Guest blog by architect Martine Zoeteman:

Disruptive communities on the move

Architect Martine Zoeteman has been studying (temporary) creative hubs in relation to urban development in The Hague, and beyond. In this guest blog, she ponders the meaning of the term “temporariness”. How do temporary initiatives contribute to a dynamic and future-proof city? Read her guest contribution below.

With the rise of temporary initiatives in the voids of our cities, the word ‘temporary’ is nowadays almost a synonym for ‘experimental’. Temporariness seems to fuel unorthodox ideas and allows a trial-and-error approach. Moreover the knowledge that the time is now it seems to create a momentum of collective action. It produces a group dynamic that is somewhat similar to the ‘festival feeling’, a social bond between like-minded spirits that gather on a specific site for a certain period of time.

The power of temporary creative hubs is also related to these qualities of temporariness. However, in general we tend to think that temporary hubs only have short-term effects. But if we shift our focus to the communities itself, which are not necessarily related to one location only – as I argued in my previous blog – we can identify impact on a larger scale.

Movements with long-term impact

For Mediamatic – a cultural institution that explores the possibilities and challenges that new technology offers art, design and society – moving around the city seems to be an important part of its business model. In the past five years Mediamatic moved from Post CS to Duintjer CS, the Van Gendthallen and its current spot Dijkspark in Amsterdam.

On every new location it launched new projects that are often inspired by the extraordinary location or architecture. For example, the industrial scale of the Van Gendthallen offered the perfect conditions for an indoor drone test field and playground. Dijkspark, situated right next to the water, made it possible to start a symbolic boat service Rederij Lampedusa, staffed by an international crew from the Netherlands, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Syria.

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Using the qualities of a vacant building: drones and their pilots at Drone Camping (Mediamatic, Amsterdam 2014).

 

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Rederij Lampedusa crew arriving at Dijkspark (Mediamatic, Amsterdam 2015).

Such changes of perspective keep Mediamatic innovative in the way it facilitates and develops its programme. By adopting this strategy of sequential temporariness1 it underlines its role as pioneer in the city, both in setting an agenda and in the way it exploits vacant spots. By doing so, Mediamatic has become an important player in the city’s cultural landscape. Because its network follows no matter where it settles down, it embodies a community or rather a movement of disruptive minds in Amsterdam.

Instant use of vacant buildings

Mediamatic has built up a strong reputation, which probably makes it easier to get the key of a new vacant spot in Amsterdam each time. But in general it is not that simple. Building owners often argue that temporary use is not profitable enough for them. However, there are some intermediaries as CareX that are able to organize temporary use of vacancy on a larger scale.

CareX – active in Friesland, Groningen, Drenthe en Overijssel – gained a position as mediator between owners of vacant buildings and people in (direct) need of an affordable place to live or work. Because it developed a strategy to make instant use possible, it even accepts buildings that are available for a limited period of only six months. Unlike regular anti-squat agencies, CareX’s goal is to house as many people as possible, instead of providing only a couple of guards for an empty property. 

Space for spontaneous initiatives

A similar initiative, geared specifically towards creative entrepreneurs, was founded more recently in Amsterdam. Since 2014, a collective of social organizations2 operates together as LOLA: Leegstand Oplossers Amsterdam (Vacancy Solvers Amsterdam). Its goal is to stimulate spontaneous initiatives by making space available without complicated procedures. LOLA Luid!, the first pilot in a former school building in Amsterdam-West, already proved the potential of this strategy. The kwartiermakers Bart van Heesch en Emilie Kröner managed to fill the building instantly with a wide variety of entrepreneurs and turned it into a lively hub.

Also LOLA uses the legal structure of anti-squat agencies, but puts the bar much higher in terms of social impact on the neighbourhood. Since the kwartiermakers already lived in the neighbourhood themselves, they were able to connect LOLA Luid! to the local live. They selected upcoming young artists and designers, but also local entrepreneurs as a bike repair shop. Furthermore they transformed the heart of the building into a public domain with shops, a cafe and restaurant. The school building will be demolished soon and LOLA Luid! closed its doors last week after eleven months. Despite of its short existence, it boosted several individual practices and created a basis for a new creative community, which will continue in another building nearby.

Incubators for disruptive communities

Also in The Hague the dynamics of temporariness lead to several vital communities. Currently, surf village F.A.S.T. does not have a site anymore, but no doubt that its supporters show up the moment it pops up again. Another recent example is EAPlab, a collective of creative professionals focused on art and technology based in a former school in Den Haag Zuid-West since last summer. Because it lacks space, the collective is making plans proactively to set up a new location soon.

The examples of Mediamatic, CareX and LOLA show that a series of relatively short temporary use develops can have significant impact on the city’s culture and level of innovation. Such temporary places have the potential to function as incubator for new communities. Since The Hague is one of the cities with the highest number of vacant buildings, it is not difficult to imagine its opportunities in this perspective. Although it is understandable that the municipality and real estate agencies cannot give away keys of their property randomly, we cannot afford to miss out on chances to invest in a dynamic and future-proof city. We need to keep the creative caravan going and give space to spontaneous, unorthodox ideas.

Martine Zoeteman (architect and writer) is founder of STADvogels, an architecture studio for research and design. For several years she has been studying (temporary) creative hubs in relation to urban development. Besides being part of De Besturing, a collective of artists, designers and cultural entrepreneurs that runs its own studio complex in the Binckhorst.

Footnotes: 

1 Sequential temporariness: ‘a series of periods of temporary use develops that, together, can have a considerable impact in the long term’. R. Rietveld, E. Rietveld, M. Zoeteman, A. Mackic (eds.), Vacancy Studies: Experiments & Strategic Interventions in Architecture, Rotterdam 2014, p. 45.

2 LOLA is an initiative of Lokale Lente, Urban Resort, de Vrije Ruimte, de Culturele Stelling van Amsterdam and STIPO.