For the last 30 years, street furniture and outdoor advertising have defined the grammar of our cities. In Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP), cities award long-term licenses for advertising in public space in relation to the partly necessary urban furniture and their maintenance (bus stops, public bathrooms, benches, trash bins, signposts, etc.). The business model is dominated by the few large, globally oriented companies with profits running into billions. For instance, for years Berlin has been “supplied” by the Wall AG – part of the international JCDecaux group as the number one outdoor advertiser worldwide since 2009 (with a turnover in 2014 of 2,8 billion euros in more than 60 countries with 11.900 employees).

Refined design, as the perfectly marketable scenery for customers, is an international standard here. Whether in Rome, Istanbul, St. Louis or Berlin, the feel is identical, without local identity, geared at lifestyle and current design trends.

The project ‘Hacking Urban Furniture’ aims to investigate this line of business that determines the public space of our cities, and programme it anew through artistic experiments. The project sees itself as the starting point of a long-term examination with the objective to not just raise awareness on the side of urban planning and politics but also realize actual changes in future tenders and interdependencies.

Reclaim your urban living space

The growing desire of citizens to be engaged more strongly in the formation of their public spaces and infrastructures manifests in various ways: the wish for the remunicipalisation of public services has, through public petitions, already become reality in Berlin (water in 2011, electricity in 2013) and other cities. On the level of neighbourhoods, citizens have by now acquired a broader, tolerated responsibility (tree sponsorships, benches at trees, parking day, etc.). Since 1989, the citizens of Porto Alegre decide on fundamental parts of budgetary resources, according to the notion of ‘ Orçamento participativo’ (Participatory Budgeting). The idea of so-called ‘citizen budgets’ has also made its way to several German districts and towns (in the district of Berlin-Lichtenberg since 2006).

What economic and creative participation models for urban furniture could look like, is to be considered within the context of Hacking Urban Furniture’s artistic practices, idea contest and public programme.

Key questions:

● Can artists/activists/designers develop street furniture (concepts), which create new functional relationships and fundamentally expand the existing business model to benefit the common good?

● Can public advertising and street furniture from non-profit organizations make public space more sustainable (than that from profit-oriented companies), by directing the profits from advertising back into urban and social infrastructure?

● Which social functions and possibilities for participation and expression are thinkable for sections of the wider public with regard to the expansion of the existing business model? How can the urban public’s obviously wide demand for more individual expression and local assumption of responsibility be met in a way that benefits everyone?

● Can public-private partnerships (PPP) become communal-collective cooperations (CCC)? Which societal benefits could arise out of this shift (i.e. “city yield”)? Could new social groups arise, which have a new feeling of responsibility?

● Which functional expansions of street furniture make sense? Which social design tools are available to achieve these ends? And which new models of solidarity are possible on a local level between various user groups?

● How can street furniture’s design be individual and local, adapted to its specific location both aesthetically and functionally, without limiting its efficiency too much?

● How are societal changes reflected in the production of street furniture? What’s different today? Can dynamic and broad-based participation through individualized production be made possible with today’s technology (i.e. with 3D printers, open source technology, etc.) ?


Hacking Urban Furniture aims to be an internationally pioneering project: Artists, architects, researchers and urban creators work closely together with an expert advisory board in interdisciplinary exchange, to analyse the parameters of urban furniture and outdoor advertising and programme them anew. There is a special focus on the economic aspects of urban furniture. How can issues such as creation, production, safety and maintenance be questioned in open participatory formats, local production workshops, and corresponding identification and care by citizens, and make public advertising obsolete? If outdoor advertising cannot be waived altogether, its incomes should lead to a sensible grammar of urban furniture, with added value for society and innovative, contemporary formations for our built environment. Berlin appears to be destined for such a pilot project, with its heterogeneous structure and its urban community that is becoming more and more active in terms of participation and appropriation.

In the competition of metropoles, Berlin’s urban space becomes the stage of a global discourse, which describes a new practice for our urban environment through new artistic concepts, from experiments to prototypes that act as a worldwide model.

The international open single-phase idea contest ‘Hacking Urban Furniture – Urban Furniture in Communal-Collective-Cooperation’ is looking for new forms, meanings and concepts of urban furniture. The focus here is on substantial conceptions of new economic models, functional expansions and civil-societal participation. Mere questions of design are not at the core of this contest; rather, it is about the collaboration of society, public function and formal solution.

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