Renny Ramakers leads option studio at Cornell University

This year, from August 27 till December 12, Renny Ramakers, co-founder and creative director of Amsterdam-based design company Droog, will lead an option studio at Cornell Architecture Art Planning Department of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) together with  Aleksandr Mergold (Cornell Arch), Agata Jaworska (Royal College of Art, Design Academy Eindhoven), and Mark van der Net (OSCity). This option studio is part of Droog’s multi-annual program called Design & Desires, Design & Living, Design & The City.

Rust-belt towns

The aim of the studio is to re-think a conceptual model for an urban master plan. They seek to explore the possibility in which the city is not approached top-down, where city dwellers are an abstract “population” and “tax base’ (the Robert Moses model), or as a nodal organism (the Lynch model), or a new urbanism total experience (the Celebration FL model), nor as a pure urban form (the Nolli model). Nor do we intend to be involved in the bottom-up through initiatives of residents, such as life-hacking (the Hipster model) in which case there often is no role for design and architecture. Instead, from the diverse set of needs, scales, aspirations and desires of city dwellers, resulting in a range of spheres, places, services, images and connections, a new radical Design Plan for a (small) city will emerge.

The focus of the design plan will be Trumansburg, a village in Tompkins County, New York, United States. The program aims to anticipate the emerging needs, aspirations and desires of city dwellers in this rust-belt Upstate NY town that in the last 30 years have been dissolving as traditional urban entities.

Hipsters and conservatives

The diversity of needs and desires of citizens is fundamental to the design plan. To this end, the studio will make a qualitative analysis of individuals from all walks of life (high- and low-educated, hipsters and conservatives, the youth and the elderly). How do the few remaining citizens see their [failing] village? How will they work, how will they spend their free time? How does all shape this village? Is there an alternative way?

The ambition is to use the research results in order to create, with a keen eye on technological developments, all kinds of spheres, products, places and services around the needs, aspirations and desires of citizens.  This creates a variety of challenges for designers, where there is no distinction between the material reality and the perceived reality, between the real and the virtual, between objects and interactions.

Self-organizing micro cities

The anticipated outcome of these projects is a variety of products, places, environments and services, which will become building blocks of a larger whole. The “small to large” approach will ultimately be scaled up to create a conceptual model for a micro-city, a smaller, self-organizing unit in which sustainability seems to be more readily achievable than in a big city. This will establish a conceptual model for a micro-city arising from an unbiased assessment of latent needs of individual citizens, their desires and their dreams, which will be translated into products, environments, places and services. The result could be seen as complementary to urban planning based on the more general knowledge about demographic, sociological and economic shifts, along with abstract trend descriptions from consumer research.