Project Scope » perspectives

KISD, Cologne (October 2010)

As pronounced in our perspectives in September we continue working at the advancement of Cultural Library as a global design research project: As a next step there will take place the workshop »Cultural Library meets Urban Cultural Spaces«, held by Sven-Anwar Bibi, Philipp Heidkamp and Jessica Stihl. Within this project we will evaluate the results of two preliminary projects (Urban Interactions and Urban Cultural Spaces) and its tools of observation, methodologies and workshop structures in order to refine the CL methodology on the basis of manual and web-based tools. Furthermore Jessica Stihl currently is elaborating the conditions for a superordinate and promoted research project. For this next project stage we are looking for dedicated funding institutions and project partners. Aiming at the further development of the Cultural Library framework and the initiation of the superordinate research project, we consider the aims presented in September: the enhancement of our online knowledge base; the development of a proper analog format in order to extend the accessibility of Cultural Library; the elaboration of our research design and workshop structures; the integration of the on-site fieldwork into theoretical knowledge and the superordinate research project.


KISD, Cologne (September 2010)

Cultural Library will grow over the coming years: a new project in Brazil took place in June 2010 and new projects in Japan and Taiwan are scheduled for 2010/2011. A conference in Cologne will bring together participants from various projects in order to set the agenda for the coming years. And we are expecting more: this project collaboration between Nairobi and Cologne has been quite intensive, and from the perspective of the project supervisors there has always been the defining question how this project will change – and improve – future Cultural Library projects.

A first change – an insight gained thanks to this project – is the revised structure and time schedule. In the future, we will be concentrating on 5 day-workshops on-site, with a clear structure as described in this publication and with the support of our online knowledge base (and also our hardware toolbox to improve the project work on-site). We are also going to experiment with parallel project teams, like the project cooperation between Brazil and Germany in June 2010. In this project, two different teams carried out research in different cultural contexts, and both collaborated via the Cultural Library platform. Having another team working on the same topic, but at another location, really made the each team question the other’s observations and interpretations. This way, the exchange helped on the intended decoding. Experiments like this aim at a continuous reflection and improvement of the Cultural Library as a process, as a tool and as a platform.

At the end of 2010, a workshop in Cologne will focus on the issue of the methodologies of visualisation and transformation in cooperation with another project about urban structures in Mainland China. For 2011, we aim to start a research project accompanying the two or three on-site projects. This will help to build a foundation for the work in the coming years. We are aiming at intensifying the partnership with a globally active organisation like the Goethe Institut or the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), in order to provide a framework for future projects. For this further advancement of Cultural Library as a research project, we aim to strengthen the framework with several different intentions:

1.     The superordinate aim of the overall project is the investigation of cultural phenomena, dealing with intercultural communication as a design task, making research results interactively accessible and establishing a processual library of cultural snapshots and micro-events. This goes hand-in-hand with refining transformation options and enhancing a viscourse, in order to learn from each other with regard to research and design approaches and to cultural phenomena.
This aim is accompanied by the development of the online knowledge base, including the editing of the currently available material within the new structure. Furthermore, we are also aiming at putting together a proper analog format, as a necessary extension of the digital platform: exhibition systems, open studios and symposium structures. New technologies (like QR-codes) and social media will be used in the process to improve and extend the work.

2.     The thematic focus of Cultural Library projects will be elaborated: currently we have a great variety of projects with regards to contents, structures and cognitive interests. The topics may change; Musashino Art University will investigate the issue of tea time: investigating different lifestyles by abstracting the same (or almost the same) types of activities around the world, such as dining and tea time. Cologne will narrow down the issue of mobility to smaller topics for each Cultural Library project. Nairobi has suggested different issues connected with urban life, like urban infills (the use of left-over spaces), the urban pedestrian (street morphology, use – manner/ body language) or urban furniture. The topics have one thing in common: they take a closer look at the way things are used, they investigate structures and systems and they observe workarounds to problems. So we will see more detailed and thus comparable projects in the near future. We are not aiming to reduce this diversity – we all benefit from the diverse interests and approaches of our partners – but we will strive to refine the overall issue of ’Mobilty‘. We deliberate to form a research group of postgraduates (from different universities) that will precisely formulate a thematic cognitive interest and will define a set of topic outlines that will be the basis for integrating the presented 5-day-workshops. This way it is possible to assimilate the on-site fieldwork into theoretical knowledge and to integrate the research results of the workshops sustainably into the superordinate research project.

3.     Cultural Library will be used as platform for a discourse with regards to intercultural research, its opportunities and challenges and, where design research is concerned, its approaches and methods. The intention is to deal with the role of design research in an intercultural context and the question of in which way its approaches both coincide and differ from those of other disciplines like social sciences and ethnographies We aim to push the advancement of our methodology continuously forward.

4.     Furthermore, Cultural Library is an international network of research partners, institutions and universities. This network will be strategically developed furthewith the focus on different cultural activities and innovative academic structures. The cooperation with institutions like the Goethe Institut, the DAAD or other institutions with a focus on international exchange and research will be of great importance in the future. We hope to intensify this cooperation by planning and holding conferences, by building teams in different cultures, by supporting us with local networks and a discourse about topics. Exhibitions or even publications will be important in the future to create a platform for this project, allowing the Cultural Library to grow, to address more people and to actively integrate more and more people as researchers, librarians and local representative.


