Fabcity and Design

By Marjan Groot, 3 December 2016

Last June, to end our first year BA course Introduction to Design and Material Culture of the MKDA programme, Isanne Damen, who followed the course as a student, suggested that we visit FabCity. FabCity is an abbreviation of Fabrication City. FabCity was organized between January and July 2016 as creative counterpart of the fact that the Netherlands held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union during that period. FabCity presented ideas and practical solutions for making city environments ecologically friendly, or in popular terms: ‘green’, as well as creative.

fc-2016-fig-1w Figure 1

View of Java Island with FabCity, Amsterdam, June 2016. Photograph author.

While our political leaders struggled with social, economic and environmental problems, which currently seem to affect the unity of the EU more than ever before, and with Brexit hanging as a dark cloud above our poor continental heads, designers, entrepreneurs, companies and positive idealists were working hard on their suggestions for a ‘City of Tomorrow’ on one of the small islands near the ancient port of Amsterdam . This so-called Java Island, referencing the sea trade with the former East Indies through its name, was temporarily turned into a hub of creative enterprises. A host of small pavilions and stands presented current developments and ideas for future sustainability and environmental design for housing, living and food production [Figures 1 and 2].

 fc-2016-fig-2w Figure 2

The entrance to FabCity, June 2016. Photograph author.

We were lucky to have Theodoor, one of the main organizers of FabCity, as our tour guide around the exhibition and to tell us about the small houses and former shipping containers which are energy-neutral and self-sustainable (and redesigned for student housing, among other things) [Figures 3, A-E].

fc-2016-fig-3aw A

fc-2016-fig-3bw B fc-2016-fig-4ew Cfc-2016-fig-8w D fc-2016-fig-4wE

Figures 3, A-E

Five views of our tour through FabCity, with eco-friendly housing, cooking, and a sempergreen wall with plants and floor stones and bricks to absorb rain, June 2016. Photographs author.

Interestingly, there were also projects which re-contextualized very traditional craft practices, for example the burning of the surface of wooden planks for houses in Japan, so-called shou-sugi-ban. Inspired by a Japanese tea house, Paris-based architects Nicolas Moreau and Hiroko Kusunoki used this for their design Iori for the Venice Biennale of 2016. The irregular form and intimate feeling of the interior space were enigmatic as well as poetic and the material and spatial qualities of vernacular Japanese building and architecture clearly continue to attract ongoing admiration [Figure 4]. A Dutch firm has developed the Japanese technique for various woods.

fc-2016-fig-6aw  DSC05040.JPG Figure 4

Exterior (left) and interior (right) of Iori in shou-sugi-ban, designed by Moreau-Kusunoki and constructed by Zwarthout Shou Sugi Ban, installed at FabCity, June 2016. Photographs author.

The Iori shou-sugi-ban house also seemed to embody one of the paradoxes of FabCity: Why would we feel attracted to an age-old and almost humble craft building in the context of a city environment in our increasingly sophisticated technological society while we are stimulated to use all kinds of energy savers and monitor everything around and in our future houses? Now this gives food for thought.


we saw and heard a noisy 3D printer at work on the construction of crucial parts of a bridge which will be installed in Amsterdam’s Red Light district. This bridge has been designed by Joris Laarman, a quite well-known designer in the Netherlands (see a previous blog about his one-man show in Groningen). The bridge is pictured on the photograph below in the room with the actual 3D printer at work [Figure 5]. The bridge will surely generate publicity at the time it is installed and we are certainly going to see it.

fc-2016-fig-5w Figure 5

Our group listening attentively to an explanation of the 3D printer with the image of the bridge under construction by Joris Laarman. Photograph author.

The overall energetic atmosphere of FabCity made you feel that environmental problems in cities can be tackled through the positive attitude of these enterprises. Some projects need engineering and involvement of established companies while others benefit from some form of grass-roots activity. Without such projects, it seems, we are lost, no matter whether they succeed or fail.

Recently, on 4 November 2016, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has inaugurated its Environmental Humanities Center (EHC) with an interdisciplinary signature. It seems obvious that Design Cultures have affinity with the Center and with its Master and Research Master courses.

More info at https://environmentalhumanitiescenter.com/




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