Culture and Climate Change – Architecture and Urbanism

Radical Pragmatists - The architects Matthias Böttger and Friedrich von Borries from raumtaktik in Berlin

The METreePOLIS  project,Architects: HWKN HOLLWICHKUSHNER, New York, USA Cop: HOLLWICHKUSHNER LLC, Project Team: Matthias Hollwich, Marc Kushner, Robert May, Hwaseop Lee, TJ O’Keefe, Ben Muller, Jonathan Kowalkoski, Patricia SahmThey are young. They want to make the world a better place. And where did they start their quest – at the Architecture Biennale 2008 in Venice. The architects from raumtaktik in Berlin, Matthias Böttger and Friedrich von Borries, were the commissioners of the German pavilion at the most prestigious international exhibition of architecture and urban construction.

With its title Updating Germany – Projects for a Better Future the two of them presented 100 projects, most of them focussing on sustainability, ecology and social responsibility. The aim of these “Raumtaktiker” (spatial tacticians) was to inspire their audience with enthusiasm for a better future.

Step-by-step avant-garde

The United Bottle project Architects: Instant Architekten, Berlin, GER Cop: Instant ArchitektenThe revamped version of their entry at the Architecture Biennale was shown at the Museum of Architecture in Frankfurt am Main until February 2009. Whether it was in Venice or at the “recycled” exhibition in Frankfurt – the focus is not on conventional exhibits, but on research projects, experiments and utopias from the fields of architecture, urban planning, art, design, bio-engineering, energy and transport.

With their urge to change the world these two “Raumtaktiker“ (spatial tacticians) have clearly dissociated themselves from architecture that only focuses on shapes, effects and the ups and downs of the market. Böttger and Börries are striving for a form of architecture that is “more than just a building”. The basis for their ideas is the confrontation with ecological and social realities, with climate change, commercialisation, more and more resource shortages and migration shifts. By analysing the related spatial phenomena, by developing a stance, by working out ways to intervene – this is how raumtaktik’s programmatic approach could be described.

Böttger and Borries, both born in 1974, are clever enough to know they can make it without adopting any revolutionary pretences. They represent a kind of step-by-step avant-garde. Being radical pragmatists, we work with updates,” says Matthias Böttger. “They are more realistic for our society. They are about step-by-step enhancements of the system. Each new version brings countless improvements, corrections, novelties and, unfortunately, new problems as well.”

“To make the world a better place ”

The Heliotrop Project Architect: Rolf Disch Architekten, Freiburg, GER Cop: Rolf Disch SolararchitekturNo reason though to refrain from taking action in the here and now. The projects on show are to convey ideas for this and approaches to solving the problems of our world. Alongside futuristic fantasies like HollwichKushner’s METreePOLIS – a city overgrown with a jungle of plants that supply electricity, there also some specific design and research projects. For example, one that enables plastic bottles to be put to further use. One of the first tasks for aid agencies when helping people in the world’s disaster areas and trouble spots is to get drinking water to them. In most cases plastic bottles are used for this that later have to be collected and then taken back to where they came from. Their idea to use the bottles as building bricks for emergency shelters has already led to prototypes being developed by the team of architects at Instant.

The SkySails Project, Designer: SkySails GmbH: Stephan Wrage and Thomas Meyer, Hamburg, GER Cop. SkySails GmbH & Co.KG The revolving solar house, Heliotrop, in Freiburg, a milestone in ecological construction in Germany will also be on display. Rolf Disch built this residential and office building in 1994 with an in-built photo-voltaic power station that produces five times more electricity than the building needs.

Saving energy on the high seas is also on the agenda. The company SkySails has produced a system using a towing kite that is attached to the bows of cargo ships. With the help of favourable winds the company claims that oil consumption can be reduced by up to 50 per cent. This update from the realm of global goods traffic is to be presented at the exhibition, as well as the new building for the Brandhorst Collection in Munich by Sauerbruch/Hutton – the latter however not on account of its beautiful facades, but more because the building makes use of the heat produced by the buildings surrounding it in a most innovative way.

Going beyond the mere space for construction

Projekt Vacuumatics, Projektentwicklung: Institut für Leichtbau, Entwerfen und Konstruieren (ILEK), Stuttgart, GER, Cop: ILEK Institut für Leichtbau Entwerfen und Konstruieren, Universität Stuttgart“An update is not a master plan, but a development path branching out in all directions,” stresses Matthias Böttger – including dead-end roads and detours. The spatial tacticians idea of what architecture should be incorporates economic, political and social contexts. Like many other architects of their generation this enables them to view their profession not only as a research field, but also as a sphere in which they can make a difference – a difference that goes way beyond the mere space for construction.

In Venice Borries and Böttger were able to continue the work they had been doing , for constructing buildings has never really been at the top of raumtaktik’s list. Before they set up their Berlin office in 2003, they both taught for several years at the Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau, then later at ETH (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich. In the academic year of 2007/08 Borries und Böttger held guest professorships for art and public space at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremburg, in 2009 they will both be fellowship holders at the Schloss Solitude Academy. And at the moment they are already in the throes of preparing an exhibition called “Architecture and Politics” for the Museum of Architecture in Frankfurt. A major part of their work also consists of publications on present-day spatial issues. The “100 Projects for a Better Future” have been comprehensively documented in an exhibition catalogue. In the book they wrote together, Space Time Play, they examine the coherences between virtual and real space. In his book Wer hat Angst vor Niketown (Who Is Afraid Of Niketown) Friedrich von Borries analyses for example the logic behind Nike’s marketing campaigns and their effects on urban space.

Up to now their analyses and theories have been translated into reality in the form of installations and exhibition projects like the “The Fan Shop of Globalisation” on the occasion of the 2006 World Cup. This was a mobile exhibition, travelling around in a freight container, that cast light onto the economic, political and cultural aspects of globalisation using examples from the world of football.

Maintaining the aspiration to design

The ever-growing global interlacing of politics, business, culture and environment is taking its toll on urban areas, the demarcation of borders and spatial structures. Wealthy oases of affluence cut themselves off from the social reality of the rest of the world; environmental pollution and man-made natural disasters are changing the face of whole swaths of land. The way the “spatial tacticians” see it, architecture can only be in tune with the times if it takes heed of these processes and, even if the overall conditions are adverse, it still manages to maintain its aspiration to design.

“Updating Germany – 100 Projects for a Better Future” by Friedrich von Borries and Matthias Böttger
(catalogue for the German entry at the 11th Architecture Biennale in Venice, 2008, 292 pages, published by Verlag Hatje Cantz)

“Bessere Zukunft? Auf der Suche nach den Räumen von Morgen,” by Friedrich von Borries, Matthias Böttger, Florian Heilmeyer
(166 pages, published by Merve Verlag, Berlin 2008)
Elisabeth Schwiontek
is a free-lance journalist in Berlin

Translation: Paul Mc Carthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
June 2008, Updated December 2008

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