Operationalising a concern with the urban

Urban Design at HCU Hamburg as practiced and taught is a relationally interdisciplinary undertaking that – while taking seriously architecture’s promises and problems – aims less at a projected future design (without excluding this option) and instead is more concerned with understanding the coming into being of specific situations, sites and settings and the more or less arbitrary powers that contribute to their existence. It is also transdisciplinary as the team and students work with actors and institutions across and outside of academia. Research, teaching and practice are understood as triad; research and teaching are practiced as much as informed by praxis while practice in turn draws from knowledge produced through research activity and conversely feeds back into teaching. The concern with the urban is motivated by the recognition that we need to understand the conditions under which the architecture of the urban – as opposed to architecture as product alone – is (co-)produced. The urban as relational whole concerns us, it is our motif and engagement with it is a ‘matter of concern’1. Christopher Dell picks up Jacques Rancière’s notion of ‘scopic regimes’2 that deserve unpicking: What regulates our modes of seeing, reading and producing the urban and how do we communicate these often implicit agencies?3

A major motif for urban design overall is to consider how planning interacts with and intervenes into the world under the premise that the production of (urban) space takes place on all scales and cannot be reduced to one disciplinary or scalar perspective given that disciplines and scales themselves are socially constructed and represent transmission belts of organising the everyday. In this vein, the existing city can be seen an assemblage of previous and ongoing interventions and future vectors, including plans and contingencies each informed by specific truths or norms. In fact, the research and teaching programme Urban Design attempts to open up various scales and perspectives so as to re-assemble different, sometimes conflicting, versions of one reality in their having-becomeness so as to unlock hidden potentials. Led by emerging, yet specific and iteratively developed motifs and relating these individual motifs to urban questions at large as well as issues arising from personal and broader interests, research activities are concerned with both retrospection and projection. The study departes from a deep analysis of a given situation in the now and here (or there) with a view to produce knowledge about common, alternative and new understandings of possible ways to influence particular vectors and possibilities. This approach is a disciplined undertaking in that it is clearly rooted in and drawing on the established disciplines (from which students and staff are recruited) and (at least minimally) structured in its process, while simultaneously disturbing a mono-disciplinary and object-centred approach by working with open form(at)s.

Given that the urban is a manifold phenomenon that cannot be grasped wholly by one discipline alone, the inter- and transdisciplinary perspective attempts to pay justice to its matter of facts by engaging with its matters of concern. It does so through a diagrammatical reading of the urban. Borrowing from linguistics, the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic dimensions of knowledge production are addressed: First, the motif, thematic interests and approach are articulated; secondly, their inherent (or non-existing or emerging) order and causality are formulated and thirdly, methodical steps are identified that are necessary to undertake co-productive research.4

  1. Latour, Bruno, ‘Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern’ Critical Inquiry 30(2) (2004), pp. 225-248.

  2. Ranciere, Jacques, Disagreement: Politics And Philosophy, First Printing edition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004)

  3. Dell, Christopher, ‘Recht auf den Gebrauch der Stadt. Zur Normativität des Städtischen’, in Hiatus: Architekturen für die gebrauchte Stadt, ed. by Ute Frank, Verena Lindenmayer, Patrick Loewenberg, and Carla Rocneanu (Basel ; Boston: Birkhäuser, 2017), pp. 223–38

  4. Sturm, Gabriele, Wege zum Raum: Methodologische Annäherungen an ein Basiskonzept Raumbezogener Wissenschaften, (Opladen: Leske + Budrich Verlag, 2000)