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Uncommon Ground II presentation reports


E-art Dome

— Presentation reports of the Uncommon Ground Scale and Intimacy meeting organised during PICNIC '07

Johanna Gibbons - Crystal Palace Park
The restoration of Crystal Palace Park takes place on very uncommon 'ground'. Parks are spaces where many opinions come together, reconstructing such as space provides many challenges, opinions and discussions. The specific case of Crystal Palace Park is interesting, according to Johanna Gibbons, because of 'the combination of large scale and design, but also because the general public was involved with the project which created an intimate scale'.

The eighty hectares of the historical park were old and rundown but had facets of a nice 19th century park when the team commenced its consultation. When it was initially built in the 19th century, the park was a project of unparalleled ambition including a water system that rivaled Versailles. The designer's intention was to 'elevate horizons and kindle the desire for knowledge'. Johanna Gibbons mentions that the project, to them, has never been a distant strategic design exercise, they never wanted something like a project in Paxtons, where design was imposed on the people. And although Paxtons was called the 'park of the people', there hadn't been any influence by the people in its design.

Despite scale and complexity, connecting with the individual was essential and made Crystal Palace Park relevant. For this reason the project needed support and space for innovative ways of communication. A proces of constantly exploring different ways of communication and layering the information to make the process accessible. This was done through discussions with a wide range of interest groups and in doing so keeping track of tight time schedules. The groups range from athlete groups to local community groups. In conversations with these groups, images were created to raise aspiration and to let the people see what is possible. Throughout her presentation Johanna emphasizes that these ways of communcation were not means to impose design plans on the people, but explicitly to raise aspiration. The team unfortunately found out that although the consultation has been running for four years now, the team is still battling with the 'conspiracy theory' label and a large mistrust of animal rights organisations. She explains that this mistrust is threefold. Firstly there was disbelief and people wondered how the team, as a large company, could possibly act in their best interest. Secondly the team was seen as being 'above reality': 'You got a degree, but can you work it?'. Thirdly there were unresolved personal issues between team and local institutions. The solution, according to Johanna, lies in building trust and make people see that the team really cares about microlevels. One way to do this was to arrange meetings on site at Crystal Palace Park to negotiate ways forward. Another way was to organise parties to let people meet in the same space for the first time. The situations allows for the cultivating of relationships and allow them to develop.

Johanna admits that Crystal Palace Park 'has been a tough one', but it is the best chance for regeneration in decades. And through tactical work, the team has been successful as Johanna shows a picture of the master planning team, clients and locals in a group photograph. However she has to be real and says that not everyone would call it a succes with such diverse opinions. Perhaps a Crystal Palaca Park local said it best: 'We've had our differences but I can say one thing: you really are committed'. After launching the application of the master plan after years of consultation, Johanna hopes that they've 'done enough'. Her final words, in the form of a question, are an interesting end to the presentation of a case study that embodies cooperation with preservation of scale and intimacy. And it also simply shows that convincing is very much about emotion: 'Negativity and protests seem the full back position, but perhaps it is a necessary emotional response to prepare for change?'

Daphne de Rigter - Noordvleugel 2040 and Nadia Casabella - Atelier Zuidvleugel
The first presentation on the Dutch Randstad region on Uncommon Ground - Scale and Intimacy was done by Daphne de Richter who presented the 'Noordvleugel 2040' project about the northern wing of the Randstad. The second presentation by Nadia Casabella focussed on Atelier Zuidvleugel which deals with the southern wing of the area.

To emphasize the challenge faced by noordvleugel 2040, Daphne de Richter showed a graphic of growing population density from 1860 up untill a 2040 prediction of the northern region of the Randstad, the Noordvleugel. Through a series of conferences and expert meetings Noordvleugel 2040 tries to formulate a metropolitan development vision. In trying to achieve this goal, the team started with a first conference which focussed on how we can understand what people are doing in their daily lives in the specific region.

The team is now preparing for the 7th conference, which focusses on developing a long term vision for northern region of the Randstad in 2040. Specific goals include an open process with different private parties (science, civil, society, media experts) and to create visions, and concrete images, on the future of the Noordvleugel.

This is in line with the team's goal to create perspectives about the future, to let people see what happens if we only, for example, create funparks. These extreme perspectives can show how things could turn out in 2040.

The approach to the increasing density of the Randstad region of Atelier Zuidvleugel, which focusses on the southern region of the Randstad, is different from the Noordvleugel methods as described by Daphne de Richter. In explaining the difference between the projects, Nadia Casabella of Atelier Zuidvleugel mentions in her presentation that the Zuidvleugel project was created more as a think tank in order to rethink the region of the zuidvleugel. She emphasizes that many European metropolitan regions are trying to come with plans to handle growth. The task of Atelier Zuidvleugel was initially to coordinate different cases and projects that were going on in the provence of Zuid-Holland. There were however no possibilities or capacities to build up this coordination, since the team had no power to intervene in the process. Therefore the team had to look for coalitions with the province, government, market parties, housing coorperations, universities, knowledge institutes and many more. This eventually resulted in the creation of public workshops in which card games were used to create awareness of important spatial issues concerning the zuidvleugel. An example of a spatial issue mentioned is the question of dynamics for agroculture. In facing these challenges Atelier Zuidvleugel however does not want to promote itself as a PR spokesman, but the Atelier wants to look at where the possibilities are for the region.

