City as Resource

”When you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole.”
– The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander, 1979

“The largest share of the mitigation potential of new buildings is available in developing countries, while in developed countries the highest mitigation potential is within the retrofit of existing buildings.” –  6th assessment report, IPCC, 2022

The Spring 2024 studio will focus on urban adaptive reuse in the ‘already built-up city’ in the context of climate change and resource scarcity, with Berlin serving as a test site. The studio seeks to explore new paths for urban development within the boundaries of our planet and the boundaries of the already built environment, focusing on utilizing material and non- material resources embedded in the existing urban structures and fabric. This involves investigations on how urban development needs can be accommodated through cultures of reuse, reparation, retrofit, and sensible densification of the existing rather than prevailing practices of obsoletion, replacement, extraction, and expansion.

The evaluation of projects will emphasize the successful retrofitting of neighborhoods to improve living conditions, community dynamics, and social balance.

The building and planning industries’ consumption of land and natural resources is a cause of great environmental concern. It drives resource scarcity, threatens biodiversity, and the energy consumed when processing these resources into building materials, constitute a substantial and increasing share of buildings and cities’ total carbon footprint.

Over the years the materials have accumulated in our buildings and cities, and the built environment today accounts for the majority of the global anthropogenic material stock. As part of a sustainable transition of our societies, it is necessary to consider how we can make better use these vast material resources. Research point to the environmental potentials of reusing the already built environment through practices of adaptive reuse, rather than building new. The importance and potential of doing so is also mentioned in the latest IPCC report, particularly pertaining to the cities in the developed world. However, up to now practices of adaptive reuse have been carried out a small scale, focusing on components, or small-scale buildings, even though there are indications that the impacts of such practices would be bigger on an urban scale – across buildings, infrastructures, landscapes and even entire urban districts.

In light of the above, the Spring 2024 studio will explore potentials for urban scale adaptive reuse in the context of climate change and resource scarcity, using Berlin as a test-site.

The aim is to explore and discuss how we can accommodate future urban development by utilizing the material resources in the existing building stock. The aim is also to explore how to draw upon the qualities, characters and structures of the existing city in the development of new urban environments.  This involves designing and inventing new typologies and programs, developing hybrids as well as new practices of transformation, necessary densification, and resource recovery within the existing built environments.

The aim is also to engage in critical discussions, on how to create meaningful spatial interventions and urban transitions, that can foster more sustainable, livable, and equitable cities.

This course has an irregular schedule. Please see the course syllabus for details.