Gobelins) and the Netherlands were set the task of designing and prototyping a “street of the future” solution (e.g. interactive street furniture, smart communications or entertainment spaces, surfaces, or devices) over a period of three days in this historic urban melting-pot in Amsterdam. The team to produce the ‘winning” solution of excellene would receive the European Street Design Award.
In addition to the practical task, the Challenge also posed the following questions:
Can European creatives design digital solutions across European cultures? Cultural diversity is described as a key European asset by the European Commission. A Parisian company can create and design a distinctive and expressive product for Paris. Can it do the same for Amsterdam? Will it be different than the product created by an Amsterdam company? If so, what are the parameters?
Can there be such a thing as a Creative European Digital “Mainstream” Culture and Content (in the sense discussed by Frédéric Martel) to challenge US dominance in the field of digital media? Can there be a diverse, yet recognizable European cultural identity with worldwide applicability and impact?
This exploration of different cultural or national approaches to the sale design challenge, within an overall “European” perpective led to the decision not to mix the design teams, but rather to facilitate an independent approach from the respective French and Dutch groups. The three days of the creative brainstorming, design and development process were to present some interesting reflections on these questions.
Day 1. Opening Session, Wednesday, 22nd September, PICNIC
Q: How can the European Cultural and Creative Industries provide a sustainable regional and European solution to urban design and regeneration?
A: The vision and experience of the Creative Industry Cluster leaders
Q: Collaborating Cities, Collaborating Festivals, Collaborating Designers – How can international collaboration create recognisable European design innovation, whilst maintaining regional cultural identity?
A: The vision and experience of the Collaborating Creatives
11:00 – The Paris Creative vision
Stephane Distinguin, President Futur en Seine, CEO FaberNovel, Paris
11:20 – The Amsterdam Creative vision
Marleen Stikker, Co-Founder, PICNIC, President Waag Society, Amsterdam
11:40 – The Challenge: Why, Who and How?
Introduction to the Workshop and the Participants – Janine Huizenga, Co-founder The Creative Cooperative : ENSCI Strate College Les Gobelins HKU HKU/MA TU Delft TU Eindhoven
12:00 – End of opening session
In the opening session Andrew Bullen presented the background to the session;
- A non-fragmented approach, with unity and collaboration alongside cultural diversity in the European Creative and Cultural Industries
- Can Europe counter the increasing US ‘mainstream” dominance of the global cultural marketplace?
- The experience of The Digital City in the Next Five Years with Amsterdam participation at the Paris Futur en Seine Festival in 2009
- Bringing Festivals, Cities, Creative Industries and Designers together across countries cultures
Geleyn Meijer followed with a clear appeal to the teams to apply “design thinking”, with its innovative perspectives and approach, to the economic and social challenges of the present time, as the necessary alternative to the traditional “system thinking”.
Jean-Baptiste Soufron, representing Cap Digital, emphasized the importance of shared space for experimentation and innovation, as exemplified by the various collaboration areas used by the Cap Digital communities in Paris. In addition, he cited the example of the kind of entrepreneurial tenacity, displayed in the Silicon Valley, as an inspiration to European teams – if creative collaboration is not successful the first time, then keep on trying until you finally succeed!
Stephane Distinguin followed by stressing the importance of scale in innovation – from city the world. Strong identities, he said, are key, but innovation is about re-interpreting, changing and mixing identities across cultures. And also on a creative level, “Imagination rules the world…and it was born in Europe!”
Marleen Stikker then took the floor to emphasise that collaborative European interventions such as the challenge are a new, driving force for social innovation and change. Finally, Janine Huizenga explained the main concepts behind the workshops and introduced the teams.
Introduction of the teams to the neighbourhood
The afternoon session of the first day moved to the Waag FabLab, on the Nieuwmarkt and started with an introduction to the historic Red Light District by those who know the area best:
Birgit Büchner, representing the Ons Lieve Heer op Solder Museum, gave a vivid account of the history of the area, and the role of the present-day museum within a district with a highly charged social and cultural heritage.
