Didactic approaches are forms of appropriating a situation. Understanding a situation’s coming into being and its conditions of existence can enable a prospective perspective informed by its retrospective analysis. The issue for students and researchers alike is how such analyses pan out. If we draw on the bold but illustrative 1928 Chicago School proposition known as the Thomas theorem: ‘if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences’ and slightly twist it, the understanding of a situation has real implications for the very situation in question. Far from enacting a questionable paradigm of planning – form follows function –, this line of thinking addresses the actual functions of the urban in its uses and relays them in a different light: it allows rethinking and questioning forms and functions and enables to move beyond such complexity-reducing parameters so as to engage with reality as socially produced and in its complexity. Unpacking the modes and means of such social coproduction necessarily undresses mechanisms of power that the powerful take great pains to cover in expensive garments so as to blind us to their frailty.

Contemporary planning regulations and regimes disturb or even block the proposed engagement of working with an open form in a minimal structure. Real Politik, legal requirements as well as institutional and managerial resources and responsibilities often interfere with alternative ways of handling contingency and complexity. Returning to the second vignette that started with the request for a rendering and turned into a full-fledged model project supported by the city’s integration fund, the various actors involved in the building site proceed according to their schedules and routines, which makes it difficult for an academic team to keep up and take part in organising and designing the process. Adding to this, the disturbance of schedules and routines is definitely not something that large city agencies and building companies are embracing enthusiastically. Notwithstanding the welcoming of cheap student labour and skilled people who officially figure as ‘refugees’ rather than concrete workers, architects or civil engineers, the participatory planning and building process that the Urban Design team proposed as a result of their engagement with forced migration 1 , housing and dwelling 2 , self-build, transformation processes and low-budget urbanity 3 turned out to disturb the situation.
Although such draw backs were not new to the Urban Design team, excessive demands in terms of time spent with the project and on site, the organisation and preparation of further steps as well as the clearly emerging contrary interests of involved partners considerably stretched academic members of staff and students alike. Some turns and twists of the ongoing efforts to realise a coproduction across hypothetical small and great divides (rather than designing and constructing the building) point to the fundamental contradictions of the urban as practiced. It remains to be seen how the project proceeds, yet these contradictions and conflicts manifest the kind of learning from current urbanism that we need to push further so as to productively re-assemble spatial practices in ways that enhance the coproduction of knowledge.

  1. Gudehus, Renke, and Jakob Kempe, ‘Da Kann Ja Jeder Kommen. Eine Annäherung an Das Deutsche Asylrecht’ (HafenCity Universität, Hamburg, 2015); Momic, Maja, ‘Dwelling as a Fugitive Practice?’ (HafenCity Universität, Hamburg, 2019); Riewe, Nina, ‘Zwischen Ausstellung Und Unterbringung. Wohnen an Den “Orten Für Menschen”: Konzepte, Konstellationen, Möglichkeiten’ (HafenCity Universität, Hamburg, 2017)
  2. wohnbund e V. / HafenCity Universität, Wohnen ist Tat–Sache: Annäherungen an eine urbane Praxis (Berlin: Jovis Berlin, 2016)
  3. Kniess, Bernd, and Hans Vollmer, ‘Praktiken Und Materialitäten Des Urbanen Selbstbaus Und Der Sparsamkeit’, in Wachstumsschmerzen. Gesellschaftliche Herausforderungen Der Stadtentwicklung Und Ihre Bedeutung Für Zürich, ed. by Thomas Hengartner and Anna Schindler (Zürich: Zeismo, 2014), pp. 87–109