The microphone factory/cultural centre

Orchestra, Tula, Moscow, Russia

SDG 3: Good health and well-beingSDG 4: Quality educationSDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 8: Decent work and economic growthSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
Orchestra Design is an organisation with social entrepreneurs specialised in urban design & city development, based in Paris, France, and St Petersburg, Russia. They work with placemaking as a tool to design good and inclusive public space, capitalising on the human and existing local capital.

Tula, with 500 000 inhabitants, is located in central Russia, quite close to Moscow. It is an industrial city, with one of the main industries in sound electronics. A major employer is the world famous Octava microphone factory. The Octava microphones factory, situated in the city centre of Tula, was planned to relocate to the outskirts of the city. The small devices that are put together in the factory require small and delicate fingers, hence, 75% of the work force are older women. However, working conditions were very poor, the environment was polluted, and the factory had difficulties to attract and hire younger women.

Good practices & solutions

What is the best way to attract a new workforce? And could they continue making these small devices in the city centre? The factory makes top class microphones – used by musicians such as U2, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson and Sting. To save the factory from relocating and at the same time improve working conditions for the facctory worker, Orchestra Design and other involved activists wanted to create a creative cluster surrounding the factory, by involving the factory workers. Public facilities, an auditorium and music studios were set up in the nearby buildings. Even a museum telling the history of the machines operating in the neighbouring industry. They opened a school for the workers to attain professional training in engineering and programming. Additionally, they launched an incubator for start-ups in electronics and production, with close links to the factory. The planning of this new cluster influenced the highly needed refurbishment of the factory.

Outcome & opportunities

Out of a microphone factory, a cultural centre of sound and music was set up, presenting new technologies within sound production. As this was developed by the owner of the factory, a large state- owned company, and a private investor, it was a private public-partnership experience, which is relatively new in Russia. It was the idea of linking new start-ups and technologies to traditional, already existing, capacity and infrastructure that appealed to both actors. Additionally, the improved working conditions for the women in the factory, together with the new recreation that facilities in the cultural centre, will hopefully attract a younger workforce. The elderly workforce can then retire, but still recreate in the cultural centre, keeping the generational connection and knowledge transferal intact.

Lessons learned & recommendations

One important lesson learned was to start in one place that is easily influenced, then the neighbouring areas will follow. Additionally, the innovation needs to build on the existing qualities of the space. Local knowledge and competence are key factors. This can become a model for other cities where old industries are meeting similar challenges: “Build on the human capital in the city”and you cannot possibly fail.

Related SDG targets
Further reading

Photo: © Orchestra

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Project: Urban Girls Movement