How to read territories in light of their historical relations to former colonies and how to contribute to the formation of an inclusive collective cultural heritage.
Co-curated by Hybrid Space Lab and Het Nieuwe Instituut the “Voiced Space” workshop program investigates creative ways in which design and urban/architectural research with a strong interdisciplinary dimension can inform the processing of contested heritage, the re-signification processes of existing monuments, sites and territories and the future of heritage and memory making.
“Voiced Space” is an international program – a traveling academy across European capitals to co-create and promote design research methods and solutions on heritage (sites). The program individuates a case-studies-based approach as the way to develop effectively transferable toolkit, retaining significance and potential across contexts and borders.
Accustomed to the places we daily encounter, we often overlook or forget about the traces of contested pasts that surround us. Over centuries, Dutch cities have been defined and grown aided by the benefits resulting from Dutch colonial rule in overseas territories. Global networks and infrastructures were established for unevenly channeling the movement of people and goods, contributing to further stratify societies and spaces.
Continuing Het Nieuwe Instituut’s long-standing engagement, and ongoing research on the after-lives of Dutch colonialism, this collaborative research project with Hybrid Space Lab explores how design and urban/architectural research with a strong interdisciplinary dimension can contribute to the formation of a collective memory and cultural heritage. One that includes and recognizes the memories of large parts of the population that have been suppressed, and establish other relationships between remembering and forgetting.
Since the 1850s, Rotterdam has been an important node in the global distribution and production of tobacco, of which Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Sonneveld House—built for the director of the tobacco department of Van Nelle—is a prominent reminiscent. Rather than focusing on particular individuals, objects and sites, the project will examine the infrastructures and networks behind the trade of tobacco and trace their historic and still present strata across the city. Not limited to few merchants and companies, the trade was embedded into the economy of the city: from shipyards to ports, railways, canals, warehouses, and factories.
During a series of workshops, a network of cultural institutions are connected with artists, activists, architects, designers, researchers and policy makers in order to unveil, read and discuss colonial traces in Rotterdam that have become, because of their perverseness, concealed. Through the lens of tobacco trade, other histories are explored that are capable of including other memories and stories, beyond the dominant ones.
Human activity and its far-reaching interactions have always transformed territories by moving people, plants, goods and animals. As such, territories have become richly stratified – and interactions are always mutual and two-way. Countries and cities projecting their influence elsewhere have, in turn, been transformed by external inputs.
This entails not only physical transformations with infrastructures such as water or railways, storage and other facilities that ultimately make the exchange possible. It also includes the drafting of an ‘exportable’ cityscape image and of landscape images suited for international propaganda shaping global spatial imaginaries and models.
This leads to the compelling question of how to read territories of the metropolis (in its original Greek etymology, indicating the major city, place of origin of explorers and colonizers and hence the city’s relation to colonies) in light of these interactions, which often bore colonial relations.
We often, accustomed to our environments and not questioning them, have become blind to the multiple layers of the metropolitan territories we experience. The project aims at awakening the sensory apprehension of the city through the lenses of global, interconnected histories, to reckon with metropolis’ past and present and its unvoiced, stratified traces in the spaces we cross everyday. This includes re-contextualizing and re-reading the cityscape, exploring alternative systems that are capable of including other memories and stories, and other species, beyond the dominant ones.
At present, post-colonial discourse and processes and colonial repercussions are at the center of heated debates and crucial, all-encompassing discussions. This is especially evident in the fields of culture and art.
However, architecture, urbanism and landscape studies feature very limitedly in descriptions and discussions of post-colonial territories. And although there is widespread interest in post-colonial outlooks on art, culture and, to a lesser extent, architecture – for instance, by looking at (Bauhaus) modernism and its connection to “tropical architecture” – processes to read the metropolis from such an international perspective are lacking.
In the context of post-colonial processes and discourse, attention to metropolis’ blindness to silenced memories is increasing, especially in relation to cityscapes and to how different people experience the long-stratified urban environment.
How to approach questions related to the territory from a post-colonial perspective?
When reading a territory through postcolonial lenses, what relations and voices are excluded? Which ones are prioritized? And how do memory and oblivion relate to one another?
How can infrastructural attainments and urban structures of the metropolis be discerned from its colonial past?
And how is this still present in the construction of the metropolis and in its current conditions of segregation?
In light of the relationship with their landscape, the Netherlands provide a pertinent territory to start reading such interactions. Exchanges, tradeoffs and porous communication with the outside environment have always defined the Dutch cityscape.
Built on water, the Netherlands’ reclaimed landscape is characterized by strong plasticity, the feature of being easily molded. Furthermore, being built at the waterfront, on one of the world’s most important deltas, the Dutch territory is defined by high porosity, allowing and channeling the movement of people and goods in and out. These have been prominent characteristics that have shaped not only the role and position of the Netherlands in the world but also the Dutch metropolitan territory itself.
Port and railway infrastructure, canals, storage facilities and warehouses have significantly shaped the structure and morphology of Dutch cities, with remainders of urban systems that were supporting and supported by colonial relations. This wider network of infrastructures in which different forms of trade and related production were embedded is still present in the construction of the metropolis and in its current conditions of segregation.
Also the contemporary Dutch cityscape is characterized by infrastructures enabling international exchange such as highways, data centers and harbors. And the (historically) constructed image of the Dutch landscape is today a branding asset in the context of international global markets.
