Products and spaces are far more than just tools we use and places we inhabit. When architects and designers put pen to paper, they set in motion a feedback loop between the design and human behavior. “We design our world, while our world acts back on us and designs us,” wrote Anne-Marie Willis on the process she calls “ontological designing”. Thoughts obviously shape spaces and products but surprisingly, they return the favor and shape our subjective realities. This process occurs in our relationships with everything from operating systems to homes to cityscapes.
That might sound baffling but it’s an essential concept for those wanting to shape our future urban spaces and better understand urbanism, which is one of five topics being discussed at the me Convention in Frankfurt, Germany this September. The technology and innovation convention focuses on all things future related (no, not the rapper), immersing guests in what’s next and inspiring them to be part of creating it.
The five topics—New Creation, New Leadership, New Realities, New Velocity and New Urbanism—are highly relevant to Highsnobiety‘s world, which brings us to Berlin-based architect Jan Rösler. Berlin is home to Highsnobiety HQ and a huge influence on the culture that birthed us and that we continue to cover. When placed into the context of ontological design, Rösler’s insights into New Urbanism and Berlin’s architecture shed light on the city’s pervasive culture of creativity, freedom of expression and tolerance — traits that influence the content we create every day.
In order to better understand how Berlin’s architecture has shaped our culture, we sat down with Rösler to discuss how Berlin has developed over the last fifty-plus-years and what it needs to do to maintain its unique character. The conversation is just a taster of what’s coming up at the me Convention between September 15 and 17. For more details check out our detailed breakdown here; win tickets to the convention by entering our competition; and get inspired by reading our interview with Jan Rösler below.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Jan Rösler, I’m 35 years old. I run a design studio for architecture in Berlin as well as a workshop to realize our projects. In our work, we focus on individual design solutions and innovations thinking about how to use materials and assemble them in slightly different ways. However, I am attracted to traditional ways of thinking about the building process. Maybe that is why I am interested in relatively small scale detailing rather than huge structures.
Why did you become an architect?
After high school, I trained as a joiner in a small workshop. I started my own business the day I got my certification. I always loved to see how things were put together and growing while doing so. But working as a craftsman, you are just a very small cog in the machine with no chance of making an impact. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to decide how thing will be done. So I went to university, got a Masters Degree in Architecture and started my own design studio.
Explain the impact of Berlin on your work, approach and thinking.
I grew up behind the wall in West Berlin. I never lived in another German city, only abroad for some time. I can still feel the difference between Berlin and other cities. Maybe it is being behind the evolution in so many fields including urbanism.
Being isolated for many years, untouched refugia developed after World War Two where time seems to be slower than elsewhere. Especially inside the Berliner Blocks on the first and second courtyards. It looks like tanks and soldiers very suddenly left. You see bullet holes, facades are crumbling, side wings half way torn down. Walking down the streets you used to see gaps where buildings used to be filled with playgrounds or car dealers as if it was supposed to be this way. And I am talking about 60 years after the war. The whole city looked like a row of teeth with a lot of black spots.
You find all kind of unusual but interesting stuff going on in these blocks. It is remarkable and cannot be found in the same density in other parts of the country. Many things look very improvised and are very improvised. So that is the atmosphere I grew up in and I am used to. All of this has an impact on how I do my work and how I am thinking of my work. As an architect, I want to build things, new things. But inside myself, I want to preserve this improvised atmosphere I’ve been talking about. It’s charming and I don’t want to lose it.
What can Berlin’s urban environment teach other global cities about ways to live? Do its history and development offer solutions for other urban centers?
I’ve always liked the city’s incomplete appearance. It makes Berlin unique, exciting, interesting and loved by so many all over the world. But it’s changed a lot over the last few years and not in a positive way. We are about to lose our charm. I see the loss on almost every corner, in every gap. They all are filled with boring, badly done, fake-neoclassical-wannabe buildings. It’s not working.
Opportunities the city offers in so many aspects aren’t being appreciated properly, including in the building and urban planning sectors. In a not too distant future, Berlin will more or less look like every other “modern” city, just without skyscrapers. I think Berlin can teach other cities to be careful about how they change and modernize without destroying what makes the city endearing and worth living in.
Is gentrification a bad thing and if so, how do we stop it? Or is it simply a process that has always occurred but now there is a new name for it?
I guess it is the second but we have to continue thinking about how to deal with it. On the one hand, there are positives that are welcomed by residents. On the other, when gentrification is as overwhelming as it is in some Berlin districts, you have to think about where people go after all the nice places are taken? You only have to look at Paris as an example.
How can the built environment be made more human—safe, affordable, convenient, engaging, equitable and healthy?
Thinking smaller could be one way to challenge the current situation. Honestly, who wants to live in these huge new apartment blocks with no character popping up everywhere? They’re places you go to sleep, but not to live. There are no naturally growing neighborhoods, communities or places to come together.
I would like to see the city council support individual projects developed by residents rather than by investors; give time to unconventional ways of using spaces instead of unitizing everything; and be more vanguard than regulatory.
Does the internet, specifically the dialogue between creator and consumer that happens on the internet, have any impact on you and your practice and the wider industry? Or not at all?
For the moment, I don’t see too much impact on my own practice. Certainly, clients are searching the internet for all kind of buildings all over the world, that can also be mind opening and might lead to greater acceptance of our ambitious proposals.
Can we ever intentionally shape and plan the urban environment to our needs long-term or will it always be the result of immediate reactions to what is needed in the short-term?
Actually, I like the idea of immediate reaction over long-long-term planning. Planning is very human. Something that brought us as a society to where we are now. But somehow I have the feeling a little bit more floating could be helpful from time to time in our so called modern western world.
The me Convention takes place at the International Motor Show in the Festhalle Frankfurt from September 15 to 17. If you’re interested in shaping the future, visit me-convention.com for the full program, speaker list, after hours schedule, and ticket information. Don’t forget you can also win tickets by simply signing up to our newsletter here.
- Photographer: Nik Schulte / Highsnobiety