Creating a Culture of Production


We were invited to contribute to Arup’s pop-up studio as part of Birmingham Design Festival and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce’s Future programme. Building on the long terms strategies and impact of STEAMhouse and Knowledge Hub projects, Co.LAB has been developing a culture of production for the city, centred on making and industry.

A short presentation broke down the key themes (and common) mottos that are banded around when describing the city. Current headlines are dominated by aspects of grand corporate mobility; from HS2, financial headquarters and Commonwealth Games. It sees the city as a space of flows –  the city is seen as a process rather than a place that has identity or history.

But the rapid urban change needs an interrogation of what our city means. Here, I unpack the soundbites:


Forward – the notion of progress but at what cost, and in what areas. When we launched Birmingham production space, we talked about, the reimagining the artist + engineer. Who are these stakeholders (of the city)? Technology has moved away from the Victorian idea of who an inventor is – just look at creative industry and revolution 4.0 – Technology that encourages mass customization. This affects how housing, culture, entertainment and wellbeing is applied to our daily lives;


1000 Trades, workshop to the world – it is about understanding the culture of making – not just heritage of making. The spectacular growth of the city came through the uncontrolled migration of communities and to small family run workshops. They did not base growth on ingenious technology, but advancements in application and establishing efficient processes and networks to create new specialisms. Their power was in their collective opportunities and entrepreneurialism;


Youngest City – its not a statistic but a body of people to engage with. Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 37% of the population under 25. This sounds like a positive. But need further interrogation to understand what this means: Brum Youth Trend report 2018, shows that 62.5% (of young citizens) believe the arts are important to the city but 54% state they do not go to any creative events. And only 3% feel a stronger relationship to Birmingham There is a disconnect between what they identify as skills for the future, to what the skills are needed now.

In Creative Cities, Jan Verwijnen, Professor in Art & Design, Helsinki says “In a networked society, the specific culture of production, needs to be acknowledges by the creative city. It is not about replacing ageing civility with younger ones with the ‘right feeling’. But a fundamental shift of the urban decision making system towards an evolutionary and networked mode”. This is just as true in Birmingham. STEAMhouse and Knowledge Hub were developed to create a network that creates place, as well as process.

@ Arup Studio, Custard Factory
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and BDF

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