Therefore, case studies in the Netherlands are a testing ground to investigate these questions and reframe how we read the metropolitan territory and its layers. To reflect on these issues, Hybrid Space Lab and Het Nieuwe Instituut in Autumn 2019 are launching and curating an interdisciplinary workshop series and networking forum.
How can we read the Dutch landscape in light of its international interactions?
What could we learn by looking at the Dutch ‘metropolis’ through post-colonial lenses?
Using a case study approach and design research methods, the first workshop scheduled on Friday 8th November 2019 features short input lectures in the morning and interactive sessions in the afternoon, engaging the 25-30 participants. The program includes a public evening lecture.
The program has the objective to bolster collaborative, co-creative re-reading and re-signification processes which work on physical heritage and stratified territories with unvoiced layers with digital platforms, light formats and mobile and temporary creative interventions.
The international interdisciplinary workshop engages architects, urbanists, landscape architects and designers as well as researchers and experts from other fields relevant to the questions raised. Focusing on concrete case studies in or around Rotterdam, the workshop is based on Research by Design methods, applying investigative and speculative design research. Approaching the topics from the designers’ point of view and working methods, it aims at crafting dynamic processes to re-contextualize and re-signify the cityscape.
The program is embedded in an evocative spatial/visual framework with an atmospheric potential that through sensory engagement of participants favors creative ‘projective’ working sessions and breakthrough discussions and exchange.
The “Voiced Space: Global Dutch Landscapes” workshop series is part of the interdisciplinary, long-term project “Voiced Space” by Hybrid Space Lab in collaboration with Het Nieuwe Instituut.
The first workshop focuses on the history of tobacco, since the city of Rotterdam represented (and still does) an important node in a global network connected to the production and distribution of this product. From this perspective, tobacco is the ‘filter’ to look into the colonial (and post-colonial) legacy of the city, embedding its geographies in the global context of Rotterdam and how these have shaped the city and its larger region since the 1850s. Because of the Second World War, only a few physical traces of this past remain, such as a couple of tobacco warehouses in the city, the Van Nelle factory, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and indirectly Het Nieuwe Instutuut own Sonneveld House from the director of the tobacco division of Van Nelle. The workshop therefore explores how design can contribute to the collective processing and re-signification of this heritage, both physical and intangible, that has become hidden, neglected or simply erased.
Co-curated by Hybrid Space Lab and Het Nieuwe Instituut the “Voiced Space” workshop program, investigates creative ways in which design research can inform processing of contested heritage, re-signification processes for existing monuments, sites and territories and the future of heritage and memory making. Bringing creativity into controversial situations informs engagement with conflictive landscapes, negotiation stasis and political reticence. By means of collaborative, artistic and hybrid processes, the program aims at facilitating more integrated, collective processes of making memory and meaning.
In a globalized world, the polyphony of voices gaining and demanding recognition generates the necessity and the possibility to reconsider heritage sites and re-read territories. The collective reckoning with controversial history and the processes of re-signification deal with complex issues that have to account for a multitude of claims. We therefore need a fresh, radically innovative outlook with a solutions-oriented approach to address the various forms of contested heritage and the yet un-voiced layers of territories in a way that is fit for the 21st century.
A design-based approach, harnessing the potential of trans-disciplinary expertise and integrating participants diverse inputs with artistic, speculative and investigative design research methods allows to process contested heritage and re-signify territories anew. The “Voiced Space” project relies on such hybrid strategies, and considers heritage sites and territories as a hybrid, shared cultural asset. “Voiced Space” draws on creative methods and artistic endeavors, digital tools and persuasive media strategies, allowing us to envision ever-expanding domains for re-signification processes, for re-reading territories and for memory- and heritage-making.
Next to re-contextualizing territories and re-signifying contested monuments and heritage sites, the project includes the re-reading of monuments, public spaces and infrastructure whose original symbolic value was lost to social and political shifts, as well as their deep connections to collective memory and personal stories.
In addition to integrating creative design research methods into the processing of heritage and territories, the program bolsters innovative ideas on (the future of) heritage sites and memory-making in the Digital Age. It investigates how digitally supported co-creative processes potentially eliminate boundaries to engagement and visualization, fostering radical re-signification of physical monuments and heritage sites. Dynamic, digital, networked archives enable the integration of sidelined voices within polyphonic sites, unearthing previously unchartered territories. In doing so, they counter-balance the predominant narratives and pave the way from recognition to reconciliation.
Such strategies help navigate controversial debates and facilitate the transformation of heritage sites and territories of memory in a ‘detached’ way, without physically touching them. This method also values agile, light-format, flexible and temporary interventions allowing for thinking and re-thinking, looking and looking again under a different light.
“Voiced Space” is an international program – a traveling academy working with Dutch embassies across European capitals to co-create and promote design research methods and solutions on heritage (sites). “Voiced Space” individuates a case-studies-based approach as the way to develop effectively a transferable toolkit, retaining significance and potential across contexts and borders. With a commitment to problem solving, the program is thoroughly trans-disciplinary. With a background assessment enriched by a diversity of expertise and fields, the program involves designers, architects and other creative professionals and combines participants input into design research processes.
How can design research contribute to the collective processing of heritage sites?
How to re-read and re-signify heritage sites and territories with the help of creative visions and hybrid (combined physical and digital) tools?
What could future heritage sites look, feel, sound like, and how could their digitally enriched features affect memory-making processes?