Stefan Bendiks, Artingeneering / Rotterdam presentation Neighbourize 1. FILEkit Let me jumpstart this lecture with a short movie: the documentation of a project of ours that deals with one of the most banal phenomena of our times – the traffic-jam. As simple as the spatial problem of a tailback of cars on a road might be, traditional planning seems to be unable to solve it. Constructing additional lanes, tunnels or offering better public transport proved to be ineffective instruments. The obvious incapacity of ‘physical’ interventions to deal with a condition like traffic jam makes it easier to recognize the underestimated potential of non-physical interventions that we often seek to activate within our projects. Following this line of thinking, the FILEkit project - whereas I should mention for the few of you who do not speak fluent Dutch that “file” is the Dutch word for traffic-jam - the FILEkit project addresses the social dimension of apparently spatial problems. Besides the fact that our work often deals with infrastructure - why is this project so important to start with? It illustrates how architecture can react on ever-changing, ephemeral spatial conditions.  Places that refuse to be categorized within the traditional coordinate system of space as we know it. But the project does not only redefine the notion of space and the ideas related to it. It also redefines the tools to operate with.  The era we live in is characterized by accelerated transformation. Whereas the transformation processes of the modern era were about physical growth and the development of efficient, functional structures to deal with that growth, the transformation processes of today do not necessarily imply a strong physical component – in urban as well as in rural context. Global trade, the production of non-material goods and the shift towards the knowledge society put the focus on the non-physical interrelation of things, places and people. To operate within these increasingly complex and abstract conditions we need to experiment. Traditional design practices do not work here anymore! As the parameters that define space change, the strategies and instruments architects and planners use need to change as well. Let me use the remaining 35 minutes of this lecture to elaborate and illustrate this hypothesis, that if we as architects and planners want to remain relevant within these radically changing spaces, we need to open up to new intervention areas, for which we need to develop new instruments. 2. Intervention areas Where do these spatial and socio-economic transformation become most apparent? What are the relevant intervention areas? Or even more important: Where and how can we as architects, landscape architects and urban planners intervene? To find out, we first need to extend the traditional scope of our disciplines. Often the relevant spatial questions of today cannot be solved within the built boundary. Consequently, our preoccupations with Artgineering are of another kind. Our aim is not so much to build beautiful houses as to solve the spatial problems around us. The places where these problems play are per definition not ideal situations, but spaces and uses of space that are not functioning in the conventional sense. They are spaces and practices that are in a state of crisis or emergency; such as post-war housing neighborhoods, agricultural areas in transformation and the integration of infrastructure. These are uncomfortable spaces to deal with. They are generally neglected by architects and planners or at least fraught with clichés. We try to approach them without any prejudice. We see their inherent banality, informality and public-ness as a quality and as an important first step towards an appropriate answer. By doing so, we often find out that the apparent ‘matter’ of a spatial crisis, in fact is not the real problem. That happened while working on a project for the ‘Bollenstreek’, the world-famous Dutch tulip bulb area. The competition brief suspected the scale boost in the tulip agriculture as threat to the cultural heritage of the region, embodied by the postcard image of tulip fields. We proved that the area’s cultural heritage rather is radical transformation triggered by the hunt for profit. In fact the tulip fields were dunes before. Only some hundred years ago the sand was sold as construction material to Amsterdam. And on the remaining soil, 30 cm about groundwater level, nothing grew anymore – besides tulip bulbs. Instead of a restricting development we projected the next logic step in the transformation of the landscape - and we actually won the competition. Dealing with complex and hybrid conditions demands a thorough understanding of the existing situation in all its spatial, social, cultural and political reality. 3. Strategies Spatial development that wants to be socially relevant today does not only need to formulate new goals and intervention areas, but also new strategies for dealing with them. When looking at our work - not by scale or type of commission, but by preoccupations - we can identify a number of strategies, tools or instruments that reoccur throughout all our projects, such as the bottom-up, identification, re-interpretation and to neighbourize. This is not a hierarchical or exhaustive list of possible strategies on how to operate within a changing context. These are lines of thinking that identify our work. It is a way to understand the various specific components of our projects. In the same way the work terrain extends beyond the one of traditional architects, so does the toolbox we use. We strategically borrow instruments from other disciplines, such as marketing, politics and art. We search with every project for the most effective method to react to a particular problem. Making a building is only one of many. And sometimes the best answer is to do (almost) nothing. As the Belgian architect Luc Deleu, who during a schematic design presentation explained to his client that the site should remain empty and that not building anything there is the only right thing to do. Despite a convincing argumentation the client was not pleased and refused to pay the architect’s fee. When Luc Deleu years later accidentally drove by the same site - where still nothing was build - he requested to finally get paid. After all, the empty site proved that his advice was right. Besides ‘doing nothing’ - what for obvious reasons