Each year, a graduate student from the previous year hosts a series of lectures and talks over lunch. This year the series was organised by Elisa Piazzi who invited eight speakers and asked them to address issues that are of concern to the students today with regard to their future practice.
Reacting to the INSIDE theme of this year ‘The moment of Utopia’, we developed the series of lectures with the students called ‘The moment of Hope’. Utopia is often defined as an ‘imaginary and indefinitely remote place’ or ‘a state of things in which everything is perfect’; hope instead is a concrete force of wanting to build reality with a rational consciousness. Dwelling in between the present, an unfinished past and a possible future, hope can show us the potentialities of the present moment and ensures us to actively develop processes of “becoming-other” (Gilles Deleuze). These processes can allow ideas to shift from the possible to the real. Mexican activist Gustavo Estava argues that “Hope is not a conviction that something will happen in a certain way. We have to nurture it and protect it, but it is not about sitting and waiting for something to happen, it is about a hope that converts into action.”
As designer, architects and artists, we need hope as well as utopian thoughts, to help us envision possible answers to current problems - but we have the possibility and responsibility to go beyond ideals and address world situations.
During the series of lectures we discussed other and more hopeful ways of practicing design. Being aware and embracing the fact that we would not be able to find easy solutions or unambiguous and non-contradictory answers, we invited eight practitioners of the design/art/ architecture field who are playing a more self-aware, inclusive, constructive and/or collective role in the making and unmaking of worlds. Always starting from the question how hope can be a powerful tool in the design and architectural field, each lecture focused on more specific subtopics - that were formed by the suggestions and interests from the students.
As designers, architects and artists, we are embedded in a complex contemporaneity characterized by climate crisis, extractive capitalism, individualism and repressive knowledge. Emerging and unable to separate ourselves from this complexity, we need to avoid continually re-producing the dominant, patriarchal and oppressive social logics that pervade it. We have to unlearn what we make and perceive as the norm, by thinking otherwise together. It is necessary to begin where the world is, and work otherwise. The Italian theorist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi remarks about this matter: “A future state of being is possible when it is immanent or inscribed in the present constitution of the world. However, we should not forget that the present constitution of the world contains many different (conflicting) possibilities, not only one.”
As intended, the lectures have not reached a final conclusion but generated different and sometimes contrasting reflections and discussions. By offering different opinions and ideas for a hopeful future, each guest speaker helped us to discover ways of contributing to the understanding, questioning and re-invention of our social environment - showing us once again that “the world contains many different (conflicting) possibilities, not only one”.
LECTURE #1 Interspecies Hope - Ecological Regeneration and Collective Healing
Klaas Kuitenbrouwer (Zoöp) and Gerjan Streng (BRIGHT)
Both guests were asked to reflect on the following question: how can we - as designers and architects - positively affect the landscape in synchrony with nature?
Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, researcher at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, gave us an example by introducing his project “Zoöp”: a practice-based research into the design and application of a new kind of legal format for collaboration between humans and collective bodies of nonhumans, in order to support ecological regeneration. Showcasing different historical examples, Klaas guided us through situations and places in which rights of nature are applied. Questioning: how can we translate and adapt rights for nature in The Netherlands? A country where the oldest piece of land is 300 years old and there is no culture of personhood for nature? One of the solutions proposed by the Zoöp institution is to embrace the capitalist system. Recognizing that humans cannot step outside nature and that there is no space untouched by humans, we need to start finding commons and build the conditions for everyone to thrive in a “work of repair” (Bruno Lautor).
The second guest was Gerjan Streng, co-creator of BRIGHT (Amsterdam), a laboratorium for research and development that investigates today’s uncertainties in order to develop perspectives for the future. He navigated us through their practice raising the following question: how can we change our idea that culture is against or opposite to nature? Retracing with us the history and the evolution of the relationship between man and nature, Gerjan guided us through various examples. Starting from a strict separation between human and nature - respectively inside vs outside - ,showcasing the romantic idea of nature as Eden, and ending in our contemporaneity where we are once again reintroducing nature and wilderness inside but in a captivated and very selective way. Together we reflected on how the parts of nature that are less influenced by humans are the most interesting for other species. We also discussed if the solution could be to “design less”.
LECTURE #2Intrinsic Hope - Deconstructing Norms and Accommodating Differences
Social designer Shay Raviv (De Voorkamer) and architect Chiara Dorbolò
During the second lecture the guests were asked to reflect on how our designs can not only accommodate differences but promote alternative narratives and social change.
