Clusters are urban spaces where very different venues coexist, from creative associations to cozy coffee houses and local stores. Sooner or later, they appear in all major cities. Often – through the efforts of local activists and developers, less often – being the projects of the city authorities. Clusters turn into places of attraction for young and active townspeople, who are especially important for a comfortable environment and a community of like-minded people.
Let’s read the Knife stories of a few critical clusters of the world – the very first, unusual or progressive – and how they changed everything around them and changed themselves.
DUMBO: from manufactory to creative studios and galleries
New York, 1970 – present
The area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges extending further east is called DUMBO. It is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, which means “pass under the Manhattan Bridge.” The name has existed since the 1970s, but today its full version can surprise even the locals. At the same time, 50 years ago, artists and representatives of other liberal professions began to populate the area. DUMBO’s appeal to the creative intelligentsia is the classic story of gentrification. Back in the 19th century, the area was filled with factories and manufactories – squat buildings made of dark bricks, but most of them were empty by the middle of the 20th century.
The vacant space was soon at the disposal of the creative townspeople: one part turned into residential lofts, the other into workshops, studios and clubs. Over time, the area has grown, “settled down” and acquired luster. The embankment has been transformed, and expensive apartments in workshop premises have replaced cheap housing. And although today novice artists can no longer afford the local rent, DUMBO is still one of the old-style urban clusters.
Ludovic Bertron / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
Today, most galleries and creative studios stretch along the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Contemporary artists from all over the world exhibit their works here, and auctions are held here. Joy Glidden, gallery owner and curator of contemporary art exhibitions, made a great contribution to the development of the area. She founded the DUMBO Gallery, a space for exhibitions of various formats. Another initiative of hers is the annual DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival in New York.
Thanks to Glidden, developers and city authorities drew attention to the cluster, and soon the area was ennobled. Today, art spaces coexist with the green lawns of the park by the river. The area is now called gastronomic: a huge (even for New York) number of restaurants, cafes and bars are concentrated here, the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and the Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory are operating. In 2007, New York City officially recognized DUMBO as one of the city’s main cultural destinations, and the area’s historic appearance is now closely monitored.
Today there are 14 large and dozens of small private galleries on the territory of the cluster. The most notable of these are A. I. R. Gallery, which exhibits predominantly women, Agency by Meta Meta Meta, a platform for emerging artists, Art in General, non-profit organizations that support local artists, and Minus Space, which focuses on minimalism. New exhibitions and art events take place within the walls of DUMBO galleries literally every week. Some of them can be found on the cluster’s official website, others happen spontaneously and are known only to a narrow circle of fans of contemporary art.
Over the years, the cluster has developed its own audience, but both residents of the surrounding areas and residents of Manhattan are happy to go “under the bridge” on a fine day off. Galleries in DUMBO coexist with showrooms and small shops of local designers, cozy coffee shops and public areas. And the green park and the proximity of the water offer relaxation.
For half a century of existence, DUMBO has ceased to be a haven for young artists: now they cannot afford the current high rent and they are settling in more remote parts of Brooklyn. But the cluster became an example of a self-organized urban space, which was taken under the tutelage of the city authorities. DUMBO continues to be the largest example of an art cluster in New York City through a collaborative effort between activists and city councils.
Reffen: from an industrial zone to a large-scale food market
Copenhagen, 2018 – present
The Reffen cluster was launched in May 2018 in Copenhagen’s industrial district Refsheljoin and immediately focused on gastro-culture and conscious consumption. Previously, this place was chaotically located kiosks, craft workshops, start-ups and small non-profit projects. They stayed, but are now surrounded by more than 50 food projects – there are food outlets, bars, and coffee shops with products from all over the world. Reffen occupies about 6 thousand sq. m and very quickly became a point of attraction for locals. And of course, a popular location for tourists.
“This street food market in Copenhagen’s harbor is a real village of converted shipping containers selling food from all over the world. Here you will find organic polenta and pasta, Indian dosa, vegan burgers, sushi, Filipino BBQ and more. Bars on the territory of the cluster are open every day of the week and are adjacent to workshops, showrooms and recreation areas,” says the Lonely Planet guide.
Like many clusters, Reffen is located some distance from the city center: this coastal area was previously an industrial zone. But gentrification has gotten here too.
Reffen / reffen.dk
There are several ways to get to Reffen. For example, take a small boat along the Strömma Canal from the city center, simultaneously looking at the neat houses and sun-drenched squares of Copenhagen. Or by bike, as the locals do. The third option is on one of the city buses.
Another point of attraction and the closest neighbor (and actually part of) the cluster is the bottle shop and bar of the Danish brewery Mikkeller. Immediately behind it overlooks the quiet harbor.
All members of the cluster, especially the gastronomic ones, adhere to the principle of “Recycle & Reuse”. They reduce food waste, avoid disposable dishes and appliances, and separate and minimize waste. Another important rule is the use of organic and local products. Many projects purchase them directly from Reffen owner Jasper Moller at his Juliangaard farm.