Henny Tinga, representing the Salvation Army, gave a compelling account of her 40 years as a resident and worker in the neighbourhood, and held the audience spell-bound with her knowledge and stories of those who live, work and play in the area.
First Brainstorming Session
The teams then left the Waag, in the company of Henny, Birgit and Janine, in order to conduct their own cultural and emotional mapping of the two central streets of the Red Light neighbourhood, namely the Oudezijds Vooorburgwal and Ouderzijds Achterburgwal.
Examples of the results of the cultural and emotional mapping process included:
Lack of mystery – Loudness, scream of visuals – Theme park – Rich architecture and heritage – Lively – Light and Shade – Exhibiting – Cheap and expensive – It feels fake – “louche”, dodgy – Mix of religion and belief – Mix of purposes and destinations – Layering – Craftsmanship – Fragments of traditional night ambiance – Not knowing > superficial information – Pretending – Giving yourself attitude
The teams followed the mapping exercise was by discussing and defining their central values in creating a new design for the neighbourhood. These included:
Light and Shadow – Balance – Fluidity – Reflect – Past and Present – Passion – Content – Empathy – Accessibility – Emotion – Connection and Empowerment – Exchange – Creativity and Inspiration – Humour – Inclusive
The workshop day ended with a revue of the values, and mental preparations for the next day’s appreciative inquiry and trends exploration. For many in the teams, the evening and night continued with further brainstorming, discussion, and study of the neighbourhood.
Day 2. Second Brainstorming Session
The teams started the day with an Appreciative Inquiry, answering the question:
“What would you identity as your most positive experience with regard to successful urban design and regeneration?”
The teams exchanged information on inspiring urban design projects, such as:
“Nuages Verts” – Availability of free urban bicycles – Paris Plage – Bliss Street Lab – Raise the cloud – Ceinture Nord Tram Line – Parasite architecture
To end the plenary session brainstorming, trends were identified, which could have a significant impact on future development in the historic Red Light District. These included:
Ethical tourism, traffic, positive footprint – Change in urban public transport – Digital combination of the 5 senses – Personalisation of experience – Digital “socials”: connected initiatives for social change – Small-scale public interventions in the city e.g. greening
Concept creation and development
For the rest of the second day, the teams continued the concept creation, design and build process of their prototype models. Some of the participants took a breather from their design work, and gained inspiration by visiting Adam Greenfield’s Future City Lab at PICNIC, an event which was much appreciated.
This was a long development day. A pause was taken at between 7pm and 8.30 pm for a joint aperitif, as an excellent opportunity for the French and Dutch participants to start “getting to know each other”, despite the intense schedule. Otherwise, all the teams worked long into the evening…or, indeed, the night.
DAY 3. Prototype development and model build
On the morning of the third day, the teams worked intensely on the presentation of their design solutions, and in some cases, the final build of their prototype models, making full use of the Fablab facilities.
Towards lunchtime, David van Traa, representative of the Municipality of Amsterdam and chairman of the European Street Design Challenge Jury, visited each of the teams, to gain an overview of the proposed solutions, and give initial feedback to the participants.
The deadline was very tight – by 14:30 all the teams had to leave the Waag, and make their way to the PICNIC site for the final presentation, evaluation and award ceremony.
Presentation, Evaluation and Award Ceremony
The final presentations of the proposed solutions started at 16:00 before an international jury composed of invited specialists from local government, the Creative Industries and Design:
- David van Traa (Chairman): City of Amsterdam
- Geleyn Meijer, Dierctor IIP Create, Dean HvA School of Design and Communication, Netherlands
- Jean Louis Frechnin, Founder NoDesign / ENSCI, Paris
- Luis Perez-Simon, Dean of International Affaits, Strate College, Paris
Andrew Bullen moderated, as the teams presented the following proposed solutions:
The Red Light District is part of the ancient harbour of Amsterdam and the team focuses on the importance of water in relation to the identity of the neighborhood. The busy harbour laid the foundation for a vibrant ‘ecosystem’ of cultures and trades from all over the world. To the team, the water symbolizes this ecosystem. At present, the canals are not used and present a ‘sense of non space’ in an area that is more and more overcrowded with mass tourism and ‘screaming’ visual signs.
