Research projects

Please read about the different individual research projects below.

Research cases

The Ground of Things

The Ground of Things

Case study
Theatre Arsenaal/Lazarus and municipal museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen (Belgium) started in 2019 a project called ‘The Ground of Things’ (De Grond der Dingen). The goal was to address inequality by claiming one square metre of ground for each inhabitant of Mechelen. Research had learned that the main cause of socio-economic inequality has less to do with income than with inheritance. To everyone’s surprise, the city administration quickly took a liking to the project and immediately made 20,000 square metres available. This started a commoning dynamics in which all residents were invited to come up with ideas for (re)designing the urban space. In this project the people of Mechelen had the lead. They were sketching the future image of the city. Arsenaal/Lazarus and the museum collected proposals, brought ideas and people behind them together, organized negotiations, meetings, and debates to discuss the plans, and they provided a large underground park, an exhibition designed by scenographer Jozef Wouters and Barry Ahmad Talib. In this ‘Neverending Park’ the eighty proposals that were selected after a deliberative day of negotiation were exhibited. Each idea was visualized in a scale model, made by artist Benjamin Verdonck.

More about this case study can be read in the chapter Commoning art as political companion. On the issue of participatory democracy, by Hanka Otte and Pascal Gielen, published in: Félix Dupin-Meynard & Emmanuel Négrier (eds.) Cultural Policies in Europe: A Participatory Turn?, Éditions de l’Attribut, p. 141-154.
Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

Case study

During the spring, summer and autumn of 2019, the Antwerp-based arts collective Rooftoptiger, united citizen initiatives, activists, artists, sans papiers and volunteers from the so-called Slaughterhouse Neighborhood and elsewhere by jointly building a high-rise bamboo tower. Based on a private owned wasteland which was temporarily made semi-public terrain, upon completion, the tower and it’s building site served as an infrastructure where people with various mother tongues could meet. It also became a place for the production of art, poetry, music, public debate and collective cooking. Lacking a common language, participants nevertheless understood each other “especially by the doing: by pointing, by demonstrating things, reading each other’s faces” (Otte & Gielen, 2020, p. 150). The case emerged from the grassroots but unfolded in conjunction with the organization ‘Antwerp Book City’ and with Antwerp’s ‘city poet’ Maud Vanhauwaert. Part of the project was her city poem translated back and forward from Dutch into eight other languages (English, Yiddish, French, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish and Chinese).


More information about the Tower of Bable and the related project Radio Babel can be found here.

An article by Hanka Otte & Pascal Gielen in which they among other cases discuss the Tower of Bable can be found in this book ‘Cultural Policies in Europe: a Participatory Turn?, edited by Félix Dupin-Meynard and Emmanuel Négrier, published in 2020 by Éditions de l’Attribut, p. 141-154.

Photo: Rooftoptiger

 

Montaña Verde

Montaña Verde

Case study

In the context of the public exhibition ‘Experience Traps’ (2018), Antwerp’s Middelheim Museum and Green Department invited the Spanish architecture collective Recetas Urbanas to develop a co-created intervention on the De Coninck Square. Recetas Urbanas worked together with citizen initiatives, volunteers and activists in order to build Montaña Verde (‘Green Mountain’). Under its roof, the wooden arch was intended as a space for workshops and social encounter. On its roof, the idea was to constitute a laboratory for the cultivation of plants and vegetables, the governance of which would later be transferred to local residents.

Articles about this case study:

Louis Volont (2021). Montaña Verde, Antwerp: Spatializing the Commons in the City-as-Oeuvre. In: Shapehifting: The Cultural Production of Common Space (PhD Thesis). Universitas Antwerpen.

