Baltic International Summer School 2017: How to Transform a City in Nine days

A special international summer school for urban studies was held in August, organized by HafenCity University Hamburg. ITMO Students from the Institute of Design and Urban Studies have been participating in the event since 2014. This year, two Master’s students went to Hamburg to participate, Ekaterina Ilina and Mulud Bashir-Sherif. More about the summer school and the 60 students from 8 countries who participated is described below.

The Baltic International Summer School (B.I.S.S.) is part of the BeInterBaltic project, which is implemented as part of the ERASMUS+ programme. The summer school usually takes place over 9 days in August, and each year has a new theme. This year, 60 students participated from 8 European countries: Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Estonia, Russia, and others. The theme was "Think the link". B.I.S.S. brings together students of urban design, architecture, landscape architecture and engineering to work in collaborative teams on urban problems typical for all major harbor cities around the Baltic Sea region.

The summer school includes interesting lectures in urban studies and other relevant fields, including architecture. Participants also take part in other events like picnics, tours of the city, and team building exercises. However, before going to HafenCity, each participant should prepare at home. This year they had to produce a short presentation, demonstrating an initial analysis of Hamburg. The organizers also invited the students to analyse their own tools and methods in creative activities and to portray them on a poster using sketches, drawings, models, photographs and texts (mixed layout).

"The first day was a get-to-know-you day. We were introduced to our mentors, after which all participants were asked to prepare lunch together. This was an interesting idea which allowed the participants to get to know each other in an informal atmosphere, since by the end of the day we had to make a team where you couldn’t have someone else from your university, and all team members had to have different majors. After lunch, we were given cards with photographs of ten key features of Hamburg. On the cards there were pictures of parts of iconic places (fragments of a bridge, towers, buildings, etc.) that we had to find in the city. We looked for them in groups, and this helped make clear what each participant wanted to work on as part of the summer school.", - shared Ekaterina Ilina, one of the participants of the Summer school from ITMO U.

All participants of the program had to work on one specific area of Hamburg; however, each team had to develop their own individual renovation plan of the space. Each mentor, in turn, considered the projects from different angles, for example, from a historical angle, or of key transport spots, or communication networks, or other landscape features.

In order to work on the project, all the participants had to visit the area. It was a small triangular area (part of the HafenCity region, which will be built up by 2025), not far from the center of Hamburg. A road and a railway cross through the area. The area is adjacent to industrial zones and an old residential suburb. Right now this area has free unused land, and each team had to decide how they would transform this part of Hamburg.

Cultural Attraction

“We decided to focus on the local authorities’ idea of building skyscrapers in this area. The area is a small patch of land, where soon a metro station will open and then a tram station. On the other side there is a highway. In other words, access to this area of the city will be really convenient for people. It is planned that the area will be like an entrance to the city, so, of course, it’ll attract a lot of attention. We also met with people who live in a nearby area. They expressed a negative attitude towards the authorities’ idea. They explained that HafenCity is an expensive area where rental prices are high. Inhabitants of the old district were worried that the new buildings would increase prices in their area, too. We decided to connect HafenCity to the old residential area, and suggest the authorities to make a compromise, which eventually can affect the city administration’s decision to build skyscrapers,” explained Ekaterina Ilina.

The team decided to gradually develop the land, work with local problems separately and created a three-stage strategy. The first part involves developing those parts of the district where people already live. Even though the plot is abandoned, today it is visited by the inhabitants of the neighboring area to look at trains, draw graffiti, look at the nearby canals around the area. All these areas can be improved and made more attractive, for example, by using installations, street-art and other methods.

The second stage of the strategy is to open a community center in an old three-storey building which is currently being used by the police, but soon will be unused. The residents of the neighbouring area have been asking the city administration to provide a place which can be used as a community center for residents and guests of the area. The team’s idea is to give this building to the residents of the area so they can organize cultural activities and attract other residents of Hamburg.

The third stage is based on participatory design. The idea is to use the area to conduct music festivals or other cultural events which don’t require permanent construction. Using expert assistance, temporary pavilions will be made that can be assembled and disassembled. Students and lecturers from HafenCity University Hamburg could help with developing the construction design and anyone could participate in assembling of the pavilion.

“The general idea is the following: if the place becomes one of the cultural centers of Hamburg and attracts a lot of people, then maybe the government’s opinion will change. We suggested making this piece of land a buffer between HafenCity and other, less affluent neighbourhoods. This is an intermediary area, where there will be lots of festivals, exhibitions and other city events, a point of attraction for the whole city.” shares the Master’s student.

Each team independently chose the format for presenting their work. Among the solutions presented was analysis and planning of the area with drawings of various features. One team focused on the local issue of crossing the canal, another team calculated the changes in water level in the canals, and presented the mathematical calculations to the jury with the subsequent problem solving. The project which got the highest number of positive responses from the jury proposed to connect two banks with a lighting installation that turns noise into colour. In other words, the installation will light up in different colours depending on what kind of transport passes through (if several types of transport go past, it’ll be red, and if bicycles, then green, etc.). The team made a physical model of their idea and showed on the computer how the system would work.

HafenCity University Hamburg was founded in 2006. It is often described as the newest and most unusual German university. Here, international experts are engaged in developing the best solutions for building modern cities, advantaged technology and modern architectural aesthetics, closely linked to social and cultural peculiarities. As the University is very young and does not have a rich history of exchange students, international collaboration projects with universities abroad are often conducted with the purpose of attracting more students, professors and researchers for new educational projects.

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