The team proposed to strip all facades of their commercial frontings to reveal the historic beauty of the old houses. LED Perimeter Advertising Systems, as used in football stadiums, are then placed on the walls of the canals to advertise commercial activities, historical information, current news etc. to reflect the richness of the area. The reflection of the LED animations on the water will also create beautiful ambient lighting at night.
The team needed time to work their way through the first and most striking layer encountered: prostitution. After some time of “in depth” research and observation of the area, they came to see what they considered to be the REAL Red Light District: a neighbourhood full of layers, a system consisting of a rich diversity of services, places, and associations: charity and neighbourhood initiatives, cultural life and very strong social links. Their conclusion “ Despite the contrast between the existing layers, the Red Light District is a balanced ecosystem. Highlight this, take care of it and encourage that identity. Reinvent and empower, rather than repair and cure! ’
The team proposed a “Layers Urban and Social Design System”, based on the idea that local people can do things together for their neighbourhood, become resources themselves by using their homes, talents and networks. The design system is built of four ‘layers’ of activity. These activities are indicated through a system of icons, displayed on the facades of the buildings, where they are hosted. This will then create a rich, collaborative and hyper-local network.
The team starts with the question ‘What actually is an urban environment and who uses it?’ They identify 3 key layers in this specific area: residents, business and tourists. The residents and business form a permanent core of layers. Tourists are important players and, to an extent, define the character of the space, but are transient and thus have a different character than the other layers. The team observed that the tourists do not confront the right kind of information about the neighbourhood and hence have a very one-dimensional opinion of it. This influences their behaviour, and their use of the space.
The team proposed a collective creative and business model for the neighbourhood. This proposal is based on two essential factors: 1. Tourists send post-cards to family and friends to share their experiences while travelling, 2. The Red Light District has traditionally attracted a high number of artists, writers, and creative individuals.
The team therefore proposes using the simple post-card medium as an information carrier to open levels of depth to the visitors of the area. The production and creation of these post-cards would come from collaboration between residents and commercial entrepreneurs (the two core layers): writers, prostitutes, artists and those living locally. They all have an interesting story to tell. The postcards would be distributed through small dispensing machines all around the neighbourhood. The postcards are also equipped with an integrated augmented reality code, which allows users to view a video or artistic production within the neighbourhood via a web connection.
Not having initially much information about the Red Light District, the team approached the area as a blank canvas. At first they experienced and recorded the environment from a tourist point of view. But discussions with locals – waiters, bartenders, massage parlour owners, residents, etc.- radically changed their opinion of the neighbourhood. They suddenly saw the architecture and the beautiful, spacious views from the bridges that cross the canals. They understood that it is quite difficult to see this aspect of the area at first glance. Their conclusion: if the district has an incredible cultural diversity, it has unfortunately a “disproportionate” visual diversity. In their opinion disproportionate visual diversity is just a matter of point of view. They listed two key elements that they believed could help people to see another “face” of the area: contemplation and information.
They agreed that the best place to make people change their point of view is in the middle of the Red Light District, that is to say, on the canals. Inspired by the very Parisian concept of the urban park as a place for contemplation and a reflective stroll (flâner) the team decided to create a space “on top of” the canals, a mini park, to give people a chance to do nothing but admire the area. Once people are in the position to see the district from another point of view, seamless augmented reality is provided to add another layer of information, which allows them to increase their knowledge. The augmented reality also plays with the concept of watching and being watched.
SimAmsterdam – Team Amsterdam, NL – Honorary Mention
Liz started by introducing Bunny Colvin, Commander in the Baltimore Police Department, from the Wire. She told how he tried to make Baltimore’s drug trade safer by setting up some “free zones” in which drugs could be bought and sold. One of these zones became known as Hamsterdam.
She chose to open with this because this work of fiction indicates the extent to which Amsterdam is global property. Se also chose Bunny because he made a very ambitious experiment in his social environment. She then went on to propose “a way in which we can all be Bunny Colvin, by creating living models of the city that we, as residents and potential policy makers, can use to model the effects of decisions about its future.”
