The European T-Factor project implements innovative strategies to regenerate the urban fabric by observing and analyzing temporary spaces around the world. This coalition of 25 organizations in 12 different countries aims to build future cities that are more inclusive, limit gentrification, favor ecology, and develop tools to facilitate this transition.
January 2021. The sun shines bright over Marseille. Despite the pandemic, La Friche la Belle de Mai, a cultural center located in the Belle de Mai neighborhood, has opened its outdoor spaces to the public. It’s a friendly way of continuing to create connections and maintain loyal habits in these uncertain times.
La Friche la Belle de Mai, a French case study
For more than 30 years, this 4-hectare space has been perceived by professionals as an experimental model for continuously deploying new projects.
“It’s in La Friche’s DNA to have an outside view of creative culture, which isn’t necessarily an expert view. The public contributes to defining and developing what we do. Our approach to culture is not based on consuming but on sharing and exchange,” says Eva Riccio, head of cooperative project development at La Friche la Belle de Mai since summer 2020. “We really work together with neighborhood associations and collectives. It’s local residents who come to La Friche, and it’s their needs that inform our programs. We offer a very plural form of culture, where art can be approached and understood from many different angles.”
La Friche la Belle de Mai is also unique in that it is governed collectively and horizontally, where shareholders are members, resident artists, neighbors and supporting institutions who make important decisions about the center’s operations. It’s a novel and exemplary approach among cultural institutions.
“This democratic way of operating is a topic that comes up often at La Friche, because of our collective governance model [‘collective interest cooperative society’],” Riccio explains. “This horizontal model is our historical heritage, because originally the cultural program was managed by a local association, and a private company managed the building. In the early 2000s, these two forces merged in the lead-up to 2013, the year that Marseille was declared European Capital of Culture. The city wanted La Friche to sign a long lease of 45 years, which can only be done by a corporate entity. So we founded this cooperative society, which now has a lot freedom in deciding how to use the space. This way, we can experiment with new possibilities and plan long-term projects for the resident artists.”
Fostering transitional urbanism and temporary spaces
So it was only natural that La Friche la Belle de Mai was selected as a case study for T-Factor, a project launched in June 2020, funded by the European Horizon 2020 program. Other venues under observation include Dortmunder U in Dortmund, Germany, Knowledge Quarter King’s Cross in London, 22@Poblenou in Barcelona, Manifattura Tabacchi in Florence, EC1 in Lodz, Poland, Industry City in New York, and Red Town in Shanghai. The project’s main objective is to understand and analyze how these transitional and temporary “meanwhile spaces” have catalyzed urban regeneration, but it also intends to disseminate these initiatives throughout Europe.
“T-Factor challenges the waiting time in urban regeneration—the time that elapses between the moment a master plan is adopted and its effective implementation. It shows how culture, creative collaboration and widespread involvement can create dynamic and inclusive centers for urban regeneration, as well as social and economic innovation,” comments the Waag Society, the Dutch medialab in charge of coordinating the Amsterdam Science Park, one of the local pilot spaces under observation by T-Factor.
Coalition of players from around the world
Behind this ambitious project is a coalition of 25 organizations—universities, communities, private and public actors—in 12 different countries, united in their efforts to define and deploy tools to stimulate urban regeneration.
“There are 25 partners at the table, and they represent several different types of players—different in terms of funding, operating in different fields, universities, laboratories, private agencies…” Riccio explains. “The 25 partners are involved in various workgroups. La Friche, for example, as an advanced case, was placed in a laboratory along with University of the Arts London and Nova University Lisbon, to work on artistic and creative regeneration. But T-Factor also has laboratories on citizen intelligence, climate change, social and solidarity economy, inclusiveness… We meet regularly, and the whole project is directed by the conservation agency, the critical mind behind these laboratories. They monitor and coordinate the coalition, relaying the collected data to other laboratories in charge of implementing these tools on the other pilot sites.”
Pilot projects: direct applications of the T-Factor model
T-Factor pilot projects are temporary spaces that are more or less developed, in which the team will implement certain tools and models of management, programming and deployment observed in the advanced cases.
“There’s the reclaimed industrial district of Zorrotzaurre in Bilbao; Mind (Milano Innovation District), the former site of the 2015 World Expo; the transformation of Trafaria village near Lisbon into an art hub; the Amsterdam Science Park; Aleksotas in Kaunas, the site of a military base; the former train station of Euston in London,” Riccio continues. “They’re not all progressing at the same speed, but many project sites are already in motion, like in Milan. Some are just beginning to join this common thinking. The idea behind T-Factor is to see how these spaces for urban regeneration are developing in Europe, how we can optimize the time between thinking and finding a function for a space.”
Spotlight on the Amsterdam Science Park
The urban transformation of the Amsterdam Science Park is overseen by the University of Amsterdam, Dutch National Research Organisation (NWO) and the municipality of Amsterdam, where T-Factor activities are coordinated by Waag. This pilot site is particularly ambitious for its intersectional reach, covering environmental, scientific, human and urban issues.
The Waag team explains: “The Amsterdam Science Park pilot project will be developed in collaboration with local communities within an urban ecology. It will be structured into a series of thematic expeditions, which will explore various aspects of the city as a living space. Participants in each expedition will include artists, scientists and citizens pooling together different perspectives and knowledge of the environment. In this way, we will explore their values associated with ‘liveliness’ as alternatives to the traditional values of urban development.”
The project also fully embodies T-Factor’s primary objective to respond directly to contemporary societal and ecological issues. “Our pilot project is directly oriented toward outdoor green space as a primary site for well-being and social cohesiveness. It questions the relationships between human and non-human beings that define our present, in the context of a global pandemic caused by a zoonosis,” says Waag.
T-Factor and the New European Bauhaus
Finally, T-Factor responds to the prerogatives of the New European Bauhaus as imagined by the European Commission. According to the statement delivered in October 2020 by its president, Ursula Von der Leyden, this New European Bauhaus convenes “a space of encounter to design future ways of living, situated at the crossroads between art, culture, social inclusion, science and technology” to improve the daily lives of citizens. Indeed, T-Factor channels the original avant-garde movement from 1919 that combined esthetics with functionality, while considering new perspectives on our changing climate and evolving health issues.
“T-Factor corresponds to the New Bauhaus concept, because our action of temporary urbanism is a concrete local manifestation in several European cities, which is also in line with long-term visions such as the Green New Deal,” says Karim Asry, creative director of Espacio Open in Bilbao, another coalition partner.
“T-Factor channels the Bauhaus approach by bringing design and artistic practices together on shared platforms, where resources are directed toward common objectives related to social engagement, co-creation and collaboration,” concludes Mick Finch, professor of visual arts at the University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins.
More information on T-Factor