Hanka Otte and Pascal Gielen (2020). Commoning art as political companion. On the issue of participatory democracy. In: F. Dupin-Meynard & E. Négrier (eds.) Cultural Policies in Europe: A Participatory Turn? Editions de l’Attribut. p. 141-154. (The publication is available here)

Hanka Otte (2020). De steile helling van Montaña Verde. Participatiekunst gewrongen tussen de openbare en civiele ruimte. Forum+, vol. 27, nr. 2. (The article is available here)

The Public Land Grab

The Public Land Grab

Case study

The Public Land Grab is a grassroots experiment of local actions in the Borough of Lambeth (London). Commoners investigate whether the tactics generally used by private developers can be subverted in order to oppose capital-led development and its corresponding inequalities. The Public Land Grab started with a food growing project (The Loughborough Farm), before transforming into a neighborhood-wide network of community-led spaces (including a childrens’ playground, a co-op café and a self-managed hub for employment, named LJ Works). The energy behind the project comes from local volunteers, the Loughborough Junction Action Group (LJAG) and an activist architecture collective (Public Works).

Pension Almonde

Pension Almonde

Case study

Pension Almonde was a meeting ground, home and studio space for urban nomads. A deserted social housing complex was transformed into a temporary locus for cultural production and short-term living. It took place in 2019 and 2020 in the Zoho area in Rotterdam-North. Pension Almonde was organized by the organization City in the Making, the key principles of which are: “to take infrastructure out of the market and secure it against speculation; make it livable and affordable; through collective ownership; with commons free of rent; economically, socially and ecologically sustainable; self-organized; through a self-obtained investment fund; brutally and on our own”.

Aurora Orchestra

Aurora Orchestra

Case study

Active since 2005 and growing in prominence each year, Aurora Orchestra aspires to complement the activities of these five orchestras, by rethinking the orchestra model in both artistic and organizational terms. Starting from the observation that the boundaries of art genres and styles have become ever more fluent, the orchestra wants to be an artistic beacon for the 21st-century orchestra. Collaborating across genres, performing in spaces previously unfamiliar to the ‘classical’ orchestra, and experimenting with new repertoires as well as with concert presentation, form the artistic DNA of Aurora Orchestra. The orchestra rose to prominence during the 2014 BBC Proms, as the first orchestra to ever perform an entire symphony from memory. Constantly calibrating the artistic ambitions and the required organizational conditions, Aurora seeks to develop an adequate model for a truly 21-century orchestra. In May 2018, the orchestra’s artistic entrepreneurship has been awarded with the Classical:NEXT Innovation Award. Today, Aurora Orchestra plays over 80 performances annually in the UK as well as abroad, the majority of which is led by co-founder Nicholas Collon. Every year, the orchestra reaches 40.000 spectators in the UK and abroad. Impressed by its artistic contributions, the Arts Council of England has decided to bring Aurora into the National Portfolio in 2011, resulting in an annual grant of £60.000. The support of the Arts Council, which has been renewed up until 2022, not only enabled Aurora Orchestra to artistically sharpen its activities, it also serves as a barometer of the legitimacy of the orchestra within its service area. In the 2017-2018 season, the orchestra has passed the £1.000.000 mark in annual turnover, a symbolic achievement no other UK orchestra founded within the past quarter-decade has accomplished. Although Aurora Orchestra was launched without any structural business plan and gradually took shape through pragmatic choices, it is now a solid orchestra with a clearly delineated artistic mission. The importance of having a clear mission cannot be overestimated in a city such as London, where various orchestras constantly have to fight to gain support from funding bodies such as the Arts Council. Since its inclusion into the National Portfolio in 2011, Aurora Orchestra’s philosophy is now much more rooted in the strength of the orchestra itself, and no longer stems from a pragmatic balancing exercise with other orchestras in the area.

