Although I am not as much a fan of the European Song Contest as some of my friends, I must admit that the creative vibe that is currently spreading through the city is contagious. The way Rotterdam is ‘dressed up’ for the Event is innovative, colourful and bold, as the city itself. One of the most striking interventions is by Studio VollaersZwart; infrastructural elements like bridges and subway fly-overs are clad in colorful banners, based on the flags of the participating countries and dotted with the titles of the songs that have won the Contest in the past, merging into a visual medley. Songs like ‘Waterloo’ have become part of contemporary pop-culture and will trigger sweet memories with (almost) everyone.
Although the North of Rotterdam is historically the more developed part of the city – it is where most public institutions, such as museums, are located, and thus most cultural events take place – the banners mark the route towards the South, to Ahoy, the large complex where the Event is happening. This part of the city is more reminiscent of a New Town, since urban development only kicked in after World War II. With over 170 nationalities calling Rotterdam home, a lot of Newcomers have settled ‘op Zuid’, because it is affordable, in terms of rent and other cost of living. Thus it is the more diverse part of the city but it is less endowed with cultural infrastructure, such as museums and other ‘official’ cultural institutions.
Like the subway connects the Northern with the Southern part of the city, the banners work like a guirlande, connecting these two different worlds, bridging the cultural gap. Studio VollaersZwart has an impressive track record in city dressing, using the urban environment as a canvas. Their intervention shows the potential of infrastructure and the public spaces it crosses, connecting high and low culture, uniting a culturally diverse but divided city, if only temporarily.