How to work with and within the existing

At the beginning of IBA’s official operation period its board of directors invited the president of the newly founded HafenCity University for the Built Environment and Metropolitan Development to contribute to the IBA’s catalogue of projects. The starting point of the discussion was a common urban situation: an empty and derelict building that had not been used for years – the former Public Health Authority building of the district that in its initial function had once served as a home for unmarried women. IBA offered this building on a lot next to a park in the area of central Wilhelmsburg and negotiated the commitment of funds in the amount of 540.000€ for the duration of six years (see Figure 1). The contract for the project stated that at the end of IBA in 2013 the building was to be demolished and the lot returned to the municipality’s housing programme. IBA and HCU both formed teams around the future project and issued a student competition as a teaching format in HCU’s urban planning programme. Meanwhile the chair of Urban Design at HCU Hamburg, Bernd Kniess, was asked to head the project called Experiment on the Island. He was faced with what could in retrospect be called ‘careless’ design: the results of a competition showed ‘nice’ designs but obviously without taking into account the framing conditions. This was not alone their failure, however, as their ambitions were based on the competition’s brief, which asked them to design ‘a temporary use of the empty premises as an IBA Exhibition Pavilion”, as a “working environment”, a “place of dialogue”, a “think-tank”, and of course a “space of inspiration”’ without emphasising the existing building. It didn’t come as a surprise that only one student group was able to imagine keeping and working with it. Their project, named Grenzposten (frontier post), was awarded the first price by the jury on the grounds that using 540.000€ to demolish the building, re-building something from scratch only to demolish it again in order to fulfil its initial contract would amount to an unsustainable use of the project’s resources.

Fig. 1. Project Funding Diagram. Source: Jakob Kempe / Research and Teaching Programme Urban Design, HCU Hamburg