Critical Design and Urban Spaces, Onassis Cultural Centre

Strange Telemetry were invited by the Onassis Cultural Centre to give a 2-day workshop on critical design and urban spaces in Athens as part of the Tomorrows exhibition.


Critical approaches to urban futures have a long history. Current ‘smart city’ futures tend to centre new technological systems to sell promises of a better, cleaner, more orderly ways of life, intently avoiding historical context, culture, politics, or people. In this workshop, we worked with the political history and cultural of Athens as resource and point of inspiration to introduce critical and speculative design as a tool for unpacking and challenging dominant narratives around urban futures and technologies. 

On the first day, we mapped out the city based on our participants’ personal experiences of Athens’ institutions, physical geography and the built environment. Exarcheia, the Acropolis, refugee camps, and the Greek Parliament all found their way onto the map. Using our Poker Card deck, we provoked participants into thinking about how possible social, economic, environment, political and technological shifts might specifically play out in the Athenian landscape. Speculative scenarios included Acropolis and surrounding hills being repurposed as a site of rogue geo-engineering; and a circular vegan economy built around mushroom leather, as borders close.


In day two, we drew on critical design approaches to examine and unbundle the qualities and affordances of material artefacts found in Athens – public artworks, a dancing Coke-can, a pregnant Barbie doll – in order to build new worlds and contexts for them. These included: the man (can?)-hunt for an Internet of Things widget gone rogue and murderous; feminist uprisings in the factories of on-demand pleasure robots; and underground emotive rituals in a utopian world which had done away with suffering. 

The workshop took place in the Diplareios School where Tomorrows was held (in which Tobias was also showing his work, New Mumbai). Between the exhibition and the Michael Landy ‘Breaking News’ show upstairs, this was a great space to crack open discussions about critical readings of urban futures and the importance of place. The disembodied and eerie purple light of !Mediengruppe Bitnik's Ashley Madison  also acted as setting for several of our group’s final performances.