In a pivotal year like 2020 that has had a significant focus on social justice and the value of community, many of us have gone through personal epiphanies. It has been a time for many to consider deeper questions of connectivity and access, of belonging and inclusion. As we are confronted with new ideas that challenge old ways of thinking, we have the opportunity to evolve and grow.
A group that has inspired me in this way recently is Raumlabor. They are a Berlin-based group of architects, artists, and designers that have come together to create social change in their communities. Their goal is not profit, but rather to imagine new ways of using existing space in our cities. They flip the design process around, positioning public engagement as the project leader, resulting in the designers and the developers working in service to the public. They work to understand the people and what their desires are, and through their architectural skills translate those desires into design solutions. It’s an innovative and creative way to make space.
One of their pivotal projects was the revival of the Berlin Statistics Buildings- five buildings covering 430,000 square feet that had remained empty for over a decade. What Raumlabor did was post a sign announcing upcoming renovations to the space focused entirely on the needs of the community including a refugee kitchen, daycare, community space, education centers and more. The resultant excitement and expectation ignited within the community compelled the local government to dedicate 25% of the dormant building to these meaningful and purpose-driven functions.
“In the context of the current social crisis, the concept seeks answers to challenges such as increasing segregation… The objective is to create a paradigmatic development of an urban ensemble of existing and new buildings. It offers not only different forms of community housing and areas for public use, but also space for art production, culture, education and social life.” (Mayer & Bader, 2018)
They seek first to understand those who exist within the margins of society and design for them; it’s all about inclusion. The more I am exposed to these ideas through school, the more I consider the benefit of inclusion as I look into my future as a designer. I want my designs to be a genuine expression of the community. Before deliberating on these ideas, I was much more focused on the beauty and physical appearance of art and architecture. Now, I consider how in addition to the contributions of visual poetry, a design can contribute beauty through its meaning and service.
Groups like Raumlabor inspire me as a future designer, and further ignite my thirst for knowledge. Their courage in continuously seeking to explore undiscovered ground, to see the unseen and to express new voices is an inspiration to me, especially during these challenging times. The social unrest and the pandemic we have experienced in 2020 are an invitation for us to look inwards and consider the ways our professional selves can contribute to the conversation about community and belonging in positive and supportive ways.
by Mahina Wright
Mayer, C and Bader, M (2018). The Agency of Spatial Practice: Architecture as Action.