Reconceptualizing the Urban: Berlin as Laboratory

Berlin is the site of new regional and cultural interactions in a reconfigured post-industrial and post-socialist Europe. The research seminar is concerned with the transitional processes and conditions of urbanization in reunified Berlin and the social, political, and cultural significance of those changes for cities in the United Europe more broadly. The subject of intense scrutiny in the 1990s and early 2000s, Berlin is due for renewed scholarly attention. Today the city of Berlin, where east and west, and old and new Europe intersect and overlap, is one of the prime sites of urban cultural and spatial innovation in Europe where hybrid forms of urban development are generating new processes and types of urban formation.

The seminar will focus on six strategic research themes:
· the interdependence of formal and informal planning practices;
· the relationship between gentrification and historic preservation;
· nature and agriculture in the city;
· the urban imprint of cross-border mobility and migration;
· infrastructure and urban organizational systems; and
· innovation in the post-industrial and post-socialist city

The research seminar also has a broader pedagogical objective: to explore modes of urban spatial analysis and develop multidisciplinary methodologies and models of description and visualization for understanding processes of transformation – economic, technological, social, political – as they are manifest in the built fabric of the city. Our concern is to understand the particularities of place and history, but also the broader logic and modalities of global economic and cultural trends – in terms of forms of knowledge and sets of spatial practices that are particular to the design and planning disciplines.

Berlin as Laboratory has been structured in collaboration with scholars, city officials, architects, landscape architects, filmmakers, urban designers and historians in Berlin. We will be working with local partners in Berlin and with documents: maps, plans, photos, films, etc. from a range of archives in and around Berlin.

The seminar is part of the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative: “Reconceptualizing the Urban: Interdisciplinary Study of Urban Environments, Societies, and Cultures”.