Liz’s proposition is to build a red Light District MMORPG, a Massive Multi-user Online Role Playing Game, sourcing data through live data models, official data, crowd sourcing and by analyzing online social activity. Liz maintains that data visualization is best when we look at multiple perspectives, and then make decisions. This is a complex ecosystem, where different factors influence each other – therefore it is useful to make a dynamic model, make interventions withiin that model, and then observe how the model changes. Players would include psychologists and economists, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, madams, landlords and traffickers. Policy makers would be linked up to real time simulations of the city. It can also be used to model the black economy, according to the data available. The game should be played out on the city map, and be influenced by real or simulated human traffic, accurate for the time of day, or day of the week. A very important rule of play for this game is: Keep it Real!
What struck the team immediately about the area was that people were crowded together and focused on the most obvious sites and attractions e.g. prostitutes’ windows, sex shops and shows, pubs and coffee shops, whilst there are many other interesting layers and fascinating sites to experience and enjoy. The following questions helped them to come to a design proposition: How can we ease the “people traffic congestion”? How can we highlight hidden spaces? How can we ease the tension between residents, going about their daily lives, and tourists, enjoying the classic Red Light District experience?
They decided to use collected data sets – using sound and movement sensors and emotional data via mobile phone input – to trigger light paths that would seduce people away from crowds and disperse them into small alleys and other, “unobvious”, interesting places. These light paths might take the form of intriguing dynamic light foot prints, which could followed up walls and round corners to lead to mysterious new places of interest.
David van Traa, representing the city of Amsterdam and Chairman of the Jury, announced the final decision of the jury: Despite a very close contest, the initial European Street Design Challenge Award was presented to the design team from Strate College Paris, for their daring, innovative and reflective “Behind the Window” design.
Andrew Bullen closed the event with an invitation to all participantsand the audience to meet again for the next European Street Design Challenge at Futur en Seine in Paris and the Ile de de France in June 2011.
Considering the very limited amount of time for the creation and development of a design solution, and the fact that several of the design teams were not only new to the area, but also to each other, the quality, insight, and vision of presented solutions were truly remarkable. This, in turn, says a great deal for the expertise, commitment, enthusiasm, and tenacity of the design teams.
As the European Street Design Challenge is also a reflection on “unity within diversity” in the European creative and design community, we also offer the following initial observations for further discussion and deliberation:
The Dutch teams knew more about the area. They did not have the same shocked response to the place as the French teams. They already had a “loaded”’ image, which possibly led to a more immediate design approach.
On the other hand, they could more quickly map the strengths and unique community identity that are already in place and come up with a project which celebrates, brings together and therefore enhances those local strengths. Creativity, collaboration and economic identity dare to go hand in hand in the Netherlands.
The Dutch teams quickly adopt a “hands-on” approach, moving forward very practically once concensus has been achieved. Roles in the group are defined, and the progress towards a targeted solution. The quick, pragmatic and more intuitive approach of the Dutch teams is very well suited for pressure cooker design challenges.
The French teams seem to be highly trained in the art of brainstorming and looking at life and the living environment in a philosophical way, using various sets of tools. They were also very open to the use of tools introduced to them in the workshop. They create a myriad of different ideas and possibilities, which sometimes made it difficult for them to make a practical choice. They needed much more time in deciding for a final concept.
As against the Dutch relatively quick “hands-on” and pragmatic approach, the French teams in general tended to labour far more with initial reflection, discussion and evaluation before progressing to practical considerations of the design production and implemenation.
The overwhelming initial cultural impact of the Red Light District – visual shock, prostitution, loud cultural mix – made it more of a challenge for them to think of the area as a multilayered neighborhood where people live a ‘normal’ everyday life. Once this perspective had been attained, they progressed to a highly reflective and creative approach to the neighborhood’s underlying, layered complexity.
Both French and Dutch teams shared the ability to present a rich artistic and aesthetic statement in addition to an architectural urban intervention.
These are initial observations as an immediate result of the event. More debate will continue on the subject with design experts from various parts of Europe in the coming weeks and months. No doubt, the extended European Street Design Challenge is Paris in June 2011 will present the opportunity to make further, wide-reaching conclusions.