Playing for the Future: event April 17 2014 about play, games and urban (re)developments

Last year, The Mobile City partnered in the project “Rezone Playful Interventions” about the use of playful design strategies to repurpose vacant spaces. In this project three teams composed of an architect and a game studio collaborated and created a temporary playful urban intervention for a near-vacant factory at the edge of the city center of Den Bosch. The three teams were: Maurer United x Marieke VerbiesenDUS Architects x MonobandaZUS Architects x Fourcelabs. The DUS Architects x Monobanda intervention has also been part of our recent project “Made By Us“. These interventions could be played during a public festival and aimed to engage visitors and stakeholders with the particular location, the general issue of abandoned postindustrial heritage, and strengthen their sense of ‘ownership’.

To conclude the project, a small event (in Dutch) is scheduled on April 17 14:00 – 18:00 in Willem II Fabriek, Den Bosch. During the event Michiel de Lange (The Mobile City) and Anneke Dalhuizen (Heijmans) will talk about the role of play and games in urban redevelopment and design. In breakout sessions the potential of play and games is further investigated on three levels: the scale of the building, the neighborhood, and the wider area

In addition, the publication “Rezone Playful Interventions: spelen voor de toekomst” (playing for the future) will be presented to the provincial deputy Brigite van Haaften. The publication is written by Michiel de Lange, Tessa Peters and Rolf van Boxmeer, and contains guest contributions by Hans Venhuizen (architect and “game urbanist”), Zineb Seghrouchni and Anne Seghers from Studio Papaver (urban design studio, initiators alternate reality game “Leve de Krimp!”), and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer (Het Nieuwe Instituut, initiator “Shared Space”, a series of meeting between architects and game-developers). The publication will be published on this website after the event.

Partners in the event are Digitale Werkplaats/bArt, BAI, bkkc, Het Nieuwe Instituut, and The Mobile City.

Details – in Dutch – below:


Wanneer: 17 april 14:00 -18:00 

Locatie: Willem II Fabriek, Boschveldweg 471,’s-Hertogenbosch 

Organisatie: Rezone: DW /BAI /Mobile City i.s.m bkkc en Het Nieuwe Instituut 

Aanmelden bij: Leonie de Bot:

More information here >>


Report workshop day1 “Made By Us: using smart technologies to repurpose industrial heritage”

[this post also appears on The Mobile City]

Capital Steel Factory.

Capital Steel Factory.

As part of the overarching project Made By Us, The New Institute and The Mobile City in collaboration with CMoDA organize a two-day workshop during the Beijing Design Week. In this workshop participants from various professional and national backgrounds address the reuse of former industrial plants through digital media technologies. The site we work with is Shougang Capital Steel Factory in west Beijing, which was abandoned to improve the city’s air quality (read more about the factory’s history). This factory, abandoned is currently being repurposed into a creative industry park and housing area. The challenge is to help design smart media interventions that engage stakeholders in postindustrial development of the abandoned factory The three creative makers who are part of Made By Us – new media artist Sander Veenhof, Niki Smit from game studio Monobanda, and Mark van der Net (OSCity) – guide three teams. The workshop program is structured as an iterative process in which the original question is revisited, ideas tested, and rough prototypes are made for an intervention (product, service and/or approach). Outcomes of this workshop will inform the subsequent process of Made By Us in the Netherlands and Shenzhen. More about the workshop background in the call for participation.

YANG Lei welcomes workshop participants on behalf of CMoDA

YANG Lei welcomes workshop participants on behalf of CMoDA

On day 1 we started out by introducing the theme, dividing participants into teams and getting to know each other. We then visited one of the vast premises of the Capital Steel Factory by bus to meet with Mr. FU, a representative of the site developer ShouGang Industrial Park Development Management Office. He talked us through the history, present condition and future plans for the area, and showed us a large size scale model with the prospective plans. The area includes a core consisting of industrial heritage buildings that need protection and cannot be modified on the outside, and more peripheral land where housing and enterprise are planned. So far there’s a multi-tier planning process starting in 2014, 2015 and 2018.


Mr. FU explains the Shougang plans for the now defunct Capital Steel Factory.

