Coevolution of Town and Gown: The Heidelberg International Building Exhibition in Search of a Knowledge-based Urbanism for the Twenty-first Century
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As decided almost unanimously by Heidelberg’s city council, the International Building Exhibition (IBA) addressing “knowledge-based urbanism” began operating in late 2012. It involves a ten-year urban laboratory that focuses on feasible spatial potential for innovation originating and pursued in different milieus and institutions of the knowledge-based society. A call to have projects use this platform, think-tank, and development agency proposes a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies with which to reinvent the IBA tradition by integrating public and private interests discursively, structurally, and financially. Though unable to fund the construction of buildings themselves, the IBA Heidelberg generates and shapes ideas and brings together project leaders and decision-makers in the fields of education, science, and research to address future challenges and potential in the “knowledge pearl” that Heidelberg represents.
Keywordsknowledge-based society urban laboratory “town & gown” university campus architecture participation
The evolution of cities has always been closely linked to political, social, and economic ideas of the time. Often, forces reflecting the resulting paradigms, such as the “car-friendly city” of the second half of the twentieth century, shaped the spatial configuration of urbanization. The Heidelberg International Building Exhibition (IBA) has set out to present solutions that mirror and foster what is called the knowledge-based society through processes and projects of city planning, urban design, and architecture by 2022.1 The focus on knowledge and space is consistent with the coevolution of the city and its university and of its other research institutions thus far. For more comprehensive, integrated, and proactive solutions than every-day governance can deliver, the municipality chose the strategic process of an IBA, relying on a German tradition of experimental case studies in and with the built environment (Stadt Heidelberg, 2012).
100 Years of IBA Experience
From the outset the strategies of the IBAs have been adapted to the societal system in which the IBAs were based, but they have always been about implementing or building the next spatial practice over a period of years, often a decade. For example, the detailed history of IBAs in Germany by the architecture historian Werner Durth (2010b) has identified the Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt as the first comprehensive approach to integrating design ambitions with a “life reform movement.” In 1901 Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig (1868–1937) and his master architect, Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908), achieved the integration of art , craft, and life with an art nouveau campus and buildings that provided spaces for exhibitions, studios, and housing.
By 1987 the opposite paradigm was implemented when Berlin’s old structures in Kreuzberg were either repaired, often with the engagement of the inhabitants, or rebuilt by young architects, mostly from abroad, who experimented with contemporary concepts of design. The social dimension of architecture and urbanism was further developed in a larger context in the deindustrialized context of the Ruhr District. In 1999 a regional network of strategic brownfield developments with housing and service industry was presented. It marked a turnaround for a declining agglomeration and transformed industrial ruins to monuments. This incomplete overview of the IBA ends with the city of Hamburg, which used a holistic approach far beyond spatial terms to guide the transformation of Wilhelmsburg, an island in the Mitte district at the mouth of the Elbe. Addressing education, infrastructure, energy supply, and other issues, the project worked on different scales with a balance of top-down and bottom-up tools for planning a city fit for the future.
State of the Art: The IBA Today
linking society’s evolution and spatial development ;
addressing not just innovation in architecture but also new concepts of urban space;
deriving the agenda from local or regional necessities;
developing prototypical solutions to address spatial, economic, ecological, and social aspects;
linking excellence in built projects to adequate processes and procedures;
maintaining an international dimension from the outset through projects on-site and relevance abroad;
establishing exceptional conditions for the duration of an IBA by providing a cross-disciplinary laboratory and by pooling resources;
bringing all participants to agree that the IBA, as an experiment based in reality, requires all involved to take risks and be courageous; and
finding an appropriate structure for imagination and challenging established procedures.
These rather soft criteria show acceptance that architecture and the society it reflects have changed radically over the last century. Although developers and politicians desire certification in architectural production , it does not help spearhead innovation. The intention of the federal commission is therefore to give guidelines for the excellence of an IBA without requiring it to reinvent itself anew in every locality and context. An IBA today is about the urban realm and its underlying governance as much as about architecture and its aspects of function and representation.
The Question Concerning Heidelberg
Discursive and Specific
For the first time in the post-World-War II era , an attempt is underway to make an IBA proactive. With the whole city as its testing ground and no urgent problem crying out for urban renewal, the quest for an intensified knowledge-based urbanism has begun. The discourse on the service economy and its shift from dynamic capital and predefined labor to dynamic knowledge and self-organization has been heard for some time, but the resulting potentials or prerequisites for the production of space in terms of architecture and urban design have received little attention. Responding to new working environments that are evolving around the digital economy and networks and to the growing interest in built space as the third teacher or educator2 (Hubber & Ramseger, 2017, p. 58; see also Malaguzzi & Cagliari, 2016), a discussion has begun in which Heidelberg offers the testing grounds to focus, connect, and offer new solutions on different scales. As a medium-sized city with excellent universities, Heidelberg represents a “knowledge pearl” (Van Winden, Van den Berg, & Pol, 2007, pp. 540−542) and is thus predestined for reevaluation of the relationship between a city and the production and distribution of knowledge.
As the site of Germany’s oldest and most prestigious university as well as numerous international scientific research clusters and institutions (e.g., the European Molecular Biology Lab, four different Max-Planck-Institutes, the German Cancer Research Center, the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies and others), Heidelberg is embedded in a region of strong global players (e.g., BASF, Freudenberg, and SAP). The question is how the city of romanticism can also become a contemporary city of knowledge, not just substantively but also spatially. Such a transformation could help its population build on today’s traditions and strengths to be fit for a future of ever-growing competition, especially with knowledge hubs like Berlin, London, Paris, New York , and Silicon Valley.
