The first European Street Design Challenge at PICNIC in September 2010 succeeded in embodying the main international aims of Futur en Seine: to unite international creatives, designers, festivals and cities in creating a strong and shared vision of an innovative and feasible future urban landscape and experience. The event produced not only inspirational urban design solutions, but also a significant contribution to the debate on the potential of creative European collaboration across diverse European cultural perspectives. The quality, insight, and vision of the presented solutions were remarkable.
We have built on the success of the first Challenge at Futur en Seine in June 2011, where the theme of “unity within diversity” was once again explored, not only on a European level, but within the Paris Region itself.
In Paris, as in other major cities, urban designers, architects, politicians, creatives and citizens increasingly face the challenge of finding solutions that create a sense of ‘connectedness’ and shared identity between the expanding new suburbs and the old, historic city centre. For Futur en Seine, a “border” area linking the city of Paris and the 93 (Neuf Trois) “banlieue” was predefined as the target area for redevelopment by young, international designer teams. The challenge was indeed ambitious – to design a “gateway” or “bridge” from the suburbs to the city centre and vice versa, which is natural, aesthetically balanced and inclusive.
The area that was chosen to be ‘redesigned’ is in the commune of Pantin in the Seine-Saint-Denis (93) department. One of the most densely populated municipalities in Europe, bordering on the inner ring road (périphérique) on the northeastern side of Paris, Pantin has shared the same fate as many of its neighbouring communities, as its identity and social infrastructure have been eroded over the years. This presents an additional challenge : to reinforce not only common identity between the city and the suburbs but also within the suburbs themselves. The Ourq canal, with its origins in the city’s Villette basin before it passes through eleven communes in the suburbs of Seine-Saint-Denis, represents an excellent “organic” link, on which to build this common identity.
Selection of the teams
In this second edition of the European Street Design Challenge, international and regional teams of creative SMEs, start-ups and students designed and prototyped their innovative urban solutions over a period of three days.
The participants were selected using the following criteria:
- Authentic thinker – strong sense of identity as a creative, ability to connect content and context to real solutions
- Excellent design skills – on an esthetic and technical level
- High ability to work under pressure – making decisions, going for the most optimum result in a short time frame
- High ability to work in a group – flexible, willingness to share knowledge, understanding of group dynamics/qualities versus individual dynamic/quality
The following teams entered the ESDC 2011:
- Team DOGtime – Students from the Interaction Design-Unstable Media Department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam NL
- Team Eindhoven – Young professionals from Eindhoven, NL
- Team PICNIC – Young professionals selected by PICNIC Festival program director Kitty Leering, Amsterdam NL
- Team Paris 1 – A mix of students and ex-students from Strate School of Design and Les Gobelins, Paris FR
- Team Paris 2 – A mix of students and ex-students from Strate School of Design and Les Gobelins, Paris FR
Selection of the regional partners
It is almost impossible to create a ESDC without very strong and supportive regional partners. They have the ability to open doors that otherwise stay shut.
We were very fortunate to have been supported generously by Ouafae Benslimane, Ph.D – Chef de projet recherche, innovation Conseil général de la Seine-Saint-Denis, Direction de l’Aménagement et du Développement.
Ouafae and her team helped us to discover the site, provided us with knowledge about the local history of Pantin and were always available to make new connections and answer further questions.
Oaufae Benslimane also used her rich network to connect us to Hélène Triboulet, Directrice of Cerfav|Pantin, a new, local glass atelier, which is part of the Cerfav – Centre européen de recherches et de formation aux arts verriers.
Hélène Triboulet kindly offered us free use of the Cerfav|Pantin building and its services, for the total duration of our 3 workshop days.
Another important person we met through Ouafae Benslimane is Daniel Orantin, Directeur du comité départemental du tourisme de la Seine-Saint-Denis.
Daniel and his team helped us with tantalizing logistics like finding hotel rooms for 20 people, for a reasonable price, in the Pantin area and at the height of the season. Being a ‘vrai Pantinois’ himself, he was adamant that we got the right insight into the past and present of Pantin and therefor organised a boat trip for all the design teams and mentors.
The boat trip started at the Quai de la Loire and ended at the Quai de l’Ourcq, at the for redesign selected site. Present was also Oaufae Benslimane, who had brought along Jean-Barthelemi Debost and Marthe Mouradian.
- Jean-Barthelemi Debost – Chef du Bureau de la Médiation Culturelle, Service du Patrimoine Culturel, Direction de la Culture, du Sport et des Loisirs, Conseil général de la Seine-Saint-Denis – took on the role of “tour guide’ and shared his fast knowledge about the area with us during the trip.
