... in brussels

Brussels - a Manifesto: Towards the Capital of Europe

01 Oct 2011 | 717 words | architecture brussels culture europeana


‘Towards the west, the border is sharp because of natural conditions…’ [Brussels – a manifesto, p.27]

I have mentioned before that Bruxelles is one of my favorite cities in the world and certainly in Europe. This is in spite of (or rather because) the city is a mess: European institutions reside in buildings that most of the time look as if they have been randomly dropped from the sky and fact that the city is a nightmare to cycle in but a joy to be in a taxi since it has lots of tunnels (i ❤️ tunnels!).

In my perception Bruxelles with al its unfinishedness and it’s myriad of antagonisms has always felt like a proper capital of Europe, but i can understand why people are not perceiving it as such. With the European project under intensifying attack it is probably a really bad time to propose investing heavily into making Bruxelles a proper European capital, but that is exactly what the authors of the excellent ‘Brussels – a Manifesto: Towards the Capital of Europe’ proposed in their 2007 manifesto.

The whole manifest, from the observations on the borders of Europe that contain the above quote to architectural interventions proposed, really makes a lot of sense to me and i would love to see this realized sooner rather than later.

Of all the interventions proposed by the authors, one struck a particular chord in me: The Mundaneum complex that – according to the Manifesto’s authors – would come to house the European Central Library and a number of related Institutions. The Mundaneum gets his name from a rather fascinating post WWI attempt to build an institution that would hold all the worlds knowledge (a sort of pre-google/wikipedia if you will):

This project of culture and education in the west of Brussels refers to the Project that Paul Ortlet and Henri Lafontaine started in 1919: The creation of a Munadaneum in Brussels’ Cinquantenaire Area. The Ambition was to create a centre of centers, or a worlds database of knowledge – “a temple devoted to knowledge, education and fraternity among people”, ” a representation of the world and what it contains”. To be able to archive and this knowledge, Ortlet developed a standard classification system based on referential cards. This is the Universal Decimal Classification system that would simplify scientific research by establishing links between different forms and areas of knowledge. It is the first database , which also formed the basis for hypertext. Otlet’s and Lafontaine’s initiative was not an isolated case: At the same time Jorge Luis Borges’ imagined the Library of Babel as a place that contains “all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols … the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books”. [Brussels – a manifesto, p.152]

As someone spending a lot of my time working with Europeana, reading the proposal for the Mundaeum/European Central Library reminds me of the relatively sorry state of the European digitization effort. Europeana – it’s flagship and closest real world equivalent of the Manifesto’s Europeana Central Library – currently consists of a website that provides information about 20M works, many of which are only accessible in low-quality to online users. This stands in sharp contrast this with the – entirely fictional – description of the European Central Library from the manifesto:

The Central Library, cooperating with national libraries, provides the links, translations and information to be elaborated and processed. Books, cinema, newspapers, music, etcetera would be digitized and saved in one place; 260.000.000 items now stored on the shelves of 25 national libraries in 43 different languages would all be organized with the UDC system that Paul Ortlet developed. [Brussels – a manifesto, p.152]

Reading the above, it strikes me that one of the things that Europeana is missing most is an offline presence like the proposed Mundaneum :

European Central Library

This is what europeana should be looking like today [Brussels – a manifesto, p.157]

bonus: The proposed location for the Mundaneum is right next to the spot where i took this picture back in 2000 or so…

update [14.3.12]: The folks at google have discovered the mundane as well. they have also produced a nice little video honoring Ortlet as ‘the man who dreamt the internet‘.

Freedom of knowledge

08 Mar 2008 | 262 words | europe brussels migration access to knowledge

Was in brussels for a 3 days earlier this week (some pictures here). As i have pointed out before Brussels is one of the my favorite cities in europe. Not only because i really like the roughness of the place, but also because seemingly endless imagination of the eurocrats that are based there!

