Berlin Lab

Making the City: A Look Back at the Berlin Lab

Working together at the Marathon of Making

Working together during Lab Team Member José Gómez Márquez’s Marathon of Making event.

The future of the city is in our hands. Of all illuminating ideas that arose during the course of the Lab’s stay in Berlin, that is one I continue to return to. Throughout the Lab’s six-week run, the process of using one’s hands and “making” became a means of empowering the Lab’s visitors—more than 27,000 of them, all together—to create change and shape their own urban environment. Berlin dwellers created all sorts of objects and structures out of a broad assortment of materials, and, in doing so, found ways to rework the very fabric of their city. As we at Lab | Log take some time to look back over the past six weeks, I’d like to share just a handful (if you will) of compelling moments from the Lab’s panoply of making.

Two charming bags from the Marathon of Making

Two fetching bags created during the Marathon of Making.

Over the course of the Lab’s sojourn, visitors had opportunities to make things both small and simple—cloth handbags, for instance—and large and complex, such as an entire kitchen built from scratch in four days.

Design-Build kitchen in the making

Some of the parts of the Design-Build kitchen, waiting for assembly.

Christine McLaren shared a picture (above) of some of the materials gathered to help make this structure, and asked on Twitter last week, “Will this manage to become a mobile kitchen in time to feed us at the #BGLab closing party tonight?” Apparently,  Peter Fattinger of Design-Build and his helpers succeeded in their task; on the Lab’s last day, Christine told me that the newly constructed kitchen was serving up a meal.

Another Lab project on the large-scale end of the making spectrum was the One-Sqm-House, Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s DIY shelter that gives a whole new meaning to the term “mobile home.” After people built the houses at the Lab (see the slideshow below), the experiment of using the little structures within the context of the city began. On Facebook, Amos Quito related his personal experience with One-Sqm-Houses: “We took three of them out onto the streets last night—exciting times getting rained out at Mauer Park and then transporting on the metro and U-Bahn to Kottbusser Tor. A relatively comfortable sleep, but it wasn’t so easy attempting to get them back to the Lab with all the Tuesday morning commuters though!”

While Lab participants, Team Members, and collaborators used their hands to build three-dimensional spaces, one could say that they also constructed space in two dimensions, through the creation of maps. Last week, Nicola Twiley of Edible Geography oversaw a workshop to collaboratively generate a map of Berlin’s “foodscape.” As she noted on her website, “Rather than the comfortable abstractions of pastoral imagery and made-up place names, cartography requires and inspires curiosity—a close examination of the foodscape, prompting questions and requiring decisions about metrics, and perhaps even suggesting opportunities to re-draw the map.” In her workshop, participants gathered food data and added it to a hand-drawn map of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. According to Twiley, “It was fascinating to hear anecdotes, examine the edible evidence, and speculate as to the reasons behind the patterns we noticed.”

Making the foodscape map.

Making the foodscape map.

Other exercises in proactive cartography from the Lab included the Free Space Berlin map, initiated by Lab Team Member Corinne Rose. It can still be viewed now that the Lab has closed, and offers Berliners at least some idea of the way public land is being handled by the city government. And Lab Team Member Rachel Smith’s Dynamic Connections bike map will also continue to live and grow—Berlin citizens can still go to the map site and contribute, making it even richer and more useful for fellow cyclists.

By making—and remaking—the city, through maps and so many other material interventions, Lab visitors bore out the words of Jürgen Krusche, from the Institute for Contemporary Art Research at the Zurich University of the Arts. Speaking at the Lab on perceptions of beauty in urban contexts, Krusche said, “The citizens of a city are not passive space consumers, but active space producers.” Berliners who came to the Lab embraced that active role, and truly took their own city in hand.

The Berlin Lab is closed

The Berlin Lab, now being unmade once again.

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Images, top to bottom: Photo from the Marathon of Making by Luke Abiol, © 2012 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; bags and Design-Build kitchen photos by Christine McLaren; One-Sqm-H0use photos by Luke Abiol, © 2012 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; foodscape mapping photo via Edible Geography; disassembled Lab photo by Christine McLaren.