can not be the accurate strategy for all spatial problems - let me introduce you in the following to four strategies inherent to our work. They allow to innovate, to experiment and first of all: to be committed and involved. The Bottom-up The Bottom-up is the strategy to simply reverse the common top-down process of planning interventions. Mainly when dealing with less-then-optimal situations the people concerned are rather seen as a part of the problem, than as part of a possible answer. And - as remarkable as this is - in that aspect it doesn’t matter if top-down processes have to deal with the social-economically weak inhabitants of a postwar housing area or with a persistent traffic-jam of Dutch white middle-class commuters. Ignoring the inhabitants or users, per definition ignores a potentially significant component of the solution. That does not mean that one has to carry the ideological overhead of participatory processes and actionist intervention of the 70’s. It is not about following any utopian vision about society - bottom-up thinking simply works. It has the capacity to organize processes and to anchor a project within the concerned group of people, rather than imposing something onto them that they will always resist to. Identification That leads directly to the idea of identification. Within our work we develop strategies to enable identification. The aim is to give individuals or a collective group of people the possibility to identify with their environment – to create an emotional link. As a marketing strategy this is of course nothing new: Marlboro, Greenpeace and Al Quaida - multinational brands, NGO’s and even terrorist networks happily make use of the power of identification to promote a product, ecology or religiously motivated terror. As ‘citybranding’ this strategy made a massive entry in architects and planners core business: the city. Blessed with enormous budgets, it nevertheless didn’t signify much for the majority of people actually living in the ‘branded’ cities. What of course has all to do with the fact that citybranding is generally applied in a top-down way and consequently fails to engage with the inhabitants (I think you get an idea of where this leads to: the necessity to combine strategies). What we are interested in is to distort this marketing strategy for the less-than-optimal conditions as described earlier. There, identification as a design strategy can be very effective. It allows for the (re)appropriation of spaces by a feeling of belonging. Re-interpretation In the same way we reinterpret ‘dirty’ marketing strategies, we also approach complex contemporary conditions without a priori. Reinterpretation means a creative reading of the qualities, but also the rules, norms and constraints of a specific condition. By doing so, the existing territory regains unexpected significance, beyond more or less explicit preconceptions. That can open up to more clever and more appropriate design interventions, but it can also be a powerful tool on its own. The re-interpretation of a seemingly well-known condition can trigger a shift in people’s perception. Within our work we take the perception of something as serious as its physical reality. And we strongly believe that the re-interpretation of this reality can be just as effective as physically changing it. Neighbourize Neighbourizing starts out from the fact that collectivity still is relevant for our spatial environment and the way we use it. When looking at infrastructure this supposition becomes obvious: Infrastructure - roads as well as airports - is per definition based on collective use and even increasing individualization will not change that. Yet, the undertaking to neighbourize within our contemporary social and spatial order demands a redefinition of what ‘a collective’ can refer to today. Where the traditional catalysts for collectivity - the family, the village, the religious community or even the national state – loose significance, other catalysts come into place. Within our projects we develop means to enable collectiveness. That can be a sign language for automobilists or a redesigned village square. The aim is to give the individual a sense of belonging to a spatial or mental community. ‘To neighbourize’ is a strategy to activate the hidden potential of these communities and make them driving forces in processes of vitalization and regeneration. As it was said before: Complex and hybrid conditions demand for hybrid strategies. Our projects use different combinations of these strategies. It is all about using the right means at the right place. A restriction to any kind of preconceived set of instruments is counterproductive. These new instruments do not only react to the conditions, but they also reflect them – they demand flexibility, speed and adaptability. 4. Projects Let me now try to illustrate with three projects the way we work with different combinations of these strategies, dealing with different ‘less-than-optimal’ situations: a postwar housing area, an obsolete national highway in Belgium and a new provincial road in Holland. Concepting Kanaleneiland The intervention area of the first project is the postwar housing area Kanaleneiland, an immigrant district of the city of Utrecht that is well connected and equipped with amenities, but that has the reputation of a ghetto. When plans for an urban renewal program for Kanaleneiland where made, one aspect was particularly noticeable: as in nearly every investor project, the renderings (for example from Mecanoo), depicted only young, well dressed and, of course, Western residents – no sign of the initial Muslim residents of Kanaleneiland. The only possible solution seemed to be to destroy the monotone postwar houses and rebuild the neighborhood with higher-income housing: A common real-estate strategy applied onto more or less all Dutch postwar housing areas. Besides an obvious conflict with the political(-correct) promise that all residents could stay within the neighborhood, the strategy to expel the current inhabitants just can not work: When all postwar housing areas are transformed for the middle class – where do all the immigrants live? We consequently took the problem from the other end. Instead of ignoring the inhabitants or - even worth – classify them as the cause of the problem, we made them part of a process to work it out. We organized an ‘unauthorized referendum’ about