Mr. FU explains the Shougang plans for the now defunct Capital Steel Factory.

So far, the plans all seem to be directed very much top-down, even for the industrial heritage site. One of our participants for instance asked if Capital Steel follows the organic growth model associated with Beijing’s well-known 798 art district, to which Mr. FU replied “no, it will be a master plan”. For us it is of course not necessary to stick to this blueprint approach, since we’re not working for them but instead are developing our own plans and processes that are much more participatory and about creating new senses of non-exclusive ownership among different people.

Capital Steel Factory.

Capital Steel Factory.

Capital Steel Factory.

Capital Steel Factory.

After lunch outside of the factory site, we were shown around. We visited the oldest building that the Sovjets constructed in 1958. It now looked very derelict and clearly in bad shape with large cracks and rot in the concrete pillars. But so beautiful… Everyone clearly experienced awe and became tremendously inspired by the possibilities for this huge space. We could have walked around for hours on the terrain, just looking and absorbing the environment.

Capital Steel Factory.

Capital Steel Factory.

Mr. FU from Shougang Q&A

Mr. FU from Shougang Q&A

But we had another round of Q&As with Mr. FU in a nearby room that was built anew. The participants and makers raised good questions about whether the terrain was open to the general public, where the former workers are now, what kind of events take place now, about the communication strategy they use, and whether they are open to unconventional ideas. Although the terrain is not officially open to the public, I did speak to a young woman who brought her little son to see where she had worked ten years of her life. She simply drove her car unto the terrain and stopped halfway, allowing her boy to play on the old railway tracks and lorries.

Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

After having talked with Mr. FU from the factory, the teams separately began their ideation phase. This was meant to establish the issue(s) at stake. In other words: What is the problem you are trying to solve, and for whom? Or in the positive approach of one of the teams: What are the opportunities that you see here that are worth developing further? Some of the issues that came up were:


- Matter of scale: what can you do with a space that is so huge?

- Matter of distance: how do you draw people to that area, either or both locals and people city-wide.

- Matter of time: what can you do in the short run and what on a longer term?

- Matter of audience: who are the obvious stakeholders and who are latent stakeholders, who don’t know yet that they might do something there?

- Clash between the medium and the space: how to draw people to experience the terrain rather than just the medium? And what can small-scale media interventions mean for large-scale spaces?


Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

Teams start analysis, brainstorming and ideation phase at the site.

Teams also came up with some initial wild ideas through brainstorming sessions. When the clock hit 17:00 we had to leave the terrain and headed over directly to the dinner place, where we had a lovely Sichuan spicy hotpot and continued our discussion at the table. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to do a public round to recap the day’s findings. That’s what happened in the morning of day 2.


Read Edo Dijksterhuis’ report of the Made By Us workshop (in Dutch) on the Stimuleringsfonds website

Program day 1

09:30 Registration at CMoDA.

10:00 Welcome YANG Lei (CMoDA), Floor van Spaendonck (The New Institute), and introduction Made By Us workshop theme, aims and approach by Michiel de Lange (The Mobile City).

10:15 Short introduction by workshop participants.

10:30 Formation of teams; Travel to workshop site Capital Steel Factory; teams divide tasks among themselves (time management, .

11:00 Teams gather; tour and briefing about Capital Steel Factory and its ambitions; questions.

12:30 Lunch.

13:30 Initial brainstorming in teams; in-depth questioning and discussion; team formulates initial hypotheses about issue at stake.

15:00 On-site research, meeting with other stakeholders, further questions, interviews, etc.

16:00 Analysis phase: reformulating hypothesis on the basis of fieldwork/research/discussion.

17:00 Return for drinks/dinner.

The program Made By Us is partly funded by the Netherlands Creative Industries Fund.



Opening Rezone Playful Interventions 13 sept 2013 16:16 Den Bosch

Tomorrow is the opening of Rezone Playful Interventions in the almost abandoned factory De Heus in Den Bosch. I have been involved in this project, and will be there of course! See announcement (in Dutch) below. Everyone is welcome!

Rezone Playful Interventions - program

Rezone Playful Interventions – program

Link to the program booklet >> (pdf 1,6 MB).


