Prototyping Vladivostok

Prototyping Vladivostok


Unsworn Industries partook in City Cult Vladivostok, an intensive four-day session on prototyping interventions in public space in the ex-military port-town of Vladivostok in Far East Russia.

Preparing the public?

The Russan Ministry of Culture has decided to build a major cultural house on Russky Island outside of Vladivostok. They invited Unsworn-Erik, Metro-Mimi, and Rummkamerad-Rune to “prepare the public”. Not overly enthusiastic about this top-down approach and the idea of isolating culture in a bubble on an island only reachable by car, we saw this as an opportunity to work with 15-20 young Vladivostokians (architects, artists, writers, designers, teachers), boosting their capacity to instigate cultural actions in the city space.

Thursday: Talking and walkings

The first day saw lectures on public art and interventions by Erik, Mimi, and Rune as well as Liliya Voronkova and Oleg Pachenko from Centre for Independent Social Research in St. Petersburg. The goal was to create a shared repertoire of examples, concepts, and methods for the upcoming workshops. Then followed a long walk where the participants guided us foreigners around the city to, what they considered, problematic, successful, or extraordinary places. The participants were eager to change things but many hesitated in taking the first steps: “It’s so hard to get permission to do anything here”, “It’s the government’s fault”, etc. The situation called for a crash-course in design-optimism.

Friday: Searching for Bounty

After a necessary introduction in in concept development by Rune and Mimi (“the da-phase”) today was dedicated to playing with and in the city by creating Urban Treasure Hunts. A treasure hunt is a series of clues hidden in the city. Each clue points to the next, taking the treasure hunters on an unpredicable tour of the city. At its best, participating in an Urban Treasure Hunt can turn you into a tourist in your own city.

Friday night: Golden Cinema

In Vladivostokian time there is a BS and an AS – Before Summit and After Summit. After decades of neglecting public infrastructure there was a sudden surge of activity to don the city for the 2012 APEC Summit. Two huge landmark bridges were built, the University was consolidated and promptly moved to Russky Island.

In the forgotten shade of the new Golden Horn Bridge we organised a one-night screening of rapidly edited videos from the day’s treasure hunts, projecting on one of the pylons. Beer in hand, enjoying the temporary cinema in the chilly pacific wind, a sense of “anything is possible” loomed. Hey, if those foreigners could do this after one day in town what couldn’t we accomplish?

Saturday: Observere, ideate, prototype


The third day was dedicated to feeling, bending, and cooking action spaces – those assemblages of humans and non-humans that quietly order us about in our everyday lives. Today’s first dish, Slowly Steamed Svetlanskaya, was simple: “Walk along Svetlanskaya, from the Main Square to the Admirality Public Garden. This normally takes 3 minutes. Do the walk in 30 minutes”. Changing just one parameter (tempo, in this case) new uses and experiences of the city can emerge. You should try it yourself – it is surprisingly mindboggling!

Participants then worked in groups, selecting four different locations to design in/with/for. After observing uses of a space their task was to amplify, invert, or pervert a key usage pattern. Fresh eyes and dirty hands!

A very long, but rewarding, Saturday ended with a public debriefing and evaluation. Heartwarming accounts from some of the participants made me certain that the days had not been wasted.

To wrap things up properly Mr. Stas offered a Russian Style Japanese tea ceremony conducted with blade cutters in his vintage vinyl club/workshop/lair.

Sunday: Scandinavian Consulting

To help the participants the new tools to their own ideas and projects they could set up appointments with the (by now slightly exhausted) Scandinavians for informal consultations on questions and dilemmas they were facing. I’m happy to reveal that, if all goes well, the future of Vladivostok will hold everything from custom mailboxes for hand-written letters to grand tiger museums.

Now what?

As usual, the long term effects of our brief engagement with Vladivostok remains to be seen. My hopes are that part of the motley group that was formed for City Cult will continue to collaborate and that we have managed to shorten the mental distance from thought to action among the participants.


Big thanks to Liliya, Oleg, Dasha, Stas, and all the amazing participants for your generosity, craftiness, and daredevil attitudes!