Awesome Foundation London Funds Creating Stars in the London Sky

Oscar Lhermitte working rooftop on his Big Dipper Project

One of the drawbacks of living in London (and most other major metropolises) is that the ambient light from the buildings, street lamps, etc, make it impossible to see the stars in the sky at night. So when designer Oscar Lhermitte applied to the London chapter of the Awesome Foundation, of which I am a proud trustee, with the proposal “to recreate the missing stars in London”, we knew we had something Awesome to consider.

Oscar’s The Big Dipper project is an ongoing project which uses a combination of balloons, LEDs, and various control mechanisms to recreate stars and constellations in the night time sky over London.

An Early Prototype of Big Dipper over London. Photo by Cormac McGloin

He presented his project at the Awesome Foundation London award ceremony earlier this month along with four other strong contenders, and at the end of the evening, walked away with the Awesome Fellowship to advance his work. If you were unable to make it to the awards, you can see his presentation here on slideshare, and view his video overview of the project below (see it on vimeo here), which features some touching commentary from people on the street who have watched his experiments:

Congratulations to Oscar for an inspiring and Awesome idea.

Oscar Lhermitte with his Awesome Fellowship cheque

How to Create a DIY Exhibition in Your Local Internet Cafe in Five Easy Steps

Just back from a few days in Berlin, where, among many other things, I had a chance to get together with Aram Bartholl to talk about his SPEED SHOW project, a beautifully simple initiative to turn your local internet cafe into a digital art show.

As Aram describes in his SPEED SHOW manifest:

“Hit an Internet-cafe, rent all computers they have and run a show on them for one night. All art works of the participating artists need to be on-line (not necessarily public) and are shown in a typical browser with standard plug-ins. Performance and life pieces may also use pre-installed communication programs (instant messaging, VOIP, video chat etc). Custom software (except browser add-ons) or off-line files are not permitted. Any creative physical modification to Internet cafe itself is not allowed. The show is public and takes place during normal opening hours of the Internet cafe/shop. All visitors are welcome to join the opening, enjoy the art (and to check their email.)”

I love the simplicity and DIY nature of SPEED SHOW, done in five easy steps:

1. Find Internet Cafe. Rent time on all the computers for the evening.
2. Select work to show on standard browsers. Create gallery plan.
3. Invite people.
4. Enjoy the show.
5. Make Internet Cafe owners incredibly proud and happy.

For a full description of the project and more video and photos, visit the project site here.

Photos by Kuc, top video grab from Aram’s video on project site.

Upcoming Talk: Interactive Architecture

Mader Stublic Wiermann lighting display, Uniqa tower, Vienna. Image from

On Thursday 24 June 2010 I will be giving a talk at the Interactive Architecture 2010 conference, as part of the London Festival of Architecture.

Featuring an impressive lineup of speakers ranging from Duncan Wilson of Arup Foresight to Usman Haque of Haque Design and Research, and chaired by Fiddian Warman of Soda Creative, the conference will be: “A forum for the building design community to gather and share ideas and experiences around exploiting new technologies to enable the built environment to dynamically respond to people in or around it.” Here is an overview of the conference themes and speakers:

  • Sensory: Sound and light
    • Michael Spencer of Sound Strategies
    • Usman Haque of Haque Design and Research
    • UVA
  • Metaphysical: Materials and structures
  • Art and Play: Community and interaction
    • Ghislaine Boddington of B>D>S
    • Matt Adams of Blast Theory
    • Eva Rucki of Troika
    • Scott Burnham of UrbanPlay
  • Experiential architecture
    • Alex Haw of Atmos
    • Andrew Whiting of Hut

Design for the Moon

SHIFTboston Moon Capital Competition logo

When I was on the jury for the SHIFTboston design competition a few months ago, I was impressed by their desire to go after and embrace Big Ideas for the future of Boston. From contemplating transportation corridors for blimps and corresponding air ship terminals to floating extensions of the city, I came away from the experience wondering where they could possibly go from here. Well, now I know. Moon Capital is SHIFTboston’s latest competition, which humbly challenges:

“When considering the future of design let’s start looking out into space. WHAT IF we could occupy the Moon only 100 years after our first visit there in July of 1969? Might the Moon become an independent, self-sustaining, and sovereign state? If so WHY NOT start designing for that new world NOW?

SHIFTboston is calling on architects, space-architects, scientists, engineers, urban designers, landscape designers, industrial designers, fashion designers, artists and futurists to submit their most provocative ideas for the moon. Think: WHAT IF this could happen on the moon? SHIFTboston seeks to collect visions that will provoke thought on the moon as a new destination. We want radical ideas for new lunar elements such as rovers, growing pods, inflatable structures, droids and lunar habitats. How about a new moon culture? Envision: Fun on the moon – activities, moon fashion, and spacesuits! YOU TELL US. Competitors are encouraged to form teams in order to tackle multiple concepts.”

With some impressive momentum coming off of their last competition, they’ve assembled a stellar impressive cast of partners and jurors for the Moon Capital competition – visit the SHIFTboston competition website for more information.

Boston Design Competition Common Build: Design as Direct Response

Common Boston Common Build Logo

While I was working on the Bairro Criativo direct design project in Porto, a design competition from the other side of the pond came onto my radar that definitely deserves some attention.

