What amplifies the potential of a place? Be it a neighbourhood, a city or a nation. How does the amplification of different voices affect how we design our cities? And how can we compose these diverse voices to create cities that sing with richness and symphony?
These were the questions and provocations that formed the discussions at our third PlaceLab in June 2019. Lively debates ensued about neuroscience as a force for good, the anti-Stirling awards, and orchestrating sound in the city as this edition’s PlaceLabs maestros presented new perspectives. From creating platforms for the underrepresented voices of a city’s unheard innovators, to tuning places for curiosity and health, and into the realms of neuroscience.
The Provocateurs – Calls For The ANTI Of All Architectural Prizes
Nile Bridgeman & Samson Famusan of Afterparti are independent agitators challenging mainstream adulation of aesthetic architecture that’s propagated by the Stirling Awards. An award that amplifies the egos of figurehead architects, rather than award an ethos that’s more collective and all encompassing of community, education and housing.
Calling out loud recent Stirling prize winner, the much fawned upon Bloomberg building as a case in point. Undoubtedly a bravura piece of architecture, and also one of the most capitalist buildings one could have chosen in a time of austerity.
By contrast how are we celebrating and amplifying buildings created with an intention for good but without a budget? Where a high functioning integrated sustainable development is delivered?
One such groundbreaking development – LILAC in Leeds – began with five residents wanting to live and raise their children in a different way. And resulted in low impact, affordable homes, becoming an exemplar of sustainable development using local tradespeople and materials sourced within 25 miles.
In a time when aesthetic value still trumps social value Nile and Samson are challenging the overemphasis on aesthetic, perpetuated by the old-guard architects and have developed Afterparti // @afterpartizine, a platform for the un-heard radical disrupters. At the PlaceLab they emerged as champions of an award that celebrates responsible design, replicable product and radical approaches. An approach that moves beyond the self-perpetuating norms of architecture and is recognised as part of the UN’s drive for a better and more sustainable future for all.
Nile and Samson are both architecture graduates and two of the founding members of Afterparti. Afterparti unpack big ideas on contemporary urban space through the lenses of identity and race. Their inaugural event at the Royal College of Art and recently-published zine, ‘The Time for Failure is Now’ provided platforms for underrepresented voices in the culture and criticism of architecture and design. Themes explored during the series included diversity, accountability, design colonialism, education and spatial equality, and form the basis of their upcoming articles and events.
Neuroscience & The City – Reveals The Beauty Of Our Biology Is Our Similarities
Josh Artus is co-founder of Centric Lab and self confessed “dork working with nerds”. But underneath his upbeat self-deprecating style is a critical mind, and a practice that measures its success as the reduction in mental and physical health outbreaks; or less cases of depression, dementia, anxiety disorders. In Josh’s words, the Centric Lab is “working towards lowering bad health”.
Being human is getting harder and harder. The macro trends of climate change, automation and urbanisation are putting stresses upon people, and the micro stressors of air pollution, light and noise pollution are underlying factors impacting our wellbeing.
Neuroscientists at the Centric Lab team are discovering important insights and compelling evidence in support of interventions to tackle the negative health impacts of city living, and support human performance. The seismic changes in climate are shifting our perceptions of how the places we inhabit – our homes, our workplace, our city – and affecting our biological systems and cognitive function.
Neuroscience is multidisciplinary branch of biology and is the scientific study of the brain and nervous system, including its interaction with the other parts of the body. It’s value out of the confines of the lab is to understand what in our world impacts our biological stress response system and the links through to cognition. So for example, research has shown that an increase of 10db in noise (from the noise level of a dishwasher to a vacuum cleaner) decreases worker productivity by approximately 5%. Long-term exposure to PM2.5-10 and PM2.5 avt levels typically experienced by many individuals in the United States is associated with significantly worse cognitive decline in older women.
Using metrics from neuroscience to inform urban innovation and increase quality of life in cities looks at the relationship between the environment and our biology to understand the factors that affect stress and endocrine systems. Knowing the underlying factors that are impacting our bodily systems in subtle ways means we can be more effective with our mitigations and action plans. We can have more targeted approaches to enhancing human performance.
While different demographics have different thresholds, Josh says “the beautiful thing about our biology is the similarities in how we all breath, digest and sleep” which means the spectrum of bias on data collection becomes less of an issue.