Coevolution of Town and Gown
For the IBA this coevolution of university and city exemplifies the claim in knowledge-based urbanism that each phase of development brings about a different identity, often through ambitious architecture. Yet a closer look reveals that the quality of public spaces and the possibilities for interdisciplinary and even nonacademic encounters have been gradually diminishing. Mixed-use developments, spaces for interaction and identification, integrated planning of open spaces, and integrated planning of traffic infrastructure are four layers for possible IBA engagement in this realm.
Agents of Change
Based in reality as a living lab fostering research by means of design, the Heidelberg IBA is a forum for initiating processes and inviting agents of change to join in the search for a next practice in governance of spatial production. In addition to the need to prepare for upcoming requirements in research and development and in education for an inclusive society, two particular interests have emerged over the first few years of the Heidelberg IBA. One is the infrastructure of everyday life. How do people connect the different knowledge hubs in and beyond Heidelberg, and what potential lies in public spaces, old and new, for an open and interactive society ? The concepts range from express-bike paths to experimental design of the urban landscape. Other issues of today’s city metabolism, or urban modes of exchange, range from biodiversity to urban agriculture and their potential for education, health, and leisure.
The Heidelberg Case and Its Strategies
Communication and Inspiration
Working on the invisible and built aspects of education, research, and development, the IBA is a platform, think tank , and start-up agency at once. Its work is therefore based on discourse and communication within different formats for different clienteles established in the first two years.
The reverse strategy is implemented with the IBA_LABs, where examples of European best practice are presented to the public in Heidelberg and discussed with local users, stakeholders, and decision-makers as experts. In that forum issues such as innovative campus design, hybrids of working and housing, and potential in facilities for future research and development initiate knowledge transfers in many directions for administrators, educators, and researchers.
The IBA_ACADEMY takes a more distant, but also inspiring, look at Heidelberg. It enables students and faculty from international schools of architecture and planning (e.g., from Norway, Mexico, and Switzerland) to make Heidelberg their testing ground for ideas. Be it an entire neighborhood or certain institutions designed for innovation, a fresh view from the outside helps to increase receptiveness among different interest groups.
Last but not least, the IBA_SUMMIT aims for an international exchange among knowledge pearls. In this part of the IBA, mayors and university presidents (e.g., from Cambridge, England; Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States; Leuven, Belgium; Lund, Sweden; and Stanford University in California) present their experience of “town-and-gown” relationships as a challenging, but necessary, basis for cocreating a future vision of a built environment beneficial to both aspects.
Structure and Process
For all that these discourses can do to help build a foundation for a long-term project such as an IBA, the crucial elements are the innovative projects and the processes leading to them. In this respect the IBA faces the same challenge as its sisters of recent years did: that of securing funding for the platform only, not the construction to result from it. Nevertheless, Heidelberg has set up a structure for eliciting engagement at different public levels and by private businesses and foundations.
Public Relevance: No self-referential building projects can be accepted.
Extra Competence: Processes and discourses should include the brightest minds available.
Prototype: The resulting project should include an experimental part.
Structural Impact: The project should contribute to its immediate surrounding and neighborhood.
Polyvalence: A degree of heterogeneity or mix of functions should be incorporated in order to foster the transfer of knowledge and to be open to future adaptations.
Candidates and Projects
Challenges for Heidelberg and IBAs in the Twenty-first Century
Not every idea for a building project that is to be completed by 2022 has been assigned a location. The search for these sites ties into the ambitions to have the project concepts qualify for the Heidelberg IBA and secure funding for them. Parallel processes have resulted with each project, challenging established modes of cooperation between many stakeholders. Innovation in governance is therefore a crucial part of the IBA in Heidelberg. In the reality-based laboratory of the IBA, municipality and state and all other established stakeholders need to establish open models of cooperation.
Time will tell whether it is possible to improve the link between integrative strategic program development and the spatial practice of urban development by bringing together diverse actors from the corporate, scientific, and administrative worlds and society at large. Through ambitious planning processes and architecture, the IBA serves as an “intermediary agent” (Selle, 2017, pp. 117−118) acting beyond existing paradigms, habits, and different point of views. Questions of densities and typologies also point out the need to engage with logics of real-estate development, both in the private and public sector, where a wide variety of regulations are still based on the modernistic paradigm of the separation of functions. Together with the need for cocreation in an existing city and society, the task has expanded to include the updating of procedures as well as of projects.
Ultimately, particular networks and windows of opportunity will determine the success of the Heidelberg IBA. Although many arrangements can be planned and executed, the lack of money for the necessary experiments calls for resilient innovation. Will there be public–private partnerships to benefit both ends in terms of content, not just profit? Is the middle ground between specialization and the commons a fruitful terrain for next practices in and for a new knowledge-based society? What the image and shape of Heidelberg will be in all its variety is an open question.
With a process stretching over more than 10 years, questions, not solutions, are on the table. This spirit of uncertainty alone is worth the endeavor. It is based on reflexive practice and destined to show how a knowledge pearl can change to meet the demands of, and deliver the integration for, a twenty-first century in which people want to work and live.
Whereas the evolution of cities has always been based on knowledge, the knowledge-based society has induced a more inclusive urban design on multiple scales. In acknowledgment of both the separation of functions in the modern city and the ever-increasing disciplinary fragmentation of knowledge, a new paradigm for the spatial production of our city is on our agenda, one that inspires exchange between, innovation in-between, and integration of formerly separated disciplines, milieus, and spaces. See http://www.iba.heidelberg.de.
Adults and children are the first two teachers.
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