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And then, there was light

July 22nd, 2010

Filed under: ART & DESIGN


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An expert meeting took place yesterday at Philips Design, with 12 thinkers in the area of social sciences, interaction design, architecture, creativity and technology. They all had a common interest that was a mash of the internet of things, design driven innovation, “wisdom of crowds”, new platforms for centralised technology, public spaces and large scale urban projects. And me. I was there in the capacity of communication and community “expert”. I put my title in inverted commas, because the company was indeed formidable; but not threateningly so, for they were also passionate, friendly, curious, fierce, intelligent, observant, reflective and interactive. It was a day of conceptualization and sharing, and one that would hopefully result in a pragmatic denouement of the question: how can public spaces be made more meaningful through lighting, in 2025?

It was not an easy topic, however, the first part of the day was quite straightforward. We were given the context of this discussion, which is Strijp-S, a former Philips industrial terrain. But after that, we needed to define, in small groups why we should even have what our Philips Design Creative Director and workshop leader, Lorna Goulden, calls a ‘Web of Light’. Why indeed? Surely for more vainglorious matters than safety. Or economics. Or control. Boooor-ing. Oh, well, obvious. No, we wanted to talk about identity, deceleration, beauty, pride. These are things that we – all of us probably born in the late 60s to mid 70s – believe will be important in the next decennium.

The brief we had was to write a brief for the Hot 100, a group of brilliant media graduates of the digital native generation who will be given problematic challenges at PICNIC ’10. Digital natives are kids who were born and grew up plugged in. (Read: born in the 90s, so weird). We all agreed that we would not be able to fathom how they think. We participants couldn’t deign to dream of what they imagine, of what they see as safe, of how naive or conservative they might be. We could only attempt to measure our sense of the future from where we are sitting. So writing a brief for people with another starting point proved to be exceedingly difficult.

Unfortunately I had to leave the session prematurely, to a previous engagement, but before I left, my group saw an opportunity in three key areas. One was that public spaces should be places that provide “daily meaningful things”. It should also invite the community to interact. And, it should make passionate curators out of its residents. And the way light could facilitate this, would be through practical concepts like say, a “midnight farm” or garden, which collects light and water during the day and then shines its artificial light and water reserves on its crops and flowers during the night, creating a mystical, beautiful beacon that would appeal to people – of all ages – who could feel safe going for a midnight stroll, to give a sense of relief that this is their home as glorious as it appears even at 12pm on a winter’s night, and which would remind them of their roots to nature and how to slow down. There were other visions that required the deep examination of how 10 year olds today think and what their vocabulary for public spaces in 15 years time would be, and the continuum of “clash – consciousness – flow”. It was amazing to see how so much randomness could be collected, distilled and how ambitiously we attempted to analyse it all within mere hours.

I’m not sure of this expert meeting outcome (because it was interrupted by this other appointment which I now regret attending). Maybe Lorna, or one of the participants has something to say? I wonder… In any case, a light switch has gone off in my mind, and flooded my subconscious with brilliant notions of how we might live, interact and enjoy our public spaces (or will there even be any?) when I am the ripe old age of … 50! I am so very curious about what will happen at PICNIC, during the Hot 100 session. Keep a tab on this file.

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