Conversation with Christian Roggenbuck

CEO of Max Hoffmann GmbH + Co. KG

HCU Visiting Professor describes a series of teaching and dialogue formats developed at HafenCity University in 2009. Based on the idea »Students learn from the best«, renowned personalities from the fields of architecture and metropolitan development are invited every two years with the support of the sponsor Christian Roggenbuck, Max Hoffmann GmbH & Co. KG, to work with students in Hamburg, discuss new perspectives and impart knowledge in a practical way. The respective workshop is combined with a public lecture by the visiting professor. The HCU, as a university of dialogue, seeks the exchange with the public and strives to reflect knowledge and information from its core areas back into society.

Bernd Kniess: What was your motive behind the sponsoring of the newly founded HafenCity University?

Christian Roggenbuck: The idea was to support two formats that reflect aspects of the daily challenges in our construction company: The masterclass and the University of the Neighbourhoods (UoN). In the masterclasses work is carried out in a topic-related, scientific and concentrated manner within a week. Every two years we were able to work on a new topic from and across different disciplines - Urban Design, Architecture and Structural Engineering. On the other hand, the interdisciplinary work was also a basic theme in the format of the UoN. In retrospect, we still think that this was a project that suited us well, because it was precisely this blend of university, planning, development and craftsmanship. In the project we wanted to interrelate skills and therefore aimed to learn from each other. We worked strongly in the direction of urban development and also beyond urban development programmes, asking, »How do you really get a city to become alive?«
In the final phase, the project included the realization of a tried and tested programme. In that case, the students could learn from us by asking questions, »What do we actually need for a construction site and how can this be implemented in terms of craftsmanship?« We had great moments on the construction site where our employed construction workers were initially confused by new problems, but then found and implemented joint solutions.

Bernd Kniess: Different worlds met in the project.

Christian Roggenbuck: Exactly, different worlds. At the beginning it was often said, »this will never work out« and »I don‘t know, how are we supposed to do this?« But afterwards students and craftsmen explained and realized the idea together, as partners. I still think this is a great project and experience for the future of the students.

Bernd Kniess: In the context of the new university with new curricula and your experience in architecture studies and now in your company – what did you want to offer the university?

Christian Roggenbuck: The idea was, besides the different topics and the different facets of the different disciplines in daily university life, to invite someone as visiting professor from abroad to come to Hamburg every two years to present an outside view. Looking back, we had lecturers from all over the world: whether from Norway, Japan or England, it was exciting and different – every participant took something for themselves, the students, the teachers or those who helped and supported the classes. We always found special solutions on each topic.

Bernd Kniess: What is it like for you now? What from both formats do you find in your activities in the company?

Christian Roggenbuck: We are interested in learning. The two formats give us the opportunity to get away from everyday work. After all these years we had to find out that we were operating successfully in our corridor. But this challenge and the free-thinking, which in a certain way makes us smarter, is missing. I believe that it can be interesting for everyone to collaborate and set up projects in an educational economic challange. In my opinion, the UoN has shown this in a special way, where education and economy could really complement each other well. In the masterclass the topics were very different. There were topics you could deal with more than others, but that is part of the main idea behind the format.

Bernd Kniess: From your professional experience, what relevance do such projects have for students during their studies?

Christian Roggenbuck: I am of the opinion that the implmented formats should have a very high relevance in the future. There are quite a few things that we missed during our studies at the university. Dealing with new problems is almost the order of the day in our industry, similar to the cases in the masterclass. The visiting professor challenged the students within a week. This is always a person whose way of working is not known by the students, at the same time they have to give their best.

Bernd Kniess: Generally speaking, I would say that today we need such breaks or interventions to temporarily enable other places of knowledge production away from a very closely managed, purely performance-oriented teaching.

Christian Roggenbuck: Absolutely. I think we used to have more open spaces within our studies and could take more time. There are of course completely different courses of study now and back then, but the fact is that especially in construction, in architecture and in urban planning, projects depend very much on dealing with each other. I think it is essential to do field trips during the studies to see how different cultures act and see different building traditions throughout the world. The two sponsored formats have always created a new impetus. I hope that this has given the students some open spaces and makes them curious on further interdiscipinary projects.

