Could you explain to us why we're sitting in a night shop?
Malique: In migrant areas, the tokos, barbershops and night stores are the real institutes of the neighbourhood. While barbershops are very social places with a lot of discussion and exchange of information, I'm more drawn to these kinds of places, the night stores. They are archives where objects meet each other. This is where the ideas and meanings of the community are preserved. So that's why we opened a night shop.
Back then, did you already imagine the place like it is today?
Malique: Yes and no. You discover the specifics of the physical space together, but the meanings, the interactions and the dynamics that unfold here are something we've been researching for years. It's no surprise to me to see how the people that come in automatically have a sense of ownership.
Nacor: They feel at home here. The Niteshop functions as a neighbourhood embassy. If you walk into a night store and check out the fridge's content, you can tell the makeup of the neighbourhood from the beer brands on sale. We didn't set down a policy. No one made an inventory beforehand of the products any night store is supposed to have. It happens spontaneously, by people visiting the shop and buying things. You see the neighbourhood reflected in that fridge.
Malique: The community determines the collection we have here. If people come in, you know, they haven't gotten past the fridge yet, or they go on about everything that's missing on our shelves. Where's this? Where's that? Even if they don't exactly know what kind of place this is, they still take ownership of it and want to add their favourite products. It made us realise how best to respond to the conversations we have with the people. We must integrate their products into the collection.
Nacor: The same thing goes for us. We all have our connections with this neighbourhood, and we want to recognise ourselves in our surroundings. So the entire contents of the Niteshop reflect that.
Malique: All those meanings you find in the neighbourhood, like the fridge at the night store, become part of the Niteshop, and we expand on it. Take Gio, for instance, who's also involved in the Niteshop: he's living just around the corner, and he said this place completely changed the way he's looking at his surroundings. It puts everyday, obvious things in a different light for him, revealing their beauty. I think this contains a heavy political significance. The stories people tell about the place where you live shape you. So if everyone calls your neighbourhood deprived, that's how you relate to your environment. It's very intense to hear someone explain how the way they see their surroundings is changed and transformed by what we're doing here. That's super sick.
It is tough for many designers to give ownership to the people they make their products. People simply felt ownership from day one. The community sees the importance of the project and says, 'make sure you get this right, because it is to the benefit of us all' – that is truly special. What is the importance of ownership according to you?
Malique: Ask yourself this question: who really owns the city? Who owns the neighbourhood? Who gets to decide what? Whose frame of reference takes priority when organising a city, developing a square, drawing up a curriculum or investigating a hospital's policy? Many of us have our roots elsewhere. So many communities converge here, meeting each other in public space, building a new shared identity together. But if the systems of society don't recognise the qualities and the magic of all these different people, or even destroy them, that's a tragedy. It's something we try to address here. And gradually, you realise: "Hey, we're doing design here. Well, you know, if that's the case, fuck it, we'll be designers." We are trying to put all those cultures' qualities and richness on the central stage in the parallel world that has evolved. That's why people feel like they own the Niteshop.
How do you view your contribution to the experience of the city? What is it you're aiming at?
Malique: In the coming years, we want to work on three different scales. The first scale is this space. The second scale is the street, and the third is the neighbourhood. We hope that the methodology we're researching here in this space is applicable on a larger scale.
Wouldn't it be sick if we would get the chance to develop one of the squares here? A completely different approach to design, to urban planning that would acknowledge the cultures in Rotterdam. During the manifestations we organise, we discuss things with people and wonder out loud what the city's DNA might be and how we can add a new chapter to the design culture from that Rotterdam context? Maybe we should fill this shopping street with all kinds of informal public functions like the one we have made explicit in the Niteshop. I would like to open a shisha lounge, or a barbershop, or a lunchroom. How would that allow you to shape the idea of the commons in such a way that it is rooted? How can we continue to use the available knowledge, the human capital?