Case Donkers about models of future cities and the "reboot" of depressed districts

/ The Interview /

What is a "smart city", how to transform former industrial zones into points of attraction for young people and entire "incubators of ideas", how to properly work with historical heritage and what is human-oriented urban design - this is what PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA talked to the main urban by Eindhoven designer Case Donkers.

PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA: You came to Kyiv for the International Summit of Mayors. Tell us what it is dedicated to and what was your role?

Case Donkers: It is being held for the third time with the financial support of the United States (organized by the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF) under the patronage of the Prime Minister of Ukraine. — Editor's Note). The summit is aimed at developing and strengthening commercial partnership not only within the country, but also abroad. The goal is to involve mayors and businessmen in solving problems that are really important for the life of the city and the country. I was asked to prepare a presentation: I spoke about numbers, about data, about people. I will note that the mission of the foundation and the organizers of the summit is to raise human-oriented issues. It is important that those who are in power, make decisions, know about the real needs and problems of those who live in their cities. That's what we were talking about.

Case Donkers
Photo: Yury Ferendovych

I told my story, which began in the early 90s. Then Eindhoven was a depressed city. There was no industry, there was no economy-creating enterprise — the Phillips plant (the concern at that time moved production to other countries. — PM), many people were out of work, factories were empty, people were in despair. We were then called the most terrible city in the Netherlands, compared to China and North Korea.

"We completely changed the vector from production to intellectual industry: inventions and creative economy"

In 1993, Rain Welshen became our mayor. He said then that we all need to unite, form a kind of triangle, a triumvirate: city departments, companies and universities. And I liked it. At that time, I did not yet work for the city, but I was an active citizen - not an activist, but an activator. In 1991, in the theater around the corner, I organized a unique dialogue program that lasted 7 years, where we discussed the quality of life in the city - Qafe: q - from quality, café - cafe. It became a meeting place where we chatted over a mug of beer in a cafe atmosphere, because when you drink beer, you communicate more, you talk more. The idea turned out to be very successful. And the mayor said to me: "I would like to invite you to my team, to the city council." I need people like you who can change our organization from the inside." For 10 years, he was my defender, my "umbrella", especially when the situation was not in my favor, and this is important to me.

Case Donkers
Photo: Yury Ferendovych

It was this story that I told the mayors at the summit, as well as the fact that in the 2000s we began to invite famous designers, for example, Peter Eiseman from New York, to work with talented students studying architecture and landscape design. We had the opportunity to direct them, supervise them. The task was to launch a pilot project and understand how universities and students can be a kind of laboratory for the city.

"Eindhoven is also called a smart city because of its achievements in the field of high technology, but I would switch to the term "weis-city", i.e. "smart city""

The mayor even allocated funds for me to teach one day a week at the university and recruit students for this program. Eiseman played a key role in the transformation of my city, and I am glad that I turned out to be his assistant in this matter. The main thing that I learned while working with students: you need to go to people, address them, and if you can do this, then as a result you will get a lot of different ideas from all sides, you will feel this colossal energy of the youth of the new generation.

Industry experts are confident that with the help of LED technologies, it will be possible to achieve energy savings of 10–50% over the next 70 years. Eindhoven is a pioneer of energy-efficient and intelligent solutions in the field of urban lighting. In part, this is a continuation of the innovative traditions of the Philips concern, which once produced incandescent lamps here

In the same period, in the 2000s, we held the first Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. At first, it was very modest and more like a thesis presentation, but every year it became more and more famous. Foreign participants appeared, and gradually from one day it turned into a week, became something bigger than the annual final review of student projects. The early sessions of DDW were related to subject design, later what is now called human design or social design, reflecting the needs of the city, appeared on it. I am not declaring this - everything comes from the students themselves, they themselves want to raise such topics. I call them sensors of society. It is surprising how everything has changed in 10 years: from the scheme of 80% subject design and 20% people-oriented projects, it has been reformatted and the statistics are now exactly mirrored.

Case Donkers
Photo: Yury Ferendovych

Step by step, collaboration with universities has become even more important. International cooperation was born. In 2005, we held the same event in the sister city of Białystok, since 2007 - twice in Belgrade, and then in 2010 - for the first time in Moscow.

