Image credit: Student work by Anthony Quivers

Image credit: Student work by Anthony Quivers


Project: BERLIN_ Formations of Urban Space
Class: Advanced Summer Travel Studio, California College of the Arts, Architecture Division

Date: Summer 2013
Instructor: Christopher Falliers, Antje Steinmuller

supported by Raumlabor, Berlin

Berlin_ Formations of Urban Space is a 4-week summer studio exploring the formation, activation and evolution of the city’s urban spaces, from vacant voids (defined as vacant and un-inhabited open space, and often with charged cultural meaning) to public places (conversely defined as inhabited, well-used spaces and well-identified by a community). In this studio, through long walking tours and architectural design research, students experience and explore the significant works of urban space and architecture of Berlin, gaining first-hand knowledge of cultural and political influences on the design of a city in a European context.

The city of Berlin, the laboratory for the studio, holds a rich and culturally loaded set of urban spaces. It is a city marked by contrast, turmoil, and energy of its past and present. Oversize statues of Marx and Engels sit next to the Neo-Classicism of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Altes Museum. The influence of Peter Behrens and the Deutsche Werkbund and significant works such as Mies van der Rohe’s National Gallery, Hans Scharouna’s Berlin Philharmonic, to Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial, demonstrate Berlin as a city of architectural experimentation and high craft. Steep contradictions, such as in Potsdamer Platz, where a fragment of the Berlin wall sits among new constructions by Renzo Piano and Arata Isozaki, show Berlin as a city of contradiction and complexity. The reconstruction of Berlin after World War II, new developments within the reunified Berlin after 1989, and the life of the contemporary city reveal Berlin as a city of continuing change and evolution. All of these influences and cultural constructions make Berlin one of the most unique contemporary cities in the world.

The specific nature of Berlin’s political and social conditions have left very different typologies of urban space: from the carved density of the late 19th century fabric, the open field of modernist experiments, the axial plans of the 3rd Reich, the competitive development in East and West Berlin (regeneration of the contained Western city in parallel with city expansion in the East), the unclaimed ownership of urban void after the fall of the wall including the space left by the wall itself, to the urban intensifications and activations of so-called ‘tactical’ or ‘bottom-up’ urbanism (to be defined as typological spatial actions). Urban voids and public places in the city range from the monumental to the fleeting, from the figured to the parasitic. The studio investigates the specific nature of these formations, their parameters, and their cultural significance as a culmination of, and dialogue between their development, their cultural associations, and opportunistic appropriation of how they are used.

The studio begins with a four-day intensive preliminary seminar and design workshop at CCA that introduces students to the program’s content and methodology. A digital reader is also provided as background to the course. Students will be working in teams, studying important urban spaces and individual works of architecture through drawings, photomontages, 2D and 3D diagrams. This initial research will be compiled into an analytical guide book to urban space typologies in Berlin. Once in Berlin, students contribute to site lectures by presenting their own research and analysis of the spaces and architectural works visited.

During the travel portion of the course, the studio explores a specific set of existing typologies of urban space, each manifest at multiple scales of urban and architectural formation through daily field trips and analytical exercises in a local studio space: Streets, plazas, and other traditional constructs constitute both evolutionary and designed forms of figured public space. Residual or planned swaths 11defined by infrastructural change and/or political upheaval and functioning at a metropolitan level can be understood in terms of their infrastructural performance, local articulation, their spatial effects, and cultural significance. Re-appropriations of urban situations by on-going or temporary spatial actions reflect consistent cultural practices that define public life within the urban realm. Spatial actions at each of these scales will be explored for their typological potential as ‘figured spaces’, ‘fields’, ‘fabrics’, and two forms of ‘spatial lines’. This analytical framework becomes and active tool for design. The goal is to explore possibilities for articulating urban space through multi-scaled design actions, positing hybrids and extensions of existing typologies and/or new public formations for the contemporary city. Final production in an intensive three-day studio component at CCA concludes the course.

The design project for the class will explore these typologies as design frameworks, formed by various parameters, influences, actors, and effects, often reinforcing, negating, or transforming over time. By examining historic and current precedents and actual sites urbanistically and architecturally the studio will uncover the underlying generative influences of individual sites, and develop a more comprehensive, comparative syntax of typological forms and spatial actions in relationship to the activation of urban space. Articulating these understandings through analysis and transformation, a series of ‘active diagrammatic design models’ will be used for a design problem at the edge of Berlin’s Neukoelln district facing the former Tempelhof airfield. Students will transform understandings and principles gleaned from the city into proposals for one of the so-called ‘pioneer fields’ at the defunct Nazi-era Tempelhof Airport. The area is part of the International Building Exhibition (IBA) 2020, a strategic planning initiative of the city’s Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment. The IBA 2020 is currently soliciting proposals within a conceptual framework that looks at the interplay of the city as a capital, as a spatial canvas, and as a temporary, experimental space (Hauptstadt – Raumstadt – Sofortstadt). In this context, design (whether intensive or extensive), and urban activation are thought of simultaneously in the formation of an articulated and activated urban space. Within the dynamic masterplan for the Tempelhof airport, the pioneer fields are being proposed as generators and initiators of urban activity, used as a tool for the development of the site. Temporary activation is integral component of long-term planning strategy as a tool for qualitative growth and city development. This is defined not as accumulation of building mass, but as increasing densification of activity, program and networks that are progressively manifest in built form.