So, a few weeks ago I was in Ljubljana as one of the approx 80 participants selected to the BIO26 designathon process.
Short background: I used to work for Museum of Architecture and Design in Slovenia in 2013/2014 - right before firmly joining edgeryders - as I was doing my Ph.D. in architecture and politics and found it helpful to immerse myself in the topic. I was soon moved to the Biennale team, where I did communications and some event support. It was the 50th anniversary of the Biennale of Design, and the new curator, Jan Boelen, was shaking things up dramatically: he didn’t want pieces of design. He wanted social change, participation, new processes. Which is when the Biennale went a new path, and this is the path I happen to be taking with them once again but from a completely different position.
This year the process became a competition, where we were first grouped in different topics - University, Library, Garden, Museum, Newspaper, Retirement Home. Then, each of these challenges was tackled by three multidisciplinary groups we were divided into by the curators. We were all handpicked and then hand-distributed, according to our skills and experience. And then we had to compete against each other.
So, I’m in the retirement group. I am in a team with two young Italian architects and a Chilean visual artist. The only female-only group in the whole competition.
We’re against a duo of Eindhoven trained designers, from Canada and Singapore, who were teamed up with two German architects who run a studio together in Munich and Berlin. The second team was all-Slovenian (strange move), architects and designers, some who already participated in BIO before.
Now, we are given pretty much 30 hours to come up with a project and a compelling pitch and then show them to the jury: Deyan Sudyic, the director of Design Museum in London, Amelie Klein, curator of the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, or Johnny Golding, professor at the Royal College London, among others.
Fun! I was absolutely convinced we stand now no chance. And here we are - we won, we were commissioned to realise the work for the exhibition in November and we will work with a designer Kathrina Dankl, who mentors our project.
And I would like to have Edgeryders play a role in this project. So, what is it about?
Rethinking Retirement is an experiential research - we will create two spatial situations, one inside the Retirement home, and one inside the Museum of Architecture (both in a very interesting neighborhood in Ljubljana, walking distance), connected by visual elements, which will be designed to trigger new responses and ideas about retirement, one of them most probably with an experimental video documenting the research, second - a cozy space filled with participatory events and props.
We were motivated by several aspects of this challenge:
a rapidly growing number of elderly people around the globe presents huge potential and resource, and we need to imagine better ways of using these. What we have noticed is that for example all the activities in the retirement home, some of them with beautiful results and demanding craft and skills, are not very smartly done: the results of these stay at the house or are given to the families. What if what and how is produced in the house could be designed better?
elderly people are extremely humble about their life experience and skills they could offer to the younger generation. They all seemed to feel quite behind, esp in technological development and were more eager to learn from youth than teach them. If asked what could they offer - these would be social and soft skills: empathy, kindness, etc.
we saw them mostly really happy and fulfilled. But it’s a beautiful home for rather privileged people, with a huge waiting list. And we spoke to probably cherry-picked ones anyway. These experiences across the social, economic and age spectrum will be dramatically different.
dealing with the stigma of aging is key here obviously
but also: if these retirement homes have so many skills and time, could they offer us a possibility of shifting the economies around them, or maybe even globally? It made me think of E-nable, whose founder I saw at Re:Publica this year - he accidentally started a platform of volunteers which provides people with free or cheap, 3d printed prosthetics. We already have space, time and knowledge in one place - and a lot of problems in Slovenia: unemployment, rapid gentrification, frozen and low wages…
We won’t be reshaping the retirement home - we will be inviting people to discuss various scenarios for their retirement. We will trigger new encounters and reflections, and ask and document questions, answers and stories. We did a small sample of this, with some of the inhabitants and users (younger retired people who come to the house for activities) of the retirement home and we were stunned to hear their candid responses.
I’d like to use the platform as part of this research and exhibition - possibly with a simple interface that could be embedded in the exhibition, where we would have a set of questions and space for reflective writing, which would upload the content to the platform and make it available both for analysis and further conversation.
Or in another scenario, with a separate community, to which we will find another way to upload these stories.
I’d be happy to have a conversation about it with you and see whether there is interest and where this could take us. I think it’s great that there is already some interest and discussion around this topic going on the platform, the intentions seem aligned.
Also, any feedback is obviously more than welcome.