Taking the Academy to the Streets!

project status: Taught in Spring, 2012

Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time. Our living rooms are empty seven-eights of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It‘s time we gave this some thought.” -  (Buckminster Fuller in “I seem to be a verb” 1971)

In the discourse on sustainable cities density is often considered a mere extensive problem—maximizing FAR. Instead this studio was concerned with the intensive use of latent urban resources. Universities for instance are empty one third of the year. Can we reconsider its typology to accommodate a superimposition of activities in time adapting to fluctuating rhythms and changing intensities?

In the next four years the Academy’s main building will undergo major renovations. We proposed to relocate the school to a network of vacant shops in Vienna’s 15th district claiming an estimated 6000m2 of unoccupied space. In immediate relation to the streets the decentralized academy offers the opportunity to rethink prevalent modes of education and explore new forms of collaborative learning beyond the ivory tower. More importantly the scenario aims at investigating temporary use of existing spatial resources as catalyst for urban renewal. How can the neighborhood’s upgrade be balanced with the risks of accelerated gentrification? How can the network of the temporary “Street Academy” provide benefits for current inhabitants as much as the academy’s students and thus trigger a sustainable transformation of the public sphere?

According to Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Age of Access”, we are experiencing a shift in which ownership gives way to temporary access, and as capitalism sheds its material origins and turns to the commodification of time, Rifkin cautions against the rise of a hypercapitalist culture where all of life becomes a paid-for experience.

Meanwhile authors such as Rachel Botsman frame the reorganization of spatio-temporal relations—coinciding with the global financial crisis, dwindling energy resources and forms of communication and social networks based on the Web 2.0—as an opportunity. Botsman describes a new collaborative lifestyle and rentership society emerging from product-service systems, redistribution markets and peer-to-peer networks that challenge common notions of the private and public, the principals of centrality and economies of scale. These phenomena provided a conceptual base for investigating typological evolutions and rethinking the relation between architecture and the city at large.

In a first phase students developed an overall strategy for the network organization across the neighborhood. They then conceived and realized on-site interventions to test their ideas in real life situations. The final presentation took on a performative character ranging from an urban dérive to a courtyard parcours, from seminars in local diners to public exhibitions in vacant shops and sidewalk installations. Thus the reviews were literally the first step of taking the academy to the streets. As a consequence urban design turned into the actual experience of negotiating multiple interests as students had to convince owners, inhabitants or the municipality to grant them access to their space of intervention.

The project was presented to a large public as part of the “urbanize!” festival organized by dérive magazine in October 2012 and featured in the local media such as Der Falter, Ö1 Kulturjournal and Dérive Stadtradio.