Shay Raviv, working in the intersection of research, design and cultures, guided us through her project De Voorkamer; a cultural meeting space in Utrecht to promote inclusion and integration by stimulating and facilitating the talents of a diverse community living in the area. Founded as a response to the lack of ability to welcome newcomers in The Netherlands, she guided us through the different steps needed to establish such a place, underlining the importance of maintaining a space. Starting from her site-specific knowledge, highlighting the value of collaboration and partnership by giving up our creative egos, she presented some “design attitudes” that could be applied when developing a social design project.
Chiara Dorbolo, conceptual architect and researcher from Italy, elaborated on her practice that focuses on the relationship between architecture and storytelling, especially when telling “other” stories. Questioning: what do we mean when we talk about equal and inclusive? And for whom?
Presenting different examples, from the diagrams of nursing theorist Betty Neuman to more contemporary and diverse models, she criticized how we still use the “average” as the norm - having standards as a starting point for building our reality. Reflecting on the fact that “building is not always the best response in a spatial practice”, lead to the questions: “What can be understood as a spatial practice? How can we adapt a variety of spatial practices?” These questions were concluded by the idea that we should embrace diverse practices without escaping from architecture but rather by bringing these new practices into the built space - transforming utopias into reality.
LECTURE #3Compostable Hope - Food Culture and Local Knowledge
Nickie Sigurdsson, member of The Soft Protest Digest, and Jago van Bergen (Van Bergen Kolpa Architects)
The third lecture focused on the impact current food systems have on our daily lives and on landscapes near and far. We discovered two (of the many) different realities that are developing in parallel in this field; one using technology to adapt to climate change (often detached from the land) and the other by relearning from the past and local knowledge.
Jago van Bergen’s research based architecture studio (Rotterdam) is oriented towards designing and realizing buildings, developing scenarios combining architecture with agriculture. From historical examples of very diverse forms of agriculture characterized by polyculture, he guided us through the history of agriculture and farming in The Netherlands, which since the Second World War is characterized by a separation of cities from rural areas and a constant raise of monocultures. Van Bergen Kolpa Architects’ projects, using and embracing technology for instance by farming in a complete artificial way indoors, don’t only focus on food production but also on “food dedication” (education, cooking, eating …). Questioning: can we reach a bigger diversity of food products in The Netherlands by using technology and the resources we have here?
Danish artist and farmer Nickie Sigurdsson of the research collective The Soft Protest Design uses different narratives to test how food culture, in the context of climate change, is created and altered. She underlined the importance of preserving, developing and conserving local food production by supporting small-scale farmers and citizens over corporate control on food production, resources and territories. With their project called “Make a garden before you build a house” she gave us an example of the importance of understanding the implications in mending with the ecosystem and connecting with the land as a form of homecoming. Nature needs to be seen not as an economic gain that can be appropriated but as a fundamental resource that need to be shared equally.
LECTURE #4Collaborative Hope
Cecilia Hendrikx (The Ponies) and Louisa Vermoere (POOL IS COOL & Collective Disaster)
In the last lecture we asked our guests: What is our role when authorship is shared? How can we transform competitiveness and individualism in processes of collaboration and contamination?
Louisa Vermoere, strategic & architectural designer of Collective Disaster and since 2017 involved in POOL IS COOL (Bruxelles), gave us an insight into her experiences of being part of these two collectives. The open and multidisciplinary community Collective Disaster was born out of an interest in exploring possibilities of collaboration and coping with disasters. She explained to us how by sharing ideas, visions, interests, experiences and ambitions the members of the collective are “making dreams” with the hope to change reality. ‘If we are just a few we have little influence but when we are with more we can have a bigger run’. Underlining the importance of trust and shared authorship when working with each other, she also introduced POOL IS COOL - an independent platform of international citizen experts that came together to revive public outdoor swimming in Bruxelles. Telling stories of conflict and collaboration, hope and belief in the contribution of outdoor swimming to the living quality of the city, she retraced the collective's steps of POOL IS COOL.
The second guest, Cecilia Hendrikx, is one of the four members of The Ponies, a collective based in Amsterdam working at the crossroads of research, design and society. By making installations in public space, they create a shift in perspective – thus re-evaluating complex social issues. Cecilia walked us though different steps of their deeply inspiring methodology. From reproducing and appropriating elements of their surroundings - as a form of admiration and reflection on more complex social situations - to embodied experiences of the site as a means to connect with the local community. Concluding with their project “De Tijden” she explained how their practice revolves around politics, propaganda, history and culture - often starting from a curiosity that develops into something beautiful that everyone can respond to.