Now with technology and data making it possible to analyse data, Centric Lab is on a mission to put neuroscientific research firmly into the practices around urban life of real estate, technology and workplace management. In collaboration with Future Cities Catapult and the University College London they have produced the ‘Neuroscience for Cities Playbook’. It proposes a framework for identifying new opportunities for innovation and improved experiences, leading in turn to greater productivity, wellbeing and attraction. They’re now focused on creating a worldwide digital tool to help isolate the underlying stress factors in our urban environments and push these insights into the hands of the next generation of change makers.
Neuroscience has come to the fore offering industries a lens to close the gap between the planned and the actual. And these scientifically proven insights will have obvious immediate applications for those developing and managing public or private real estate.
Josh Artus is the co-founder of Centric Lab, a London based company combining urban and neuroscience data to help make healthier and more resilient habitats. He established the business with a neuroscientist with the aim to close the knowledge gaps occurring between a person and place. Josh has been working at the intersection of creative industries, technology and real estate for over 10 years and co-leads Centric’s mission to ensure the built environment is an enabler of great ideas and not a detractor.
The Composer – Opens Our Ears To Ideas
Jonathan Goldstein, Founder of Goldstein Music, is a composer and a sought after leading-light on the ‘musification’ of brands and cities. Like it or not you ‘can’t switch your ears off”, says Jonathan, “it takes only .146 secs for the brain to respond to an audio signal”.
Brands are exploiting this as a marketing device, with the advertising world abuzz with the sensory phenomenon of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridien Response). This has been rerecreated in BBDO Beijing’s erotic ad for Dove chocolate, and Zoe Kravitz’s gentle whispering for Michelob at this year’s Superbowl, leaving fans distracted with her every whisper, fizz and tap of the bottle.
But in this noisy world, how serious are cities and destinations about sound? As we shift towards a sound-dominated world, cities of the future will start to sing with richness and meaning. In the next decade, Jonathan sees sound as becoming an unbelievably crucial part of creating a vibrant and normalised experience of how we live. Today 40% of households own a smart speaker, by 2022 Gartner Research predicts this will increase to 60% with 30% of internet browsing conducted off screen. The youth of this generation will no longer be tethered to a device to search using keyboards and will be using their voices instead, making the connection between sound a fundamental part of life.
We are reaching the tipping point of sound as a service that explores the spectrum of quiet and noise, smooths the flow of crowds and soothes the senses, and serves us everyday.
In a noisy world Silentium’s Quiet Bubble software has taken noise reduction out of the headset and into the headrest in a car, on a plane and even silence at home reducing disturbing noise no matter what the sources are. For architects this means exploring ways to reduce sound without the need for physical barriers.
Sound management has traditionally focused on reducing noise levels, however, a quiet city is not necessarily an interesting or better one. The soundscape approach encourages positive sounds in urban environments while mitigating unwanted sound. Take the Bankside Project as an example, when Goldstein Music remastered the sounds of its history using William Blake’s poetry, and Idris Elba’s voice to create a sonic landscape that hummed with possibility encouraging people to slow down and explore this place.
Dubai airport is tacking dawdling travellers without frenetic announcements, opting instead for a six minute soundtrack that acts like a watch mechanism that pulses and shifts momentum to encourage movement of travellers through the terminal’s zones; making the airport a calmer sensory experience.
And in response to the gender bias debate, comes a breakthrough in voice-controlled personal assistants – The Q genderless voice experiment. Think of Q like Siri and Alexa, only neutral. A voice recording of two dozen people identifying as male, female, transgender, or non-binary defined a frequency range that was gender neutral. Ushering in a world no longer defined by gender.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, with 5G soon to become mainstream and 75 billion devices by 2025 Jonathan says “the opportunity to amplify connections between people and places is immense”. Ask the bus stop when the next bus is due? That’s not as crazy as it seems – it’s real and exciting.
So next time you’re in a public space, close your eyes and listen to the world around you. You will likely discover a whole new aspect of the urban experience.
About: Jonathan Goldstein
Jonathan Goldstein is the Founder and Creative Director of Goldstein Music, an award-winning London music production agency with an outstanding reputation in music for advertising, branding and experiential marketing. The company has scooped up numerous awards including D&AD, British Arrows, London International Advertising Awards and Kinsale Shark and Music and Sound Awards. Jonathan is also Founder of ANVIL, a sound branding agency devoted to creating unique sound brand identities that unlock the true potential of sound and liberate brands from silence.
By Rosanna Covacich