www.auroraorchestra.com

London Symphony Orchestra

London Symphony Orchestra

Case study

London Symphony Orchestra is Europe’s oldest and best-documented example of a self-governing orchestra. Since 1982, after several decades of sharing performance spaces with other London orchestras, the LSO performs in the Barbican Center which is located in the cultural and economic heart of London, and has foreign residencies in Paris, Tokyo and New York. In 2017, 70 of the orchestra’s London concerts were performed at the Barbican, and 49 in the orchestra’s small-scale venue LSO St Luke’s. In September 2017, the orchestra welcomed music director Sir Simon Rattle, who returned to his home city after 16 years at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic. As the most generously funded London orchestra by the Arts Council of England, an adequate barometer for a cultural organization’s legitimacy, the LSO can be argued to be the most representative orchestra of its city. Managed by a board of directors of which a majority is elected from the musicians’ own ranks, the LSO has always tried to keep organizational sustainability and artistic pertinence as closely attuned as possible. Since the orchestra’s first concert on June 9th, 1904, the LSO has proved the value of its model by tying together a seemingly endless string of ‘firsts’ and ‘mosts’: the LSO was the first London orchestra to play silent films, the first one to have a recording contract, and the first one to exploit the educational potential of the internet. The orchestra has earned millions being the most recorded orchestra in the world as well as the world’s most streamed orchestra on Spotify, but also found itself on the brink of bankruptcy more than once. London Symphony Orchestra has always worked under strict constraints and has combatted problems which other orchestras have only recently begun to face. Overall, the history of the LSO very colorfully demonstrates the advantages and flaws of a self-governing orchestra model.

www.lso.co.uk

Splendor Amsterdam

Splendor Amsterdam

Case study

In 2013, a network of performers, 50 strong, collectively invested in a place where experimentation has no boundaries and where artists and their audiences connect to inspire each other. An old centrally located Amsterdam bathhouse was transformed into a professionally equipped music house, which is operated in its entirety by the artists themselves (among which players of the main Dutch orchestras such as the Concertgebouworkest, Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Radio Orchestras, as well as names from the world of opera, jazz, electronics and ethnic music). The location of Splendor reflects the artistic impetus from which the organization was designed: close to traditional institutions such as the opera house and the Rembrandt studio, but just off the beaten path. The venue unites composers, musicians and stage artists, that came together to form an artist-run cooperative that independently exploits a music venue in which the musicians have complete autonomy. Splendor is a second home for the 50 musicians and their public, but also for a vast number of musicians from the Netherland and abroad, that are welcome to rehearse or perform in the venue. Utilizing a specific organizational model in which responsibility for all aspects of the organization (from acquiring finances to musical programming) is shared among all members, Splendor is an example in which ‘commoning’ is an integral part of their model. Through their organizational decisions, Splendor is able to fully utilize the twofold character of a common good: on the one hand Splendor exemplifies a use value for a plurality (by providing artistic freedom to all connected artists), on the other hand, it requires a plurality claiming and sustaining the ownership of the common good. Together, these two elements form the core values of the Splendor model: a strive for complete artistic freedom and autonomy, and a collectively shared sense of ownership and responsibility. By operationalizing these core values, the artists have created a venue in which they are free to practice and perform, while being capable of reevaluating and changing the often distant relationship between the artists and their audiences.

www.splendoramsterdam.com

Royal Concertgebouworkest

Royal Concertgebouworkest

Case study

In 2008, the prestigious music magazine Gramophone ranked the Royal Concertgebouworkest (RCO) as the best orchestra in the world, based on specialized opinions by music critics and orchestra musicians. Relative though such a qualitative ranking may be, the RCO is traditionally seen as one of the leading symphony orchestras worldwide. Striking is the fact that the orchestra rose to prominence only a few years after its foundation in 1888 and has maintained a leading position ever since. This trend is partly accounted for by the fact that the orchestra has known only seven chief conductors, each of whom has had an enormous impact on the homogeneous development and maintenance of the orchestra’s musical quality. Orchestra founder Willem Kes has led the orchestra between 1888 and 1895 and was followed by the RCO’s arguably most notorious conductor, Willem Mengelberg, who conducted the orchestra for half a century, between 1895 and 1945. His successor, Eduard van Beinum, held the baton between 1945 and 1959, to be followed by Bernard Haitink in the period between 1959 and 1988. The first non-Dutch conductor, the Italian maestro Riccardo Chailly, occupied the post between 1988 and 2004 and the Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons between 2004 and 2015. Finally, Daniele Gatti was appointed the new chief conductor in 2016. It is no coincidence that the Royal Concertgebouworkest derives its name from the building in which it resides. An equally important factor in the enormous continuity of the RCO has been its concert hall of superior acoustic quality. Located at the Museumplein in the cultural heart of Amsterdam, the Concertgebouw has hosted the RCO for its rehearsals and performances on a daily basis, from day one. The Royal Concertgebouworkest now counts 117 musicians, supplemented by a staff of 53, comprising 25 nationalities in total.