Bernd Kniess: Design is experience-based and therefore cannot be taught one-to-one. These interventions are necessary for it to be practiced. What kind of interventions did you have in your studies?
Christian Roggenbuck: I‘ll put it this way, in the past it used to take us longer to study. We went to different cities, worked as trainee in- and outside of the coutry, or did field trips on housing projects to actually experience them properly. For example, we went to Vorarlberg for two weeks, looked at the buildings and photographed them, looked at the plans and met the architects for a critical review. The size of the project in the publication and on site was often something completely different and two years later it was already partly deficient. On site, we could simply feel the concrete, touch it, think about how certain issues were solved. I think that‘s what it‘s about and the added value for later on.

Bernd Kniess: That‘s actually what we practiced in our studies – the interplay between scales. We‘ve drawn analog. What we drew, we then contrasted with a model to check it. Between these two levels you have learned and developed further. The 1:1 built object plays a completely different role because it reveals completely different information about the urban context.

Christian Roggenbuck: Exactly, drawings or publications are always beautiful, but there is more to realizing a successful building in the urban fabric. We experienced well designed, award-winning buildings being completely empty. Why is this building empty? Quite often the program of the building didn‘t fit into the urban context at all.

Bernd Kniess: We also know this from publication media from which we have drawn a lot of information. It wasn‘t about concepts that would have been published there, but about textual descriptions, pictures, floor plans, drawings and sections. This means that you didn‘t learn very much about the concept. But that‘s always kept us busy: how do I get to the built objects or what they represent? You had to gather that together somewhere from the different levels of information.

Christian Roggenbuck: And of course that was the nice thing about studying. In the past studies offered us the freedom to do so. Even when you were in seminar and
had the idea to take a closer look at the project we just took the time out and went there together.

Bernd Kniess: Yes, but just like you say, you have a drive and want to know that. Maybe we‘ll come back to the last masterclass. You‘ve heard the Architectural Behaviorology lecture by Momoyo Kaijima.

Christian Roggenbuck: I also visited the exhibition in

Bernd Kniess: The spatial presentation and the way it was handled was very successful.
Then you came to the Atrium radio show. That was a small spatial intervention, but it was very loaded with content and meant that we were able to hand over the responsibility for this structure to the format Testing University. There it is now a matter of testing the university for its potential.
The formats you sponsor complement or contrast the everyday life of the university, mainly in teaching, i.e. for the students. What do you think about the current upheaval? Which is amazing, because as a young university you think »hey, now you‘re on your way« at some point, but that‘s still an issue with us for a variety of reasons. The students are now working on it within the framework of the seminar and a lecture series. They want to find out something about its current state, they want to learn from historical models like the Bauhaus or the Black Mountain College and they are interested in testing its potentialities. From your perspective, what is of interest for a school like ours in the future? So now also in retrospect on the two formats that have expired. Do we need more of them or can we translate them into the curricula?

Christian Roggenbuck: I think our set up formats are great, we would have liked to see them in the past. I believe these formats should be made possible at HCU Hamburg in the future because the disciplines are much closer located to each other, nowadays there are shorter distances to discuss things in an interdisciplinary way. But I don‘t think you can actually force students to do so. Precisely these formats require a certain basic passion. The basic understanding to approach each other and to be open for new things. Actually that is very important and requires a strong motivation. It might be more work than in other projects and therefor you need students who understand the possibilities and challange of such projects.

Bernd Kniess: Testing University got off to a great start because it has been running for some time and is now running in the format of the HafenCity Lectures. I think it works now because it is linked to a topic that affects the students themselves and because it contains a working level in which they work independently on topics. Of course, this gives them a completely different motive because they realize that it is related to their interests. It is similar to the UoN.

Christian Roggenbuck: I agree. On the other hand, the mentality of making calculations about expected performance and consideration has arrived with many students. In projects like the UoN or the masterclasses it is not possible to make calculation exactly. It is clear that our formats make more work and are interesting for students who can read the potentials in it.

Dominique Peck: How do you get involved in projects in the company?

Christian Roggenbuck: I‘m developing the concept, the program and every once in a while the volume study within the urban fabric.
The actual design is done by architects, either decided by a competition or ordered by us. The detail of the program/ concept is an ongoing process between us, the architects and possible tennants and politics.

Bernd Kniess: That will grow then. The project becomes more concrete in the expectations.

Christian Roggenbuck: We have clearly opted for a concept. We don‘t buy design, we develop a concept and the concept shaped into a form. You can enter into a dialogue about a concept.