the future of Kanaleneiland. The focus of this survey was not on large-scale structural change, but on questions about the future identity of the district. By formulating three outspoken visions for Kanaleneiland we asked the inhabitants what they actually want their neighborhood to become. In a next step we entered into the public space of Kanaleneiland. We initiated a poster campaign that was aimed at stimulating pride in the neighborhood, an essential element for greater harmony and a less destructive co-habitation. Large-format posters with authentic newspaper quotes such as a resident stating ‘Leidsche Rijn? Far too quiet for me’ where installed throughout the neighborhood (Leidse Rijn is an adjacent ‘Vinex’ location; a white, Dutch middle-class suburb). The posters projected a positive image of Kanaleneiland back to the people, encouraging a sense of 'identification' and co-responsibility within the neighborhood. This would eventually stimulate the better-off immigrants to stay in Kanaleneiland and not move to a suburb themselves as soon as they can afford it. N4 This pragmatic approach, which takes reality into account, is also demonstrated in the N4 project. The N4 - once an important national road between Brussels and Luxembourg - is now deprived of its primary function as a European transport route by the parallel E411 motorway. Today it is a banal and by traditional planning ‘neglected’ space. However when taking a closer look, the N4 is an amazing spatial condition where infrastructure and various functions and uses co-exist at random. It is a vital, multifunctional, different kind of linear city - a bottom-up form of urbanization. The N4 is a spatial construction that did not come about through the intentions of planners, but as a result of constant transformation. The inhabitants of the N4 show astonishing creativity in taking advantage from accessibility, visibility, as well as in minimizing the disadvantages such as noise. The direct relation between asphalt and buildings leads to building typologies with literally a double garage at the motorway and a backyard in the Ardennes forest. After a photographic survey of all houses on the east side of the road we systematically investigated the various connections between public road and buildings. About 70 of these situations are drawn-up in plan and profile in a so-called ‘N4 atlas’ that demonstrates the great variety of architectural strategies for designing spaces between road and landscape. From there we formulated simple principles on how to intensify the relation between road and surrounding – for other locations than the N4 as well. As an example, we worked out possible applications of the N4 principles for three locations in South Holland. They are design proposals for a new type of regional road that overcomes the rigid separation between infrastructure and building development. On the 17th of may we will present this study in a symposium organized by the RPB (the Netherlands Institute for Spatial Research) to the ministries of spatial planning and infrastructure and the State advisors (Rijksadviseurs) for infrastructure and landscape. mijN470 Another project that deals with the (in this case mental) integration of infrastructure and landscape is mijN470. The project is about a new provincial road - the N470 - between Delft, Zoetermeer and Rotterdam. As a typical top-down developed structure that has no precedent in the landscape, the people do not identify with it. Expropriation of grounds, nuisance from construction works and the inevitable road deviations add up to a negative attitude throughout the population. They don’t consider it ‘their’ road. That’s the point where our project starts. We want to kick-start the mental appropriation of the road by the inhabitants and users. On the opening day we organize a social event – not only for the usual group of civil servants, engineers and politicians, but also for everyone who lives in the area served by the N470. The appropriation of the road is not an abstract process, but the physical take-over for one day: the biggest street party of Holland. And following a good Dutch tradition (see Koninginnedag, the queen mothers birthday) – the locals put it up themselves: Everybody has the opportunity to ‘adopt’ a section of the N470. The entire road is subdivided into individual plots and everybody is free to do what he or she wants on ‘their’ piece of road: house music, a street soccer tournament or a candlelight dinner. White road paint is used to mark on the asphalt the names of the “owners” of the plots. This is taken care of by a squat-team of so-called mijNers (‘mijn’ being the Dutch word for ‘my’ and ‘mijnheer’ an old-fashioned Dutch expression for ‘mister’). Equipped with a portable gas burner and a set of prefab thermoplastic letters, they stroll around during the event, ready to literally ‘brand’ the road for you. As physical witness of the appropriation the markings will remain far beyond the opening event. They show the dynamic and diversity of the social structures along the N470 and communicate this to the driver. With time going by the marks will naturally make place for other layers of signification within a landscape in constant transformation. As two of the previous projects also mijN470 interprets infrastructure as natural public space and as an integral part of our environment. The urgent objective is the same - the means to achieve and communicate this objective are different. If we setup an art intervention or road profiles is not so important after all - we just search for the most efficient instruments in the respective condition. 5. Publication The projects and ideas I had the pleasure to put on view here are soon to be published in a book. It will come out in June this year and is part of a series of ‘premature monographs’ on French speaking, Belgian architects – that as a German, working in Holland - I am part of. Appropriately enough the title is “blurred boundaries/ territoire equivoque” - in diesem Sinne. Thank you very much for your attention! Stefan Bendiks * this lecture paper builds up on the essay “Architectural Design in the Age of Post-Fordism” from Friedrich von Borries and other texts that are part of the publication “blurred boundaries/ territoire equivoque” a monograph on the work of Artgineering, to be published in June 2006 by A16 and CIVA. [i] in collaboration with feld72 and D+.NL