City Kit is a combined urban planning program and computer game designed to help residents upgrade their neighborhoods. The project was developed for the Hong Kong Social Housing Authority to target group young people who were spending more time playing computer games than exploring the outside world. City Kit turns these young people into the “makers” of the city, providing a bridge between the users of the urban environment and the experts—the architects and the urban planners.
By playing the game, residents can adapt and improve their local physical environment by building a digital version of their own neighborhood. Using modular building components that can be moved around and fixed in certain places in the environment, users can build micro-stages, exhibition decks, floating bars and theatres, swimming pools and other recreational facilities that make living in the neighborhood more fun.
City Kit is also an open-source medium in which participants can add elements and share their designs. An online platform in the form of a website allows residents to actively take part in the game. All it takes is a simple click of the mouse to interactively test your own virtual version of City Kit. Residents and game users can design their own objects and facilities and can realize their ideas: A “real” object, an analog version of the proposed City Kit element, can be built at the chosen location. On the website, the user can also pinpoint exactly where a digital object should be located in the real world. This can even be done using a mobile phone.
The goal of City Kit is to help citizens revalue their local surroundings and incorporate the new, imaginative layers created in the game’s virtual world. Making small modifications to the personal, physical environment in digital space changes the experience of living in the real world.
The City Kit project led to the DIY Pavilion, first presented at the waterfront promenade of Hong Kong within the framework of the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-city Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture 2009-2010, and later set up at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre and at the Kwai Tsing Theatre in Hong Kong.
Following the City Kit concept, users can co-create their design of the pavilion. The pavilion’s architecture is based on an architectural design principle with a flexible structure that can adapt to site and program requirements, to different content, context and spatial situations. The structure of the pavilion’s architectural design principle makes it possible to involve the users in the design, building and transformation of the pavilion. The pavilion consists of triangular plywood plates sewn together with the help of cable binders. It is a flexible mobile structure to be easily disassembled, transported, reassembled and sewn together again, adjusting to the size of the site and the local requirements. Videos on urban issues were projected on the triangular crystalline structure of the pavilion’s interior as the pavilion traveled to the different locations for community education.
Within the framework of the Simple City installation, Hybrid Space Lab recently presented both projects, City Kit as well as the DIY Pavilion, at the MAKK Museum of Applied Arts Cologne (May to August 2012) and in the first issue of Plan – Architecture Biennial Cologne (September 2012).
The Simple City is an interface for the participatory development of urban projects by professionals and laymen. The design of this simulated urban environment can be broken down to simple elements that can be copied and modified by the users of the city. By copying, pasting and modifying the basic elements, the participant can easily adapt the urban design in order to develop new urban settings.
With its modular setting, Simple City corresponds to the serially produced, global, generic city (with all the instabilities and breaks), and refers to the city of the industrial age that was produced by the addition of generic urban elements via mass production. Therefore the model elements of the Simple City installation were built with the help of modular building bricks that were sponsored by the Danish company LEGO.
Simple City is an interface that enables the communication of dynamic and networked information on urban projects. It forms an environment for interactive collaboration and for communication of process-oriented urban and architectural projects. This includes projects on the energy and material cycles of the city, on urban conversion and on networked participatory urban and architectural design, such as the City Kit and the DIY Pavilion projects.
Networked Participatory Design Systems Today
The projects described above stand in the long tradition of participatory urban design, and the efforts of inserting the public voice into the process of shaping cities. Today, these networked participatory design projects, such as City Kit, DIY Pavilion and Simple City, are part of a general trend and of a paradigm shift.
Today, networked organizations and systems are today altering our society. With new technologies and digital media currently transforming production and social communication, urban and architectural design is being redefined in a new context.
Participatory urban and architectural design systems are gaining—in the context of a networked society—in relevance. This is a general phenomenon as networked co-operation and open-source are to be found in many contemporary social and cultural expressions.
Current social-political systems are using social media tools and mobile media networks. Fluctuating networked political forces distrust established political parties and contest the concept of the “political expert,” creating independent self-publication channels and demanding “direct democracy.”
Networked systems are also transforming knowledge production; think of Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” Co-operation, co-authorship and open-source are to be found in many contemporary cultural expressions and phenomena, such as, for example, Wikimedia Commons, the free media file repository making available public domain and freely licensed educational media content (images, sound, and video clips) to everyone.
Users, aided by improvements in information-communication technology, are increasingly developing their own new products and services, “democratizing” innovation. These users often freely share their innovations with others, creating user-innovation communities and a rich intellectual commons.
The word “prosumer” blends the roles of producer and consumer and was first coined in 1980 by the futurist Alvin Toffler in his book “The Third Wave.” Prosumer, in the context of this essay, describes the type of consumer who becomes involved in the design and manufacturing of products, so they can be made to his individual specification.
Today the prosumer can be engaged in innovation and design as well as in the manufacturing of products that fit his individual specifications and needs. In the last few years 3-D printing has developed to a low cost technology that everyone can use to produce objects. 3-D printing allows industrial production on a desktop scale, enabling autonomous production for individuals and designers. This development of object-production is enabled by the Internet and by the acceleration of technological developments and open-source communities. The digital blueprints of objects are designed in 3-D software and can be shared via digital networks. On special Internet platforms people share these open source 3-D designs that can be produced via rapid prototyping with 3-D printers.
Networked participatory design systems are replacing the logics of the industrial age, where the creative ones designed for the non-creative masses. The architects’ and urban designers’ focus is shifting from designing objects and spaces to programming processes in interaction with users. The task of “designing” processes for networks of people involved on the development of the urban environment is gaining in relevance. This means a shift from centralized to (distributed) participatory systems with “enabling solutions” that involve users. This shift includes solutions and platforms that enable users to interact, integrating users as participants into development processes of the urban environment—such as the City Kit, Simple City and the DIY Pavilion.