Design that Wins: How a Space Can Become the Place

Design that Wins: How a Space Can Become the Place

Ruud Reutelingsperger, a member of the Jury in the Contest "LETI – Future Academic Spaces," shares his opinion about the winning design for public spaces, St. Petersburg development, and story-telling places.

19.05.2021 381

Ruud Reutelingsperger identifies himself as an Artist, Arti-tect and Advisor in public art & culture and placemaking. He is the co-founder of artist collective Observatorium Rotterdam, with urban transformation projects in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Russia and Great Britain.


– Our contest "LETI – Future Academic Spaces" has more than 150 applicants, young architects and designers from St. Petersburg, other Russian cities, and from abroad. Soon the Jury will assess the projects to identify the contest finalists. What are your criteria for the winning design? Can you give advice to contestants and address students who will use these spaces?

– What would I look for in a winning design? What story does it tell. How does it reflect the past, the soil on which it was built, and how can it become a place for growth. What does it look like 20 or 30 years from now? Not only for people but for flora and fauna as well because in a climate-changing world, we need new approaches of 'maintaining' the earth: circular building materials, biodiversity, sustainable energy (water, wind, sun), etc. Think of it; what is good for flora and fauna is good for people! 

Just imagine: in 30 years, you have become a professor here, and you welcome new students. You give them a tour around the buildings and the neighborhood, and you tell them proudly: "look 30 years ago we started here with ..., and now you see ..."

– What stories does the winning design tell? Can you explain or give an example?

– One example is the project 'Zandwacht' by Observatorium. The question was a contemporary monument to celebrate the completion of a new piece of land in the Rotterdam Harbor; Maasvlakte 2 commissioned by the Rotterdam Port Authority. The sculpture, very expensive, will, however, in the course of 10-20-30 years disappear! It will be covered by sand and become a natural dune. This is the kind of project that shows that landscape is changing, art is too, and the story is; if you stand by the seashore look at the ocean long enough, you will become a dune yourself!

– You have the place transformation project in St. Petersburg, the Sea of Orange. What is your opinion about changes in old classical buildings and their environment? Will it be good for the city?

– I have been to St. Petersburg several times, and now I see it as a strange but potentially beautiful mix of old and new, nice and ugly, colorful and grey, as the city of many doors and gates, where monuments talk about the past and street-art seems to be a 'call for action' for the future. And as I see it, the public space is an inclusive place where the systemic world meets the living world. Systemic as in the way of how governments, companies, institutions, universities are organized versus the world of young people.

The city center of Rotterdam was bombed during WW II. Just a couple of old buildings were left. The city reinvented itself, and nowadays, the new buildings stand next to the old ones. But there are different options. This is a good example: the museum in Zwolle.

And also cities are never finished! And they shouldn't be. St. Petersburg might look like a museum, but in essence, cities are living places with changing ideas and attitudes. Therefore it is necessary that 'change is celebrated' as a part of the ongoing process of city-making.

– You have interesting placemaking projects. In the contest, we, the LETI space users, are expecting just nice and functional places for studies, events, and rest. What should be added to make these spaces inspiring and interesting?

– 'Spaces become Places' when they belong to somebody, when somebody becomes the owner and when visitors feel as though they visit 'someone' and not just 'something'! So through maintaining the place or special programs/activities you add value. Can students and professors 'take care' of the place? 

The most important thing is co-creation. By this, I mean that before one starts designing, you have to do a survey with the users so you can create a so-called 'user-story'. You ask not 'what do you want' but 'why do you want it'. In the final design, you can and should refer to the initial 'why'.