It’s hard to believe this moment has already arrived, but the Lab’s run in Berlin is nearing its end. This week is the final push before the gates close and we begin saying our many goodbyes, packing our bags, and looking toward the next stop, Mumbai.
But the Lab has something of a sprint-to-the-finish-line outlook, so that doesn’t mean that anything has been slowing down around here. In fact, in some regards, things have only intensified, and there is one project that is making an especially energetic dash to the end: Design-Build.
Design-Build is a crowd-designed, crowd-built, mobile, temporary structure being created by Lab visitors this week—from initial sketch to final screw in four days flat—which will remain in Berlin after the Lab leaves.
In a sense, it’s the perfect finale. If there are two major themes I could point to that have massively overarched the Lab’s time here over the past six weeks, they would undoubtedly be the concepts of crowdsourcing and DIY, hands-on making in urbanism today—the power of the citizen as the city maker, in every sense of the word.
Design-Build is a potent mixture of those ideas applied to the aspect of urbanism that can make us feel the least powerful: architecture. Under the guidance of Peter Fattinger, a Vienna-based architect/artist, Design-Build started Wednesday afternoon with a group of about ten participants whose professional expertise ranges from medicine, to education, to computer sales, and beyond. Other than Fattinger, there wasn’t an architect or carpenter in sight. When I left them Wednesday afternoon, this group was heavily debating the merits of wood versus gas cooking options, as it had been decided that the structure would be a fully functioning mobile kitchen.
Fattinger is no newcomer to applying collaborative and hands-on processes to architecture. In fact, he demands it of all his students. In 2000, he founded the Design Build Workshops at the Vienna University of Technology, where he is a professor in the department of housing and design. In the workshops, he tasks his architecture students to work together on a team to design and construct a project from beginning to end entirely with their own hands.
The projects range from mobile hot wine kiosks and temporary accommodation for asylum seekers in airports, to permanent community centers, schools, and day cares, either on Vienna’s periphery, or as far away as Indonesia and South Africa.
“A lot of the time, what [architects] design really goes in the wrong direction—it can’t really be built the way they want, or in the end it just doesn’t work at all. I want [my students] to see how difficult it is to actually get an idea built—to see the friction. It’s important for designers to know how difficult it is to build,” Fattinger told me yesterday while he waited for his team to show up for an early morning shopping expedition for materials. There are many architects out there who never touch the materials themselves, he said. Seeing the entire creation process through from start to finish helps architects have a more realistic understanding of the practicalities of making design reality.
But with Design-Build here at the Lab, that process is almost flipped—and the same goes for the other side. This time around, it is the group that usually simply consumes architecture that is forced to see things from the other side.
“I think it’s good for people to also see the spectrum that architects have to fulfill. People complain a lot about architecture, but they often don’t know how difficult it actually is to plan. There are so many forces that work on the design that you can’t really influence,” he said. It’s the first time he’s done such a project with non-architects.
I’ll personally be interested to see which of those forces the group comes up against with this week’s project. As the goal currently stands, the mobile kitchen is set to be ribbon cut-ready, with pans a-clanking, for our closing party at the Lab Sunday evening. After that, it will ideally be taken care of by one member of the group, and available for use by anyone who cares to use it in the city.
Let’s see what the “crowd” can manage to, er, cook up.
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Photo: by Peter Fattinger