www.concertgebouworkest.nl

Casco Phil

Casco Phil

Case study

Casco Phil’s ambition is to devise an orchestra model able to respond to the challenges of the future, both in artistic and in organizational terms. The orchestra was initially conceived as an antidote to what the founders considered an overly homogeneous orchestral landscape. Orchestra representatives remark that there is a wide gap between large traditional orchestras and small ensembles, who each have their own repertoire, audience, concert environment, social habits and market. It would be better for the field as a whole if every orchestra would have an artistic profile, supported by artistic principles.  One of the main motivations to found Casco Phil was to create a modular orchestral entity to re-unite these diverging fields. Casco Phil’s aim is to reconcile artistic experiment and accessibility. As the profile of Casco Phil is based on artistic experimentation, the emphasis lies on production rather than reproduction. The orchestra wants to try out new concert formats, push artistic boundaries, and give opportunities to composers and young musicians. The organization puts strong emphasis on its modular and flexible form. Analogous to their aversion for predefined structures, the organization (which will be referred to as an orchestra for the remainder of this report) takes on various forms, from fully equipped symphony orchestra, over modern chamber ensemble to impromptu accompaniment for jazz or pop musicians. In the Belgian music scene, Casco Phil is the only professional ensemble or orchestra that does not receive a fixed amount of subsidies. For over ten years, the orchestra has succeeded to survive on its own terms and in developing an organizational model to do so. However, the orchestra’s profile as a whole reveals the difficulty of striking the right balance between artistic conception and pragmatic feasibility.

www.cascophil.be

Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

Case study

Antwerp Symphony Orchestra (ASO) can be seen as an emblematic orchestra in Belgium. As one of the official Art Institutes of the Flemish Community, the ASO profiles itself as a regional orchestra with international ambitions. With a staff of 20 people and 77 musicians on the payroll, the orchestra finds its way to most Belgian stages as well as prestigious venues abroad. After nearly 60 years of nomadic existence, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra recently found a new home in the brand-new and acoustically state-of-the-art Queen Elisabeth Hall in the heart of Antwerp. With its 1800 seats, a large number for a city with approximately 500.000 inhabitants, the ASO is able to attract the largest amount of audiences of all Flemish orchestras. In 2018, the ASO reached a total of 130.083 people, divided over its 498 concerts and other activities. In that year, 94 concerts were performed in Belgium, 46 of which in the orchestra’s own Queen Elisabeth Hall. An additional 14 concerts were performed abroad. At the time of research, the ASO was in search of a new chief conductor to complement the roles of primary guest conductor Philippe Herreweghe and honorary conductor Edo de Waart. Since the 2019-2020 season, Elim Chan is the first female chief conductor in Belgium and the youngest ever chief conductor of the ASO.