Maurer United x Marieke Verbiesen

Maurer United x Marieke Verbiesen (prototype testing with stakeholders, on August 29 2013 at the factory)

Toonaangevende Nederlandse architecten en game-studio’s werken samen aan tijdelijke invulling fabriek in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Rezone Playful Interventions, is een project van Bosch Architectuur Initiatief , Digitale Werkplaats en The Mobile City.

Opening: 13 september 16:16 De Heus, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Op 13 september om 16:16 uur gaat de eerste culturele activiteit in fabriek De Heus van start. Dit betekent een nieuwe tijdelijke invulling voor de veevoederfabriek, die dan nog volop in werking is. Op de begane grond en op de eerste twee verdiepingen draaien de machines door, terwijl het publiek via een externe trap de derde en vierde verdieping van het dit bijzonder rijksmonument kan betreden.

Voor het kunstproject Rezone Playful Interventions zijn zes toonaangevende architecten en game-studio’s aan elkaar gekoppeld, met de opdracht om samen een nieuw werk te maken. Dit werk is zowel een architectonische ingreep als een interactieve ervaring.   Rezone Playful Interventions draagt alternatieve en creatieve oplossingen aan voor de herbestemming van oude fabrieken tot culturele hotspots. De opening vindt plaats op vrijdag 13 september om 16:16 uur in de fabriek in het bijzijn van de Bossche wethouders van Cultuur en van Ruimtelijke Ordening.

Fabriek De Heus is gekocht door de gemeente en vanaf 2014 komt de fabriek leeg te staan. Vandaar dat het BAI en de DW met Rezone Playful Interventions een aantal opties voor de toekomst van het gebouw en gebied voorspiegelen.

ZUS architecten, Maurer United, DUS architects, FourceLabs, Monobanda en Marieke Verbiesen hebben de uitdaging van het experiment aangenomen. Naast de interventies die zij ontwikkelen komt er een randprogrammering, bestaande uit beeldende kunst, muziek, en architectuur, die De Heus tot een tijdelijke hotspot maken. Rezone Playful Interventions is ook onderdeel van de Kunstnacht op 28 september.

ZUS Architects x Fourcelabs

ZUS Architects x Fourcelabs (prototype testing with stakeholders, on August 29 2013 at the factory)

Over Rezone

Is een langdurig samenwerkingsverband tussen het Bosch Architectuur Initiatief en de Digitale Werkplaats, met The Mobile City als inhoudelijke partner. Onder de noemer Rezone worden projecten gecreëerd op het snijvlak van architectuur, stedelijke planning, kunst en nieuwe media. Het doel is om innovatieve (kunst)projecten te initiëren die de ruimtelijke kwaliteit van de stad bevorderen, met als focus leegstaande gebouwen en ontwikkelgebieden. Rezone streeft erna om het publiek nadrukkelijker en positief te betrekken bij de ontwikkeling van de stedelijke omgeving.

DUS Architects x Monobanda

DUS Architects x Monobanda (prototype testing with stakeholders, on August 29 2013 at the factory)

“Made By Us”: new program about industrial heritage and smart & social cities, Beijing/NL/Shenzhen

We are happy to announce Made By Us, a new project The Mobile City is partnering in with The New InstituteMade By Us is a six-month research-by-design program investigating creative reuses of former industrial plants. The challenge is to help design smart media interventions that will engage stakeholders in postindustrial heritage planning for abandoned factories.

Capital Steel Factory Beijing

Capital Steel Factory Beijing

The New Institute, the Netherlands’ new national institute for the creative industry, has invited Dutch research group The Mobile City to help develop an ongoing dialogue around the concept of smart cities between Chinese and Dutch architects, media makers and designers. We will launch the Made by Us project during the Beijing Design Week in partnership with the China Millennium Monument Museum of Digital Arts (CMoDA) The programme will feature an interdisciplinary symposium, an exhibition and a two-day workshop led by Dutch and Chinese experts. Participating Dutch creatives will include the new media artist Sander Veenhof, Niki Smit from game studio Monobanda, and Mark van der Net of They and their Chinese colleagues will explore the use of new media technologies in a participatory approach to redeveloping postindustrial heritage. They will focus on the Beijing Capital Steel Company. Made by Us will result in a prototype and exhibition, which will be on view during the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecturein Shenzhen.