Goethe-Institut, Nairobi (September 2010)

I see the serial nature of the Cultural Library as of central importance for the future of the project. The crucial step lies in the transition from the initial study of individual places to a series of studies at locations within different cultures that will multimately be presented as a whole. Up till now, workshops with presentations have taken place in Tokyo, London, Taipei and Nairobi, but the results have not been looked at in relation to each other. A multilateral relationship with a presentation mounted in serial form and producing a visual relationship of contiguity will make the cultural comparative aspect stronger.

As project partners, both Cultural Library and the Goethe-Institut are particularly well suited for projects such as these that are designed like networks.
The Goethe-Institut offers the rather remarkable structure of being (1) a national institution, rooted in European culture (2) at the same time located firmly in the host countries, where it is part of the local scene and moreover (3), through its network, the single institutes can be linked together for specific projects, an ideal situation for serial- and cross-cultural scale projects. Indeed, close cooperation in a regional context, such as sub-Saharan Africa is interesting enough - Africa really does provide an enormous amount of cultural diversity - but it is, of course, especially interesting when dealing with matters on a larger, intercontinental scale.
Such a multilateral project design complements the conventional foreign cultural policy model of bilateral cooperation (cultural exchange between Germany and the host country). It is, possibly, the logical equivalent for the developments in an increasingly internationalised art world and a globalised academic sphere. Hopefully the Goethe-Institut projects will make a lasting contribution to this field and play a role in definining it. This is the direction in which we are extending our project formats programmatically. For the Goethe-Institut, a project like Cultural Library is also interesting from the perspective of an educational and developmental cooperation in the field of culture. The concept of development is complex and not easy to apply to cultural work, especially in the context of intercultural relations. Because Cultural Library is essentially a student project - with all the challenges that such a project entails - development here is pared down to the bare essentials: students from Germany and Kenya follow a common educational path. Viewing development in this way is a way of avoiding problematic connotations and implicitly acting hierarchies of development and educational concepts. Furthermore, we would have an even greater impact on the local research context. In this book, the local intellectual scene is present in the text contributions, and the incorporation of local voices is a central principle of our work. In future workshops, we will involve the voices of the people › on the ground ‹ even more in the work of the students. A sound historical and theoretical horizon – one that can only come from knowledge of the local scene – can deepen its work in such an interdisciplinary project. Thus we could possibly place even more of an emphasis on sociopolitical issues.

Finally, the experience with the Cultural Library will be adopted and applied in other future projects, such as in our focus on art and public space, in projects dealing with the urban structure and architecture of the city of Nairobi, and in various educational projects.


University of Nairobi, September 2010

The University of Nairobi through its School of Architecture is visionary in its approach to creating multiple data centres both for physical research as well as for virtual learning on its campuses. These centres are home to local existing digital documents in the sphere of historic literary resources (manuscripts, incunabula, early printed books, maps, charters and other types of documents), as well as other sites of historic and symbolic value. Ideally it may be necessary to have all these resources under the CL initiative, forming part of that global vision and it is envisaged it will bring many partners on board to realise a single digital library interface. On our part, The School of Architecture, University of Nairobi, will, in the coming years, endeavour to maintain its present links with its research partners in the CL to find areas of common interest for further collaboration in studio-based design projects.

The main objective being to meet its stated mandate of promoting unity within diversity, through purposeful design. Some of the topical or thematic areas of collaboration include:

  • Urban Infills – use of left-over spaces: alleys, squares, roundabouts and streets, street cafes, pavements and medians, within operational local authority regulations. How, for example, can urban design be used to mitigate and enhance the lifestyle of the few off-campus students? What about their way to and from campus?
  • Urban Markets: the ever-present informal market in the urban African context is fundamentally tied to the local peoples’ way of life. The resultant cultural conurbation becomes the interface – the thin veil that separates their urban/rural experience. The » Maasai Market «, wholesale produce market and the » exhibitions « may seem to many as purely tourist-oriented. A closer look reveals a different picture: that they are indeed very much a part of the local stimuli but which at the same time have an exotic appeal to the tourist aesthetic.
  • Accessibility: how do the handicapped cope in third-world cities? How are international standards of signage, sensorial adaptations, physical attributes, aid elements, perambulatory and spatial accessibility compatible with cultural nuances of the different peoples in our diversified urban world?
  • Conservation and Heritage: places of worship (temples, mosques, churches) public/private places, districts, urban fabric form part of our common heritage as citizens of the world. Do we hold a universal truth to the meaning, value system and sense of care for our heritage?
  • Urban Sports: integrated sports, paths - soft/hard landscaping, segregation, cross-country, jogging, recreation parks.
  • Urban Sound: in multicultural cities we experience the early call to prayer by the islamic Muezzin, while within earshot a short while later, the auditory space is taken over by the gentle toll of bells atop a catholic chapel spire, with no-one batting an eyelid! How about the › touting ‹ and the › matatu cacophony ‹ of sound that brings about a distinctly different feel to urban life. How do these compare and contrast say, to the clip-clop sound of a horse-drawn carriage running down a mediaeval street in a European city?

Finally, in order to enhance the possibilities of a future seamless scholarly exchange, we see here at the University of Nairobi the need to create common standards in order to make different information sources and databases compatible for, and usable by, all digital libraries. An appeal to encourage global organisations to finance research, donate digital content and partner with researchers is equally important as an endnote to this wish list, with a view to bringing about a shared repository for all the cultures of the world.