This September 28, in the presence of 1,000 guests, tightrope-walkers, augmented reality and vegetarian hors d’œuvres, “European campus for exploring the future” thecamp will open in the south of France.
Aix-en-Provence, special report
The windows are still dirty, and the (artificial) lawn of the open-air amphitheater is being laid down. The trucks are busy finalizing the sports equipment of the future, while a group of “pioneers” begins a laughing yoga. Pioneers? They’re the first “campers” who had the privilege of discovering thecamp before its “beta opening”—the quotes indicate thecamp’s jargon, a mixture of French, English and innovation vocabulary—this Thursday, September 28, before an audience of 1,000 people (French president Emmanuel Macron was announced, but finally won’t make it…).
thecamp is a place that is totally new to France, freshly built deep in the pole of activity around Aix-en-Provence, 18km outside the city, flanked by dry vegetation in the Duranne Valley (it takes some effort to get there, even if its location, a 5-minute path from the Aix-en-Provence TGV train station, was fiercely conquered by the founder of this campus of the future). A UFO-shaped building under canopy (13 circular two-story buildings surround open areas containing olive trees, a Japanese garden and an interactive fountain), incarnates the project of a “disruptive ecosystem”.
A project in Provence inspired by California
A French Singularity University? The initiative was inspired by its Silicon Valley equivalent in terms of its blend of think tank skills, innovators experimenting together, startuppers, entrepreneurs from big European groups, makers, artist tinkerers, “mentor” experts in interaction design or artificial intelligence, universities…
However, no transhumanist guru is holding the reins of this crazy project willed by high-tech entrepreneur Frédéric Chevalier, who will miss the honor of being applauded Thursday—he died in a motorcycle accident before the summer, at the age of 52. The ex-CEO of HighCo had made a fortune from digital solutions for influencing buyer behavior. Since 2013, he had been fighting to impose his vision of “a privileged space where we think about the world, the future, we work on disruptions, we innovate and we experiment,” as he explained in April 2017. Although he contributed 12 million euros out of his pocket to get his idea off the ground, he managed to make thecamp a public-private project—with a budget of 80 million euros, distributed between local authorities (regional, departmental, metropolitan and CCI, exclusively in the form of zero-interest loans), and about 15 private partners including Accenture, La Poste, Cisco and Vinci (36M€ for the real estate, 26M of it private, and 41M€ for operations over 5 years, 20M of it private).
One week before opening, the team (of 68 people) is still unpacking and getting organized… The offices, auditorium, cafeteria (100% vegetarian), are still in beta mode. But visitors are already exploring the space.
Over its 6 hectares, thecamp checks all the boxes of all possible and imaginable equipment (11,000m2 of exemplary, sustainable, zero-waste, “ecoresponsible” buildings under construction, signed by Marseille-based architects Corinne Vezzoni & Associates): offices, of course (from the micro meeting room to the children’s playspace to the VR-AR testing room), a fablab managed by ICI Marseille (a new antenna of ICI Montreuil to open in January 2018), a restaurant, a café, resident housing for artists, makers, prototypers, and 18 studios in the rear of the building, a swimming pool of natural water, sports fields (including a connected soccer field and a “sports room of the future”, in which a local start-up will experiment its concept), an amphitheater for outdoor performances and shows… And, coming in the next few months, two gardens—“one for permaculture, the other for urban agriculture prototyping,” explains thecamp vice-president François Creton.
The future calls at the cafeteria
As the vice-president hosts the first tours, his two little girls running alongside him, talking about how this theater of the future city is just waiting for its actors (or “campers”), the first exchanges are already taking place: two “pioneers” who will organize upcoming workshops on collective intelligence have joined a barcamp of the Fing’s Data Literacy Conference, three organizers of an OpenStreetMapping party chat with other regional players about the cafeteria phase…
Coders, makers, artists and innovation managers
The day before, we talked to the team who will host the first “hivers”: Eric Viennot, French pioneer of narrative video games, and Sylvia Andriantsimahavandy are the two heads of the Hive, artist Djeff Regottaz is the “program designer” (or simply “facilitator”, he says) and Tiphaine Pitoiset, the “program manager”. The Hive is the collaborative residence program for prototyping the world of tomorrow that led Makery to take a closer look at this project, which drops almost every buzzword in the book (preferably in English, as we even heard two French team members proudly conversing in much trendier English…). The Hive is a six-month residency program, all fees included, for artists, makers, designers, coders, preferably young but not exclusively, with the objective of ushering their active participation in “changing the world”.
thecamp’s very first interactive installation (Eric Viennot, dir. Bruno Samper, Nedd agency):
The first generation of residents arrives this week (there will be two per year), with a perfectly equal ratio of women to men (10:10) and French to foreigners (10:10), as well as an equal mix of coders, makers, artists and innovation managers. The idea is to collectively think and develop five or six projects related to the oceans, education and mobility, by alternating sessions of “reality of the field” and “agile walk” in the harbors of Marseille and Fos-sur-Mer, at Zinc à la Belle de Mai or the Aix-en-Provence TGV train station (a partnership between thecamp and the French railway company SNCF will launch Demoiselle, an autonomous vehicle that will link the TGV station to thecamp through the vegetation…), encounters with SF author Alain Damasio or Judith Grumbach, director of Une idée folle, a film documentary on “changemaker schools” (schools that will change the world, according to the NGO Ashoka), project pitches and prototyping in the onsite fablab (or at ICI Marseille, if necessary). By late March, we should get an idea of the hivers’ first creations. Until then, we’re keeping an eye on what’s up at thecamp…
More information on thecamp’s Hive residency program