Nobody today can reliably estimating what global migration and entering a post-fossil energy generation will mean for urban design and architecture in the future. Yet as Michel Serres suggests, research has a key role to play in exploring and testing the feasible ways that it might take us on. We conduct a theory-driven and empirically informed, comparative research on global forms of architecture and urbanization, in order to develop new conceptual and theoretical approaches. Methodologically our research unfolds at the intersection of architecture, ethnography, and science and technology studies. Empirical and conceptual accounts of architecture are tightly interwoven, since we are convinced that both is mutually enlightening each other. To search for innovative strategies in the field of architectural theory, with the underlying goal of deploying sustainability, means to reflect both the real complexity of the contemporary city and the concepts that are currently available to improve it. In our research, we are interested in and focused on the “wicked problems” (Rittel/Webber: 1973) of urban design and architecture. In our current research activities we are concerned with two broad problem areas, “urban climates” and “relocation,” with great significance for contemporary societies all over the world.
Comparative studies in climate control: In the center of a contemporary architectural understanding of “climate” and “climate control” are, as we see it, “urban microclimates” conceived as “artifacts.” Our current research project on “The City as Indoors” comprises two basic lines of inquiry: a historical trajectory, reconstructing the intellectual history to conceive entire cities – and not buildings – as indoors. We investigate the adaptation of the insights of urban climatology in the field of modern architecture and urban design, aiming at mitigating or even controlling the climate of cities by architectural (passive) means. The goal is to develop a theory of practice, promoting the mutual (thermal) dependency of inside and outside conditions. And there is an empirical trajectory, scrutinizing the urban climates of large cities in relation to how the residents cope with the climatic conditions. We develop a comparative framework (as in the case of our former study on natural ventilation in Medan (Indonesia) and Singapore) in order to investigate the cities of Santiago de Chile, Cairo in Egypt, and Chongqing in China.
Relocation and the ability of buildings to change: Politically and economically motivated relocation of population groups from their place of origin, represent a constant and globally present phenomenon in the 20th and 21st centuries. Buildings – from tent to bunker – have affinities towards certain timeframes. This research refers to historical models such as that of the “growing house” (“wachsendes Haus”) of the 1930s; the adaptable “system building” (“Systembau”) in the 1960s and 70s; and, since the 1980’s, on the reuse of building parts (recycling). Nicolaas Habraken’s differentiation between “support” and “infill,” as well as Frei Otto’s distinction between “fast” and “slow” architecture can be be seen as references to long- and short-lived building parts. The territorial focus of the first two sub-projects have been Egypt and Morocco. “Habitat Marocain” for instance, a settlement built by a pair of Swiss architects (Jean Hentsch and André Studer), provides countless insights into a culture of adaptability in architecture; it serves as a lesson in the interplay of formal and informal housing.