Oliver Baron heading up group of German design students from Koeln International School of Design in collaboration with local design students from CPUT.
Q: Mr Baron, you are heading up a group of German design students from Koeln International School of Design (KISD) who are currently in Cape Town to collaborate with local design students from CPUT/Informatics and Design on a project around the topic of gentrification. What is the motivation behind the project?
A: Content-wise, the global relevance of the topic motivates us: We face the question of how we want to live together, what role capitalism should play in contrast to social matters and what forms of resistance emerge against a smoothly reshaping of urban living environments by commercial forces. The collaboration with Cape Town, the CPUT and the Urban Studio Project are an important aspect, too. The situation of Cape Town differs from that in Berlin in many ways. What both cities have in common, is the facing of major changes in the recent past and the fact that both have become “hot spots” of the so called Creative Industries. The CPUT and the Urban Studio Project have not only recognized the social responsibility of our profession, but also taken it seriously and transformed it into action. Therefore, we are very keen about the collaboration with our partners from Cape Town.
Q: Your students will showcase their findings from Berlin-Neukoelln in form of an exhibition in The Fringe in Cape Town, which is in an area that is currently undergoing an urban renewal plan through the involvement of Creative Industries. Do you see any parallels to developments in Germany?
A: I won’t risk answering this question yet, as I still know too little about the situation in Cape Town. I hope the research performed in the project week will provide us with a clearer picture.
Q: What do you think are the roles and responsibilities of designers when looking at the effects of gentrification around the world?
A: Design discovers its potential to encourage collaborative processes and support them via its methodology. Just like in a design process, the questions of urban development involve interplay of reflection and creation. Dialogic techniques and prototyping are valuable tools for this and available to the Design discipline in elaborated form. These skills are what we can contribute to socially relevant contexts and for the collective good.
Q: What are the key-learning outcomes for design students engaging around the topic of Gentrification?
A: The students learn to reflect their design activity from a multitude of viewpoints. They get an impression of the immediate, life-relevant impact of design processes. Also, the intercultural learning is an element of great significance.
Q: You worked with the Berlin based Design Research Lab on the methodology for the project. What are the lessons learned from this interaction?
A: The Design Research Lab of the UdK (Berlin University of the Arts) has extensive experience in the fields of design research and urban development. The knowledge-transfer that took place in this collaboration was of great help to us over the course of this project.
Q: What are the next steps in the project?
A: After the project week in Cape Town, we await the visit of a group of CPUT students to Germany. We would like to extend the exhibition with the insights that we are able to collect in the collaboration with the Cape Town students. Afterwards three more points are on our agenda: We want to visit Santiago de Chile to add another point of comparison. We want to better understand how the general problem of Gentrification appears in each specific case and pose the question if strategic approaches can be found that can be applied to the individual local situations. Unlike Cape Town or Berlin, Santiago has a district in the city centre that has evolved naturally and lends its character to generations of small workshops and traditional manufacturing. Today, this district is endangered by the rapid economic growth of Chile, as this brings fiscal longings of international capitalism to the scene. Ideally, the studies in Santiago will make for a third part of the “Design and Gentrification” exhibition, that we would like to bring back to Cape Town in its extended form in conjunction with the “World Design Capital 2014”. In addition, a book reflecting the project outcomes is planned to be published in 2014.
Oliver Baron is Professor for Design & Economy at KISD. Before, he was Creative Director of Virtual Identity AG, Conceptual Designer at Springer & Jacoby, Grey and Metadesign and Creative Director at the Aperto AG. He had teaching assignments at the Free University and HTW Berlin. He is author of several publications and holds a doctoral degree on Aesthetics at the Europa Universität Viadrina and New York University.
NB: See the project blog for up-to-date information on the student workshops happening in Cape Town.