Made by Us aims to promote the exchange of knowledge and culture and the growth of market relationships between China and the Netherlands through exhibitions, conversations and collaborations that involve creative producers working in the fields of e-culture, design, architecture and planning.

Read more about Made By Us >>

The program Made By Us is partly funded by the Netherlands Creative Industries Fund.


Playing against vacancy: architects and game developers create games for urban change

[this post also appears on The Mobile City blog]

About the project

How can temporary playful interventions be used to engage people with the issue of vacancy? The Mobile City is a partner in the new project Rezone Playful Interventions. In this project three teams, each composed of an architect and a game designer, collaborate to create a temporary playful urban intervention for the soon to be vacant factory De Heus Koudijs at the edge of the city center of Den Bosch. The aim is to involve visitors and stakeholders through play with both the particular location and the general issue of abandoned postindustrial heritage, and strengthen their sense of ‘ownership’. The project leads up to a public festival for urban play, opening on Saturday Sept. 14 2013 in the factory De Heus in Den Bosch.

The project is an initiative by the Bosch Architecture Initiative (BAI) and Digital Workplace (DW), two cultural organizations from the city of Den Bosch in the Netherlands. BAI and DW already teamed up for the development of Rezone 2012, a working game prototype for the Playful Arts Festival that addresses vacancy and abandoned buildings (see the essay about Rezone 2012). The Mobile City’s role in this project is to investigate both process and outcomes of the cross-disciplinary collaboration between architects and game developers, and provide inspiration, feedback, and conceptual underpinnings for the uses of play and games for ownership in urban settings.


Participating teams

The three teams participating in Rezone Playful Interventions are:

Maurer United x Marieke Verbiesen

DUS Architects x Monobanda *

ZUS Architects x Fourcelabs **


These are interesting architects and game studios to work with. Each architecture office has a history of designing and eliciting playful interactions. They also have an attitude of metaplay: i.e. playing with the rules of the game through experimentation, stretching clear cut boundaries, and thereby redefining their profession. Since the very start Maurer United explores the edges of the architectural profession in playful ways. According to Marc Maurer this has led them to use game environments for modeling, and to create objects and situations that elicit playful behavior. DUS Architects have a track record in creating playful temporary interventions and exploring creative play and makership with new tools like 3D printing. ZUS Architects too have ventured beyond, and in the process redefined, the traditional boundaries of their profession through self-initiated crowdfunding and temporary spatial programming projects.

The three game studios in turn create games that often take place in urban settings and deal with spatiality and location-specificity. Their work thus ventures deep into the terrain of what formerly was the privileged domain of urban design professionals. Marieke Verbiesen is interested in creating interactive installations that have spatial and sculptural qualities and at the same time have an event-specific character. Monobanda makes embodied games that involve the senses and address specific (‘serious’) issues like dealing with conflict or energy questions. And Fourcelabs too creates games that move between learning through play and event-specific games.


Playful interventions to combat vacancy and strengthen citizen ownership

This exchange between disciplines is an experiment in different ways of city making. Rezone Playful Interventions engages with, and reflects on a number of present developments. The first of these developments involves the tremendous scope of vacancy in the Netherlands (over 8 million square meters of office space alone are currently unused) and the closely related issue of ‘shrinking cities’. The second is the shift in traditional top-down urban design and the dwindling legitimacy of expert knowledge and institutional strongholds in city development, and the perceived need to engage citizens in co-creating livable and lively cities through a sense of ownership. Third, the rise of ‘applied games’ and gameful/ playful design for more serious purposes and societal issues. (See this first post in a series of three on the Rezone blog – in Dutch – for a more detailed discussion of these points).

