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These descriptive glimpses into Urban Design formats illustrate, on the one hand, the scales and arenas on which teaching, research and practice take place – a foyer, a building site, a small town (from block to house to room) present entry points for inquiry that can then be scaled up and down, read diagrammatically and thus possibly inform a relational perspective from which problems can be reframed. The examples show how work in Urban Design departs from and shifts between different scales: The Kunstverein seminar started with building furniture so as to enable the group to work – both on the questions posed by the director and those posed in the Takes. The Community Building Poppenbüttel started with process drawings of envisioning encounters in the neighbourhood in relation to the absent presents of everyday lives disturbed by flight and forced migration. It developed into a complex setting of various actors (from Hamburg’s mayor figuring as patron to industrial school students, old and new neighbours, the accommodating agency, internationally renowned architecture offices such as Atelier Bow-Wow) and actants (building and planning law, institutional and individual interests and agendas). The autumn school in Friedrichstadt, conversely, started out from the observation that the utopia from the 17th Century, despite its failure to develop into the planned flourishing merchants’ town, still functions today – despite or because of literally by-passing functional separation in terms of its building stock. The project moved on by shifting the analytical scale from the town to the house to the room to unpack the respective dimensions of residents’ and tourists’ lived practices with a view to research their conditions of existence. This approach of minimal structure and open form draws on the learning from perspective. The term is in debt to the Learning from Las Vegas project. The perspective and the methodologies developed upon this perspective appear in all of the mentioned projects in research, teaching and practice.

On the other hand, the examples illustrate that rather than attempting to solve a (given) problem, the approach followed in this Urban Design understanding works towards a problematisation of how situations and settings are conceptualised and doable. Once more turning to the examples above, the Kunstverein seminar developed an open and publicly accessible seminar situation in the foyer of an established institution and engaged in an exercise of re-assembling the given structure. Problematizing the foyer’s counter epitomising an institution with overt and covert barriers, students, staff and the Kunstverein’s director discussed ideas of opening up the entrance situation and replacing the counter with the very tables and benches that the students had built. Engagement with the materialised yet socially constructed threshold of the counter enabled thinking the institution Kunstverein outside its seemingly set context. In Poppenbüttel, the Urban Design team’s intention was not – to the other actors’ disillusionment – to create a rendering, then plan and build a community building, but to problematize the very different conditions of those coming together in the neighbourhood: an existing, exclusively white and well-off community who live in their own, semi- or single detached homes vis-à-vis the new neighbours coming mostly but not exclusively from Syria and Afghanistan with various professional and social backgrounds. While the civil society initiative from this community sought to ‘help’ and prevent what they thought could turn into a ghetto by inserting a community building into the new residential area, the Urban Design team started from a different angle and problematized the notion of encounter and the very fact that refugees in Germany are not allowed to lead their own household, to work, to determine their residential location due to the accommodating law. The project’s interest here relatively quickly turned into an agenda of making new agencies available and ‘building a proposition for future activities’. The very title of the project sought to open the brief ‘community building’ into broader engagement with global processes of and local responses to migration. Problematizing the challenges of migration and asylum is nowhere to be expected of a group alone. Experiences of German and international arrival cities show that institutional and civil society cooperation is promising.1 This finding from UD co-teacher and urban sociologist Ingrid Breckner goes hand in hand with Ostrom’s main argument: in fact – and against a common or colloquial understanding – commons are often surprisingly well managed and offer pertinent insights for further projections. In the above assembled UD vignettes, self-build and 1:1 modelling of actual situations of encounters provided the data necessary to programme the future building as well as testing it performatively. Struggling with the regimes of urban organisation and governmental technologies – disciplining mo(ve)ments – that interfere with and disturb attempts to work with agencies already at work, the project now turns to considering how the role of refugees new neighbours can actually come into play, how the various actors involved in the project can move from talking about refugees to working with their new neighbours on planning and building and running the community building.

In their intended incompleteness, the brief vignettes figure to relate the emergence and further development of motifs out of their immediate contexts. A situation can only emerge as we actively become part of it, and only through co-producing a situation – beyond the confined spaces of classrooms, boardrooms and clubhouses – can a motif be articulated. This is the condition for unpacking connections between the urban built form and the social, historical and ideological subtexts inscribed into the built environment as well as into its use in our everyday lives. Problematising the modes of coproduction (of a situation, of contexts, of parameters) may without doubt lead to abandon or alter previously set questions and aims, yet this is a central pre-requisite to develop strategies for the coproduction of knowledge concerned with urban and architectural forms of use. Playing with scale and acknowledging that ‘the researcher is present’2 offers didactic modes of teaching that recognise students as active co-producers of the academic setting. Yet while problematizing the existing order of things, the having becomeness of the present and the conditions of its existence by drawing on the notion of play can mobilise students’ learning, this approach also poses challenges. The open and diagrammatic mode of the display allows to represent – making present – the explication of implicit knowledge without closing the form. Perhaps the greatest challenge is posed by the very obstacles that dominant scopic regimes reproduce: in a world that demands solutions, problematisation comes across as disturbance and open form(at)s are considered threats.

  1. Breckner, Ingrid, ‘Fluchtort Stadt. Flüchtlinge und Asylsuchende in urbanen Lebenswelten’, in Inklusion auf Raten: Zur Teilhabe von Flüchtlingen an Ausbildung und Arbeit, ed. by Maren Gag and Franziska Voges (Münster u.a.: Waxmann, 2014)

  2. Hildebrandt, Paula, ‘The Researcher Is Present. Künstlerische Formen Der WIssensproduktion in Den Sozialwissenschaften.’, in Perception, Experience, Experiment, Knowledge., ed. by Susanne Stemmler (Zürich: Diaphanes, 2014), pp. 71–80