Yesterday’s panel discussion and opening

Last night we held a very lively panel discussion and opening of the Fantastical Investments exhibition at Droog Amsterdam. The exhibition is on view at Droog Amsterdam until October 2nd, 2011. Stay tuned for more photos and video clips of the discussion.

Fantastical Investments

by Renny Ramakers

This Thursday, September 22nd we will present the outcome of the Droog Lab project that investigated the habits of Russian consumers at Droog in Amsterdam. A presentation will follow in Moscow in 2012 in partnership with Strelka Institute of Media, Architecture and Design. As in all our Droog Lab projects, the outcome will be accompanied with a debate.

Our Lab projects start with my intuitive observations. In New York I was struck by the service economy, and in Russia, I was struck with consumer behaviour.

We all know that that Russia has a rich tradition in literature. In 1987, when I took a train to the countryside outside of Moscow, farmers were sitting around me with buckets of potatoes that they were taking to sell on the city markets. They were totally absorbed by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. In supermarkets and kiosks, classics and popular fiction books sit next to each other, as convenient items to be consumed on the go. I wondered how this addiction to reading could be reconciled with their lavish consumption—their love of diamonds and gold. Is there something to be learned from this paradoxical culture?

This was the brief to the team led by Daniel van der Velden (Metahaven). During their research in Moscow they discovered that these seemingly conflicting ways of consuming can be reduced to passion—to their love for fiction and fantasy as forms of escapism. This need for escapism emerged from a context of institutional mistrust. Since money is said to be dust, something not worth saving, it is better to spend it on more reliable things. We then realized spending on fiction and durable goods should be seen as an investment. A classic example is golden teeth, and another striking example we heard about was about a guy who bought two Porsches—one to drive in, the other one for spare parts.

The thought that acquiring durable goods can be a survival strategy made me think about our notion of the aesthetics of sustainability. If goods are durable why do they have to look so austere? We seem to think that there is a connection between “saving the environment” and an aesthetic that is bare and grey. We seem to think that sustainability is austerity, it is moderation, it is consuming less. If products are designed as an investment for one’s lifetime, there is no need to our pre-conceived notions of sustainable aesthetics. One of the outcomes of our project is a carpet with a pattern that changes as you get older and your taste and needs change. You buy it once in your lifetime. Another design shows screws that are made of 24-carat gold. Hidden in your furniture, they provide security if times get worse.

On September 22nd these principles will be presented with an imaginary brand, Fantastical Investments. The brand connects notions of survival and escapism with fiction and fantasy. Fiction is survival, story is shelter and celebration is memory.

In conversation with our team, Olga Kuzina, a Russian sociologist and economist pointed out that “in the world of rising uncertainty and institutional instability Russia may be considered as a looking glass that for the last 20 years has been offering the Western countries the reflection of the coming future.” In Russia the post-institutional era has begun, whereas we are just starting to mistrust the institutions. I would add that Russia also leads the way to a different vision on the aesthetics of sustainability, the creation of products that last a lifetime, products that will not be thrown away after a few years, products that can be seen as an investment in our insecure times.

press release: Fantastical Investments

Fantastical Investments—the outcome of Droog Lab’s study of consumption habits in Russia—is an imaginary luxury brand. By Droog with Metahaven, Fantastical Investments will be presented on Thursday, September 22nd with a panel discussion and exhibition at Droog Amsterdam. Unveiling a collection of nine products, the brand will act as a vehicle for discussion on the co-existence of fiction and survival in a new vision on luxury.

“Russians have a deeply engrained reading culture; one can find literary classics in any supermarket. At the same time, they are known for their lavish spending on luxury goods. Our intention was to understand the relationship between these apparent contradictions in developing a new model of consumption inspired by Russia,” says Renny Ramakers, co-founder and director of Droog, and initiator of the project. As part of the Strelka 2010 summer program, the Droog Lab design team led by Daniel van der Velden discovered that many consumption patterns in Russia emerged from a context of institutional mistrust. “Western countries have often been perceived as an example of the future towards which Russia is moving to. However, in the world of rising uncertainty and institutional instability Russia may be considered as a looking glass that for the last 20 years has been offering the Western countries the reflection of this coming future,” stated sociologist and economist Olga Kuzina in conversation with the team.

The team observed that acquiring durable goods can be a survival strategy, akin to hoarding or investing in gold, and that consuming fiction and feeding the imagination is equally critical to one’s capacity to thrive. These principles formulated the Fantastical Investments luxury brand proposition, inspired by Russia but aiming for more universal impact.

