Born @ WdKA
Spatial Design

Zebra Machine

Sun 17 Oct
Function Spatial Designer
Year 2021
Major Spatial Design
Practice Autonomous Practices

Nominee Threshold Award Autonomous Practices

Meet Lieke van der Meer! Lieke is nominated for the 2021 Threshold Award Autonomous Practices with her graduation project ‘Zebra Machine’. In this interview, Lieke tells us about her work and future plans.

Can you tell us a bit about your graduation project and how it came about?

I have always been curious (but also a bit critical) about what life in the city can mean. As a spatial designer I like to rethink the way in which we live together. During my research I became fascinated by something I call ‘implicit barriers’. These are barriers that we encounter in public space that may not be obvious, because we have adapted our routines and habits to them completely. My aim was to expose and disrupt these ‘implicit barriers’. For my research I followed people as they walked through their neighborhood in Rotterdam. I walked about seven meters behind them while filming. After the walk, I asked them to draw a mental map. This type of mapping exposes the personal experience of a route beyond its geographical structure. It sheds light on the routines and habits that might be less obvious, but do influence the perception of public space. The outcome was very interesting, revealing joy and vulnerabilities that people experienced. All maps looked completely different and gave insight into a lot of hidden barriers and stressful moments in public spaces.

I found out that the most shared barrier that people encounter is when they need to cross the street. Rotterdam’s infrastructure seems to focus on cars instead of pedestrians and other users of the pavement. This creates a hostile and violent environment: it is noisy, the air is polluted, it is dangerous and roads occupy a lot of space. In my opinion, prioritising car traffic compromises livability of the city, and therefore public space is actually not so public. I noticed that a lot of participants drew zebra crossings on their mental map. I see the zebra crossing as a symptom of the car-oriented layout of public space. There is a limited amount of zebra crossings and you need to take a detour to use them. Besides, you are still dependent on the attentiveness of the car drivers. The zebra crossing became the symbol of my project. 

So I went on a secret mission to make the public space a more equal space. At 5:00 in the morning, me and my team took the painting machine I built out for a spin. Using the machine and a paint based on chalk, we drew a 143 meter long zebra crossing on a busy street in Rotterdam. With this intervention, I urge people to watch out for each other and share the public space in a more equal way. The universally known signal of the white stripes, covering the whole street, invites everyone to use the street as they like. Later that day I came back to see the effect of my intervention and noticed that cars were slowing down and people seemed more alert. So it worked! 

Which themes or societal concerns are you addressing in your work, and how?

I would really want the public space to be truly public instead of the violent environment it is today. In a nutshell, that is what I am trying to address. To me, it feels strange that the entire appearance and dynamic of our public space is dominated by cars, and that we seem to have accepted that. Although, we have the ability to change our learned behaviour and form a critique on the current state of public space. It does not have to be the way it is now! With my project I aim to disrupt the way in which we are using public space. 

What will you be working on in the near future? What are your next steps?

I just moved into a very nice studio space, where I have my welding machine and everything I need to create things. It has been really nice so far! Besides that, I believe there is a lot more to be discovered around mobility in the city of Rotterdam. Another perspective I would like to explore is the relationship between gender and mobility. 

And I would like to bring my painting machine to other places and cities and organise more interventions like this!


To read more about Lieke’s work, pay a visit to her Graduation Catalogue Page. Furthermore, her journey can be followed on Instagram and her Website. The winners of the Threshold Award Autonomous Practices will be announced during a festive ceremony as part of the Graduation Show. Keep an eye on our Graduation Show page for more information.