Curriculum. Bologna vs. Open Practice

Having discussed the conceptual framing of the UoN, we need to explain yet another topic. After the 5-year experience of the project we can assert that Design-Build practices still remain at the very fringes of curricula. Sure enough it is no novelty that ‘a Europe of knowledge is now widely recognized as an irreplaceable factor for social and human growth and as an indispensable component to consolidate and enrich European citizenship, capable of giving its citizens the necessary competences to face the challenges of the new millennium, together with an awareness of shared values and belonging to a common social and cultural space.’1
But the fragmentation of the curriculum into credit points and modules turns the arrangement of longer periods throughout which students can spend time on a construction site into an art of its own. Again we are challenged by a two-sided effect, which describes the paradessence of the Bologna process as being comprised of two aspects: One is economic. From this perspective, the Bologna Process is about exploitation under the conditions of immaterial labour, about preparing students for the market, about standardization, interchangeability, homogenization and profitability. The other is normative. From this perspective, the Bologna Process is about emancipating students from professorial hierarchy, about social and spatial mobility, about mutual tolerance and experience, about the sharing of knowledge, about unity and a better future.2 Torn between economy and normativity, the pure task to construct a building as an educational project becomes a design process in itself and a challenge for future research on the curriculum itself. It still remains an open question how to reframe the curriculum in order to multiply agencies and allow for processes of subjectification in a political production of space as part of curricular structures. The translation of the university’s contribution to Hamburg’s urban development efforts into an actual presence in the neighbourhood showed how a clash of different subject positions and conceptual as well as disciplinary logics open the stage for political subjectification in curricular processes. To understand that higher education and re-negotiating infrastructure as building and form as a necessary proposition to be able to get active are inseparably linked is one of the lessons learnt while working at the UoN. We insist that this is not a question of informality but of form: the open form. The open form is made constructive by reading and organizing form structurally and diagrammatically as a series of cases. To give an example, rather than a sequential (linear) mode we know from traditional project management, our approach is structured by sequences and takes that can be extracted, fragmented, re-shuffled, re-assembled and zoomed in upon. The knowledge form and material for this process is derived from the project’s archaeology as described above. With this strategy we achieve a visual organization of the project that keeps the open form intact vis-à-vis a minimal structure. Structure and openness are no contradiction in this example. They enhance each other. At the same time we have to redefine agency itself. Against a dichotomist understanding, agency here becomes a structure-producing device. This redefinition shifts the mode of agency from rational action to a mode of improvisation. That is how to make good use of diagrammatic on a practical basis.
The minimal structure works on two levels: 1) on the level of form, we work with a series of cases, 2) on the level of content, we engage in a serial play with motifs – which we call Takes. What may sound like a rather isolated process that only refers to the university’s curriculum in fact has consequences for epistemological form of the real city, as we have tried to illustrate. The Project UoN and its many interwoven layers showed that this specific form of Design Build project combined with conceptual research aims to accept the challenge of planning for the constructive processing of contingency and to reap the knowledge embedded within practice. However, although the live project / experiment UoN worked within and into the field of housing, what also became clear was that existing approaches to housing are tenacious and indeed immobile. Despite the many suggestions, findings and master theses, the city of Hamburg has so far not devised a viable project for the lot on which the UoN stood and enabled lively encounters.

  1. Bologna Declaration of 19 June 1999,, accessed 2 November 2016

  2. Ursprung, ‘Out of Bologna, Lacaton and Vassal’s Nantes School of Architecture,’ e-flux 64 (2015), accessed 2 November 2016.