When the university is moving

Peter Holt Overgaard
Studierender Roskilde University, Denmark

Study visits. We are visiting a university contact in a corner of
Hamburg, located far away from what the tourists choose to see.
Long streets with a few kiosks, little half green parks, towers squeezed in parcels and located "under" a huge Nazi bunker. Blocks are long and our pace is fast in order for us to reach the HCU HafenCity on time. Between sporadic trees and shrubs we finally reach our destination.
We find the entrance. There are high ceilings, skylights and a large kitchen island where students hang out and chat casually. We are greeted by the friendly, but serious Professor Bernd Kniess. We walk down a rough concrete passage and into his office. We sit on an old couch while he sits on a white 80’s leather chair. On a table stands an old grandmother lamp and from the ceiling hangs an architect’s cubic lamp experiment. No family photos, pleasant bulletin boards, or coffee makers. The back wall is covered with graffiti. Here it is half dark due to window guards. Quite a different lecture than what we are used to.
Professor Bernd summarizes the project for us on his power point.
University of the Nachbarschaften. A tactical grip for the overall political strategy. Hamburg is also striving to be a future knowledge and innovation capital. This follows a logic, which is also seen in urban development in Denmark, where urban spaces are thought of as voids to be filled. According to Bernd, the solutions are sought only in architectural renewal, completely overlooking the structures that already exist. Traditional strategy of urban development creates unnecessary costs for locals, often in contrast to the economic situation; he believes we must further develop existing urban spaces.

UdN is therefore trying to turn the table around. Their tactic is to start from scratch, get to know the area - be good neighbours, as he put it. The students have helped to repair the building, analyse and create projects with and for the residents. They work with a low-budget mindset, which means operating with the available materials and the actual people in the local surrounding. There is no doubt that UdN’s way of experimenting with the teaching was very inspiring. Property dimensions, transitory nature, the informal raw atmosphere, the light and the industrious silence, gave the impression of high professionalism exchange, networking, and creative processes flowing freely between the students in the open workshop space. It oozed, in short, of responsibility and seriousness in an informal study.

Here there are mental and physical spaces, allowing an academic design discipline to unfold efficiently. It is in strong contrast with our Performance Design seminars, where project work is done in the Royal Library or at home. In the process of many projects our experience was lost because we just did not have an informal place with room for teaching and project workshops. A place where we can be around the clock.

So let this be a call to policy makers about replacing Henning Larsen architecture with low-budget aesthetics. Why not leave the plow to the field, leave Roskilde University’s locked office cells, wide hallways and proscenium theater auditoriums and find a place where we can be both professional and physically present with all of our projects.