Impressions of the DCLivingLab 2017

Along with the Creativity World Forum 2017 in Aarhus (Denmark), more than 50 students from all over the world gathered in the DCLivingLab, a 5-day international masterclass in urban challenges. Two Belgian participants, Ellen Comhaire and Sebastiaan Van De Casteele, held a journal during the DCLivingLab with their impressions. Read their story here.

DCLivingLab 2017 journal by Ellen Comhaire

“As with many others it sent me home appreciating the warm thought that there is a bright future ahead of us with so many smart, creative people who just want to contribute for the good.”

My DC Living Lab started with a short night and a very silent first encounter with Aarhus. A storm in Germany, long waiting lines, a rebooking and a helpful Danish couple got me in the cultural capital of Europe at 1:30 a.m. Waking up in a lively 50 bed bedroom full of participants inevitably caused the first pyjama meetings and exchanges of countries and educations. It was soon followed by a morning walk to our Living Lab workspace that gave away impressive harbour views. Arriving in the ‘Black box’ the warm welcome of the organising team with croissants and hot drinks were our first encounter with the good food care we would receive throughout the week. The entirely black painted room had a few large blank papers with titles up the wall, and small post-it hills and markers lying around. The air buzzed with anticipation.

“The first day was filled with massive brainstorming, reformulating challenges and creating visions.”

Eight stakeholders – varying from the Danske bank to local artists – introduced us to their quite different urban challenges and points of view. We were at the heart of Sydhavnen (South Harbour), where all the action was to take place. This district, formerly inhabited by slaughter houses (which allows no housing due to its intoxicated soil), will become a new ‘place to be’ with the ambition to still be a safe harbour for the homeless and drug addicts who find shelter there throughout the year. With no time to waste, the first day was filled with massive brainstorming, reformulating challenges and creating visions. We walked around the area to see the places we would work for and made our own bits of research once we knew our mission. At the end of the day we were treated to an award winning street food wrap that perfectly matched the – by then – mashed potatoes in our head.

“We delivered four ‘inspiring activities’ that could help a community grow with respect for the heritage and very different social groups and ages.”

The second day we kept ideating and our group of five was lucky to meet our stakeholder again. It was a young man who had started a non-profit organisation with friends to save the Kulbroen (Coal bridge). We could get some questions out of the way and it enabled us to refine our challenge and confirm our vision. By 5 p.m. we needed to complete a title, text and image to explain our solution to the challenge. They would be made into large posters for the Living Lab expo the last day. It was all quite short notice and as we were working with new people with different backgrounds, we interestingly both enriched and debated each other’s views. We delivered four “inspiring activities” that could help a community grow with respect for the heritage and very different social groups and ages. The walk to the beautiful city hall refreshed our heads a bit as we were invited for the reception and dinner for the DC delegates. Many students were impressed by their first professional event and felt honoured to be received in such an establishment. The mix of students and delegates made it interesting for both sides to get to know each other and learn about each other’s perspectives on the creative areas they were working in. Great informal formal night.

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Drawing by Ellen Comhaire

I particularly looked forward to the Creativity World Forum on the third day, which started very much like a Eurovision song festival: dancing girls in flashy colours and a dual hosting by a man and woman. Seeing Tom Kelley’s opening was a small designer’s dream come true. “It is our task to deal with the complexity to deliver simplicity”, he said, later argued by the comical Stefan Sagmeister adding that “not always simplicity but love, attention and empathy are what matter”. Jan Gehl confirmed this the next day by giving examples of skyscrapers that just seemed to be “shit out by airplanes” without considering the human scale. But I was equally impressed by the views and realisations of women like Lucy Mc Rae, Rachel Armstrong and Vivienne Ming who proved to be inspiring examples of how art and science can help us deal with both large and small scale problems. “Gardening nature”, the “360 degrees hug”, together with many magnificent unintended outcomes will get a warm place in my mind’s inspiration museum.

On the fourth day I was one of the lucky attendees who could have a sauna session in the Aarhus bay surf club. At 7:30 a.m. I jumped into the not so warm ocean, a proper wake up treatment. On the last morning however I was energised in a very different way. I had a great time meeting an international group thinking about the “Creative Ring” at the Institut for (X), a small hypercreative freestate within Aarhus. It got my imagination going for bright co-creative futures and powered me up for the last part of the DC Living Lab, where we could present our work to the stakeholders and had a much visited opening. I ended the week in hilarious Scottish company, watching the Christmas lights of the shopping centre get switched on and enjoying a hot chocolate and local choir on its rooftop.

It had been a tiring but amazing week, and as with many others it sent me home appreciating the warm thought that there is a bright future ahead of us with so many smart, creative people who just want to contribute for the good. Seeing so many examples in the past week made me realise that the change has already started and I feel right at the heart of it.


DCLivingLab 2017 journal by Sebastiaan Van De Casteele

“I realized some of the people I met and worked with, might be on the stage of the Creativity World Forum in the coming years.”

It was a very early Sunday morning as I took off from Schiphol Airport, destination Copenhagen. I was traveling lightly packed, which turned out to be in my favor as they simply forgot all large luggage at Schiphol. It was quite a bumpy ride – a storm was passing over the region between Germany and Denmark – which not only affected my journey, as some other participants would soon find out.

Participants to what, you might wonder? Well, together with 50 fellow students from all over the world and with widely varying educational backgrounds, we converged in Aarhus (DK) to participate in the DCLivingLab 2017. It was described on the website as an “An International Masterclass in Urban Challenges and Creativity”, but they did not offer much more information as to what we might expect or what would be expected of us.

