Independent Universe Alumni network
The Independent Universe – the Alumni network of the Independent School for the City, includes over 300 unique thinkers, do-ers and designers who took part in our courses and workshops. To strengthen and expand this community of likeminded people, we regularly consult them about topics and research projects that we are doing at the school, we organise meet-ups and send out a special alumni newsletter. Below you can meet some of the School’s Alumni and see what they are doing at the moment.
Alexandra Coutsoucos, a strategic and service designer who studied at TU Delft, participated in the Dirty Old Town programme which focuses on the urban fabric of Rotterdam from a variety of perspectives. She says that although at first glance, service design does not seem very related to urban development, she approaches the city as a network of services. “There is a lot of discussion about the city as a service. There is the hardware of the city such as the built environment and then there are the intangible relationships of services that make the city work, such as the transportation or the energy grid, or the infrastructure for the distribution of goods. For a city to become more resilient in hosting humans and non-humans in the best way possible, the role of the network of services is invaluable.”
Her office Livework studio landed a project that was about the redevelopment of an area in Bangkok, around the time she started developing an interest in the urban realm. From there they started working on the different aspects involved in the application of service design methodologies to the development of new urban realities. Alexandra remarks that, through her work in urban projects, she realised that it is a lot about community engagement, finding a communal thread between the stakeholders that make the city. It started to become the other face of all those practices that involve the citizens in the making of the city, of which tactical urbanism can be an example. “I think service design is particularly well equipped because it has a methodology and plenty of tools to create a bridge between the top-down and bottom-up perspectives. That is why the intersection of service design and urbanism is quite interesting.”
She says that the course has set her life on a new path, in the sense that she found her new niche passion, which led to Alexandra becoming the specialist in urban topics within her company. In the pursuit of consolidating her approach, she recently joined Politecnico di Milano’s design lab for social innovation called Desis Lab. Here she collaborates as a research fellow for the research project SMOTIES which builds on the Human Cities Network, while she continues working part-time in her previous job.
Bogdan Serediak. In 2022, Bogdan took part in the Dirty Old Town Programme, an intensive 3-month course that coincided with the distressing war in his homeland. This unique confluence significantly impacted his artistic journey and career trajectory.
As part of Dirty Old Town, Bogdan delved into the profound subject of preserving a nation’s heritage amidst the backdrop of conflict. He contemplated whether it should be conserved in its original form or reimagined through architectural interventions. Which aspects of the built environment should be safeguarded, and which should be allowed to fade away? Moreover, as the war became an indelible part of Ukraine’s identity, he pondered ways to represent both the pre-war and post-war heritage.
Driven by these critical queries, Bogdan embarked on an artist residency in The Hague and Vienna after the programme’s conclusion to continue his research centred around the post-war reconstruction theme. In September 2022, he relocated to Tokyo as an independent researcher at the Tama Art University with the goal to focus on innovative methods of preserving architectural landscapes. Bogdan notes that Japan’s recurrent exposure to natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis has fostered remarkable advancements in both materialistic and contextual approaches to rebuilding practices. Currently, Bogdan is working on an exhibition in Tokyo, scheduled for July, with his proposal for post-reconstruction scenarios that utilise machine learning techniques. With this project, he hopes to foster further discussion about collective memory as well as to prioritise native design paradigms within architectural communities.
Antonio Paoletti. Architect, filmmaker and researcher Antonio Paoletti, took part in two of the school’s programmes: the Earth Discovery workshop and the Film & Architecture Studio 2022.
Antonio’s passion for filmmaking has been a driving force throughout his journey. His academic pursuits led him to study architecture at TU Delft, where he serendipitously discovered his deep affinity for the field. Eager to forge connections between his passions, he embarked on a documentary project in Bangladesh, capturing the essence of its streets, public spaces, and inhabitants. Although he didn’t initially have a specific storyline in mind, he viewed the footage as a potent tool for research and documentation.
Reflecting on the Film & Architecture Studio, Antonio acknowledges that he was primarily a self-taught filmmaker. Until then, he had predominantly used film as a means of research and documentation. The programme and especially its tutor Jord den Hollander has left a lasting impression on Antonio, significantly impacting his artistic journey, revealing the distinct nuances between making cinema and employing film as a research tool. He recalls Jord den Hollander’s wise words, emphasising that “Architecture starts from concrete things, but a good movie should start from feelings.”
Subsequently, Antonio received a commission to create a film centred around Skopje, exploring the city’s informal inhabitation. He embarked on extensive research, delving into Macedonia’s past and present, discovering the city’s abundant dualities and contrasts. From its fragmented national identity to its intertwined heritage shaped by historical events, Skopje exhibited a plurality that intrigued Antonio. The city’s architectural characteristics served as a means of representation, highlighting the intriguing interplay between its grand reconstruction after earthquakes and its contemporary interpretation of ancient architectural styles. Antonio keenly observed that the true contrast emerged from the everyday lives of its inhabitants. Macedonia’s stark poverty, evident in the daily struggles of street vendors and small business owners juxtaposed against the grandeur of the architecture, became a story of profound dichotomies.
Antonio’s film captures the street vendors while they are reading from descriptions of ancient palace architecture and other significant structures from historical literature. This poignant juxtaposition unfolded as the hardworking vendors, their hands covered in ash and dirt, intoned the words from the books against the backdrop of modern architecture.
Eileen Stornbrink participated in the Earth Discovery Workshop in the spring of 2022. She studied architecture at TU Delft and has always been fascinated by the use of natural materials in architecture.
Together with her collaborator Danique Landburg she has acquired methods for exploring earth as a building material, to be more precise, for making rammed earth, which is a technique of pressing an earth mixture of clay, sand, stones and a bit of water in moulds until it is strong enough to be used as a wall. Eileen and Danique put the knowledge they acquired during the workshop to use by exploring the material for a design project in a small village in Para, Surinam, which is a former plantation, now owned communally by the villagers.
The region of the project in Surinam is rich with clay and sand that can be used as a building material. “Using earth as a building material has different potential depending on the location.” Eileen says. “In countries like the Netherlands, where labour is relatively expensive, rammed earth is mostly used in prestigious projects. Whereas in places where materials are relatively expensive, using earth as a building material could reduce costs. Next to adding sustainable, climatic and aesthetic value.”
She says that the material in different locations responds differently to the process of mixing and ramming, they may for example require different ratios. So, for the project in Surinam Eileen and Danique made samples of each combination, the way they learned during the Earth Discovery Workshop. Eileen remarks that using earth as a building material in this way was not very common among local builders. Therefore, these samples later became a showcase for exploring the material as resilient enough to be used in the local climate.
So far, they have tested out different mixes and built a mock-up of a wall at the site. Based on the results of the research trip, Eileen and Danique are making a design for a square and community centre named ‘Bosse Bromki Pren’ and aiming to continue building activities in 2024.