Not all designs can support an infinite move forward. Engineering limits may stop project revolutions. Physical restriction can interrupt long term experiments. Unknown boundaries may stop entire programs. Political decisions can halt a human evolution. Financial crisis could stop the world economy.
New spaces are available. Struggling businesses on the verge of bankruptcy have left entire factories completely empty, exhibition centers are used by homeless, squatters, illegal immigrants and the new local low class, people without a job that cannot afford anymore a place to live.
This project took me through 3 countries, in Europe and Asia. Amsterdam in The Netherlands was my first stop, here I visited a formal shipyard located in one of the unsafest areas of the 90s. The second stop was in Italy, hugely impacted by one of the biggest financial crisis in 2007. China was the last leg of my trip, a country that has gone through a memorable people revolution in the last 30 years.
NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij, Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company) is a formal shipping area recycled by the art community. The 80s was a difficult decade for the European shipping industry. This docking area was used for almost 100 years and it is unbelievable to think the day when this space was closed, the incredible and unpredictable time when there was no other choice than to shut the doors.
Builders were attracted by this space, however the North side of Amsterdam was not the safest place to be and therefore not as attractive for a business center. Authorities launched a planning context for the temporary usage of the docks, with the clear goal to attract investors for the future. The winning design was unique in a way that it was not planned FOR the existing art community but instead it was planned BY the artists, together with them. It may seem a small difference but this “BY” means that the people must make the concept, not an easy change in the architecture and design world.
Shipping sheds here are used as art studios and many communal areas are available to exchange ideas, projects, plans and dreams. This is an art heaven, an art village that should be taken as an example by many countries. Unfortunately art and money are not strictly correlated and having an affordable arty area to grow is essential, not only for the artist but also for the social system. NDSM is today a catalyst for the whole city!
This video interview was done in 2011 by SFU Dutch Design in NDSM. Eva de Klerk was a key figure in the re-development of the shipyard. This is 17 minutes of passion and energy. Can we develop cities working with the mind and soul of people and not developers? Can we live in a community with sustainable infrastructure for water and energy supply?
Varese was once one of the wealthiest area in Europe. It was not a long time ago, in the 90s, that yuppies were driving Ferrari and Porsche. Today people struggle to arrive at the end of the month. Charity organisations have been experiencing a dramatic increase of Italians looking for food and clothes. The Global Financial Crisis in 2007 sent many companies in bankruptcy. Others have decided to outsource the work to countries with more economical labor. Talking with the citizens of this area helps to understand the dramatic time. Somebody blames the politics, others point to the financial markets, nobody really understand what happened. Is there a solution? Is there a possibility to wake up this economy?
There is a huge amount of empty factories around. The most notable is the Textiles Exhibition Center in the town of Castellanza. It is enough to google for 5 minutes to read the many political and business proposals. Homeless were still living there during my visit in May 2013 and the access was as easy as walking through a crashed wall and an open door. I never had to climb over fences to get access to these sites. I don’t think security is on top of the agenda.
Can art be the answer? Attracting the new wave of young Italian artists could be the way to go. It succeeded in Amsterdam, it did in Beijing and it can work also in Italy. Art induce energy, art eventually attracts the wealthy world looking for the next virtuoso. Art and new investments can be the new way to go.
The 798 art zone is a decommissioned factory area where a formal East German company used to produce valves for TVs. Production stopped in the early 90s and the first artist moved in few years later thanks to cheap and ample workshop areas. Many followed the example and quite remarkably, even foreign artists as Texan Robert Bernell and Japanese Tabata Yukihito moved here.
As a result 798 has become one of the trendiest area in Beijing used also for company functions and temporary exhibitions as the Little Black Jackect by Lagerfeld in July 2013. The area is most probably not as affordable as it used to be and the common question here is where is the next 798.
This is clearly another positive example of how art can change a district, can improve it, can enhance the cultural level of the population, can help directly and indirectly a country to grow.