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The Human Power Plant

Imagine this scene in the near future: Bospolder-Tussendijken (BoTu), once a poor Rotterdam neighbourhood, is now completely energy neutral. Energy production comes from local sources: manpower and biomass, supplemented by solar and wind energy when the weather conditions are right. All household tasks are organised jointly. The neighbourhood’s squares are equipped with public kitchens, canteens, bathhouses, washrooms and toilets. These facilities have resulted in greatly reduced energy consumption, and a spectacular increase in general wellbeing.

So begins the imaginary scenario of an inclusive energy-neutral working-class neighbourhood. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has invited the Human Power Plant team – Melle Smets, Klaas Burger, Kris de Decker, Thamar Kemperman, Florian Braakman and Bart Groenewegen – to work with local residents, community workers, policymakers and energy experts towards an energy-neutral future. This partnership will begin on 1 October at the HOUSE OF THE FUTURE at Jan Kobellstraat 56a in Rotterdam. The results will be presented in 2021.

Boijmans in the City: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in a changing society

‘Boijmans in the City’ is Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s social-design programme, which aims to stimulate social innovation in the city through the power of artistic imagination. It works like an artistic crowbar. The museum offers different perspectives on the world. Art teaches us how to co-exist and to share, and the museum plays an important role in this. Now that Boijmans is closed for renovation and modernisation, we are focusing on projects in the city. Our roots in the city provide us with nourishment and we, in turn, can give back to the city through local partnerships.

Boijmans has identified an opportunity to utilise the innovations and networks developed in the exhibition ‘Change the System’ (2017) – when fifty artists and designers demonstrated the transformative power of design and art – for the city and in the particularly for the BoTu neighbourhood, with the aim of reducing poverty, transitioning to more sustainable energy sources and building an inclusive and resilient city. In a city with 175 nationalities, Boijmans can contribute to strengthening Rotterdam’s capacity for change by establishing cultural connections, resulting in a shared culture and progress.

HOUSE OF THE FUTURE: energy transition versus energy poverty

The Netherlands is gradually reducing its reliance on natural gas, aiming for zero usage by 2050. But what does this energy transition mean for people who are less fortunate? Sustainable solutions are expensive, while the energy consumption in poor households is relatively low and there are no guarantees on how quickly the investment will repay itself. Energy poverty is a real problem in Rotterdam, where one in four children still grows up in poverty.

The Human Power Plant is a future scenario with one basic rule: you are your own energy source. People (re)produce themselves, are always available and are easy to move. When you have to generate your own energy, you start to think critically about what you need. You can save energy through smart partnerships, giving rise to new contacts and opportunities.

From the autumn of 2020, the HOUSE OF THE FUTURE will be working with children, the elderly and local entrepreneurs. Prototypes are being developed for use in the HOUSE OF THE FUTURE. A progress report on the BoTu scenario will be posted every month at www.humanpowerplant.be.

BoTu’s Energy consumption is considerably lower than that of the rest of the Netherlands: the average gas and electricity consumption is 2080 kilowatt hours and 975 m3 respectively, compared to 3,000 kilowatt hours and 1500 m3 for the whole of the Netherlands. The Human Power Plant team focuses on the issue at hand, seeking solutions not only in technology but also in people themselves, giving people ownership of their own energy consumption. Rather than putting hope in the latest (and most expensive) technology, the Human Power Plant team places the energy transition in a human, historical and geographical context.

Neighbourhood participation. Golnar Abbasi & Arvand Pourabbasi.
Neighbourhood participation. Golnar Abbasi & Arvand Pourabbasi.

Neighbourhood participation

BoTu is home to many different social groups with very diverse backgrounds and knowledge about everything for which energy is required. The Human Power Plant team uses this wealth as a source of inspiration for a society without fossil fuels. The neighbourhood’s many elderly people have already lived through two energy transitions: the famine in the winter of 1944-45 during the Second World War and the switch from coal to gas. In addition, the neighbourhood has always been home to immigrants, bringing together knowledge from all over the world: how did your family cook in Morocco, Cape Verde, the mountains of Eritrea or other parts of the world. The Human Power Plant team is collecting this information in partnership with Beekhuizenbindt. BoTu is also home to many children, who will be the new adults in 2030. The Zelfregiehuis Delfshaven is organising workshops with local children to imagine and visualise a fossil-free BoTu. Florian Braakman, a photographer who lives in BoTu, is documenting all these stories, ideas and discussions, and the conversion of the house into the HOUSE OF THE FUTURE.

Changemakers Rotterdam

The municipality of Rotterdam, Eneco and Havensteder have designated BoTu as a pilot neighbourhood with the aim of making the neighbourhood socially cohesive, safe and climate resilient within ten years. The three parties are working closely together on improvements with the residents and local partners. BoTu is also a pilot project in the energy transition, and the Changemakers Rotterdam consortium wants to use the art project Human Power Plant BoTu Future Scenario to encourage residents to make themselves resilient. Sustainability issues require not only technical solutions, but also a cultural shift.

The members of the Human Power Plant team are Willem Beekhuizen, Melle Smets, Klaas Burger, Golnar & Arvand Pourabbasi, Kris de Decker, Clemens Hosman, Thamar Kemperman, Wilma van der Wilt and Florian Braakman.

The project partners are the Municipality of Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, WeWatt, Havensteder, Eneco, Voor Goed | Rotterdam Impact Agency, Academie voor Beeldvorming, Delfshaven Coöperatie, Enpuls, Zelfregiehuis Delfhaven and Hosman Agency. The Human Power Plant BoTu Future Scanario has been made possible by Project Idols.

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