Last weekend I visited a friend of me, David Derksen, at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. He has graduated from the Design Academy with an amazingly fragile copper cabinet, that is meant to store things that are dear to you. The design by David Derksen was exhibited at the academy and at the Eindhoven Design House. A couple of his cabinets have already been sold.
At the Graduation Show of the Design Academy I came across another project that I would like to discuss here. The project is ‘Billboard Living’ by Dolf Robertus and it is more like a strategy than an actual design. Robertus proposes to turn big corporate logo’s in the city into housing. “The people living in [the logo’s] bring the advertising to life, and take care of maintenance”, the designer writes: “In return, for little or nothing they get a unique place to live. Billboard Living combines the ultimate in commerce with affordable housing.”
As Dolf Robertus sees it, the logo’s could be animated by their inhabitants during the day. The lights are for instance turned on and off. The inhabitants could mechanically rotate their logo-homes. In many cases, the designer thinks, a voyeuristic attitude could be helpful. An ‘Adidas’ logo could be animated by inhabitants doing some sports. In the case of a ‘Dove’ or ‘Sanex’ logo a transparent bath or shower could underline the commercial message. The ‘Playboy’ logo in the view of the designer could be animated with some nudity (or even sex?). The inhabitants sell their lives to the companies the logo’s belong to in return of a low rent.
The sketches by Dolf Robertus show a city abundantly fitted with immense logo’s dominate the architecture that hosts them. They even show dedicated towers with just logo’s. The contemporary city features logo’s, the designer claims: he just makes them inhabitable. That however seems like wishful thinking. I doubt whether one could find suitable logo’s in a heavily regulated country like the Netherlands. Instead of a proposal to transform urban reality, the project unintentionally becomes a promotion of the commercialization of the city.
Something else that Dolf Robertus doesn’t address is the fact that the lifecycle of a logo doesn’t coincide with the lifecycle of a house. Corporate logo’s often are updated every decade or so. To build a house for such a short period is highly expensive. And let’s not even get started on sustainability.
Speculating we could imagine a city in which the old logo’s, inhabited by renters that refuse to leave, exist next to ever bigger new logo’s. The result would be an amazingly layered city. Alternatively we could imagine a site in the far periphery of the city where the old inhabitable logo’s are stalled. It would be like a graveyard of corporate logo’s, that at weekends attracts flocks of curious tourists.
What keeps me thinking is the idea that advertisements could make housing cheaper. In the Netherlands most cities apply the following rule: when the owner of a building needs temporary scaffolding for restoration works, he is allowed to fit the scaffolding with a massive advertisement. Normally such big advertisements aren’t allowed. The idea is this rule promotes restoration works, as the advertisements ease the cost of them. The amount of advertisements-on-scaffolding through the country suggests it works.
What if cities around the world would start to allow inhabitable billboards at any size, as long as most of the revenue from the advertisements is used to cut the rent of the inhabitants of the building with a low income. Along the ring roads of cities everywhere enormous slabs would arise. Some would be fitted with paper advertisements, but more and more gigantic led screens would appear that day and night would transmit their commercial messages to the city. When short of advertisements, the screens would simply show ‘Ads by Google’.
Related: Frank Gehry, or the inhabitable fish