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Uncovering the Experiential City

BLOG POST • March 22, 2018

Experience Design / By Matt Checkowski

We think a lot about what makes for a compelling and inspiring “experience”, so when OffGrid asked us to come out to New Zealand for a conversation about the future of cities, we were all in. Here are some takeaways from a truly inspiring two days that turned the city streets of Wellington (and Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne) into a venue for dialog, critical thinking, design and creativity.

Rethinking the Experience
One of the most dynamic parts of OffGrid was how it reimagined the traditional conference format by bringing the experience out into the city. Speakers and workshops were spread around town, placed at venues that helped provoke the topic of conversation (Wellington Zoo, City Museum, the best bakery in town,) with attendees encouraged to navigate and explore the city while en route to the next talk. This not only got everyone thinking about what makes for a meaningful urban experience, but put their feet into it and made for a great way to meet new people and continue the conversation.

OffGrid did a great job organizing and encouraging a cohesive conversation around a topic as complicated as a city. The multi-faceted speakers all brought their own insights around the core topics of branding, people, culture and storytelling in the city, but the high-level mission for both speakers and attendees was to collectively define what it means to be an experiential city. That came to life through a mix of talks, workshops, tours, concerts and panels that blurred the lines between presentation, conversation and participation.

Justin Lester, Mayor of Wellington

Sean Perkins, North (London) brand design legends

Louise Vogel Kielgast, Gehl (Copenhagen) cities for people

Susan Mavor, Public (Vancouver) exhibition design

Johnson Witehira (New Zealand) Maori Designer and Artist

Nick Kapica, Design Lead, Wellington City Council

Storytelling in the City
I focused my talk around storytelling’s role in creating a sense of place. It was a wide ranging conversation around the topic, but I explored the role of envisioning new realities through science fiction, bringing history and heritage to the foreground of urban experiences, and using non-fiction and documentary filmmaking approaches to put people at the center of the urban design process. That line of thinking was extended on a panel I moderated, where we discussed how the stories and perspectives of first nation peoples (in NZ and Vancouver) shapes the built environment, our ongoing relationship with it, and how new technologies could help strengthen that bond.

City of Wellington engaging its citizens in the future of place. (Photog unknown)

Espresso. Breakfast. Dinner. Drinks. Turbocharger.

Thanks to Nick Kapica and his team in Wellington. Keep an eye on this conference in coming years, it’s truly something special. And keep an eye on the inspiring work they’re doing with the City of Wellington to bring its citizens into the civic conversation.

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