UNLEASH an Implosion-Explosion of talent

Superkilen, Copenhagen. Image Courtesy — Iwan Baan, Archdaily

In exactly a week from now, I will be headed to Copenhagen to join a thousand other talents belonging to over 130 nationalities from around the world at the UNLEASH Lab 2017. We will ideate and on solutions for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and work on global challenges.

Being and architect and planner I am inclined to look at the event from a built environment perspective. While the UNLEASH Lab in Copenhagen provides a platform to us change makers from around the world like many similar conferences and events, what is unique about it is its sheer scale and the way it has been structured. If you add UNLEASH’s staff, volunteers and mentors to the thousand participants it intends at hosting, the total participation for this event is bound to exceed 2500. I am really excited to see what such an implosion of global talent can mean for the cities that will be hosting us. Copenhagen with 500,000 people and Aarhus with 250,000 people will have one in every two hundred people and one in every hundred people directly associated with the event.

Cover of ‘Triumph of the City’ Ed Glaser (2011)

Ed Glaser in his 2011 book ‘The Triumph of the City’ talks about how great cities through the history have come about through a concentration of talent. He discusses the evolution of New York to elaborate this case. Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid in their book ‘Implosion Explosion’ develop this analogy further borrowing the term ‘Implosion Explosion’ from the language of nuclear physics to describe the phenomenon. The shear concentration that the UNLEASH Lab will bring for a short but intense period in Copenhagen and Aarhus would be followed by an explosion of talent across the world who will be the charged and empowered torch bearers of solutions for the cause of SDGs. Although this eventual exchange that will stretch across the world is bound to live through the internet and communication networks, it is bound to have effect on the built environment that the talents create through their projects in their home countries and beyond.

Both Copenhagen and Aarhus have been laboratories of innovation and development in built environment and public spaces. Local architecture offices such as the BIG Architecture Studio have inspired a new generation of architects, designers and planners from over the world on how buildings can become more than containers and how they can turn into ‘social projects’ or motherboards for social development.

8-house by BIG Architecture Studio, Courtesy — Phaidon

Experiments in public space such as ‘Superkilen’ have dared to face pressing social challenges such as integration of migrants and refugees and social disintegration through inducing simple but flamboyant interventions on the peripheries of Copenhagen. Visiting sites such as these and engaging with innovators who are creating these are sure to inspire the talents and produce offshoots.

The Burning Man Festival in Nevada Desert, Courtesy — Business Insider

The character of such events, whereby a very large number of people come together and disperse eventually, has been documented as ‘Ephemeral Urbanism’ by Professor Rahul Mehrotra from the Harvard GSD. Through this phenomenon, Rahul eludes to a city within a city or even sometimes a city in itself coming up and eventually dispersing keeping the sense of place intact as a memory as against something that is a physical entity.

He eludes to the Maha Kumbh Mela in India and the Burning Man festival in Nevada Desert to present these sites of constant flux. It will be fascinating to track UNLEASH beyond Copenhagen as the talents carry back the learnings not only from each other but also from the cities of Denmark to their home countries and possibly reconvene in other locations around the world.

About the Author

Nitin Bathla is an Architect, Planner and Curator working on a variety of social themes in India. He managed the Urban Age Award 2014 in Delhi and UrbanXchanger. He has worked extensively in policy advocacy and research and will be starting his PhD at ETH, Zurich this fall. Here is a link to some of his work