On the train back to amsterdam Joeri pointed me to the foreword to the Communication from the European Commission to the spring European Council which was written by José Manuel Barroso. In this essay (titled ‘Keeping up the pace of change‘) Baroso suggest introducing a 5th fundamental freedom1:

We have to build on this momentum and agree on a focusssed list of ambitious actions. Here are a few examples of what we need to do together:

[…] give europe a new “fifth freedom”, the free movement of knowledge to allow europe to Capitalize on its creative potential […]

Brilliant idea! (although it feels a bit as if Barrso is getting his ideas from what we have been saying for a while: see for example here or here) Now we just have to hope that they do not fuck up the free movement of knowledge in the same way they fucked up the free movement of people (by making it a freedom that can only be enjoyed on the inside of Europe).

  1. Note for the free software dudes: this is about the European Unions fundamental freedoms and not about the FSFs four freedoms, so stop complaining that the free movement of knowledge is implicit in the other 4 freedoms. ↩︎ ↩︎

On new media [back in Buxelles again]

26 May 2006 | 245 words | africa europe religion media brussels

[no external keyboard so spelling is fucked up again] Am in Bruxelles for okno public1. It is cold and rainy as usually so people are freezing and are coming up with clever ways to keep their seats warm:

Or is this just an very effectie and selfish way of claiming a seat while you are ordering your next drink? [anyway it is good to see that my old powerbook is doing much better than the current one].

Yesterday the festival was much strange as the same building was also the host to a endless ascension service of 350 or-so enthusiastic African christians [apparently organized by an organization called ministry of spiritual combat]. For hours these poor souls listened to various men in shiny suits telling them all the inn’s and out’s about dirty thoughts, true belief and the virtues o self restraint. astonishingly these rather annoying messages caused great excitement among the audience which in turn expressed itself by loud chanting, wild dancing and blowing of fog horns. At some point shaina decided to investigate a bit more into the reasons foe their excitement and was told that the whole purpose of this ‘combat spiritual’ was to cleanse themselves of their sins much ‘like the hindus do when they take ritual baths in the ganges’.

At this point namita observed that the cleansed-out sins were probably ascending though the ceiling into and somehow transformed themselves into new media on the fourth floor of the building…

Back from Bruxelles

16 Sep 2005 | 402 words | brussels belgium colonialism cities

I was back in bruxelles yesterday after a way to lo long time. This city is definitely my favorite city in Europe as it manages to surprise me every time i am there, even if it is only for one rainy evening spent in an restaurant waiting for the night train to berlin (of course the fact that there actually is a night train connection to berlin makes Bruxelles stand out above such mediocre places as Amsterdam!). On the way from the restaurant to the Gare de midi i came across two remarkable things the first being a little store specialized in plastic model sets that proudly displayed a 1/35 reenactment of belgium’s not-so-glorious colonial past (please excuse the shitty quality of the night time phone cam pic):

belgians rule africans in 1/35

The second was the etablissement that i entered in order to get one last drink before boarding the train. by the outside of it (and i could not see much as it rained and my glasses were totally covered with spray water) it looked like some upscale minimalist bar: big steel framed glass windows, neutral withe lightening shining from a clean white interior with some kind of expressionistic painting on the long wall. once inside i realized that i had totally mistaken the place. instead of a bar i had entered a north african tea house and now i was getting confused and slightly hostile looks from the all male patrons. the place was unlike every tea house i have been to before. the interior design was straight from bauhaus, the espresso machines would make every coffee shop owner in berlin-mitte become jealous and there was indeed a more or less expressionist mural with a middle eastern or north african market scene on the wall facing the bar.

So instead of another drink i settled for a delicious peppermint tea had a chat with mohammed who would not believe my age and of whom in turn i would not believe that he was a student and watched a bit of al-jazeerha on the giant flat screen TV’s before heading out to catchmy train.

This is exactly why i love bruxelles so much: more often than not the visual representation of things completely defies what the way i am (we are?) conditioned….

update [27.05.06]: here is another shot of the (now slightly rearranged) window display that i took this morning:

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: