PL-03: Amplification

Nile Bridgeman, Josh Artus, Jonathan Goldstein and Samson Famusan
Nile Bridgeman, Josh Artus, Jonathan Goldstein and Samson Famusan

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.

Nile Bridgeman & Samson Famusan of Afterparti
Nile Bridgeman & Samson Famusan of Afterparti

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.

About:
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.

Josh Artus of Centric Lab
Josh Artus of Centric Lab

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.

About
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.

Jonathan Goldstein, Founder of Goldstein Music
Jonathan Goldstein, Founder of Goldstein Music

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

PL-02: Trust

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With participants from the RCA, ICA, British Council, Craft Council, Central St Martins, as well as Accenture, Westminster Council and of course Produce UK and the London Communication Agency, our hosts for the evening, the theme of the third PlaceLabs get-together was Trust.

The setting was LCA’s eighth-floor offices in Berkshire House, overlooking London landmarks such as the Eye, the Southbank, and the outdoor swimming pool of the Oasis Sports Centre. The kind of large-scale public spaces that have come to define London and create that elusive but essential adhesive that binds us together, trust. Between place-makers and communities, between the interested parties that are tasked with place-making, and between the designers and developers and the end users of the shared real-life and digital spaces that is 21st century humanity’s habitat.

The first of three contrasting presentations was from our LCA hosts, Founder and Managing Director Jonny Popper and account director Helena Carrie, taking us through the challenges and achievements of working with Argent and the King’s Cross development. Then Fjord senior designer Giulio Fagiolini talked about the complex issues of trust that fed into designing an innovative new website, for the West Midlands police and the people of Birmingham, who would use it to log concerns and report crime in an unprecedented new digital public space. Finally, research fellow Marcus Willcocks from Central Saint Martin’s and place-maker and designer Rosanna Vitiello discussed the “Urban Lexicons of Trust”, taking us into the very heart of city living, from the instructional to the subliminal, with a dusting of fear on top.

Each showed how trust can be embedded and developed as surely as foundations, bricks and mortar – for without the trust of communities it’s possible that no foundations will even get laid. Trust is the cornerstone, the first brick, the central pillar. It takes work.

Jonny Popper breezed through a whirlwind account of LCA’s history, from start-up (“we trusted that it was going to be a good idea and that we could pull it off”) to the company’s first big campaign – the Millennium Dome (“Oh sh*t, how are we going to deliver?”) – through to more recent work with major city projects such as the rejuvenation of Kings Cross and St Pancras, and the rebranding and redevelopment of Wembley Park. Trust – between clients, with staff, with communities, in one’s own capabilities – is the most valuable coinage there is, said Jonny. “Trust gets repaid. It’s a powerful form of currency.”

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Transforming King’s Cross and St Pancras into the all-round family destination it now meant creating trust by producing large-scale events and installations as sensory agents of change – throwing a Mad Hatter’s tea party at ‘King’s Cross, or creating the King’s Cross Pond Club for dedicated free swimmers – and then installing an outdoor sauna to go with it, to show how things had changed since the saunas of King’s Cross’s sex industry had closed their doors. As Helena Carrie explained, events and installations are there to drive that change in perception, however crazy the idea might sound at first hearing. And as Jonny said in conclusion, “Know what you do and trust it to work.”

Fjord’s senior designer Giulio Fagiolini presented his work with the West Midlands police with some dramatic-looking data sets. Working in a digital rather than physical space, he was tasked with turning a sluggish, inefficient police website into a trusted, inclusive and effective communication and crime-reporting tool. There were issues of trust to handle with great care.

Between police and public, for one, and two, the conflicting first impressions a bunch of London designers armed with Macbooks might have on a bunch of coppers. To earn mutual trust and esteem, the two teams had to get to know each other. “We needed to understand their job, and they needed to understand ours,” said Fagiolini. It was about finding out exactly what they did, how they did it, and then revisualising the flow of data – how different kinds of crimes are reported and acted upon – to improve and expand that vital public space between police and public. Trust between the two is an open space in itself, one that can too easily be scarred by conflict.

Revisualising the data that flows between public and police in the landscaping of their website meant Fagiolini and his team could clear that public space of obstructions. While it was wholly digital, the work was as detailed and complex as any bricks and mortar build.

Central St Martin’s Marcus Willcocks began the third presentation with a handy explanation. “The urban lexicon is how the city talks to us,” he explained, and that talk, he believes, is with forked tongue. We need a different conversation. The ‘lexicons of distrust’ are all over our urban environments, he said, the legacy of four decades of fear and security-based urban planning.

Quoting Richard Nixon’s pocket maxim that ‘people react to fear, not love’, he pointed to the ubiquitous security-led features of city life,– right down to the spikes to stop homeless people sleeping in front of an office’s shiny new atrium – and the CCTV cameras looking down on them from on high. These were metaphors and dystopian enrichers of mistrust. In terms of public spaces, design had become overly problem-oriented. As he says, “secure-by-design streets are empty and characterless.” No one wants to be there, and they’re filled with signs telling what you can and can’t do.

Quoting from Deb Krizmanich’s work, Rosanna Vitiello touched on trust in communities and how to build real lasting relationships between people – by drawing on shared vision and goals.

“Shared visions are about understanding mutual outcomes,” she said, “but it’s not a homogeneous decision.” That is, there has to be the space for disagreement – and a shared vision to resolve it.

The closing discussion led on the theme of the spaces we inhabit – digital and physical – and “what underpins trust for citizens”. Well, it’s daily life, it seems. There’s trust everywhere you go – from crossing a road to ordering a meal – but engagement and communication are the crux of the matter when it comes to building trust, one that you can really work with. That, and being able to play. “Playfulness is about the space to try things out,” says Marcus Willcocks. “It doesn’t have to be child’s play. It can be playfulness with your local neighbourhood.” Playfulness engenders trust.

“Playfulness is putting a frame a round a space that’s risky but safe enough to get it wrong if you need to.”

It was the kind of concept that encompassed the playful nature of the conversation at this third PlaceLabs event, embracing creative thought and the experience required to illuminate it. You could feel the trust blossoming in the room.

By Tim Cumming

PL-01: Belonging

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When a group of placemakers and architects get together to discuss the notion of ‘belonging’, it’s a sign that the room is in full heart-centred mode when a concluding idea encourages the promotion of ‘messy joy’.

Let us explain. On Tuesday evening we headed over to the JTP offices on Great Sutton Street for PlaceLabs.

This quarter’s theme was ‘Belonging’ with presentations by Produce UK’s Catherine Borowski, JTP’s Ivana Stanisic, and the Calthorpe Project’s Jack Harrison.

Explaining that growing up unprivileged in Hornsey forced her to examine her own sense of belonging at an early age, Catherine opened the presentation segment with a photo of her installation from 2016’s ‘You Get What You’re Given’ exhibition. “I remember my whole childhood dreaming of stair spindles,” she said: “All my friends lived in old houses that had amazing front doors with stained glass and brass knockers, and all we had was a broken doorbell… Our stairs had plasterboard, not spindles.”

With the heavy-hitting kudos behind her collaboration with artist Lee Baker – the tongue-in-cheek SKIP Gallery – Catherine’s pivot point was around the sense of art’s role in encouraging people to participate in community, and the expression of one’s own sense of place in the world. Then referencing Produce UK’s signature events around Kings Cross in the second half of her PechaKucha, she remarked, “They were really good fun. It was before a lot of development. There was public art going on, but it was about bringing a family audience to Kings Cross and that changing perspective side of things, because families were not used to going to Kings Cross to hang out and socialise. Our job was to change people’s attitudes.”

Next up was architect Ivana Stanisic, whose key message was the necessity of valuing personal agency. Ivana’s slides portrayed her belief of how a sense of agency is not only important to people on an immediate, individual level, but how it’s key to the longevity and success of buildings and communities. With slides of the colourful houseboats on the canal in the Kingsland Basin; the buzzing merchant area in Vienna; and a well-populated hotchpotch block of late 20th century flats in Madrid, her message was clear: “We have these joyful places which are socially and visually a mess.”

Ivana went onto explain, “That’s why people go there, not because it’s a set of beautifully designed closed systems with buildings that architects have lovingly crafted… It’s because places have allowed people to move in, to adapt, change uses, and allow different types of people to move in.”

The final PechaKucha was courtesy of Jack Harrison, placemaker, futsal enthusiast and community football coach. Jack’s presentation centred around not just what football and sport can teach us about belonging and placemaking; but how it’s proven to be an essential part of it.

He explained, “In our increasingly polarised consumerist world, we need public spaces and projects that bring together the not-like-minded and the not-like-situated. I believe that sport and our public spaces can help us […] feel a sense of belonging, not just to our cities, but to the country as a whole.”

Recounting his sense of disconnection from London and its people when he first moved to the city, he contemplated how he was able to coalesce a sense of belonging through his work as a community football coach for refugees, disenfranchised young people, and young offenders. One particularly poignant slide was a photograph of an Angolan refugee: “He’d celebrate every goal he scored by exclaiming, ‘This is my house!’”

Leading the discussion section of the evening were Rosanna and Payal – and it was clear the comparisons between football and architecture struck some serious chords! Catherine pointed out the success of Produce UK’s sports events in Kings Cross, and how, “…that was a massive thing for getting participation. I think sport is really key.”

Likewise, guests discussed how art, art spaces and galleries are just as important in generating a sense of community. When Somers Town’s Esther Caplin took over an empty unit and turned it into a gallery, “…what we noticed was that people came in, we got to know people living locally.

You start forming relationships, you start talking about what you’re showing, what you’re doing, workshops and things. It has an amazing affect and added value.”

But the take home thought from Tuesday’s PlaceLabs came from Rosanna: how people aren’t instantly willing or able to give up their identity to be part of something. To that end, how can events and programmes in public spaces help people to find their place in the bigger city or society? Placemakers have yet to find the absolute magic formula, but if Tuesday’s event is anything to go by, we’re getting there.

A space that encourages inventive thinking, the quarterly PlaceLabs events take a PechaKucha style format and invite three speakers from the placemaking world to present their thoughts on a specially selected theme. These are followed by discussion and idea-sharing, and the opportunity for guests to network. And of course, there’s wine…

By Plum Phillips