THE CITY AS A UNIVERSITY
Team: Bene Wahlbrink, Eugenio Cappuccio, Julius Grambow
Location: Berlin, Germany
We ran an experimental workshop as part of the Floating University 2021 Free Radicals Programme from Friday 1st October to Sunday 3rd October.
The workshop used Berlin as its laboratory, through several walking tours exploring three districts: Wedding/Gesundbrunnen, Schöneberg and Neukölln. We visited localised initiatives and sites of collective self-governance, witnessed places of stark contrasts between cultures and came across radical typologies for new learning environments.
The group was comprised of 20 participants from all over Europe and beyond, each bringing with them a variety of tools and a unique perspective and cultural background. Over the three days we walked, cycled, talked, debated, worked, ate and laughed together.
We all had something to learn from one another, and we were equals in opinion and position, meaning that every person’s word was as valid and important as the other’s. But most importantly, we enjoyed one another’s company and forged friendships and connections that will last.
Photo by PRC
The pandemic has further emphasised the ongoing crisis of the commons - a valuable right that has been under threat for some time from the forces of capitalist urbanization.
Offering alternatives to the public spaces we have been deprived of already before the pandemic, David Harvey brings to light the important role of education, alongside health and social care, as the few readily available public goods that still allow people to exercise their right to the commons.
“Public education becomes a common when social forces appropriate, protect, and enhance it for mutual benefit.”
He continues to state that “as neoliberal politics diminishes the financing of public goods, so it diminishes the available common, forcing social groups to find other ways to support that common (education, for example).”(Harvey 2012, 73)
Despite this, our fundamental right to education has diminished. The commercial rhetoric in universities across the Global North has transformed higher education into a commodity where “every student is a customer, every professor is an entrepreneur, and every institution is seen as a seeker of profit” (Kirk 2004), and there is no better example to demonstrate this than through studying Architecture.
Thresholds of Consumption in Nettelbeckplatz
“Can we create spaces of resilience and resolution?”
David Harvey: Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, Verso, London, 2012.
David Kirk: Shakespeare, Einstein,and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education, Harvard, 2004.
Ella Jessel: “Student Survey: “Only the rich need apply to study architecture”, Architect’s Journal (25/07/2018) [Accessed 23/05/2021]
But how has the pandemic affected this perception of a course of studies that requires students to spend on average 1000 Euros annually on printing and models alone? (Jessel, 2018) With reduced access to institutions’ facilities, even the wealthy have struggled to justify such an expensive road to becoming an architect. This has offered an opportunity to rethink the notion of the commons as a truly accessible pedagogical space.
What could we learn if we look beyond the institution allowing the City to become our University?
Harvey goes on to explain that if public goods become a “mere vehicle for private accumulation... and if the state withdraws from their provision” it is up to populations “to self-organise to provide their own commons.” (Harvey 2012, 87)
By shifting attention from institutionalised forms of teaching, there is the opportunity to focus instead on open-ended forms of learning that emphasise process over product.
“What can we learn from the freely reachable urban environments that we inhabit, especially the ones formed by users?”
We encouraged participants to develop critical positions on key issues and access situations that were present in these areas, relating to the notion of the commons. The participants approached their positions with regards to four lenses: the social, cultural, ecological and/or economic.
After having identified their positions, we worked with the participants to explore and experiment with alternative media to convey their points of view. The complexity of reaching solutions in such a small time frame was quickly revealed. Yet, with no pre-determined end goals in mind – and due to the open-ended nature of the working process – participants turned to varied forms of communication to attempt to convey critical points of view in new ways.
Each participant brought unique skills and perspectives due to their diverse backgrounds, and so everyone’s input was as valuable as the other’s, contributing to a shared voice within the discussions. By bridging conversations and punctually instigating speaking times within the group, we aimed to balance voices to be heard, whether in agreement or in contrast.
“How can we enable spatial practice that goes beyond binary correlations?”
An (un)functional Park...A Safe Space for Whom?
Vitus Michel, Anna Szczepaniak, Anjiang Xu, Catherine Greiner, Lena Schenek, Sophie Kalwa, Yannick Schulze
Hermannplatz, Attention Area
Pascal Mueller, Helin Can, Albert Fuster
The investigations from the preceding days culminated in a presentation and discussion of each response, joined by Angelika Hinterbrandner and Dimitra Andritsou, whose experience as practitioners working at the intersection of several fields of research and practice – and as citizens of Berlin – provided valuable input into understanding the next steps towards implementing change within social, political, spatial or cultural frameworks, to address the issues that were raised through the projects.
How can the lessons learnt from these past few days in Berlin be applied to other urban contexts around the globe? What measures can be explored by scaling? How can we reclaim the common spaces that we have a right to occupy?
These are all questions that emerged from the discussions had around and about the key themes explored during the workshop. Having excercised a degree of agency in posing these questions, this paves the way to adopt certain sensibilities within the design process.
The Commons of Berlin and around the world teach us the necessity of struggle for a shared future. After these three days, the group proved that by collectivising in the very Now, this future can be more than the propagated dead-end.
We collated our findings into a comprehensive 'zine illustrating the processes and outcomes of the experimental workshop. You can read the digital zine here.
Full list of participants:
Druckhaus + Verlag Tecklenborg