Hans Monderman, 1947 - 2008. In memoriam
Hans Monderman, 1947 – 2008. In memoriam
As we were going to press this morning with this report and work plan for 2008, I learned of the sad news that our deal friend and colleague Hans Monderman has passed away.
As many of you know very well, Hans was an exceptionally creative , energetic and original thinker and doer. His specialty was not to write reports or go to conferences, but rather to get out onto the street and show people and policy makers what can be done if we apply our minds to it. His approach has been called Designing for Negotiation, which he in his usual modesty admitted works better in some places than others. At busy urban intersections with slow traffic, he found that it is often safer and more effective to get road users to focus on looking at one another instead of traffic control devices.
An article that appeared in the New York Times on his work in 2005 started with the following, which I share with you here as a good lead-in to his original approach:
"I want to take you on a walk," said Hans Monderman, abruptly stopping his car and striding - hatless, and nearly hairless - into the freezing rain. Like a naturalist conducting a tour of the jungle, he led the way to a busy intersection in the center of town, where several odd things immediately became clear. Not only was it virtually naked, stripped of all lights, signs and road markings, but there was no division between road and sidewalk. It was, basically, a bare brick square.
But in spite of the apparently anarchical layout, the traffic, a steady stream of trucks, cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians, moved along fluidly and easily, as if directed by an invisible conductor. When Monderman, a traffic engineer and the intersection's proud designer, deliberately failed to check for oncoming traffic before crossing the street, the drivers slowed for him. No one honked or shouted rude words out the window.
"Who has the right of way?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't care. People here have to find their own way, negotiate for themselves, use their own brains.
We were lucky to know about and benefit from his work over the years and when I learned that Hans’s health was starting to be threatened in 2004 I took the initiative of nominating him for the 2005 Word Technology Environment Award and then putting the full force of our international network behind his nomination,. It worked and brought him to the award ceremonies in San Francisco where he thrilled the audience with his lively acceptance speech outlining his original ideas and approaches.
To learn more about his work and contributions, a good place to start is the Wikipedia entry, and for a shot at his work have a look at the joyful little film that Robert Stussi turned on the occasion of a visit “Unexpected interview in Groningen: A Homage to Hand Monderman”. The full text of that Times article can be had here.
Hans wrote me a few lines just last Tuesday reacting to my proposal for something I call “slowth” in part derived from his work, with measuredly optimist comments that the approach to sharing space is taking hold. His note ends with the words: “I attach two pieces of text I found very challenging.” Which I can now share with you:
- John Adams on “Hypermobility: A Challenge to Governance”, Amsterdam, 11 May 2006
- Pier Giorgio Di Cicco’s Closing Address to the Oct. 2007 Walk21 Conference, Toronto, 3 Oct. 2007
I am honored to dedicate the work of the New Mobility Agenda over 2008 to the memory of Hans Monderman. We shall miss him greatly.