Last year, during the Dutch Design Week, we hosted more than a hundred people from Ukraine. There are four main groups: interior designers, architects, journalists and business owners. All of them learned with interest about what changes are taking place in Eindhoven, how abandoned industrial facilities are transformed into "hot locations" for designers, about the increase in demand among young people for loft housing with high ceilings and large spaces. We talked about the same with the participants of the summit. For the first time, a separate Ukrainian exposition was organized. Just this morning, I had breakfast with Olga Bogdanova (architect, co-founder of the 2B. Group office and the Prostir 86 platform, as well as the curator of the Ukrainian stand at DDW. — PM). She has been organizing for the second year the exposition of your country at the Dutch Design Week. I never cease to admire her enthusiasm and wisdom.

"I always learn from my students, from young people: I am not their teacher, but they are mine"

PM: The potential of the Ukrainian capital has always been assessed by historians and cultural experts as very high. But, in your opinion, what should be done first of all in terms of town planning? What to start with?

K. D.: Here I observe processes similar to what happened in Eindhoven. At one time, I organized a dialogue between the city authorities and the public against the demolition of the De Witte Dame building — the first Philips factory, built in the 1920s and empty after the production was moved to China in the 80s. As the owner, Philips wanted to demolish the building and build offices in its place, but due to public discussions, the municipality did not allow this. Similar things are now happening in Kyiv. "White Lady" became an iconic building, symbolizing a change in mentality, which also changed the identity of our city.

It is difficult to explain what exactly "identity" means in this case, but it gave us a new industry. We completely changed the vector from production to intellectual industry: inventions and creative economy. In 2011, Eindhoven was officially declared "the smartest city per square meter in the world" thanks to the appearance of the Hight Tech Campus center, which, by the way, was behind Philips. This is a huge territory in the southern part of the city, uniting 160 companies and research institutes. People forced to survive then created jobs for themselves. And today the children of those inventors are at the helm. I call them Philips seeds that have fallen into fertile soil. Yes, it took almost 20 years, but now similar things are happening in your country.

Collective Ukrainian Modern_ism stand at Dutch Design Week 2018 in Eindhoven.
Architect: Olga Bogdanova.
Photo: Anton Beschastny

Where do you start? For example, today there are many discussions around the modernist building of the Soviet period - UkrINTEI in Kyiv. I think such things can be the beginning of changes. I supported a group of activists advocating for the preservation of similar objects and wishing to give them a new life - this is the future. If you are able to get such a result even for one building, the "pearl of the city", if you managed to defend it and create something new, it will become a kind of natural selection for enlightened people. I want to help those who are able to create similar symbols not only for the city, but also for the rest of Ukraine, and even for the whole of Europe. You can have your own "White Lady". Look into the future, look for opportunities. The glass should always be half full.

PM: Reveal the secret - how did you manage to make post-industrial Eindhoven attractive to tourists?

K. D.: I had the opportunity to work on its new architecture, which was connected with the transformation. Due to my work in the city council, I was able to influence to stop the destruction, demolition of any objects and create new places for life in them. Now, by the way, this is the most expensive real estate in the city, and I, for example, would like to, but I can't afford it (laughs). The reuse of these empty buildings allowed to create a different atmosphere of the urban environment. At the same time, I also designed completely new parts of the city.

Case Donkers
Photo: Yury Ferendovych

Moreover, young people and students no longer go to Amsterdam, but stay in Eindhoven. Because we were able to offer them a place (the same renovated buildings that were empty before) where they could live and work, including thanks to the then vice-mayor, who allowed us to promote the program of providing former industrial buildings almost free of charge for new startups, so that young people could immediately After graduating from university, they will start a career. Such a policy allowed to create new jobs.

In 2015, our mayor wanted the city's population to increase from 220. up to 300 thousand man I proposed my strategy: to preserve our "citadel" - the five former villages that form the city, but to use not only the "western corridor", where the buildings of the former Philips factory are located, but also the "eastern corridor" along the canal, which is also occupied by abandoned industrial facilities. This area is also located between two former villages.

De Witte Dame, "The White Lady" is a former factory building of the Philips concern in the center of Eindhoven, where incandescent lamps were produced. It was built in 1928-1931. according to the project of architect Dirk Roozenburg in a new business style. In the 80s, the building was empty, as Philips moved production to other countries. The building was renovated by the architect Bert Dieriks and opened in 1998, and at the moment it houses, among other things, the Academy of Design and the Eindhoven Library. The "White Lady" was not originally white: she got this color in 1953.

