Looking back at seminar # 6 Staging and Designing Mobility with Ole B. Jensen

On 16 March 2018 the sixth edition of seminar series Cities & Mobilities focused on mobility and design.

The first presentation by George Liu (Technical University Eindhoven) revolved around the methodological question: how can be best understand cycling experience and are virtual reality simulators or 360 degrees videos suitable tools for that. The discussion afterwards revolved around the question posed by the guest speaker Ole B. Jensen: understanding mobility experience means engaging with the way we relate to the world – which transcends the visual and the cognitive dimensions. That was the question that stayed with us for the whole afternoon: how do people experience mobility and how can we measure the dimensions of that experience. We discussed how methods of understanding mobility such as virtual reality simulator can shape that understanding by virtue of eliminating or downplaying certain elements or senses and emphasizing others, as well as limiting elements of the landscape to specific functions while any object may be used in a variety of ways.

Michael O’Regan presented his exploration of the notion of friction and frictionlessness, in particular in the vision of future mobility where the absence of friction is often presented as the greatest good. In the discussion of the subject we focused on what friction may mean as a positive and a negative experience in daily mobilities. Do we want frictionless movement at all costs? In which case is friction unevenly distributed and when is friction a choice or a burden? Marco te Brömmelstroet asked a broader question about the meaning of metaphors that we use to describe mobilities and made a link between the current language of transportation planning and the advent of the automobile as a prioritized mode.

Ole B. Jensen’s lecture revolved around theoretical underpinnings of connecting mobilities research and the field of design, pointing towards the new questions and possibilities that research in “mobilities design” may bring. In the discussion afterwards mobilities design practitioners and academics recalled specific examples of collaborations between academic researchers and planners. Such encounters enabled reframing problems and changing planning processes, moving from the opening “what if…” questions to the more grounded and “what now?”. Luca Bertolini connected this discussion of experimental approach to mobilities design with the earlier discussion of virtual reality simulation as a method which affords playing with variables of the environment; he asked how we can make it possible in the real world to experiment, to play, to tinker with the built environment, instead of trying to re-recreate the world in VR?

The discussion then again came back to the experience of mobility, the emotions, the senses, all the elements that make the “mobile situation” what it is and most probably contribute to our choices and practices. Such dimensions are not currently present in traffic models which marginalizes them, on the one hand. On the other, the question arose whether they should be put in some sort of model at all?

You can see the full Ole B. Jensen’s lecture here

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