Noordvleugel 2040

Atelier Zuidvleugel
Bestuurlijke Platform Zuidvleugel

Richard Wright - Mongrel/MediaShed
Mongrel started in 1995 and in that time did a lot of work in new media with, and for, marginal groups. This presentation mostly focusses on the Media-Shed; A 'free-media' space in the East of England.

By the end of the 90s Mongrel created its own media applications such as nine9 ( which is a new media authoring system designed to replace the much more specific designed applications like macromedia director. The idea was to create a network environment and see how your particular conviction fits in the whole schema. The result is a mesh of different boxes where people can build maps, statements, memories and much more all organised around the figure of 9; a three by three grid of multimedia content. This project was finished in 2003 and the idea was to create a kaleidoscopic landscape on a flat plane to encourage awareness of everyone working in a collaborative networked environment. Social software after 2003 then became known as Web 2.0 and 9nine as formal element and artistic motive didn't exactly blend in with new cultural media, which became more about storing large amounts of data. Wright calls this Disney modernism logic: more data is always a good thing. In contradiction 9nine makes you limit the amount to just 9 which makes for a Web 2.0 application wherein the organisation is completely visible.

Mediashed is another project by Mongrel and is the first 'free-media' space to open in the east of England. The region was quite atomized and there was no easy organization that Mongrel could slip into and simply carry on an existing project. They had to find a way of launching a scene themselves and fin da way to bring together different kinds of groups. Important in this was giving people a vision they would all buy into. Mediashed then was launched and a concept called free media which, according to the website, 'is best thought of as a means of doing art, making things or just saying what you want for little or no financial cost by using the public domain and free software and recycled equipment'. It is about using accessible media that can be taken apart and reused without unnecessary restrictions and controls. An example of this is Video Sniffin': the aim of this project is to go around town with a very cheap video receiver unit that picks up CCTV pictures. Video Sniffin' is part of Gearbox, a 'free-media toolkit' of tricks, hacks and pranks to 'reinvent the way we consume media and technology'. Mongrel started to use these techniques as a strategy and a way to work with other larger organisations.

Mongrel Homepage
Mediashed Gearbox
Video Sniffin' Commercial

Futurenatural by Richard Wright

Paulo de Castro Andrade - Humbiumbi
Humbiumbi is based in Brazil and works across several regions, focussing its attention on the development of protagonism among young people. The goal is to lead new generations into expanding their horizons. According to presenter Paula de Castro Andrade there are three ways to educate children; through arts, through analysis and production in media and education in the area of health. The vision behind Humbiumbi is one of education with a focus on the humane development of the new generations. Humbiumbi supports potential, the creation of opportunities and allow for children to make choices of value. Beside this, juvenile leadership and education aimed at preparing children for work are specific goals for Humbiumbi.

However in setting up projects in a contintent-sized country like Brazil, Humbiumbi faces several challenges. The first is scale; how to respond to the educational challenges of a contintent-sized country like Brazil? The second challenge is youth and work; how to be sure that youngsters stay on the projects even if there is familiy pressure for them to work and to help out with expense? Thirdly there is the challenge of sustainability; how to maintain sustainability for Humbiumbi, for example funds end in December but a school year lasts untill June.

Humbiumbi came up with an answer to the scale challenge in the form of an action game. The goal was to make children understand how to do better at school by letting them make up one thing that could be done better at schools. This way the teachers are not in the middle anymore, initiative comes from the pupils themselves and they also do research themselves. The game will be distributed to 150 public schools in Belo Horizonte at the beginning of October 2007. The question remaining is: Will the process continue when Humbiumbi leaves?

Official Humbiumbi Homepage

Pontos de Cultura

Shirley Gunn - Human Rights Media Center
Shirley Gunn, director of the Human Rights Media Center, vividly talks about the Trojan Horse Killings in South Africa from 1985. These killings were one of the most controversial security force actions of the apartheid-era. Aided by images, Shirley explains how these Trojan Horse killings were done. Police officers hid in crates on the back of a truck and drove down a street in order to ambush people. These cases got international attention when a CBS filmcrew witnessed the shootings and aired the film footage. Consequently English Prime Minister Thatcher could not convince the people that the approach in South Africa worked.

To remember the Trojan Horse Killings a long wall with the words 'remember', in the colors of the previously banned communist party, was created. Shirley Gunn explains how the three trees behind the wall resemble the boys who were killed. It is as if the trees are weeping over the wall. This memorial was developed through consultation and the whole community at large benefitted from the memorial. Beside this great memorial, it was also important to tend to the unmarked graves of the boys who were killed. Shirley Gunn started a trust to fund this initiative and she got aid from lawyers, cops and parents; every side contributed. It turned out that one mother had grieved a couple of meters away from the exact place where her boy was burried. Now she grieves at the right place, however she had to get used to the new place.