PM: And if we are talking about how to revive a city that does not have a rich history and historical architecture? There are cities in Ukraine that were formed around industrial enterprises just 100-150 years ago. Today, these enterprises have either closed down or are reducing production. We call them depressive — there is a high unemployment rate. Is the creative economy capable of revitalizing such cities, and again, where should we start?

K. D.: Two weeks ago I was in Lviv, met with a creative group of people who plan to transform an empty former factory, as they did with the "Platforma" Art Factory. This is what the owners themselves, who bought its territory 20 years ago and started the reuse process even then: they want to transform it into a cultural project. Here we can draw a parallel with what happened with the building of the Philips factory in 1993. They have the right mentality, the right vision. They said that even then they understood the value of the fact that such objects should not be destroyed, but transformed. This is happening both in Europe and in the USA, say, in Detroit, and they want to inherit this experience. I repeat, every city can create something similar to De Witte Dame and become an example for others.

"The White Lady" has become an iconic building, symbolizing the change in mentality and identity of our city."

For Odessa, we and the students developed a project for the reconstruction of 30 empty, dilapidated villas on the coast. This is a version of the concept proposed by me, which I call "60+ / 30-", when several generations of people live together in one apartment building according to the principle of share & care: by helping someone, you get help in return, "earning", like me I call them "service coins". I like such a family model of living together, when grandmothers and grandfathers help look after their grandchildren, and young people take care of the elderly. Now I am working on such a pilot project in my city, and its social aspect is valuable here: there are so many lonely people today. The idea is to create a village inside one residential building. This is one of the options for revitalizing depressed areas.

Case Donkers
Photo: Yury Ferendovych

PM: One of the architectural pain points of Kyiv is a large number of dilapidated architectural monuments, beautiful houses of the late XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries, which are in a deplorable state. In Ukraine, the legislation is quite strict - monuments of architecture can only be restored, not reconstructed. Investors and developers are scared off by such obligations. And now the public opinion is forming that, most likely, it is worth making these rules less strict, perhaps it is enough to restore the facade, but give the building a new function. What do you think about it and what is the legislation in the Netherlands?

K. D.: It's just as strict. I have struggled with this throughout my career. It is very difficult to convince the employees of official bodies, and these, as a rule, people of my age. Work with young people - they think differently. In my opinion, it is important to reuse such objects without allowing them to become empty. In any case, they are destroyed, and sooner or later you will lose them. Listen to young people, transformed to their ideas, because it is about their future life. I always learn from them: I am not their teacher, but they are mine.

"Look into the future, look for opportunities. The glass must always be half full"

PM: At the recent Architecture of the Future conference in Kyiv, they talked about the ideal city of the future. How do you imagine yourself?

K. D.: I think it is not so much architecture as human aspect.

PM: Some experts believe that soon we will move from the concept of "smart city" to "emotional smart city". What place, in your opinion, should this component occupy in such a case?

K. D.: Eindhoven is also called a smart city because of its achievements in the field of high technologies and our High Tech Campus, but I would switch to the term vice-city, that is, "smart city". We are talking about two parts of the human brain. As you know, one is responsible for logic and numbers, the other for emotions. For example, if you met a beautiful girl and you drink coffee with her in a cafe - put down your mobile phone, forget about the Internet, look into her eyes and enjoy the conversation. We must correct our brain, our behavior, achieving a balance between emotionality and reason. This is how demand will conquer a wave: if you know how to use the power of nature, to keep a balance, then you will succeed. You will feel great, and it will help you in life.

Case Donkers
Photo: Yury Ferendovych

PM: Sometimes our politicians and urban planners understand the approach "from the opposite" more easily. Can you list the main urban planning mistakes that we need to avoid when planning the development of future cities?

K. D.: First, don't destroy history. Of course, you can't keep everything, but be selective about it. Even a former industrial building that does not have aesthetic appeal can become useful for citizens, students and young people. It is difficult to convince the owners of such objects, investors of the value of such transformations, but if you see it yourself, learn more about it, feel it - arguments will appear that will help you do it.