Critical Observer Lab of Labs - Design And The City Conference

The Lab of Labs were two-day design charrettes lead by international labs during Design & The City, that explored a variety of approaches for living labs and design research practices. The sessions took place on the Knowledge Mile, the area in heart of Amsterdam that runs from the Nieuwmarkt square to the Amstelstation, which was also the subject of the Lab of Labs.


Commissioned Research


Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences




Lab synopsis

The aim of the lab was to produce design ideas for hyperlocal civic platforms that can interact with pervasive digital technologies in the smart cities of today and tomorrow. Leveraging ubiquitous connectivity (municipal wifi hotspots, bluetooth beacons…) and mobile devices, smart civic media may help communities to self-organize, to exchange information and services, and to actively contribute to the administration of the city. The lab addressed civic platforms at a “hyperlocal” scale, for example serving neighbors in the same block, coworkers sharing in the same building, daily commuters in the same train and other very specific communities, while at the same time considering how to connect them with the smart city as a whole. Participants to this charrette were invited to generate design visions for a variety of pervasive/ubiquitous devices, including smartphones, wearable and tangible technologies, for in-car/in-train devices, network-connected sensors, smart objects and smart buildings.

Observation & Reflection

The assumption that for every urban issue there might be a digital solution is a recurring trend in designing for “smart cities”. The increasing number of civic applications developed to resolve public and societal issues by engaging citizens through digital platforms reflects this trend. While these solutions certainly have the potential to enable more citizen engagement in decision-making on public goods, services, and spaces, they often foreground technology and lose sight of facilitating social innovation, their primary purpose. For these reasons, this charrette explored the relations between social context and digital technologies at a “hyperlocal” scale, inviting participants to develop design concepts for ubiquitous devices for self-organizing communities. Attila Nemes, from the Hungary-based innovation and incubation lab Kitchen Budapest (KIBU), guided the participants in a series of design exercises both in the field and in a workshop setting. While technology was certainly a factor in this charrette, participants focused on the interplay between digital and non-digital social interactions as an opportunity space. From this, they sketched the concept of a “Surprise Machine”, a hybrid online/offline service connecting tourists and locals with the objective of offering unexpected experiences when visiting a new city.


Photographs by Sebastiaan ter Burg