No one can predict what the future will bring, but one thing is certain: more of the same is no longer a sensible option. How do we keep the city productive, but do we better align society and individual, production and consumption, resources and raw materials, use of space and territory? How do we simultaneously play in spatial design on the transitions that continue to change the world radically and continuously? Climate change, global urbanization, the emergence of new technologies, growing migration flows and increasing inequality are crying out for solutions and were addressed by IABR 2016 – The Next Economy. The exhibition presented a range of possible futures for, amongst others, new residential and work locations, new clean energy systems, new models for area development, new forms of cooperation, health care and solidarity.

For this edition, 51N4E was associated both as architect for the exhibition design and as co-curator. This stimulating position prompted the office to support the temporary occupation of the former coffee bean warehouse where the exhibition was held with a low-threshold design using simple construction in wood and steel. This scenography was organized around a grid of tables, occasionally interrupted by specific devices offering dialogue settings. Those two types of elements served the ambition to make the biennial a place for exhibiting, but also a workplace that examines the changing role of design and provides space for reflection, debate and exchange, for conferences and workshops. The tables focused each time on a given project or topic, presenting forward thinking cases connected to the idea of the next economy, while some were left empty, as an open ended invitation to hold workshops or informal discussions. This staging of content and knowledge production as an ongoing, incremental process turned the exhibition into an atelier space: not just place of consumption of knowledge, but also a place to actively work on the future and help the next economy to actually come about. Parallel to this, the debate settings of different scales allowed a dense program of collective discussions to take place during the biennial, in an inviting way, thanks to the open plan of the scenography which offered an unobstructed sight and multiple points of view on the activities held in those spaces.

This scenography thus supported the reflection on the question of the next economy by offering a flexible space for learning, reflecting, sharing, a space stimulating the feeling of involvement of the visitors and allowing everyone to engage with the content in their own way. This ambition allowed to make the space and time of the biennial into a temporary place for the transmission and production of knowledge on a suitable future economy and on the way the city can contribute to it: a place where imagination –a crucial, future-shaping element –was stimulated.

exhibition and debate environment
urban reality
the exhibition venue: a former coffee bean warehouse in the Rotterdam harbour
virtual reality introduction
main debate space