Reburg: envisioning circular futures through immersive design fiction


Reburg is a fictional city in which the concept of circular futures comes to life. The concept and content has been developed by Pantopicon, a studio for design and foresight with offices in Antwerp (Belgium), and a satellite studio in Toronto (Canada). The project has further been developed in collaboration with Plan C, Belgium’s circular economy hub.

The goal? To render tangible a vision on the future of sustainable material management as a means to provide a framework for (entrepreneurial) innovators and society, to provoke and extend their thinking on what a circular economy is and could be.

What would life look like in a circular economy? What would businesses do? What kind of spaces would we use to live, work and play? To explore these questions we have designed the city of Reburg, where the circular economy comes to life.

This exhibit introduces the project and its platforms, illustrating the impact of exploring future scenarios through immersive and interactive design experiences.


In terms of envisioning circular futures, the project began by Pantopicon gathering a group of relevant thinkers for a workshop at the Hof van Busleyden museum in Mechelen, where they were invited to participate in an immersive future world building experience. Set up into four different ‘world building stations’ participants were faced with two opposing potential future worlds, presented in the form of a series of video clips and sounds.


Within this immersive context, the participants were invited to explore the nature of each world as a group through conversation and debate. With the help of wooden building blocks and a landscape depicting a chart of principles and technological developments, the participants would rate what principles resonated most with that respective world, building a simulated future landscape. To give a more societal expression to each world, the participants were asked to draw and write what the covers of magazines would say and what the headlines and stories in the local newspapers would be. Fictitious twitter, facebook and instagram feeds were also created.


Based upon the input from the workshop, Pantopicon then updated Plan C’s future vision on circular economy, through identification of 4 main pillars: entangled realities, fabcities, bio-synthetics and hybrid systems. All of these were created, picking up on certain developments, both present and future as well as the existing 2008 vision.

Hyperlocal fabcities with local co-working, co-housing, co-learning, co-manufacturing spaces make for local circularity. The FabCity idea proposes a model based on production inside the city, using both cutting-edge and basic technology, recycling materials and meeting local needs through local inventiveness. Productive neighbourhoods equipped with digital fabrication laboratories (fablabs) are in turn linked up with other neighbourhoods and cities across the world to exchange know-how.

Hyperglobal virtual worlds piggyback on the idea of immaterial global knowledge networks, thereby exploring possibilities for less material use. Following recent advances like educational MOOCS, and born out of the haptic and multi-sensorial internet, global virtual spaces appeared, giving birth to trends like Virtual Prototyping, Virtual Mobility, where one can attend classes, work meetings, therapy visits, and so on within the virtual space.

Advances in biosynthetics lead the way to human engineered biomaterials which follow the same circular principles as organic materials. Materials and objects are grown on demand and biological systems take over functions previously taken care of by industrial tools and machines. Although a word of caution should be taken into account (how will the genetically engineered interact with current biologically complex systems), it shows promise to craft these processes in a sustainable way considering that they start and finish within the natural realm.

A combination of automation and p2p technology leads to the development of hybrid systems where public and private ownership intermingle. These networks of shared goods and systems, operate on a glocal level. People no longer own a drill, but pay per use (the holes in the wall) for a drill in their local neighbourhood toolshed. People no longer own a car, but a subscription to their glocal mobility network serving their neighborhood and beyond


In a next step each of these pillars have been translated into separate episodes within a digital speculative city, called Reburg. Creating a fictitious circular futures city, would allow for the possibility to speculate on how they might manifest and affect our daily lives, both from a sustainability perspective as from a more socio-cultural perspective: how might this shape the current and future social fabric and our daily interactions?

Each of the episodes consists out of a series of crafted multimedia scenarios, which are being told through the eyes of future professionals, highlighting various touch points and giving insight into how ideas of circular economies could be adopted in the present.



Creating future professionals and making them storytellers gave a voice to the concepts, building believability and creating a gateway into sometimes seemingly far-fetched scenarios. In fact, participants of the focus group wanted to meet these bright individuals, to further ask them questions and engage in a dialogue. This became the power of storytelling by considering the human interaction side of the design and implementation.

The first episode on ‘fabcities’ features Zoe Mertens, a urbaculturalist, as a guide to navigate the first episode on fabcities. By using future professionals, the vision was to be extended beyond mere material touchpoints in the city into a more integrated socio-economic context.



By building a digital city encapsulated within an online platform of episodes, the concept not only became easily accessible from anywhere online but also had the capacity to be easily distributed via social media.

The city of Reburg is made up of a series of touchpoints, some specific to a certain future professional, but all connected and having some sort of overlap. For the second episode, called entangled realities, and narrated by Aina Mori, an entangled realities architect, these touchpoints include: Reality Layers, ER Street, The Holo, The Deablon, The Fabcenter.


In order for ‘future’ concepts and ideas to resonate, a link to the present is ever more crucial. ‘Signals of Change’ are both the strong and the weak signals of deeper underlying changes that are currently happening in society. They are what those interacting with the site can grab onto and seek out, and also use as inspiration to find their own ways to make their own future visions manifest.


Since today the tools exist to tell, deliver and share stories in more fluid and social ways, we decided to work along the idea of multimedia story-worlds. Using the Reburg website as our main communications hub, we created a conceptual framework of several multimedia elements.

As an entry point to Reburg, PlanC network members received an object to spark their interest in #circularfutures. For example, visitors were introduced to the first episode by receiving a postcard from the future. The postcard was an augmented reality object with a message from the future. When decoded, a 3-D rendering of knitwear from one of Reburg’s future makers would pop up. In essence the postcard served to bridge the gap between the recipient’s ‘present’ and the projected future world of Reburg, rendering it more tangible.

Next to that, Plan C was given access to and enabled to create any of a multitude of storytelling channels ranging from traditional postcards, ARG elements, social media, PR etc. as props to infuse the present world with snippets of #circularfutures and invite people to explore the Reburg stories online. During a Plan C event on circular futures in April 2016, for example two actors playing the role of inhabitants of Reburg, featured as hosts of the evening. Another Plan C event featured the yearly town hall meeting in 2036 in which the people gathered to discuss how life in Reburg should be organised.


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