Guest Lecturer @ Design International

It’s been an inspiring week working with a team of about 40 advanced design students to explore the notion of urban intervention as a design process. The mission was simple: “The city as source material and canvas.” And with each day that passes, I’m continually impressed with the work coming out of the class. That, and the fact that the “Intervention Unit” van (above) is parked around the corner from the building. Coincidence?

Participating in these intense international workshops are always great fun – mostly because the students had to apply to get in, so they’re at their best, and also because the other guest lecturers from across the departments are all key players in their fields, so there’s also a great a vibe in the cafe in-between lectures, swapping ideas and contacts.

Come back soon for the flickr pool of resulting student work. You won’t be disappointed.

Interview with The European Urban Knowledge Network

An interview with me exploring the underlying themes of Urban Play has just been published on the European Urban Knowledge Network. It’s a nice platform for the debate Urban Play is causing, as the EUKN is primarily read by urban planners and policy makers. Here’s a clip:

“… [shared space in the city] is increasingly devoted to commercial messages and advertising – communication that is exclusively one-way: the public is being spoken at, in areas where the social expectation is one of shared interactions between people, so the same is expected of the shared visuals of the areas. Yet the one-way visuals and communications of the city run in opposition to the instinctive behaviour of people in the city. Therefore people are increasingly reversing the communication streams of the city and are communicating back.”

I’m fairly pleased with how the interview went. So if it’s a slow news day where you are, you can read the rest of it here.

Preview of Urban Play: The Exhibition

Image Credit: Mark Jenkins

With Milan just around the corner, Droog and I have been putting together a few communication documents for Amsterdam’s 2008 International Design Biennale – Experimenta Design (EXD08), of which Urban Play will be the main event. Doing this, I realised the majority of public attention right now is on the new designs being created for the project. These are staggering, believe me. But in parallel to the design work is the work that’s being put into the Urban Play exhibition. So as a taster, here’s the PR info that’s going to be released about the show in Milan:

Urban Play: The Exhibition
international unauthorized collaborations and urban interventions

The Urban Play exhibition will provide a global overview of urban design interventions done by the public, for the public. While some refer to the latest wave of urban creativity as guerrilla design, and others term it “3D Graffiti”, the common definition is that this work is where creative expression in the city streets becomes physical and is literally transforming cities around the world. Done without permission or commissions, the vast range of work on display represents, as the title states, unauthorised collaborations which exist at the intersection of the latest genre of street art and the beginnings of open source urban design. The Urban Play exhibition will show how this latest wave of urban intervention is not only challenging the rules of engagement between people and allowed creative expression in the city, but is also changing the language of creativity in the city. While social attitudes have previously dismissed urban intervention as a form of vandalism, at the heart of the current wave of guerrilla design is in fact a deeply sophisticated movement with a dedicated attitude concerning their role in the life of the city. The Urban Play exhibition is the definitive overview of the next wave of street art and the creative urban interventions that are literally transforming cities around the world.

The Urban Play project is conceived and curated by Scott Burnham and produced by Droog Design. For both the exhibition and the design commissions which create the Amsterdam route the renowned Dutch design studio Thonik ( will provide the design of the interface and interactive media campaign.

Getting Our Urban Play On

Urban Play Designers in Amsterdam

I have my own version of Newton’s Third Law, which states that the amount of sheer hell I experience traveling somewhere is usually equal to the immense satisfaction experienced during my time there [there has to be some justification for spending a third of my life in airports]. This was soundly proven after it took me 14 hours to get from London to Amsterdam this weekend. Yes, 14. A two hour flight delay, then three hours stranded on the runway, an hour back to the terminal after that flight was aborted, two hours on a coach across London after all this caused me to miss the last flight out of London City Airport, then the usual lifetime navigating through Heathrow, and an hour delay on that flight just for good measure. Anyway…

It gives me great pleasure to announce that after two years of development, Urban Play has the green light from the city of Amsterdam, and this weekend sees the first wave of designers, artists and architects arrive in Amsterdam for my briefing, spec’ing out the city, walking the route, and meeting with me, Droog, and others to begin work. And for the proof of Burnham’s Third Law: after the travel hell endured getting here, my time with this immensely talented pool of people has proven to be far beyond expectation.

The photo above shows part of the Urban Play entourage exploring the city. It was always a goal of mine for this to be a decidedly international project, and I was incredibly pleased that the first wave represented that in true style. For those of you who want to play a bit of Where’s Waldo with the photo, the team above is comprised of MVRDV (Netherlands), Martin Ruiz de Azua (Spain), Nothing Design Group (South Korea), Studio Wrap (India), Rebar (USA), EXYZT Architects (France), Autoban (Turkey), Manuel Rapoport (Argentina), Office for Subversive Architecture (Germany | United Kingdom), Jan Konings (Netherlands), Fernando Brizio (Portugal), and Veronika Valk (Estonia).

Drop me a line if you’d like to know more about Urban Play, and watch this space.

Design Trends talk with Stefan Sagmeister

On 4 December I’ll be giving a talk with Stefan Sagmeister in Montreal as part of the “Tendances Design: creativite sans frontieres” conference. The last time I saw Stefan was at the D&AD judges soiree in London, so it’ll be good to see him again. And for those that haven’t heard him talk before – it’s always an inspiring time. For more information on my portion of the talk, visit here.

Image credit: Office for Subversive Architecture, which I’ll be referencing in my talk.

Santiago Stencil

In Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Spain) talking to people about the City of Culture currently under construction there and also checking out the vibe of the city. For me of course, the ultimate barometer of a city’s character is the street art scene, and I’ve gotta say that Santiago represents. The image here hits two of my great passions: early Public Enemy references, and when one cultural reference gets drawn into another context. Here, of course, is Flava Flav, and below his clock is written “chegas tarde” (“you are late” in Galician). Nice.