Index Biographies Presentations Doors of Perception


Informal report of the international cultural expert workshop, organised by Doors of Perception and Urban Unlimited for the High Speed Train Network Platform. 18-19 May, 2004, Breda.

report by Jane Szita

A) Introduction

We invited a unique group of cultural innovators to participate with us in a two day international workshop during 18 and 19 May at the Museum of Breda.The event was facilitated by John Thackara, director of Doors of Perception, in collaboration with Luuk Boelens, co-ordinator of the High Speed Train Platform. The event's host in Breda was Bertwin van Rooijen, project leader of “Via Breda”. Contact details are below.

The workshop addressed the topic: what would it mean to design for fast and slow speeds in a High Speed Train environment? High Speed Train travel is an advanced form of mobility, but when we reach our destination, the HST environment is unlikely to surprise or delight us: economic and logistical issues dominate the design agenda. The premise of the meeting was that we can do better. High speed travel – and its destinations – do not have to be bland.

The question arises: how  might we add social and cultural value to the places we reach by High Speed Trains?

Our workshop touched on such topics as:

  • High Speed Movement and Slow Encounters
  • Conviviality
  • Fluid Time and Quality Time
  • Mapping Local Knowledge. Living Memory
  • Postmodern Pilgrimages. Promenades and Grand Tours
  • Public Parks for High Speed Spaces. Land Awareness
  • From Spectacles to Events
  • Dynamic, real-time uses of space and time

The purpose of the workshop was to develop a series of concrete proposals which could be commissioned at a later stage.


As a case study and test-case for future situations, we heard in detail about  (and saw) HST related developments in Breda:

  • Cultural-historical overview of Breda and railway area;
  • Via Breda (new-city plan for HST);
  • Culture and economy of Breda;
  • Symbiosis of economy, culture, area development.

We heard that among the soft assets of Breda are events, institutions and traditions to do with:

  • Horses and equestrianism
  • Training of military personnel
  • Home town of DJ Tiesto

The experts (biographies here) were selected because they are active in the new wave of artistic practise. They were briefed to provide a series of starting points for discussion, followed by a number of concrete proposals fleshed out during the workshop sessions. Any or all of these proposals may be commissioned at a later stage.High-tech region (along with Eindhoven, Liege, Aachen)

B) Opening Statements

A community for collective speed

Francois Jegou

“As a heavy user of the high-speed link between Brussels and Paris, I feel a heavy speed in the train; There’s a conflict between this experience, and the isolating tendency of the train setting. It’s as if you were sitting alone in a car or plane, not as a part of a train community. The high-speed line raises the question of how you build a community for collective speed, and how you can use this moment - when people are together, yet not together. For example, you might use this time to find follow-ups for sharing onward transportation. The train itself is fast; before and after can be slow.

Beware the Bilbao effect

Andrea Bandelli
“For a city like Breda the idea of an icon – an Eiffel Tower or Tate Modern – seems a dream answer to the question of how to get people to get off the train and into the town. Look at what the Guggenheim Museum did for Bilbao (generating, according to the Financial Times, about $500 million in economic activity and about $100 million in new taxes in its first three years. However, Bilbao had been subject to considerable lower-level ‘compost’ development beforehand.I’ve been working on a major redevelopment of the city of Turin, which is also on a high-speed line, and which, like Breda, needs to differentiate itself from the other cities on the line. The initial brief was to design a big science museum complex to attract visitors, but in the end, basing the plan on existing facilities, we opted for three different areas, one emphasising sport, another science, and the third the environment. Ideally, you want people to come to a city for more than one reason. You need to build a complex identity, and to create a flow of resources to the place: people, things, and ideas. At New Metropolis in Amsterdam, which I also worked on, the project failed at first because there was no other development in that area. They’re just adding the other development now, after seven years. Also, the large open public space we created there seemed to be not what was wanted in Amsterdam. Even a big attraction needs context, needs to fit into the local culture, and to be composted in.”
See The Bilbao Effect, article by Witbold Rybzcynski  

Nomadic banquets

Debra Solomon
“I’m particularly interested in the high-speed line’s stations, and its food, and the possibilities for ad-hocism and cultural exchange in the food area. Nomadic banquets, if you like. Of course, the major fast food chains are ready to go, but more identity and visitor value can be provided by regional food – local in style and content. On a recent trip to Nanjing, I witnessed how mobile cooking units are rented by independent people who make and sell a wide variety of food. (Shows picture of "Hotwagon # 59 in  Nanjing dumplongs and noodles". It can be extremely effective to simply provide the infrastructure, and encourage food diversity. The result is a more refined and recognizable food experience. Not only food, but also culinary knowledge and expertise, can be exported along the line."