As the competition website says: “The Common Boston Common Build (CBCB) is a design competition that challenges participants to design and implement a project in response to real community needs. Held over 3 days during the Common Boston Community and Architecture Festival, the CBCB is open to teams and individuals from ALL disciplines and experience levels. Common Boston and LostInBoston have partnered to host this year’s event, focused to raise awareness of the built environment, improve wayfinding and inspire connections across Boston’s urban fabric.

Competitors will be asked to work with preselected sites as well as vocal neighborhood members to develop design solutions that address the specific physical and social needs of that community. The CBCB aims to prove that even when created in less than 3 days and with a capped budget, an innovative and influential response to a real problem can alter the way we interact with and understand the built environment of a community while seeking tangible benefits for its inhabitants.”

I’m obviously a huge fan of design-build competitions, even more so when they are created as catalysts for direct design responses to community needs. Makes me miss my old home city of Boston, but not for much longer… details to come. In the meantime, visit the competition website to learn more and get involved.

Latest City As Platform Project Launches in Porto; How Creative Can Portugal Be?

“Bairro Criativo” launched in Porto, Portugal on 24 May, the latest of my City As Platform projects which approach the urban landscape as a creative platform. I’m pleased to say that Porto has responded in style.

The agency ADDICT, lead by creative industries maestro Michael DaCosta Babb, asked me to create and direct a project exploring the question “how creative can Portugal be?”. The result is Bairro Criativo (Creative Quarter). Bairro Criativo combines the question they wanted to ask with one that I always like to ask:

We hear so much about ‘The Creative City’, but when do we get to see it?

For Porto, Bairro Criativo is that chance.

The framework for the project is quite simple. I put out the call through ADDICT’s communication channels to invite anyone in the city – designers, homemakers, business people, kids with crayons – anyone – to think of one thing they’d like to do to temporarily improve people’s daily lives in Porto. The only criteria was that the proposed ideas had to be simple, quick, and go in and come out with only a light touch on the city – nothing destroyed before they are installed, and no damage when they leave.

Of paramount importance to me was that this was an opportunity for a direct relationship between creative ideas and the physical city. No months of planning, no public workshops with post-it notes – let me know your ideas, let’s talk about how they’ll work within the framework of the project, and let’s make them happen. There are times when the long game is appropriate, and there are times when you just need to make the ideas happen.

It was interesting that a lot of people instinctively thought in what you could say were modular ideas – creating objects and opportunities to plug into the existing city to create new experiences, opportunities, and at times even temporary infrastructure. It was wonderful to see people think in modular, incremental terms – there was a pragmatic quality to the ideas at the same time as a fresh imagination which I enjoyed.

For a preview of a couple ideas I’m particularly excited about seeing happen…

"Farmville for Real" by Rita Maia, José Ricardo Cardoso, Pedro Cruz Lopes

Farmville for Real is a collection of modular structures made of two interlocking pieces. These small strucutres can exist on their own or in a group to enable pop-up community gardens anywhere, depending on the desire of the residents. The objectives of the project, say the creators are to:

  • Provide people with an inexpensive opportunity to participate collectively in a project of common good.
  • Promote shared responsibility in public spaces.
  • Renew the urban landscape, making it more pleasant and healthy.
  • Teach children and young people to start early to enhance the environment.
  • Create an alternative way of spending free time.
  • Create neighborly ties among the participants of the project.
Estrutura Simbiotica by Dioga Aguiar and Teresa Otto

Another piece, Estrutura Simbiotica by Dioga Aguiar and Teresa Otto is a modular construction that, as they say, “aims not only to increase the space of existing bus stops, but also to entertain those who are still waiting for their transportation.” I like it for both the visual qualities, but also for its symbiotic relationship with the bus stop (as the name would imply), and for its role in getting us to think of other areas and objects of the cities that could host a designed structure that plugs in to existing objects to increase both functionality and enjoyment.

Article on Scott Burnham and Bairro Criativo in Time Out Porto
Bairro Criativo article, Time Out Porto (click for full image)

More information on the project can be found on ADDICT’s website (in Portuguese).

For Portuguese readers, you can find an overview of the project in the current issue of Time Out Porto – scanned above.

If you’d like to keep track of future updates to Bairro Criativo or other projects, please subscribe to this site.

The Authenticity of Action: Latest Article in Note Bene (Italy)

The newly launched Italian magazine Note Bene asked me to do a piece for their introductory issue, tantalisingly devoted to (paraphrasing from the original Italian intro text) “the authenticity and creativity of action”.

Break that phrase down more and you have a real jewel: “the authenticity of action”.

As a motivating concept for almost any pursuit, it doesn’t get much better than that. It also resonates strongly with one of my favourite quotes from my business side:

“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
– Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

I love the simplicity of that statement, and the no-nonsense reality that the most effective strategies are in fact no more complicated than doing things. It was fitting that the invitation for the piece came on the back of a talk I gave to a conference in Italy called The Nameless City, as from both a design and urbanist point of view, the authenticity of action and the simple strategy of doing things is the most effective techniques we can employ against the sameness of our visual, narrative and physical landscapes.

The piece is a fleshed out version of one of my The City as Platform talks, as delivered in Italy. It’s a gorgeous full colour A3 production, so please search for it at your local international magazine source. For more information on the publication, you can download a PDF of their English press release here (2.8MB), which also has contact information if you want to get in touch to get a copy or help distribute them. At the moment, they don’t have a website.

They went with an Urban Play identity to illustrate my text, so until you can get a copy, here’s a couple spreads from the issue:

Scott Burnham article in Note Bene on Urban Play

Scott Burnham article in Note Bene on Urban Play