- Marthe Mouradian – Bureau de l’aménagement, Conseil général de la Seine-Saint-Denis, Direction de l’aménagement et du développement, Service de l’aménagement et des transports – answered questions concerning present and future urban regeneration plans in the Pantin area.
Process – Day 1
The Challenge started during Futur en Seine’s “The Future of Creation” Conference on Wednesday, 22nd June, at the CENT QUATRE (104), Center of Arts and Culture. In the afternoon the participants visited the site in Pantin by boat, to get acquainted with the area and gather visual material (photo and video).
After docking at the site that was selected for redesign, all teams walked to Cerfav-Pantin, to experience Pantin from yet another angle. At Cerfav|Pantin the brainstorming session started with the following exercises:
1. Mind mapping
Participants were asked to make a mind map (or mental map) containing all observations they had made during the boat trip and while walking through the area. These observations could consist of factual information, but they were also invited to express more subjective, sensorial impressions like smell, sound, feelings of discomfort, happiness, etc. They first had to make their own, personal mind map before the whole team had to get together to fuse all these separate maps into one, shared mind map of the experience.
Some of the observations made by the teams were:
- The old Paris is ‘leaking’ into the new areas
- Great variety and mix of different urban « objects »
- Presence of great voids, empty spaces
- The channel as an escape route to a nicer, faraway, rural environment
- Existence of both physical and mental boundaries
- Contrasts, geometrical structure (vertical vs horizontal)
- Big diversity in terms of structures and urban fabric
- Through the journey we felt great emotional contrasts: at first safe, then distressed and alone
- Larger than human scale
- Many small, scattered communities exist
2. Value Ladder
The participants were asked to define a set of five values that are important to him/her as a human being but also as a designer. Starting with each participant having 5 core values, discussion then starts until all individual values are “boiled down” to only five values that are understood and accepted by the whole group. These values will be revisited throughout the challenge, they will have to be reflected in the final designs.
French speaking and Dutch speaking participants were seperated during this exercise, in order to compare the two nationalities and what they consider as core values.
The French group proposed:
2) Give meaning
4) Open (Audace)
Humanity refers to something which is human centered. The idea of Humane also includes the natural environment and the ecosystem, seen as something man cannot live without. Give meaning refers to the attempt to create a shared sense, and also to the idea of usefulness. Essential refers to something that matters and is important.
Open is open minded, curious and sharing. ‘Audace’ refers to the choice to be brave, daring, not to be afraid of choices made. Integrity is both a personal attitude and something referred to the design process.
The Dutch group proposed:
Porosity refers to something continuous, open, and able to leave conscious gaps to others. Sensitivity refers to the idea of awareness, attention to one’s context, both in the approach and in the project’s result. Playfulness refers to the choice of experiment, to be open to wonder. Connection refers to the condition of being rooted in a place, to be in contact with different layers – also on the social level, to be interwoven. Equality refers to the attempt to design a ‘just’ project, in relation to the existing context and its issues.
After these exercises the groups either stayed at Cerfav|Pantin to start brainstorming about first ideas, or went back into the streets, to gain additional information by interviewing residents and taking pictures and videos. Daniel Orantin returned in the afternoon to spend some of his precious time with one of the Dutch teams which needed more ‘first hand’ insight.
Process – Day 2
On the second day the teams continued the concept creation, design and build process of their prototype models and presentations. Hélène Triboulet from Cerfav|Pantin had kindly offered free workshops for those who wanted to incorporate glass into their prototype designs. Although initially welcomed by all participants with great enthusiasm, in reality this turned out to be ‘a bridge too far’ because of time pressure, the complexity of the design challenge and the amount of information that had to be digested.
In the afternoon participants had free use of machines at Fab lab Squared (FL2) in the Cité des Sciences, thanks to the generous support by Fabien Eychenne, Chef de Projet at La Fing. Three ESDC participants were also admitted into FL2’s afternoon workshop Electronique avancée / Arduino, in order to help them build their electronic prototypes.
During this day workshop leaders Janine Huizenga and Fiona van de Geijn were joined by several visiting mentors, who were invited to give initial feedback to the team’s proposed solutions. They were :
- Rob van Kranenburg – author of ‘The Internet of Things’, BE
- Dominique Sciamma – Head Interactive Systems & Objects Design at Strate School of Design FR
- Bas van Abel – Creative Director Waag Society, Amsterdam NL
- Marjolijn Ruyg – Interaction designer and Teacher at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam NL
- Andrew Bullen – Futur en Sein festival director and international vice-president FR
The commitment and dedication of the young designers was proved by the fact that they were willing to work through the night from Tursday to Friday, in order to produce the optimum results in the time available. Hélène Triboulet supported this commitment by trusting us with the key to the building. It was a long, but action packed night !