Oftentimes vacancy is approached in utilitarian terms as suboptimal use of urban space and loss of economic value. Social and cultural aspects are often forgotten. What is the impact of vacancy on the identity, morals and level of involvement of neighborhood dwellers? How can you prevent the disappearance of knowledge, craftsmanship, and innovation force, as a result of better skilled people seeking their fortune elsewhere and leaving a residue of those incapable of moving? This way, cities can rapidly spiral downward into diminished livability and participation, and increasing vacancy and accelerated decline. The assumption in Rezone Playful Interventions is that changing circumstances necessitate a different model for urban redevelopment than yet another economically driven long term strategy. The challenge now seems to target vacancy through quick and temporary interventions with a strong cultural character in order to attract and keep those people tied to a specific site. For Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (who wrote the famous book Homo Ludens) play was not just an element in culture, it was at the origin of culture itself. Therefore, by sparking interest in a particular issue and location and involving new stakeholders these playful interventions may be a way to create a new culture of city making.


Games for urban change: similar projects

Rezone Playful Interactions is a concrete attempt to contribute to emergent crossovers between architecture and game makers. Some of our sources of inspiration are:

  •  An edited volume called “Space Time Play: Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level” (2007) by Friedrich Von Borries, Steffen P. Walz and Matthias Boettger.
  •  The Shared Space event organized by Virtueel Platform about the parallels between architecture and game development.
  •  The project Play the City by Ekim Tan and team, that has developed a method to and has been tested in (among others) Amsterdam and Istanbul.
  •  The professional practice (and publication) of architect Hans Venhuizen on what he calls ‘game urbanism’, which is about the practice of using games for cultural planning.
  •  A variety of applied games, civic games, serious games, games for change, gamification, and so on, that take place in urban settings (see these two posts for some examples).


The project follows up on the notion of ‘ownership’ that we have explored in collaboration with Virtueel Platform (e.g. researchpublicationstalkseventsand multiple workshops). This project also builds on Michiel de Lange’s ongoing research on games and play in urban settings, and the playful identities of city dwellers (e.g. articlechapterdissertationtalks). Lastly, the project is thematically tied to another activity The Mobile City is currently working on, namely to develop a program around digital media and post-industrial heritage for the Beijing Design Week in September 2013 and the Shenzhen Architecture Biennale in December 2013 (more about this project in a separate post soon).


See the Rezone Playful Interventions weblog for more about the project, in addition to the project website.

Also check out this short teaser video of the DUS Architects x Monobanda concept 3RD on Vimeo.


* Monobanda is working together with Rajiv Krijnen.

** Fourcelabs is working together with Adriaan Wormgoor

Presentation Hybrid City II conference “The smart city you love to hate”

From 23 to 25 May 2013 the wonderful conference “Hybrid City II: Subtle rEvolutions” took place in Athens, Greece. The conference was very good with many interesting talks and people, well-organized, beautiful venue and great city. Interestingly, several other speakers talked about the role of affect and emotions in our relationship with media technologies and cities. There seems to be something in the air..

Anyway, below the presentation I gave (pdf 775 KB; slightly modified to provide some image credits).

The smart city you love to hate

The talk is based on my submitted conference paper. The organizers told they want to publish the entire conference proceedings online under a Creative Commons license. We will be offered a small round of editing to sieve out some errors and typos (there are definitely a few in mine), so after that I will also put up my paper here.


Hybrid City 2 Conference abstract: The smart city you love to hate: Exploring the role of affect in hybrid urbanism


Next week from 23 − 25 May I attend the second Hybrid City conference – “subtle rEvolutions” – in Athens, Greece.

Hybrid City is an international biennial event dedicated to exploring the emergent character of the city and the potential transformative shift of the urban condition, as a result of ongoing developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and of their integration in the urban physical context. After the successful homonymous symposium in 2011, the second edition of Hybrid City has grown into a peer reviewed conference, aiming to promote dialogue and knowledge exchange among experts drawn from academia, as well as artists, designers, researchers, advocates, stakeholders and decision makers, actively involved in addressing questions on the nature of the technologically mediated urban activity and experience.

Check out the program here >>

Below the abstract of my paper and talk. It explores the potential role of affect in the smart city. IMO this is a largely ignored domain when it comes to rationalized interventions with the aid of ‘smart technologies’ that are aimed at efficiency and optimization.

As a work in progress the paper itself, which I’ll post here after the event, kind of drifted away from the abstract a little.


The city you love to hate: exploring affective approaches to the smart city

Michiel de Lange

This contribution wishes to contribute to the present controversies and discussions about smart cities by sketching a framework for the affective smart city.