It was Sunday afternoon as I climbed the flight of stairs to the sixth floor of the Hallo Hostel, where I was greeted by Craig, the young and joyful host who runs the place. He informed me I was the second participant to arrive, and told me Ditte (the international coordinator for DCLL) had already been waiting all day for us to arrive. I hastily dropped off my luggage and introduced myself. A great conversation ensued, which was from time to time interrupted as more and more participants came and joined in. Most of them had traveled alone, except for the Scottish – whose luggage was also lost at the airport – and the large group of Dutch participants. Two participants got stuck in Germany for the night because of the previously mentioned severe weather.

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Next morning, there was an atmosphere of excitement and curiosity at breakfast, as we waited anxiously for Ditte to come and pick us up. Soon, we would finally find out what the next few days would be about! We went for a walk through an industrial area, that showed signs of some deterioration but even so new companies were breaking ground. We soon arrived at a building named Frontløberne, which means ‘Frontrunners’ in Danish, where we were greeted by croissants, coffee, and more enthusiastic people.

“How do you turn a harbor district into a living and breathing part of the city and integrate all elements of the district into a meaningful place where every inhabitant of Aarhus feels welcome and at home?”

The neighborhood we just walked through turned out to be the Sydhavnen (South Harbor) District: our terrain of operations. As Aarhus is developing at a staggering rate, Sydhavnen will soon be incorporated into the city. However, residential development is not allowed in the area, there is still an old but active slaughterhouse, as well as some substance abusers… So how do you turn such an environment into a living and breathing part of the city and integrate all elements of the district into a meaningful place where every inhabitant of Aarhus feels welcome and at home?

Eight projects were presented and distributed among the groups. The project my team and I got assigned to, was to rethink the very location we worked in: the Frontløberne. They hoped to turn this place into something more than just a venue where concerts could be organized and students, mostly from creative studies, could come and work on their thesis. Torben, the host of the place, dreams of turning it into a harbor to Rethink Activism.

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Our team worked till the very last minute, after which Ditte was kind enough to drive us to the Rådhus (City Hall) for a reception with all the Districts of Creativity, especially Flanders DC, whom I had yet to meet. After a networking dinner at the wonderful Godsbanen, STAK (Student Taskforce for Creativity) organized a nighttime tour of the Institut for (X), an independent and not-for-profit culture association.

The anticipation for the following day was tangible: we were going to the Creativity World Forum! I don’t know what it is about Danes, but again we were greeted by hot coffee and fresh croissants, so you won’t hear me complaining. The morning session was over in no time, the inspirational speakers blew my mind: because of Stefan Sagmeister, I will never be able to take classic skyscrapers and high-rises seriously anymore.

We ventured out for our Breakout Sessions, in which we would discuss one of the themes (People, Enterprises, and Cities) in a more in-depth manner. I met Ba’av, a city planner from New-Zealand, and Thorbjørn, a citizen of Aarhus who might be able to get me a job in Denmark. Our session about Future Living was briefly interrupted by what we jokingly started calling Cake’o’clock; the Danes do love their afternoon coffee and cake.

After the Breakout Session, on our walk back to the Musikhuset (the main venue of the CWF), Thorbjørn showed me some parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. There, another four great speakers awaited us to top off an overwhelming day. Afterwards, we went for food and had some lengthy discussions about what we learned that day.

The second day of the Creativity World Forum started off immediately with five keynote talks that energized the whole venue; Steve Vranakis (Executive Creative Director at Google) and Frederik Andersen (CEO of VICE Scandinavia and VICE Media) are just two of them. Time whizzed by, and soon another Breakout Session was waiting for our participation.

Mo, an Egyptian city planner whom I met during the DCLivingLab, joined me to a session titled Creative Cities and Neighborhoods of Opportunities. This, in turn, made this session twice as interesting, as he could offer precise insights on the topics at hand. I, myself, got inspired by some of the presented ideas, such as public artwork using digital technologies.

After the Breakout Session, one last segment of keynote speakers was waiting for us. Even after two intensive days, the energy in the Musikhuset was still impressive, especially when the grand finale commenced. The honor was given to Snask, a wildly creative and amped-up Swedish design, brand, and advertising company, you would almost expect them to light off real fireworks on stage. A banger of an after party was apparently what people needed to lose their energy, and even when everything came to an end and the music died down, some of them still had plenty to go on.

The following morning, we had some time to explore this city we had been working and living in for four consecutive days. Small groups ventured out, some went shopping, we went for a walk during daylight. Nobody really wanted to address the matter, but you could sense things were coming to an end. One last activity was planned: the presentation of the final products we came up with for the Sydhavnen District.

“Every project came with a unique visualization, the proposed solutions were well-thought and original, and attracted quite some attention. It was great to see the hard work that went into all the projects, and seeing the finalized products was a humbling experience.”

It was a busy reception: the stakeholders, the team behind DCLivingLab, people from the CWF, and so on. The room was entirely packed. Every project came with a unique visualization, the proposed solutions were well-thought and original, and attracted quite some attention. It was great to see the hard work that went into all the projects, and seeing the finalized products was a humbling experience.

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After dinner, the Dutch group had to leave, so our small group stayed behind with some people from DCLL and STAK, thus we spent an evening talking about the experiences we had during the week. The following morning, we said our goodbyes and started going our own way.

On the train back to Copenhagen, I felt tired but satisfied. This week would leave a long-lasting impression: I shared and gathered knowledge, culture, and ideas. I realized some of the people I met and worked with, might be on the stage of the Creativity World Forum in the coming years.

(Photos: Ellen Comhaire & Sebastiaan Van De Casteele)

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