Process – Day 3
On the morning of the third and last day all teams worked hard to finish their prototypes and presentations. Around lunchtime jury member Neil Gershenfeld, Fablab founder and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, arrived and went around the teams to listen to their design propositions and give his initial verdict to the workshop leaders. By 14:00 all teams had to leave Cerfav|Pantin to go to the CentQuatre, for the final presentation and award ceremony.
The final presentations of the proposed solutions started at 15:00 before an international jury of invited specialists from the Creative Industries and Design:
- Michael Shamiyeh – Architect, DOM Research Lab, Shamiyeh Associates, writer/publisher (AUT)
- Bruno Dachary – Project leader UrbanDive, Pages-jaunes (FR)
- Robin Chase – Transportation innovator, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar and GoLoco (US)
- Neil Gershenfeld – Director, The Center for Bits and Atoms MIT/Founder Fablab (US)
- Stephane Singier – Architect and Commissaire general Futur en Seine (FR)
Festival Director Andrew Bullen moderated as the teams presented the following solutions:
The team proposed an online environment that links citizens directly to local government, using…plants! Inhabitants of Pantin are approached by the local government through various media – newspapers, local radio, pamphlets, emails, sms, etc – to create an account on the ‘Plantin Pantin’ social network. There they can choose the flower of their liking and place it on a digital map of Pantin. What happens next is that a plant is actually physically planted – in real life – in exactly the specified location. In this sense, a digital and physical contact is established between the citizen and local government, and, at the same time, the environment is improved! Each time a plant is actually planted the user receives an SMS or email informing him or her. The digital interface could also prove useful to check the effectiveness of the program. The program will also monitor the plants development and keep users informed. The main aim of the project is to show people they can participate by using digital tools. It could also be extended to other kinds of participation and street maintenance. The city should be directly involved in order to give a strong sign of commitment to the citizens.
The project proposed to create an organic path inspired by natural elements growing in Pantin. To do so they rely on a network of connected “hubs” to be found in the urban space. Each hub is a video and sound station providing approaching users with information about the place they are in and other interesting spots nearby, and leads to several different paths. In the case of Pantin the hub network is combined with other elements such as a fiber optic sculpture, serving as a digital metaphor of elements that characterize its surroundings. Following the hub, users experience a local adventure, learning to look at the city in a different way. Users may also generate content which can then be made available through the hubs. The same network could be extended to other areas of the city
The group proposes to create a digital system able to collect images by means of video cameras, installed in various spaces of the city, equally distributed between the suburbs and the centre. The moving images collected are then transferred to a “broadcasting” system in the metro system, that will make them visible to travelers through screens and projections. At each station the incoming train “broadcasting” system gathers images sent by video cameras outside and around the station, to then project them inside the station, the train and the tunnel. The Metro becomes a portal to the underground, injecting impressions from the real world into the system. The trains carry the flow of images along their movement through the city. In this context, a physical and virtual “bridge” is created between the metro travelers below and the “real” world above.
‘RAINBOWS’ – Team Strate School of Design/ les Gobelins 2, Paris FR – Conseil Général de Seine-Saint-Denis 1st Prize
Pantez Salmassi, Matthias Schmitt, Julie Robert, Béatrice Lartigue, Tobias Muthesios, Nicolas Guichard, Laure-Anne Puijalon
Their idea is to multiply symbolically the frontiers in order to make the already existing one less powerful. To do so they decided to work on the canal de l’Ourq area, which constitutes a natural and historical connection, cutting through the “frontier” between Pantin and Paris. They will use several bridges crossing the canal in order to create a series of bridge waterfalls (water sculptures). Using a simple hydraulic system and the water from the canal, the sculpture will be interactive since the movement and the choreography created with fallen water will be determined by passers-by interacting with a system of photocells. This spectacular installation, built with little investment on an already existing architecture, will make the place more desirable and fun for both residents and tourists. It could even become the “Versailles of Pantin”!
The project envisages the connection of benches between the city of Paris and the suburbs. Interactive sculptures are constructed, shaped as “turning” benches in different parts of Paris, combining suburbs and city centre. Each sculpture is connected to another one further away; if one user interacts with one bench, the other “remote” sculpture will also respond to the interaction involving whomever is sitting on or near it. The whole system is also connected via webcams, which allow Smartphone users to observe what is happening to the “other” sculpture.