Animation Vegetation @ Design and Emotion conference

From the 12th to the 14th of September I (Ben Hagenaars) attended the 8th international conference on Design & Emotion in London. The central theme of the conference was ‘Design Out of Control’. The topic focussed on the challenges and opportunities design is faced with today. On the first day off the conference I presented my case study Animation Vegetation. I am proud to say that my project received the ‘Best Case Study Award’. You can find the presentation below.

Animation Vegetation is a design project to generate more green places in public spaces. As cities are growing everyday, due to the increasing number of people that are living in it, simultaneously accessibility to green spaces is decreasing. Which has a negative effect on the quality of life in build environments. The general idea of the project was to create something that engaged and enabled peoples to ‘green-up’ their local city area. The method deployed to trigger this kind of engagement was the design of a public intervention toolkit. Inspired by bottom-up movements like graffiti artists and guerilla gardeners, a doll out of a biodegradable textile was created. The doll grows in volume by filling it with seeds and soil. Steady watering and sunshine allow the seeds to hatch and find their way trough the mazes of the textile. When fully grown, the idea is to drop the green doll into an urban setting that could use a bit more green. Different weather conditions cause the textile of the doll to degrade and become a part of the city. The doll acts as a graffiti tag on a city wall, making a critical statement about it’s public surrounding.

I tried to encourage people to adopt a doll by handing out toolkits for making one of their own. If they agreed they received an empty doll plus a step by step scenario to communicate the idea of the project. The scenario explained that they had to finish the doll themselves and nourish it until it turned into a green character. When fully grown they had to pick a nice spot for it in the city. The public reaction to the project was amazing; in one-day time all of the 500 unfinished toolkits were handed out. 300 extra toolkits were created so that people on the waiting list could join the project. From that moment on people started making the dolls their own. Some participants started to experiment with different types of vegetation to grow in their character. Some of the characters that were placed in the city were vandalized. And some local elementary schools adopted several characters and used it in their educational programs.

During my presentation I reflected upon the fact that involving various participants in a design project can result in unexpected ways. These kinds of adaptations were out of my control after the project was opened-up to the public. These actions can be seen as informal design interventions executed by the participants. Embracing the idea of being out of control is a relative new concept in the field of product design. In design educational contexts designer are thought to develop finished products or artefacts. In the animation vegetation project I deliberately created an unfinished toolkit to encourage the local community to adopt and adapt this tool.


Residents workshop Manifesta project Genk-Zuid

On Tuesday June 21st we organised a workshop with residents and other people representing residents from the area (more concrete a community worker and a social district manager). With them we elaborated further on the results of the mapping, which we did with the experts coming from an industrial, environmental, technological and social background, on how industry and living can coexist. While the first workshop revealed abstract scenarios on a policy level, with the residents, our goal was to activate them to take part in the project and engage them to reveal their concrete and personal scenarios on the subject. Learning from our first workshop, we changed our approach for this second workshop in two ways: (1) we developed a scenario to engage participants and (2) we developed a mobile lab that functions as a workspace. (1) To engage residents to take part in our project, we developed the scenario of the Cultivating Communities. The scenario tells a fragmented story about a group of people that tries to resolve their neighbourhood issues bottom-up. Their actions include protests, and experiments to develop air filters. This scenario was based on previous interviews with actors involved in the subject and on the first mapping session. With this scenario we want to trigger participants to collaboratively explore the potential and possibilities of bottom-up interventions and in this way engage them for these grassroots initiatives.

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Expert Mapping Cultivating Communities Genk-Zuid

As a starting point for the Manifesta project in Genk-Zuid we organised a workshop with experts from an industrial, technological, environmental and social background. The purpose of the workshop was to map a sustainable scenario on how industry and residents can coexist in Genk-Zuid. We developed a toolkit, based on the MAP-it kit of Social Spaces, to perform this mapping. It consists out of a set of wooden signs that represent structures from the area. All workshop participants could add graphic information to the signs using chalk, and use strings of rope to link different elements. Combining these different elements created the map.

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Manifesta Project Genk-Zuid

Cultivating Communities is part of the Manifesta-parallel events that will take place this summer in Genk. The projects’ goal is to create collaborative sustainable scenario on the industrial area Genk-Zuid.

In Genk-Zuid domestic areas and industrial facilities sit side by side. Human biomonitoring studies have shown that these industrial activities have negative and far-reaching consequences on the environment and the health of the people living in the surrounding neighbourhoods. As a result, the city of Genk has issued an emission-reduction plan that aims to tackle this pollution.

Together with local actors, like the city of Genk, the residents of Genk-Zuid and the Industry we will try to develop a collaborative scenario on how local residents and industry can coexist in a sustainable manner. To engage and enable these different actors to participate in designing the scenario we developed a set of tools and a mobile laboratory. With these tools we will go to the different neighbourhoods surrounding the industrial area and organise scenario building workshops. The collaborative scenario will gradually reveal peoples’ personal scenario’s on how living and industry can coexist.

