Startup in Residence
Meet the jury
Mathis J. Bout Msc.
Urban growth areas
Who are you and what is your daily work and background?
My name is Mathis J. Bout, and I’m an architect and the founder of the firm URBMATH. Our firm provides (solicited and unsolicited) advice on transforming urban growth areas into innovative gathering places.
Attention to the needs of the user is a very important part of our firm’s method of working. Sustainability with regard to this working method isn’t limited to the direct environment but also extends to the social and economic spheres.
An example is Rotterdam Zuid where we’re busy realising a proposal for redesigning public space to act as the main entrance to an urban growth area. In this proposal social interactions between various users are facilitated, and it serves as the entry to the district. The idea is to upgrade the area’s image too. – An urban growth area is an area with a certain socio-economic disadvantage or that is dealing with complex urban issues. –
What is your personal experience with the developments of startups in the urban sector?
I am regularly involved with various start-up initiatives and think tanks as an advisor, both as a judge and as a visiting expert. I really enjoy doing this.
How is innovation intertwined in your daily life?
Innovation always plays a role. Startups are always about innovation of a particular business model. Models that are in use can always be improved nowadays, and innovation really is the key to this.
What experience do you have with innovation? What makes innovation more or less successful?
What makes innovation less successful is when it is approached as a gimmick, a dime a dozen, and is rolled out in a generic fashion.
It is successful when it is really created as a customised solution and is developed for a unique situation.
It is important though that it has a certain scalability and can be applied at various levels. But it really must be tailor-made for specific issues.
Take URBMATH as an example: we strive towards a holistic approach when it comes to innovation, in which the impact is on the environmental, social and economic levels. Our ambition is an integral approach. If you manage to capture this in a model that combines all three aspects simultaneously, you greatly enhance the innovation level.
We live in today’s city, which is a new urban environment. Changes are afoot, and noticeably so. The make-up of the population is becoming more diverse, hence their needs are also become more diverse. The economy has changed too; it’s not the same as it was 20 years ago, and that’s very interesting.
The way people interact with their environment is different. And government is encouraging participation in a big way. The traditional architects, policymakers and builders used to dictate matters. In today’s city that is not the case anymore.
What do you think of the business/innovation climate in The Hague?
Without a doubt: positive. Good things are happening in The Hague. There are very attractive initiatives. We, the jury, visited a really fine creative hub: the New World Campus. It’s an attractive place that provides space for a variety of startups. Very positive.
Startup in Residence
What do you think about the Startup in Residence programme?
It’s the ideal way of scouting for these kinds of wicked problems and innovative solutions to them. At the same time it raises the level of participation. It’s a method of involving people in complex urban issues in an accessible manner.
Actually, it’s a tender process but in a very accessible form. Normally this is mainly for established parties with experience, who’ve been around the block. This, however, makes certain innovative ideas available from a different angle.
It’s positive because it gets smaller parties involved, and they’re often more inclined to think outside the box. They’re closer to the people, the residents, they’re more authentic.
What is your motivation for taking part in this jury?
I want to give these new and upcoming innovators, the ones who are shaping the city of the future, the benefit of my knowledge and expertise. What’s in it for me? A certain satisfaction. And it’s very inspiring. And I’d like to remain involved in a follow up as an expert, and to give advice, input and feedback.
What are you most interested in/do you hope to see/read?
What’s important to me is that a holistic approach of users, environment and economic aspects merges in these plans. That the contributors really operate through the experiences from the intended user. The plans should show in depth knowledge of the target group, its perceptions and how they relate to the specific environment.
This is a wonderful opportunity for residents for making their wants and needs known.
They can actually make a contribution towards the development of their environment and, and in a broader context, of their city. This is how you really create a society in which people truly participate.
Within URBMATH we also pay much attention to what level people participate. It’s an ongoing learning process : How can this level be increased and how do we reach a certain audience? We always try to get input from the ordinary guy, who can tell us exactly what people’s needs and wants are at any specific point.
URBMATH works very specifically per case. We’ve developed a tool, the architectural remix: we give unsolicited advice on any relevant issue.
For example, about a temporary installation, a gigantic staircase, which was installed in Rotterdam as part of the “Rotterdam Viert de Stad!” festival, a cultural event celebrating 75 years of reconstruction. The gesture was lovely, but it wasn’t really accessible to everyone. We thought: wouldn’t it be nice if it were accessible to everyone and also triggered a certain emotion? So we suggested a giant slide on top of the staircase. At first hand the slide could only be experienced in a virtual way by using a smartphone app on location. At a later point an immersive motion graphic animation of the slide was disclosed on the internet.
We reached a great number with our alternative proposal: 1 million. It generated dialogue: among the citizens of Rotterdam city at first, and later beyond the city limits. We started out utilising our own social media channels and it was later continued via a well known blog. After this, it picked up speed. The conversation caught the attention of the media and the papers, and it kept going. There was extensive interaction, between people of all kinds with various ethnic backgrounds. A dialogue between proponents and opponents of the alternative plan. You want to get people actively involved. This is the way to get certain social relevant issues on the agenda. We’re doing this with a remake/remix of the current elements of the city.