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Soft City Forum

The Soft City Forum will take Beijing and Baitasi as a lens to interrogate “soft” approaches to design.

Soft systems – soft technology, soft organization, soft infrastructure, soft interface, soft space, soft power – offer an alternative to more rigid, top-down approaches to design and interactions in the city. They emphasize flexibility, responsiveness, and reconfigurability at many scales, from micro-level community interactions to alternative forms of urban planning. Engaging anthropological approaches, ecological thinking, adaptive systems and performative practice, soft systems blur the boundaries between the material, technological, economic, and social worlds.
Beijing is both hard and soft. It is marked by extensive physical infrastructure – ring roads, megablocks, and institutional edifices, and yet it also supports a host of informal, nomadic, spontaneous systems. These include everything from mobile food carts, Wechat payment nodes and migrant practices, to the atmospherics of air pollution and data collection. Nowhere this is more evident than in hutong areas such as Baitasi, where complex entanglements of historic infrastructure, social and cultural networks, as well as mobile technologies overlap with unexpected, often innovative results.

The first forum topic is Soft Space. In today’s cities, rampant housing prices coexist with empty office towers and new roads are built alongside defunct infrastructure. Spatial speculation takes place in the financial sector as well as among activists, artists and communities. This panel will present different approaches to space – public or private, indoor or outdoor – that challenge notions of ownership, authenticity and location.

The second topic is Soft Infrastructure. Hard and soft infrastructures are increasingly inscribed into the planet, making new and uncertain affiliations with social, ecological and technological systems. This panel will consider the “softening” of infrastructure, exploring the manner in which it is transforming the experience of the city, and its potential to be mobilized to achieve a more flexible, equitable and resilient urban fabric.

Institute for Provocation

Embassy of the Netherlands; Embassy of Sweden (sponsors)

Max Gerthel and Jordan Kanter (curators)
Lard Buurman – NL; 曹璞 Cao Pu, 荆晶 Jing Jing – CN/SE; Gustav Hellberg – SE; Hanna Husberg – FI/SE; 盛强 Sheng Qiang, Nicola Saladino/reMIX Studio – IT/CN; 李栋 Li Dong, Victoria Nguyen – CA (participants)

Sept. 28th

The Global School /
Marketplace /
52 Gongmenkou Dongcha

Institute for Provocation