“Fantastical Investments brings together imagination, luxury and survival, anticipating a gradual dissipation of the 20th century institutional backup for civil life,” says Daniel van der Velden. The brand “thrives on some of the darkest sentiments currently around in Western culture, but gives them a positive turn.”

Download the full release here.

Invitation: Fantastical Investments

fantastical investments by droog with metahaven

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
Droog Amsterdam

We invite you to the opening of the exhibition Fantastical Investments by Droog with Metahaven. The imaginary brand, Fi, is the outcome of Droog Lab’s study of consumption habits in Russia in partnership with Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design.
exhibition opening: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

We also invite you to the panel discussion moderated by Farid Tabarki, with Renny Ramakers (Droog), Daniel van der Velden (Metahaven), Olga Kuzina (economist and sociologist, Russia), Sjeng Scheijen (specialist in Russian culture, Leiden University) and Agata Jaworska (Droog).
panel: 4:00 – 6:00 pm

RSVP by Sept 20 [email protected]
(required only for panel)

exhibition on view until October 2nd
Tues – Sat 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sun 12:00 – 5:00 pm

twitter hashtag #Fi

Partner: Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design
Supported by: Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and City of Amsterdam

Open house: what a concept

by Renny Ramakers

In Suburbia: What a Concept published by the Opinionator of New York Times, Allison Arieff is certainly right when she says: “Addressing suburban ills requires massive change to systems, to finance, to transportation and infrastructure, and perhaps most challenging, to a culture deeply wedded to suburbia as emblematic of the American Dream.”

Most ills in this world (and we know there isn’t a shortage of them) require massive change on systematic and ideological levels. Indeed, it is a capacity—and many say, a responsibility—of design to address the many pressing problems facing the world today.

But is this the only role for design? Is design solely a form of crisis management and problem solving? Or can design also offer a different perspective on a problem, without having the aim of solving the problem entirely?

Service exchange in the suburbs

Our inspiration came from New York City’s service economy. In collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, we realized this system does not only create jobs and encourage social encounters, but also plays a psychological role for the service providers, in stimulating them discover something they are good at. We saw that the habit of outsourcing all kinds of life tasks by people in New York encourages others to invent their own professions.

We also noticed that many service providers we met created their profession with little investment and new infrastructure. Dany the trainer visited the homes of his clients to do training on their floor, Joshua the psychic held his practice in his home and Brian the dog walker only needed leashes and trust. It turns out that starting your own profession is possible with little or no capital.

photo by James Morris

We thought these dynamics had broader potential. Entering the suburbs, we did not intend to resolve the issues it faces, but rather to explore what value personal service exchanges might offer to suburbia.

We see Open House as a movement in which homeowners consider home business as a viable way to create a new role for themselves, which also increases interaction with neighbors, and possibly supplements one’s primary income. The one day event offered ideas and illustrated potential outcomes—some more realistic and some more speculative (or even fictional) than others. As a tool to help people discover their inner service providers, the event served to provoke visitors and participants to think for themselves about what might be useful for them as a business. We didn’t expect that the homeowners participating in the event would open up a business overnight.

Many services we encountered during our research in Manhattan appeared to be absurd at first glance (think of hiring someone to follow your spouse because you are suspicious of misbehavior, hiring someone to cut up your sofa so you can get it up your stairs, or signing up for a service to do yoga with your dog). The service economy has shown that what might start off as a strange business proposition, often turns out to address people’s actual needs and transforms into a serious business.

photo by Naho Kubota

That’s what seemed to have happened at Open House #6: Attention Clinic by Claudia Linders. Though its inspiration, the Monty Python Argument Clinic of 1978, is more comical in its intent, the one-day Attention Clinic at 39 Old Oak Lane turned out to be surprisingly real for homeowner Polly Dwyer: “When you are 82 years old, people often ignore you because they think you don’t know anything. I was thrilled to find out people wanted advice from me. It turned out I had a lot of life experience that I could call upon and it wasn’t so difficult for me to do so. I wasn’t expecting this at all.” Though Polly does not plan to pursue the Attention Clinic (she has her plate full curating Levittown Museum and taking care of her husband), her participation in the one day event revealed a hidden capacity she hadn’t considered before.

open house nr 5 photo by Spencer Lapp
photo by Spencer Lapp

A less unusual but equally earnest proposal was Open House #5: PS72 Porch-Side Lessons by Austin + Mergold with Spencer Lapp. PS72 was a teaching facility hosted at 72 Knoll Lane by Phyllis Dalton, a teacher and school principal who has been out of a teaching position for a few years. Designer Jason Austin explains: “Phyllis asked us to give her back her classroom. It was obvious to us that she had a lot of talent, but she seemed not to be able to market herself and her talent. The architecture became a platform for her service. We wanted it to support and display her talents and presence within the neighborhood.” Adopting a suburban vernacular, the materials for PS72 came primarily from Home Depot, including off-the-shelf plywood and lumber, lawn-mower wheels, plastic tarps and the American flag—an off-the-shelf garden accessory. The designers also adopted an institutionalized aesthetic to make the experience reminiscent of elementary school. “All aspects of the project were about developing infrastructure that was familiar and accessible to the suburban community.”