After ordering a dish or drink, visitors can go to the embankment to the open water or take one of the tables near the kiosk they like. Food from all over the world is not the only thing Copenhageners go here for on weekends. Local residents are actively involved in the development of the cluster. Festivals and concerts are regularly held on the territory of Reffen, people gather for bingo or outdoor activities, hold seminars and public talks, and residents organize workshops and lectures. For example, one day you can go to a tasting of fresh fish or corn dogs, on another day you can wrap up for a lecture on tattoos from the founders of the local Black Atlas Tattoo studio or cupping from local coffee roasters.
RAW-Gelände: from railway factory to street art center
Berlin, 1990 – present
Berlin’s Friedrichshain district has long been an industrial area. The railway repair plant Reichsbahn-Ausbesserungs-Werk (also known as RAW) in this part of the city was founded in 1867, and only in 1994 stopped its work.
By the end of the 1990s, gentrification reached the half-abandoned squares – the vacant squares of the former railway repair plant gradually began to settle down to artists, owners of small shops and coffee shops. So there were semi-secret clubs, bars, an indoor skate park, a swimming pool, a climbing bunker wall and a Sunday flea market. This attracted new residents in the coming quarters and provoked the emergence of infrastructure around the cluster – shops, urban spaces and new housing.
The favorable location (RAW is located near the Warschauer Strasse metro station on the banks of the Spree River) and at the same time some isolation soon turned the cluster into one of the main art venues for street art in Berlin. Graffiti covers almost the entire RAW area, and new drawings appear here almost every day. Against them, street concerts are held and pop-up exhibitions of local contemporary art unfold.
In 2007, the territory of the former plant was acquired by a private investor. However, he did not even try to improve the common spaces – this is still done by local tenants. In 2015, part of the land was transferred to the Kurth Group, which also did not significantly change the state of the territory.
The cluster members managed to maintain a balance between the sites. Today, RAW houses a cozy beer garden (outdoor space where you can drink beer and have a snack) with open-air movie screenings, an Urban Spree club and art gallery, bars, restaurants and outdoor eateries, a cultural hub where you can work on a computer. or hold a meeting and small contemporary art galleries.
104 Centquatre: from funeral palace to discos and installations
Paris, 2003 – present
Cultural Cluster 104 Centquatre is a great example of an urban environment that is both child-friendly and adult-friendly, yet full of a wide variety of activities. The space, located in the 19th quarter of Paris, is famous for experimental art, lively discos and parties, giant installations, concerts and theatrical performances. All events are informal (and often free). For example, you can climb inside installations or learn a couple of movements with the actors of some performance. This place is adored by creative youth, as well as Parisian dancers and acrobats – they train here every day.
However, the history of building No. 104 on rue Oberville, where the cluster is now located, is not very funny. In 1870, the archbishop of Paris, responsible for city burials, ordered the construction of a building with an area of 26 thousand square meters funeral processions. The palace itself – otherwise such a monumental building cannot be called – was erected under the leadership of the chief architect of Paris, Victor Baltar. The building was conceived in the style of industrial architecture of the time. It was built around a cast-iron frame made of glass and brick, and it took up almost as much space as Republic Square.
For the next 120 years, it housed the undertakers of Paris. More than 1000 people organized 150 funeral processions a day. The main hall, on rue Oberville, was used for the preparation of coffins and hearses. The second, on Rue Curie, housed 80 hearses and a hundred funeral chariots on the ground floor and 300 horses in 28 stables in the basement, which also contained more than 6,000 coffins, horse feed and a 50,000-liter water tank. The halls are home to shops offering funeral decorations, carpenters and tapestry, painting and upholstery workshops.
After World War II, horses were supplanted by technology, and the Rue Curie hall became a garage for vans and cars, as well as a platform for workshops and mechanics. In 1993, the state lost its monopoly on funeral services, was replaced by private offices, and the building on rue Oberville closed in 1998. In 2003, the city administration signed a contract for the reconstruction of the site with the Parisian architect Atelier Novembre. This is how the most cheerful cluster of the capital appeared on the site of the funeral agency.
Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
104 Director José Manuel Gonçalves calls it a modern artistic platform and tries to make art friends with everyday life: for this, they arrange showcases, hold lectures and film screenings. In addition to the residential area and the shopping area, the cluster has cafes and coffee shops, places for free arts and sports, coworking spaces and office spaces.
The cluster management primarily focuses on residents of nearby neighborhoods and an audience with children. For kids at 104, they organize picnics, public readings and small performances. Some of them children can attend with their parents, others do not require the presence of adults. Moms and dads can spend a couple of hours in the nearest coffee shops or the local shop of small things for the house, go to one of the many masterclasses, for example, on knitting.
More than 600 thousand people visit space 104 per year. For the most part, these are residents of Paris, although this location does not leave tourists indifferent either: on Tripadvisor, the cluster has more than 40 positive reviews and 318th place in the list of the main entertainments of the French capital.
Locals, in turn, love 104 for their thoughtful program: after a master class or sports activities, you can have a pizza in a nearby cafe, look into a bookstore or just sit under a glass vaulted roof, admiring the architecture and panoramic views of the city. The cluster focuses on well-being, which has become a popular trend in the last ten years. Here you can visit a small market with organic products, morning qigong sessions, a relaxation area with sun loungers and relaxing music. In a word, there is everything to feel in contact with the city and your body.