Zoom in – three disciplinary form(at)s or situations, settings, sites.

Situations, settings and sites are notions with different definitions in different disciplines, although they roughly correspond in their meaning with similar framings. While ‘situation’ refers to the social, psychological, professional, environmental etc. conditions or circumstances, ‘setting’ more explicitly refers to the time and space in which an action or activity takes place. ‘Site’ in architecture, urban planning and urban design most explicitly refers to the grounds on which something is planned or built. In listing the three notions, we aim to problematize the often unquestioned framing supposed tasks and projects. Working with the notion of the Take as discussed above we delegate the setting of the setting to those engaging in an activity with a view to making the framing part of the game. Framing a particular project becomes part of the project and so necessarily involves critical discussion of how existing frames come about, what they imply and which kinds of solutions they transport.1

Interkulturelle Praxis I Territorium Kunstverein 2014

On a Tuesday afternoon in the 2014 summer semester, 25 Urban Design master students, a tutor and a lecturer gather at 2pm in the foyer of Hamburger Kunstverein, an arts association with a 200-year history. The foyer is a large, white, mostly empty and very high space with difficult acoustics. The group assembles at a two-fold conjuncture: Having just taken up the director’s post, Bettina Steinbrügge is concerned with questions pertaining to the institution ‘Verein’ (association) and art (mediation): What is a Verein today? And how do we mediate art in a way that pays justice to the Verein’s aim of making art available to large audiences while guaranteeing high quality of curation and art alike?
The research and teaching programme Urban Design, on the other hand, has just moved into a new university building that turns out being too small for all the classes, so that the seminar takes the opportunity to mobilise the study and reflection of methods with a view to teach and test them in situ.

The cooperation itself is an experiment. While the students gather on the steps of an open staircase leading to the upper exhibition room, it quickly transpires that in order to host a seminar in this space it is necessary to appropriate the foyer and provide some sort of infrastructure that allows us to work. Two of the students with carpenter skills and architecture backgrounds devise a workshop for the following week, setting up different stations and a work flow to build wooden tables and benches.

While they scheme, draw and work away on the workshop programme, the other students start their individual Debordian dérives around the Kunstverein, getting familiar with the surroundings and developing their motifs for the semester. A week later, the wood workshop takes off and in four hours, four tables and five benches are produced. Another week later, the tables are grouped together so that the whole group can sit around it to present the derives and discuss the themes that emerged. The coproduction of the conditions under which the seminar can take place enables the familiarisation with the situation. Only now can the seminar proper begin to work on the series of Takes that respectively ask: Where are we here? What are we doing here? What do we want here?

Community Building Poppenbüttel 43

During the summer semester 2016, a civil society initiative approaches the Research and Teaching Programme Urban Design with the idea to lobby for a community building to be developed in the newly planned and built ‘accommodation with perspective dwelling’, a programme devised to respond to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ by the city’s accommodation agency Fördern&Wohnen. The initiative ‘Poppenbüttel Hilft e.V.’ from the direct neighbourhood asked for a rendering of a community building that would be developed with not for refugees. Convinced by their idea that a community building should be part of the new residential area, the Urban Design team was amazed when the initiative asked for a rendering that was intended to encourage other philanthropists to provide financial support for the project. Countering their approach, the Urban Design team expanded its modes of showing and representing. Developing process drawings (working with a focus on the how to arrive at the what) and later a performative setting of two subsequent summer schools with similar performative approaches, the team and students were concerned with what presents more a crisis for refugees than a ‘refugee crisis’ and contextualised it in the broader housing crisis in Germany.

Several research projects looked into refugee accommodations and accommodating structures, administration and management, studied urban modes of dwelling-as-practice beyond the home and investigated possibilities to problematize the legal structure of accommodation. The notion of accommodation – as opposed to dwelling – was found highly problematic in that it denies any active designing of one’s everyday life by reducing it to the container space where one sleeps, eats and stores their things, but is unable to lead a household. Housing (or dwelling) in contrast, ‘is a doing, it is dwelt or inhabited as much as it is built’.2 The first summer school (2016) involving international architecture students, old and new neighbours (refugees) and industrial school students worked on studying and reproducing modes of encounter so as to develop together what the community building would mean.

The second summer school (2017) further developed the work in process into a performative plan, inviting five, partly internationally renowned architecture offices to the constellation of actors. Rather than designing a building, the five teams tested spatial programmes of the everyday life, such as cooking and eating together, play areas for children, spaces for discussion and encounter, spaces for workshops and retreat.

Throughout the experience of active encounter, the teams developed a 1:1 model of the intended purpose of future encounters to develop their design proposals from. Insisting on the idea that the building had to be planned, built and programmed together with all participants involved, the Urban Design team was awarded funding from the city’s integration fund and organised a minimal working structure to integrate all involved actors into the open process.

Friedrichstadt

A one-week videography autumn school brings an interdisciplinary group of master students to a small town in the north-west of Germany that has just been announced ‘future city’ as part of a federal programme supporting cities in various ambitions to develop strategies and research into their future under the auspices of climate change, demographic change and socio-economic challenges. The students are equipped with cameras, notebooks and the question »Friedrichstadt: what do you do?«.

They swarm out into the 400-year-old, block perimeter core with original housing stock and a decreasing population of 2,500 inhabitants and start collecting material: portraits of inhabitants, important places, biographies of houses and tenants, mapping the activities undertaken by the many tourists that add a third to the population every day, the canals, the bridges, the signs for letting rooms and holiday apartments. A second spring school engages deeper with the question of how (both temporary and permanent) residents dwell in this city, producing portraits and short films displaying the modes of residence and accommodation in this old yet failed utopia nevertheless attracting tourists and pensioners alike and appearing like a real life 1:1 model of the traditional small town. Friedrichstadt’s baroque urban planning rationalism materialised in a grid structure that has over centuries enabled mixed forms of use (especially the mix of housing and work environments in one building and its changing over time). Although it remained relatively small as a town, it offers inquiries into the hidden potentials of resources built into the urban beyond the separation of functions. The students proceed to sharpen their questions and motifs centring around dwelling as practice and succeed in producing short films of inhabitants showing their houses, showing their adaptations to the old building stock, renovation measures and daily routines in and around their houses. A third summer school zooms into the individual room, asking Friedrichstadt: how do you accommodate?

  1. Belina, Bernd, ‘Scale und die Stadt’, in Handbuch Kritische Stadtgeographie, ed. By Bernd Belina, Matthias Naumann and Anke Strüver (Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2018), 54.

  2. wohnbund e V. / HafenCity Universität, Wohnen ist Tat–Sache: Annäherungen an eine urbane Praxis (Berlin: Jovis Berlin, 2016)