During the project the mobile lab will be open for the public on specific dates. On these dates you can freely visit to explore these future scenarios and contribute your personal vision. At the end of the project we will organise an exhibition to communicate the results of the collaborative scenario to the public. The dates for public workshops will be announced soon! Please come back to check this website or send us an email to be kept informed.

Mapping Toolkit

This week I tested a toolkit that is designed to map out the environment of local communities. The toolkit consist out of archetypal shaped buildings, vehicles and characters. The shapes air painted black, colouring them with crayons can alter the appearance. This enables local residents to add layers of information to the map. The idea is that toolkit can be used to make a scale model of a local environment, providing a map to discus possibilities within their area.

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Mapping experiment

As part of my (Ben Hagenaars) research project  Cultivating Communities, I organised a workshop at the NME seminar (Natuur en Milieu educatie dag) in Brussels last week. 25 stakeholders within the field of environment and education participated in the workshop. The aim was to visualise a fictional map of a network between different schools. I used the MAP-it toolkit – developed by social spaces – which normally uses sticker icons to visualise a map. However, I made some alterations since I wanted to add some extra features like building blocks to make the map more tangible. This idea originates from a presentation I took part in during the Sustainable Summer School organised by REcentre last summer. For this presentation we didn’t want to use PowerPoint to visuals our concept – a food system for the city of Maastricht – but we built a miniature city out of materials we could scavenge in the surrounding area. This made it really easy to talk about the food systems with local famers, citizens and other stakeholders. It enabled us to work out a scenario of our concept, but more importantly it enabled other people to ad ideas of their own to the existing map. A fragment of the presentation can be found in this video by REcentre (starting from minute 7:41).

For last week’s workshop, I’ve tried to merge the MAP-it toolkit with some tangible elements. The participants where divided into three groups, each group was accompanied by a moderator who used scenario cards to guide the session. Structural elements like building blocks, link materials like ropes, and pens to add extra information could be used to build up the map.

The participants had to map a fictional network of school ‘laboratories’, which made the workshop a bit more challenging. The laboratories could be defined as spaces where school communities can experiment and come up with solutions to environmental issues. At the start of the workshop, ideas of networked school ‘laboratories’ emerged: schools that experiment with renewable energy, a network that uses bike messengers to transport materials, self-sufficient water laboratories, …

Halfway through the workshop, the groups switched to another map. After a short presentation of the map, the new group could ad remarks, brake down structures and build new structures. This generated interesting discussions about the importance of spaces where people could gather and share ideas. The spaces weren’t necessary physical structures as they could also be digital or even hybrid structures.

Sustainable Summer School

From 19 – 25 August 2011 I participated in the Sustainable Summer School organised by REcentre and the Institute without Boundaries. Below is the report I wrote about it.  There is also a video report available here.

The food group of the Sustainable Summer School was a composed mix of people from various
backgrounds ranging from design, to business and agriculture. We focused a week long on food
and the city of Maastricht. Our case started by meeting Stefan Muijtjens, an organic farmer and
his local farm De Tuin van Sint Pieter. For several years he was able to produce a variety of quality
crops. Due to distribution problems, Stefan had a hard time reaching out to the inhabitants of
Maastricht. Therefore he was forced to quit his farm.
When we talked to locals of Maastricht about his initiative, we discovered that most of them were
eager to buy locally grown crops. But availability, time and price were major obstacles for them.
People that were working during the daytime couldn’t access the local farm before its closing time.
Elderly people found it more convenient to buy their food in the supermarket. The experience of
the farm wasn’t compelling enough to persuade students to pay a bit extra for organic and local
produce. So the team had to find a way to bridge this gap between the farmer and the people by
overcoming these issues.
Looking at the historical context of the city we found that the river Meuse played a key role in the
development of this old Roman city. Architectural elements from the past like the bridge over the
river provide a cultural experience that attracts a large number of tourists every year. This is a huge
opportunity for local farmers, like Stefan Muijtjens, to promote and sell local food products.
Out of the observations and the context mapping we created a new brief for our food case:
create a sustainable, organic and locally sourced food system that is resilient and engages citizens
of Maastricht in rewarding experiences.
Through brainstorming, sketching and prototyping, we developed a conceptual food system based
on the idea of a floating farmers market. This would be located on the river Meuse and near the
old bridge, the cultural hub of the city. The system could develop in three different stages: short-,
medium- and long term. In the short term the floating market would start out as a Sunday event.
This could attract locals and tourists on their free time by providing them a cultural food experience.
In the medium term the event could become a Sunday ritual. Side projects like an educational boat
‘Noah’s ark’ and a medicinal boat ‘Farmacy’ could pop up. By connecting the farmers and the city
through the river, the food market could become part of the Maastricht identity. In the long term
the food system could expand from the bridge hub on the river to the local bus network. In this way
the distribution of the locally and organically grown products could become more convenient for the
farmers and for the people of Maastricht.
This food system has economic and sustainable potential. It could enable awareness about the
quality and environmental benefits of organic and local produce. It could reconnect farmers with the
city and it has the potential to attract locals and tourists by providing them a compelling riverside
food experience.