Looking for a way to spruce up dull and empty public space? Say hello to The Flying Grass Carpet — a uniquely designed turf carpet that travels to different cities. Its mission: to bring life to urban spaces that need it most. The colorful art installation now celebrates its ten-year anniversary. We sat down with Dutch designer Bart Cardinaal and Eddy Kaijser to find out why their project continues to be successful in cities worldwide.
Rolling out the carpet
The idea behind placing a mobile grass carpet in urban spaces came about when Eddy Kaijser, Bart Cardinaal and Nadine Roos agreed that they were not happy with the Schouwburgplein, a main public square in their hometown of Rotterdam.
It was just a space for people to rush over and not think of staying longer. Originally, the trio were just going to write an article about it, but then – out of their designer spirit – decided to create good design instead. The team developed The Flying Grass Carpet to create a comfortable meeting point in Rotterdam where people could go to relax, play and feel like home.
The Flying Grass Carpet takes inspiration from Persian designs. Traditionally, Persian carpets are placed in rooms to bring people together. In the Netherlands, it’s common to have tiny Persian carpets placed on top of dining tables. “It takes us back to memories at our grandparents’ house,” Eddy explains. “People gather around the table, it’s the heart of the home.”
The details within the carpet also represent togetherness; once you enter the borders, you become part of something. To truly mimic the design of actual Persian carpets, the team used multiple colours and different levels of turf for full effect. The unique floral designs resemble abstract gardens that work well with outdoor public spaces.
The giant art installation was too impressive to only be rolled out in Rotterdam. With the thought that every city has at least one “lifeless” public square, the project became mobile: The carpet has now been travelling for ten years and has visited over 25 cities. Some notable locations include Berlin, Madrid, Budapest and Shenzhen in China. At the moment, people in Rotterdam get to witness the carpet’s ability to instantly change the identity of a space – it is currently installed at the Schouwburgplein – its original home.
A social carpet for the city
“We think people are so different, but they’re not,” Bart points out. “Everyone likes public space and being part of something.” Notably, the giant carpet is especially attractive for unique dining experiences. In China, groups of people meet with their bento boxes; in the Netherlands people come together for afterwork drinks and snacks.
When people come in contact with the carpet, they immediately slow down. Since the surface is very soft, people love to lay down, feel the different levels of turf, cuddle and often fall asleep because they feel so comfortable. Kids play and make up games with the line designs. There is a universal familiarity with the carpet and people understand the communal concept behind it. Not enough cities offer space for people to calm down.
It’s no surprise that this project is gaining popularity in the urban sphere. The carpet installation is always temporary, modular and can adapt to any public space. It is also cheaper to maintain than a real park and can act as a tool for research.
Eddy remembers Rotterdam’s hesitation at the beginning of the project. “When we first pitched our idea to the city of Rotterdam, they weren’t completely convinced that the project would be a success. However, after measuring the results, they uncovered that four times as many people were utilizing the square when the carpet was there. After we removed the carpet, residents requested to have it back.”
Back to the flying future
Bart and Eddy have a few cities in mind that they would like to bring the carpet next. New York City tops the list, because it’s so iconic. Hong Kong, since the value for space is enormous here, there is a lot of pressure for public space. In Dubai, people are typically not utilizing public space. “We want to give people a reason to step out of their cars,” Bart says.
Eventually, the team wants to travel to all continents with the carpet. “We would like to have one small carpet in every city, to create a universal meeting point and connect them as one global community,” they say. There is also a lot of potential to have carpets on rooftops and the team would like to explore this further to make better use of space, while bringing people together.
City governments design public squares with the intention of bringing citizens together; however, they often fall short because too much priority is placed on economic costs and maintenance. The Flying Grass Carpet can teach us that when creating these spaces, it is vital to design them to be versatile, comfortable and fun to interact with. If a space is designed with the best interests of people in mind, they will gather and even stay a while.
If you’re interested in following The Flying Grass Carpet journey, you can find more information here.