We also spoke with Phyllis after the event: “Once a teacher always a teacher,” she said. “I enjoyed passing on something that was not academic to people. I was able to use the teaching skills I had from my career for something that I was more passionate about.” Teaching the visitors two personal hobbies (collecting Hummels and making photo books), the 15-minute school session offered visitors a classroom experience, complete with a miniaturized version of a gymnasium, a library, a graduation ceremony and class photos.

photo by Austin + Mergold

The bigger issues

A few keen early-adopting homeowners with new business concepts are not enough to start the Open House movement. There are bigger issues to tackle, like outdated suburban regulations, and other issues rightfully raised by Arieff, including finance, transportation and infrastructure. The ninth house on the Open House tour addressed some of the broader implications of the Open House proposition.

photo by Naho Kubota

image by EFGH

In what was deemed the neighborhood showroom, Future Open Houses by EFGH (Hayley Eber & Frank Gesualdi) with Irina Chernyakova challenged existing rules of the suburbs and visualized the potential outcome of a bottom-up service economy on six blocks of Levittown. Regulatory modifications were proposed, including the possibility to convert private property (for example driveways) into public right-of-way (in for example, an drive-through service for sales or rentals), joint-use easements for two or more property owners to share a common feature (such as a mini storage facility or performance space built between two homes) or the modification of a occupancy group classification for the setting up of a public amenity (like a public theater, for instance). This house also presented sample floor plans of houses modified to host public services such as an art gallery, a love hotel, or a dog-sitting business.

art gallery by Droog

Art gallery

love hotel by Droog

Love hotel

Next steps

We see the event as a model for a future suburbia, which is not the model to solve all possible problems facing the suburbs. It is just a model to revive—to get more life—into suburbia.

The one day event was the first phase of the project. We are currently working on a publication which will deepen our insights, including those raised from these discussions.

In our work, we approach many serious topics, such as the rise in single living, sustainability, the increasing pace of life and the economic crisis in a playful way. We want to continue to generate debate by presenting models and possible scenarios with a light-hearted spirit. We are glad the debate has started.



Sample floor plans

Homeowners could adapt their existing homes to incorporate a service that is open to the public. Here are some examples which were presented by Charles Renfro at the Open house symposium on Saturday, April 23rd.

Extended living and dining rooms.

An art gallery.

A public library.

An extension for bed time stories.

A love hotel.

Dog sitting and backyard walking.

For more information, visit


Anything can be a service

And anyone can become a service provider. Here are some of the service providers the team met with during the research phase of the Open house project, ranging from image consultants and luv coaches to a service that cuts and reassembles your sofa if it doesn’t fit going up your stairwell.

Read the original project brief and see the full list of service providers who shared insights with the team here.


The symposium

Studio-X New York hosted the Open house symposium on Saturday, April 23rd, which was fully booked.

Co-founder and director of Droog, Renny Ramakers presented the goals of Droog Lab’s series of projects, each inspired by a different location.

Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro presented an overview of the design process and potential outcomes for Open house.

Mark Wasiuta presented an overview of suburban developments.

Economist Heleen Mees talked about the benefits of a service economy, comparing the situation in New York to that of Amsterdam.

Author Roo Rogers discussed the rising trend in collaborative consumption.

Artist Mary Ellen Carroll discussed her experience in working in suburban areas, including her project prototype 180.


Under construction

On Friday, April 22nd we went by the houses to see work in progress.

Open house #7: House of Signs

Open house #1: House Dress: not quite the same without the curtain.

Open house #5: PS 72: a preview of the lesson on photo book making.


Meet the homeowners

Meet the homeowners who participated in the Open house event on Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 in Levittown, New York. Thank you to each of you!

Lisa and Rich Santer of Open house #1

Anita Thompson of Open house #2

Lisa and Leo Vanderberg of Open house #3

Dawn Occhiogrosso and her daugher, Breannan of Open house #4

Phyllis Dalton of Open house #5

Polly and Bill Dwyer of Open house #6

Jim Hudak of Open house #7

Ann Torcivia of Open house #8 (Ann is also the homeowner coordinator)

Jose & Carina Barsallo of Future open houses (the showroom)