urban futures – the cultural field

For nearly ten years I have been serving on the International Advisory Board in Rotterdam [Link] – offering comment on the city’s life and plans.

This year we turned to culture in the city. A group of us joined a year long process to reach out to stakeholder groups and institutions, to the people of Rotterdam to listen, to bring us all together to reflect upon what might be done to culturally enrichen the city.

When I first joined the Board it was primarily, and appropriately, concerned with economic development in this biggest oil port in the world and the shipping gateway to Europe. It is now lost on no one that cultural values, personal, class, ethnic, gender and community identities, cultural movements, indeed cultural heritage lie at the heart of political economy. Shifts in employment, jobs, manufacturing, corporate culture connect with an IT facilitated “gig” economy (and all its implications), challenges to empower people and organizations to be open and flexible, emphasizing the need more than ever for us to embrace life long learning, a culture of learning. Great movements, migrations of people are again shaking up comfortable notions of roots and belonging. Cultural diversity is ever more apparent as an issue in a globalist connected world. Nearly 200 languages are spoken in Rotterdam.

How might we put people and their cultures first in our collective efforts to face the future with creative competency?

This is a key agenda item in our Foresight and Innovation group within Stanford’s Center for Design Research – our Urban Futures project.

Is it a matter of cultural “policy”? Well, of course, this is part of the landscape of national and city governance. Though a common notion is that of the “cultural sector”, we emphasized that culture is not just the arts and arts institutions, while addressing how the city, the municipality with its elected representatives and executive might look to cultural policy. And public subsidy for the arts, for example, is substantial in the Netherlands.

Above all, and this is what I really appreciated, is the cultural vitality of the city. This shows in its history – the rebuilding after the Second World War that has encompassed extraordinary architectural manifestation this last 20 years, and continues with the new Collections Depot for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen [Link]. It shows in the informal cultures as well as the institutions, businesses and many organizations like V2 or MVRDV, the extraordinary small studios and creative businesses I have been so lucky to meet over the years.

Vitality suggests energy, and this we highlighted in our report. What is “appropriate” cultural energy? We introduced the importance of “authenticity” – a concept contested precisely, I suggest, because of its importance. Above all “energy” – a dynamic capacity to act creatively – relates to agency – the capacity to simply get things done. We must always ask awkward questions of agency – who is being empowered, and to what ends?

Culture is well conceived as an energy “field” – charged, intersecting, vectors of connection and connectivity, of potentialities and realizations within which our experiences, our creative efforts take shape and form.

And such a cultural field is not at all necessarily harmonious, of course. Electro-cultural charges can interfere with each other. Disagreement is the heart of diversity. We suggested the city take all this well into account – looking to foster manifolds of networking and interconnectivity – the conversations and collaborations that are our cultural milieu.

Here is the report.


Building the new Market Hall

the future of the museum

The new Collections Depot for Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is under construction.

I visited a couple of weeks ago and had a chat with Sjarel Ex, Director of Boijmans.

This is opening the doors of the museum and gallery in a new way – all 150,000 items in the collection will be available to everyone in this great treasure bowl, reflecting the city, a singing bowl, as Connie Svabo sees it, resonating, re-sounding, punctuating a city mindful of itself. A project in Archive 3.0, or more – as Gabriella (Giannachi) would have it [Link].

There are more comments about this game-changing project, this daring cultural innovation on my Vimeo site – [Link]

Boijmans has an extraordinary record for addressing key questions about the future of museums and art galleries – for example, I was proud to be part of curator Annemartine Van Kesteren’s extraordinary “design Column” – a series of “critical design” exhibitions commenting on current events through the works of design studios – [Link]

Director Sjarel Ex and architect Winy Maas of MVRDV are coming to Stanford in December to share their ideas. Watch out for the events – a conversation and a workshop December 4,5,6.

Here is what we are saying:

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is one of the top art and design museums of Europe – [Link]

Under construction is a new extension that will change the way we think of art galleries and museums. We are calling it a Collections Depot.

Art is one of the greatest catalysts for change; it has the rare capacity to move us, to forge new connections, to inspire and provoke new ideas. Yet people rarely associate art museums with innovation. In Rotterdam we aim to change this by creating a new kind of building with the highest density of art works on earth, with 100% of our collection available to visitors through rich user-centered experiences, facilitated by the latest tech, where we can all connect our diverse interests in art, culture and design with our different hopes and visions for the future.

We invite you to join us in designing this museum of the future.

Why art matters

What truly moves people? A great painting, a singular sculpture or piece of music, a remarkable piece of design. Art has the rare capacity to speak to all of us about what really matters. Art reminds us of what it is to be human, what makes us who we are, and what propels us forward. Museums are laboratories of ideas and hubs of marvelous experience where creative effort from all periods and places can help us understand better our own place in the world.

Democratizing art

Museums worldwide show only 8% of their art to the public. The rest is locked away. At Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, when the time came to upgrade our storage, we let our imagination run free. We imagined a place where 100% of the collection is available to everyone, where people will be free to explore on their own, making their way through a buzzing beehive of activity where art works packed and unpacked, restored and studied in dazzling quantities.

We imagined how we might open up the museum to complete democratic access, with everyone as a curator.

Rotterdam architect Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV, one of the world’s great architecture studios, has designed an extraordinary forty-meter high silvered bowl — the worlds first public art Collections Depot that breaks with museum standards and gives unlimited access to 150,000 treasures.

In 2018 the building will stand tall. We are now addressing the challenge to make the museum experience completely transformative for everyone.

Let your imagination run free

For this dream, there are no templates, no rules, no precedents. In true Rotterdam spirit, we are free to be pioneers – to do things differently. How might we navigate through a warehouse filled with more art than any other place on earth, and without a curator?

We invite you to push our ideas forward, to strengthen, challenge and question them. To make us reach higher so that we can connect with more people in more profound, moving and enduring ways.

Let your imagination run free. What kind of experience do you dream of?

More about the collections of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Located in the heart of the city of Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands, built from the passions of private collectors. It is the only art museum in The Netherlands where visitors can travel through time, exploring art from the 14th century to the 21st; from Bosch, Rembrandt and Cézanne to Dalí and contemporary Dutch Design. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is international in focus, including works by American artists such as Warhol, Rothko, Basquiat and Serra and is widely known for its design collection, surrealist art, for its prints and drawings, and for its daring experiments in exhibition design. [Link]

Design Thinking – for Rotterdam

A lecture in Rotterdam for R’damse Nieuwe – a view of design thinking. Something of a rehearsal for my new book.

and here’s the Q&A

nature morte – fossil fish


salt fish – at The Food Curators – Rotterdam – [Link] [Link]

third (creative) spaces

I have always been fascinated by places like railway stations, hotel rooms, bars and cafés, airport lounges, onboard a long-haul flight, looking out of the window.

Some of them anyway.

Neither here nor there. Interstitial. Liminal. Transitional. Conduit. They can offer permission to step to the side, think, imagine, to interrogate complacency.

They are the interstitial spaces of rites of passage.

These are liberating


I’ve just spent a few days in one of my favorites. Pincoff’s Hotel in Rotterdam. An old customs house where the past clings on in a warm unobtrusive present.



One of the most potentially powerful of thirdspaces is the museum.

Sjarel Ex, of Boijmans van Beuningen, sees the museum as gesamptkunstwerk – where all sorts of things and imaginings can be assembled – thirdspace.

Hakim Bey’s temporary autonomous zones. [Link]

A gallery – archaeographer – thirdspace


Cafe Scheltema, Amsterdam – [Link]


Aux Bons Crus, Paris


The Shakespeare, Durham


The Ahwahnee, Yosemite