SpeculativeEdu

Case Study: Speculative Development of Bratislava

February 10, 2020

Speculative projects dealing critically with urban development in Bratislava by Lenka Hamosova.

This case study takes us to the city of Bratislava, where the use of fiction and Speculative Design proves to be a compelling means of critique in the context of controversial local urban development. Different real estate companies are building multiple ambitious projects1 on a relatively small site, which causes concerns about the density of population, traffic load and gentrification of the new and neighbouring districts. Public and professional discussions were practically shut down by clever marketing strategies overshadowing any critical thought with ecstatic utopian visions. While researching the visual language and strategies used to generate public consent with this development, we were trying to find the most suitable way of communicating the findings without being disregarded as inadequate critique.

Speculative Postcards from the Future, 2019

By creating “hyper-unrealistic” speculative collages, we tackled the thin line between the acceptable manipulative nature of advertising and the need to inform the public about private development plans in the city with transparent visuals. For most locals, it’s hard to imagine what the new district composed of various projects from different companies will look like. There is no proper visualization or 3D modelling of the entire future area. Residents can only use their imagination – or perhaps, travel to the future. This stretch is what makes the postcards speculative. They function as a souvenir from the future depicting the panorama of Bratislava in the year 2025, based on the first utopian architecture visualisations. The author is sending them back to the past as a smart and witty warning, while still staying in the safe zone of harmless tourist-oriented city marketing. The postcards don’t try to render the future image, they only combine raw cut-outs from accessible architecture visualisations, thus offering as much information as the real estate companies give. Connecting such an old-fashioned medium with futuristic speculations created a necessary tension in recipients and made them question the realness of the “iconic” vision provided. It became a sharp reminder of how not enough action can lead to permanent damage.

Virtual Develoutopia (reality outside vs. virtual reality inside VR headset), 2019

Another example of the necessity to use fiction wrapped in ludicrous visuals is the series of site-specific interactive installations called Virtual Develoutopia. The public happenings invited locals to dive into virtual reality and experience Bratislava “as it should always have been” according to developers. The two 360° panoramas2 (one actually becoming a feature photo of Bratislava Bus Station on Google Maps) are synthesising the visual and verbal language that Bratislava real estate companies use – including citations from architectural visualisations, promo videos and PR texts3. The developer vision deliberately excludes the diversity of the population or culture in the new districts and replaces it with cheap attractions such as street food festivals and circus art. We reverse-engineered the promoted vision and combined the collected symbols and meanings in grotesque 3D collages as obvious parody – again because this way the critique can fly under the radar of passive-aggressive PR departments of the criticised companies. The absurdity of such a vision is given to the viewer using visual hyperbole without commentary, leaving room for one’s critical judgment. The perception in virtual reality triggered an immediate emotional response and was supported by cognitive shock, that came after taking the headset down. The VR collages must be experienced at the very same spot they depict. The project received great responses from viewers, whatever expectations they arrived with. Although seemingly nobody believed the far-fetched future vision, seeing and being inside of it triggered a lot of necessary critical questioning of the actual intentions of the real estate companies and initiated further demand for more precise plans and information.

Virtual Develoutopia (reality outside vs. virtual reality inside VR headset), 2019

We chose the speculative approach from multiple reasons, the main one being the futility of publicly criticising power structures. The real-estate companies practically took over city development, replacing some functions of the city council. An open critique immediately sparks an aggressive response and thus lowers the actual social impact of the project. Balancing between fiction and reality, absurdity and seriousness, however, allows the message to settle and the critique to be picked up by the people. Decades ago, in the former Czechoslovakia, the clever use of fantasy, self-irony and (visual) hyperbole was typical among dissidents criticising the repressive regime of the ruling Communist Party. People who were already used to political “double-speak” learned how to understand various forms of well-hidden satire in sci-fi literature, poems and visual arts, and this trait has stuck until today. Ironically, the same strategies have to be employed again; only this time, the criticised power structure is not the state, but private companies.

Virtual Develoutopia, 2019

References:

Hamosova, L., 2019, “Speculative Postcards from the Future”. [digital print, online]. Available at: http//hamosova.com/Speculative-Postcards-from-the-Future, http://criticaldaily.org/?project=293

Hamosova, L., 2019, “Virtual Develoutopia”. [360°panoramas, VR collages, site-specific installation]. Available at: http://hamosova.com/Virtual-Develoutopia, http//criticaldaily.org/?project=291

 

Lenka Hamosova is a design researcher and lecturer based in Prague. Her projects focus on the transparency of visual communication and the future scenarios of AI-generated synthetic media. She regularly writes and talks about the frictions in visual culture, design and architecture. Lenka graduated in Design at Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam in 2014. She co-founded the platform for Critical and Speculative Design ALTTAB and leads the Speculative Design at Prague College MA Future Design.

Collaborators:

Critical Daily: An online magazine about critical practice in graphic design
Open Design Studio
Anticena BRUTUS (Architecture Anti-Award BRUTUS)
ALTTAB: Platform for Critical & Speculative Design


  1. http://skypark.sk/en, http://www.euroveacity.sk/, https://jtre.sk/ 

  2. http://vrdeveloutopia.hamosova.com/#nivy-designfactory, http://vrdeveloutopia.hamosova.com/#nivy-stanica 

  3. http://www.novenivy.sk/, http://www.spojenaba.sk/ http://www.stanicanivy.sk/en/