On the north side of
“We knew it was kind of a secret spot in the center of the city that nobody had on the map,” explains Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius of
From April through September, the basin was occupied by a peculiar, offshore structure—a constellation of scaffolded volumes and floating platforms with inflatable rooftops and a large wheel. It was part-pirate ship and part-Princeton; part-Archigram and part-Burning Man. This was the
Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation as part of its ongoing Bauhaus centenary celebrations, the university was initiated by
“We know that there are lots of people around in academia that are looking for other ways of dealing with the real world,” explains Foerster-Baldenius. “Ways of getting together and finding things out together, not only within the campus, but also open more to the public.”
This public-facing approach gave the
Elsewhere, a modular kitchen was designed by architecture students and other participants of a workshop on the socio-spatial history of the kitchen. An innovative water filtration system, designed by artist-in-residence Katherine Bell, used a wheel to draw the ditch water through a series of interconnected bathtubs containing biological filters such as sand-biofilm, mushroom mycelium, and zebra mussels.
Located at the back of the auditorium, the manual operation of the wheel took place every hour, creating a constant reminder of the bizarre surroundings. The transparency of the workings of the structure and its semi-natural surroundings were a central part of the experimental education taking place on the site: “It’s really hard to stay serious because there’s this nature theater around you, which is just so funny,” says Foerster-Baldenius.
Over the summer, 25 affiliated universities—hailing from Bogotá to Paris—plugged into the structure for experimental seminars and workshops, while a parallel public program drew Berliners and visitors into discussions spanning urbanism, experimental sound art, water consumption, and the legacy of the Bauhaus. On a given Saturday afternoon one might find kids stomping around in the swamp (boots provided) while attendees joined a performance circling the ditch, enjoyed drinks at the bar, served lunch,
Despite the resounding success of the university in expanding design education and opening public infrastructure to new uses, the project’s funding ran out and the deconstruction of the university begun in September.
This is not, however, the end of the story.
Over the course of its existence the project gained interest and support from city politicians,
Initial discussions are centered around synchronizing the contributions of the different visiting universities, so that each one adds something new to the ever-evolving site. “The
Equally, Foerster-Baldenius is optimistic for the future of the basin site itself: “The city is dealing with the surrounding gardens to develop something new out of it and we would like to have a word in this development. We’ve opened up an area in the city that was asleep for 50 years, and now we have a responsibility for it.”