www.antwerpsymphonyorchestra.be

Raumlabor

Raumlabor

Case study

Raumlabor (translated as ‘space laboratory’) is a collective of eight architects based in Berlin, Germany, that work at the intersection of architecture, city planning, art, and urban intervention. They have been exploring alternative and playful modes of architectural production since 1999, usually proposing temporary projects that transform the urban landscape through what they call ‘urban prototypes’ (Berggren & Altés Arlandis, 2013). Raumlabor is driven by questions about space as a cultural, social, political, and economic condition for living together in the contemporary city, questions that might trigger a significant discourse about how we want to live together in the future and how we can contribute to pushing this vision into a wider public. Contrary to the modernist, state-led tradition of urban planning in terms of a better future through enhanced technology, Raumlabor adopts the slogan ‘Bye Bye Utopia’. The organization strives towards an urban commonwealth that is focused, in the here and now (‘Real Utopias’), on citizens’ needs rather than on speculators’ profits. One example of Raumlabor’s commons-based approach is the ‘Coop Campus’: together with socio-cultural and neighborhood associations, Raumlabor reoccupied and redeveloped a former cemetery, which is now used for bringing refugees together through gardening and education.

Neutelings Riedijk Architects

Neutelings Riedijk Architects

Case study

Neutelings Riedijk Architects is a medium-sized architecture firm based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, founded by Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk in 1989. The firm focuses exclusively on large-scale, complex projects for public and cultural institutions such as museums, libraries, performing arts venues, concert halls, and educational facilities. At present, the office has a staff of about thirty people, predominantly architects. Some of their most acclaimed buildings are the Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam (2005), the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum (2006), the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp (2010), cultural venue Rozet in Arnhem (2013), the City Hall of Deventer (2016), and the Flanders governmental administration building Herman Teirlinck in Brussels (2017).

Endeavour

Endeavour

Case study

Endeavour (Antwerp, Belgium), firstly, specializes in what the organization itself labels as ‘socio-spatial innovation’ as a means to pursue its mission of ‘increasing the social value of spatial projects.’ Endeavour was developed out of a shared interest in the social dimension and increasing focus on co-productive approaches in urban planning. As such, it aims to address the gap between urban design practice on the one hand and socially innovative neighborhood development on the other (Tasan-Kok et al., 2016). One example of Endeavour’s commons-based approach is the project ‘Let’s Buy the Oudaan Together’. The Oudaan, a 1950s modernist police tower in Antwerp, was declared for sale by the local government, who intended to sell it off in a market system. Against this background, Endeavour participated in a consortium of socially engaged local stakeholders in order to buy back and initiate the tower’s redevelopment as an open process by constructing a co-creative value framework. The organization argues that it could ‘not adopt a passive position over the profit-oriented sale of an object of such metropolitan importance and scope’.

For more information, please visit their website.

BC Architects

BC Architects

Case study

The letters BC the name of this architectural firm stands for Brussels Cooperation, which indicates the organization’s strong desire for their projects to be embedded within place and people. The organization, which started in 2012, is comprised of three entities that each cater to a different set of goals. BC Architects is a private limited liability company, which delivers full architectural services for a building project, ranging from small scale renovations to urban developments. Its architecture is sensitive to people, context, and materials. BC architects benefit from the knowledge created through BC Studies, its lab for social, material, and architectural innovation, which they use for extensive research on local materials and innovative building processes. Furthermore, BC believes that, in order to have a positive impact on our society, architects need to intervene beyond the narrow definition of the professional who designs and controls the execution of buildings. Hence, BC ventures into material production, contracting, storytelling, knowledge transfer, and community organization, through its third vehicle: BC Materials. Within their operations, BC attempts to fully engage with all stakeholders in a construction project to jointly explore new possibilities for ecological construction. For instance, they help contractors acquire earth construction skills through training days in their facilities in Brussels, or at private construction sites. Moreover, they engage with citizens, users, and other interested by jointly creating eco-friendly building materials.

Our building materials are fun and easy to work with. Once you have the taste of it, you hardly want to use something else. With our workshops we introduce you into earth building principles and techniques. This could be in the form of seminars, team building activities, workshops, grafted on the themes of circular and natural building.

More information can be found on their website, and examples of their workshops can be found on their youtube channel.