Every side has to process the events that occured during the apartheid. Because of this T-shirts were made with the text: 'We shall forgive, but we shall never forget'. This kind of action is what Shirley Gunn referred to as the real trojan horse that is arriving. In finishing her presentation she mentioned that 'it is tough stuff and the project is very big and yet very, very personal'.

The Trojan Horse Memorial

South Africa Acquits Police in Killing
Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Trojan Horse Killings Resistance Art: Trojan Horse by Willie Bester
Official Trojan Horse Memorial Press Release

Bill Gaver, Tobie Kerridge - Design, Research and Public Engagement
Bill Gaver talks about the Home Health Horoscope, a project which he describes as an interesting system to build. The team, a fluctuating group of five to ten people working within an academic context at Goldsmith College, took a bunch of sensors (heat, light, temperature and acceleration) and measured activities of people living in a house. With that data the team tried to indicate the level of well-being in the home. This information came back to the people in the form of a horoscope printed out automatically at eight in the morning. The horoscope choice was a deliberate one, since people tend to question horoscopes. Because of this format people know that the system is questionable.

In communicating this project, the team used 'cultural commentators': people whose profession it is to talk about technology to people who are not researchers, can tell stories and use the skills of public engagement. The resulted in the creation of a documentary film about the project. In the small clip shown during the presentation the family can be seen discussing, and questioning, the new technologies in their homes. Bill Gaver mentions that they did not tell in advance what the sensors actually did and what their research purpose was.

Tobie Kerridge talks about the BioJewellery project. In this particular project the body, for example bone, is used as a material to create jewelry. Biojewellery started out by looking for couples who wanted to donate their bone cells. Their cells were then seeded onto a bioactive scaffold. This material encouraged the cells to divide and grow rapidly, and the resulting tissue took on the form of the scaffold, which was a ring shape. The result of this project was a Channel 4 news item, which caused an increase in interest in the project.

Home Health Horoscope

William W. Gaver - Curious Things for Curious People

Enhancing Ubiquitous Computing with User Interpretation: Field Testing the Home Health Horoscope

Paula Dib, Renata Mendes - Trans.forma Design
Trans.forma design's Paula Dib and Renata Mendes are working to combine design and craft in Brazil. When travelling the northern region of Brazil in 2001, they came in contact with 'popular design'. They constructed products with materials that are available in their local environment and use creativity to work with these things. When Dib and Mendes started working with these communities, they noticed that a great group of people with the will to create change is essential to the project. The result was bowls created from old magazine paper and fruit bowls made from old wire provided by the industry. The idea is to use common products and everyday materials to be the mold for the products.

What is important in this process of is that the designers try to make the people a part of the design. Trans.forma designed the whole process together with the locals and Paula and Renata admit that they alone do not have the key to the design because the product is constructed together. They emphasize that a design should not be imposed on the people An example of this is the cultural input of a craft method called 'hand on model' used to give shape to a design. Waste paper from local schools can processed into pulp and natural pigment from seeds can be used to create the color. This combination of materials causes people to be able to make it themselves and it is also important that people do it together. Paula and Renata admit that if they do not incorporate this last element, the project will probably not be sustainable. If the project is a succes, income growth is the result. And succes of this project has lead to the creation of similar projects in other regions.

In closing their presentation, Paula and Renata emphasize that for Trans.forma design, respect is the guide for each action. When a new way of looking at things arrives in a sleeping region, it awakes. The outcome of the project is that 70% of the group went back to school and wanted to be more involved. Another outcome is that the city is cleaner than before. What Paula and Renata bring as designers is their way of looking at things and they are enthusiastic about rediscovering their everyday life and awaking people: 'We don't want dependence, we want them to discover'.

Trans.forma Design Homepage
Paula Dib's Trans.forma Social Design

Saulo Barretto & Tom Fleming - The Human Project
The Human Project is led by Saulo Barretto who is an engineer originally and internationally active in e-learning and educational software contexts. The concept behind the research institute is that IPTI, an existing Sao Paulo based institute which works across public and private sectors, will create a new organisation in Sergipe, the smallest region in Brazil and an area of priority governmental regional development due to reasons of poverty and rural development.

One of the first steps is to open a cultural center in Santa Luzia and among the first projects Barretto mentions themes such as education for human development, IT and public health, and material and immaterial cultural values. In making these projects possible Barretto thinks of working together with various NGOs such as UNESCO, MEC, Finep and BB. The innovation in this project, according to Barretto, comes from the combination of creating technology, doing research and in doing so improving the local. But there is also much that can be learrned from local development and use it as an input for research activities. Barretto emphasizes that his presentation is focussed at posing questions and not on giving answers. The research center will only be created if the connection with the local can be established.

Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy Homepage



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