Looking back to how the city has been understood as a hybrid form, we can identify three more or less successive conceptual foundations. In the first, which I call the ecosystem view, the early modern metropolis is theorized as a distinct socio-environmental combination that mediates people’s behavior and mentality. The second, which I call the phenomenological view, tries to bridge spatial and mental domains by focusing on people’s sensory and cognitive experiences of cities. The third, which I call the affective view, shifts attention to emotional relationships between people and hybrid techno-urban environments.

Emblematic of the first approach is the Chicago School with its biological vocabulary. The city is conceived as an ecosystem with distinct spatial qualities (high density and layout), and demographics (high numbers of socially heterogeneous people). The city serves as a more or less closed container for a wide range of ‘species’ – frequently birds of strange feather like hobos, taxi-drivers, ballroom dancers, street-corner boys – to compete for scarce resources and struggle for survival, while engaging in relationships of dominance, symbiosis, succession, and so on.

Exemplary of the phenomenological approach are Kevin Lynch’s work on ‘The Image of the City’, and De Certeau’s oft-cited work on ‘the practice of everyday life’. As electronic media became ever more widespread, sensitivity for mediated visions also of the city was growing. In many ways Simmel and Benjamin prefigured this with their writings about the mediated urban experience and mentality. Other than the ecosystems view this approach emphasizes human agency, but almost entirely on the level of conscious, rational cognition. Moreover, the focus on experience is driven by extrinsic motivations: better urban navigation, developing a counter-political urban tactics.

Recently, the city is increasingly often conceptualized in affective terms. We see this view emerging in locative media art and its tight intellectual ties with actor-network theory, as it seeks to trace and map complex relationships between places, people, technologies in ‘emotional cartographies’ (Nold 2009). Ubicomp and urban informatics researchers are developing similar ideas about city possessing some form of ‘sentience’ (Shepard 2011). Affect is also central in recent explorations of how digital media can strengthen citizen engagement by fostering feelings of ‘ownership’ (de Lange & de Waal 2012). Contemporary experimental urban design interventions frequently target this affective realm, oftentimes by stirring emotions and desires though play and gamification, or through poetic and cinematographic ‘sense of place’ projects. In the affective view the city no longer is a passive backdrop for social behavior, or a canvas on which urbanites paint their everyday mental experiences. It becomes an active agent in a hybrid mesh of human-techno-socio-spatial interdependencies.

In the slipstream of an avant-garde of media makers, artists and academics, a very different yet powerful new vision of the ‘smart city’ takes hold in cities worldwide. In close collaboration with technology companies and university technology and engineering departments, cities are developing smart city policies to optimize urban processes by deploying a variety of technologies. The smart city is touted to help solve a wide range of pressing urban issues and therefore to improve people’s quality of life in the city. While different cities obviously face different problems, these issues include vacant buildings and wastelands, shrinking cities, sustainable food and energy production, (youth) employment and social equity, mobility, environmental quality, safety, bridging the gap between citizens and policy, and so on.

Smart city policies may be criticized for ignoring the active role of citizens and for proposing ‘technological fixes’ to complex problems. The argument I wish to develop here however goes a step further: the smart city also strips the city itself of its barely conceived agency and capacity to affect people on an emotional level. On the surface the notion of the smart city appears to attribute the city with the power to actively intervene. However, I argue that in fact this smart city paradigm involves a return to the systems perspective of the city as a passive backdrop for action. At best, if indeed there is a more developed perspective on citizen experience and engagement, it assumes people as rational deliberative agents. It is rather telling that smart city experiments are often incubated in that most sterile and rationalized of all environments, the (living) lab. To me that doesn’t seem like a good place to study potential solutions for urban issues on the plane of affect.

How then can an affective viewpoint contribute to tackling these issues and create better solutions? If we look at mobility issues for example, some scholars and artists have emphasized that mobility is not simply about traveling from A to B as efficiently as possible. Moving has its own affective connotations, which depends to a large degree not only on the spatial context and social situation but also the affective qualities of the transport- and communications media that are part of being on the move nowadays. Any smart city proposal that wishes to solve congestion and mobility problems must take this emotional experience of movement into account.