The process of urban transformation can be slow, so how can ordinary citizens and urban-inclined creatives help shape the cities they want to live in? Why not try a SPAZA Living Lab.
What’s a SPAZA Living Lab?
An initiative of The Fringe, and intended as a legacy project of World Design Capital 2014, SPAZA Living Labs are a kind of research unit for urban challenges, using The Fringe as a testing ground for urban innovation. By 2014, Fringe organisers hope it will become a two-week urban innovation festival, much like Copenhagen’s Metropolis, Doualla-based triennial Le Salon Urbain de Douala, New York’s Urban Design Week, or Milan’s Public Design Festival.
The Fringe’s Zayd Minty explains:
“Temporary interventions in urban spaces are non-threatening but provocative enough for people to engage with what’s put up – or out – there. It can help a community to think differently, to envision a way things could be. It’s a way for people to loosen up the environment … The Fringe is a hard environment, so we’re looking at how to soften it in a way that doesn’t drive up property values.”
To kickstart SPAZA, The Fringe hosted the first in a series of Living Labs – a two-day workshop with 20+ designers, urban planners, educators and community – on 18 and 19 May 2012. The purpose of this workshop was threefold:
- Conceptualisation: To co-design the format SPAZA will take
- Co-location: To choose a township sister site to The Fringe in which to host SPAZA (Du Noon or Philippi)
- Collaboration: To start developing a database of visuals and ideas for workable temporary interventions in the area.
That’s cool. Can you give me examples of temporary urban interventions?
- JR’s Inside Out Project: A participatory art project where photographs of people are blown up as posters and pasted temporarily in public places.
- Candy Chang’s Before I Die chalkboard: One wall of an abandoned house in New Orleans becomes a dream board on which residents can write about what is most important to them.
- Park(ing) Day: A day on which metered parking spots are transformed into temporary public parks. (If you’re interested in how to turn to make more public space, check out San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks)
The first Living Lab also included Harrington Hollow, where a forgotten alleyway in The Fringe was turned into a meeting space – made more inviting with a few found objects, chairs and plants – and Your City Idea, at which people could choose from four future visions of the city.
How do I get involved?
The next series of Living Labs are coming up in September during Creative Week (15 to 23 September 2012) and Architecture ZA (13 to 16 September 2012), when the workshop will be opened up to wider circles of people. In the meantime, join the Facebook group and consider creating your own temporary intervention.
How? Cape Town-based artist and designer Andrew Putter – co-originator of the Mother City Queer Party (MCQP) with Andre Vorster, co-writer of the South African national secondary school design curriculum, and facilitator of the first SPAZA Living Lab – offers his advice:
Andrew Putter’s Advice for Your Free (Fringe) Ideas Factory
Produce at least one visual idea for an intervention into a public space. The idea can be off-the-wall, unrealisable, practical, stolen, whatever. It can be at the scale of a piece of jewellery, or of an entire street – or anything in-between.
A digital camera (or cellphone) AND
A printer (or access to one) and drawing media (markers, pencil crayons, pencils, fine-liners, tippex, glue, collage materials) OR
A laptop (with digital manipulation software)
1. Go on a walk with a friend: The Situationists advocated the art of the dérive – which Wikipedia defines as “an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience”. And walking aimlessly about an urban space is definitely easier with two – responsibility for where you go shifts off your shoulders, and you’re more likely to wander off.
2. Open up your senses: As you’re walking, start to look more deeply at what you experience around you: How does light, sound, smell strike your body in a space?
3. Take photos: While you out and about, noticing the world, take photos of visual elements at a variety of scales – from the size of your hand to the size of a building. Photos of patterns, textures, forms, street art, signage, lettering – whatever aesthetic elements catch your eye. These images will become your source material. Also take a handful of photos of spaces in which you’d like to stage an intervention – an abandoned parking lot, a forgotten alleyway, a busy intersection.
4. Workshop your idea: Return within the half-hour, and choose your favourite source images, pinning them to the same page. Pick your preferred intervention sites, and pin them to the same page. Now create visual ideas for an imaginary intervention on top of your images, referencing at least one aesthetic element or source image. Think about low-budget (or no-budget) interventions with a limited lifespan.
5. Just do it: Decide on a day for your favourite intervention and just do it. Make it happen, make it in public, and don’t forget to clean it up afterwards. If it doesn’t work, make it better next time: Think about your project as if it’s in perpetual beta – never approach it as a final product. It gets more and more and more intense, yes, but there’s never a final product.
If you need some more advice, check out this tactical urbanism handbook.
All photos of the first SPAZA Living Lab by Lisa Burnell, video by One.Dog.Chicken