Carnival - city life as costume drama

Zuzana Lapitkova
“Carnival is a historical festival - the seventeenth century was a peak for the design of town festivals. Giant mascots were common - long before Burning Man. But temporary, time-based collective actions has a great deal to offer modern life. Carnival is about mobility, and switching identities. Costumes allow for unexpected communications between strangers. The ephemerality of a festival like the Carnival makes it popular with modern society, because it reflects the speed of life.  Carnival brings a change, then simply disappears. It gives a different, and temporary, character to the city and its people.”

Familiar strangers: connecting commuters

Michael Kieslinger
“Trains are full of people who are familiar strangers – the regular commuters, who know each other by sight, but who studiously avoid contact. In Ivrea in Italy, the Train Doors project addressed the relationship of commuters (pendolari) in exactly this situation, by using commuter classifieds to communicate their wants: language lessons, house swaps, onward rides, and so on. ”

Geograffiti and annotated space

Karlis Kalnins and Marc Tuter
“How do I find out what Breda has to offer? A map is of limited use. For more detailed information on places to go, some kind of social network mapping, a blogmapper application, is a more interesting solution. It can be used so that as you walk through physical space, you can accommodate different points of view. This idea of locative media – media related to a specific space – is popular with just the sort of cultural creative you want to attract to Breda. Technological solutions – mobiles, screens on seatbacks – could inform you about the city before you get here. But so could ticket collectors, who could also be encouraged to pass on local knowledge.”

Reviving conversation

Chris Downs
“A possible starting point is the comment of Theodore Zeldin, that, when trains were first created, they were a means of generating conversation and community, and now they’re the opposite. So that Eurostar, with all the seats pointing in the same direction, was a huge missed opportunity. We are assuming that we all want privacy and not to be disturbed, but possibly that isn’t what we want at all.”
More on Theodore Zeldin and his studies of conversation

'I'm in Breda! Designing for difference

Emils Rode
“As Paul Virilio says, today we no longer need to travel. On the train, we’re already there. We arrive without leaving. So, if we travel for difference, how do we design for this difference? Coming to Breda from Riga, my first thought is, nothing’s wrong here. Everything works, it’s clean, there are no homeless people, there are nice old buildings…  so I think it’s a question of how to make being in Breda memorable, so when you’re here, you think, ‘I’m in Breda!’ This means designing décor, signage, ornament, food, and soundscape (dialect and music), so as to activate the differences… Another thing to consider is transport for slower speeds, so when you get off the train you can transfer to a horsedrawn cart, or rickshaw, or bicycle.”

A challenge from members of the creative class

After these opening statements, our group was taken on a tour of Breda, and met with city officials. A recurrent theme in their statements to us was the role of "the creative class" in Breda's future - a group of which we, in their eyes, were members. And it is true that our activities were diverse: festivals | informal learning | locative media | slow-food | psychogeography | urban artistry | time-banking  | arts-de-la-rue | postmodern pilgrimages.

Breda is not unique in its aspirations. A number of cities in high-speed Europe share similar ambitions. Each one wants to be the centre of a network; to be culture–based; to have a knowledge economy. All of these cities would join Breda’s Alderman Neder in hoping for a new identity to achieve “a move away from unimaginative transit spots, to surprising places with emotional impact and economic benefits". Breda's quest to put itself on the map of the future might be viewed in terms of the question, what does this creative class want, and how can it be attracted to the city?

In discussion, it seemed that creative people don’t want to live in a ghetto, and they hate being told what to do. If you try to plan creativity, it usually refuses to happen. Creativity does not just exist among a specialised creative class, or in special activities. Creativity is better thought of as an aspect of the ordinary activities of daily life, from preparing food, to navigating around the city. In the Netherlands, arguably the world’s most intensively designed and rigorously planned country, it's hard for the unexpected and the spontaneous to be allowed to happen. Luuk Boelens is working with Brusseles and Rotterdam on the idea of "freezones" - areas of a city that should be left un-designed.

Designing for multiple landscapes is also important. The high-speed train moves through what we might call a naturescape, but creates its own landscape as it does so.  Today’s travellers also inhabit a mediascape, composed of mobiles, nets, and satellite links. These, too, have profound implications for the way we design.The high-speed network has its own logic, and sets its own agenda. It is another global phenomenon that tends to produce the same experience everywhere. How can it allow space for a local look and feel? Can we create an environment in which 50 per cent of services are local? Is it feasible to create an operational and regulatory environment that enables local businesses and regional diversity to thrive?

By way of summarising this discussion, we decided to pose the following challenges to the city; these are the slideskeywords:

Challenge 1

Creativity is not planned. It emerges.

Planning-free zones!


Challenge 2

Treat us as actors, not as tenants


Challenge 3

Don’t build edifices -   enable events.  


Challenge 3a

 “Content” = something you do, not something you look at, or buy


Challenge 4

All citizens are actors. All actions can be creative.


Challenge 5

Don’t think “station” – think  “network”

Combine     Landscape + Cityscape + Trainscape + Mediascape


Challenge 6

Don’t just think “new”. Re-combine that which exists.