On the site of the Floating University, a diverse range of animals, plants and algae have taken root and given birth to a unique landscape: a man-made environment reclaimed by nature where polluted water coexists with the relatively new presence of the university, forming a natureculture or a third landscape.
The site was designed in the early 1930s as a rainwater retention basin to serve the Tempelhof airfield and adjacent avenues, and it remains today as a fully functioning infrastructure. It is surrounded by a “Gartenkolonie” – an allotment or community garden – and is therefore almost invisible to passers-by. The allotment garden was introduced in Germany during the 19th century as a means of enabling the new urban poor, who had been dispossessed of their land, to grow their own food within the city.
After the Tempelhof airport closed down in 2008, the city’s redevelopment plan proposed to relocate the basin as a pond situated within the 300 hectares of remaining parkland. This would have transformed the 24000 m2 area of public land occupied by the basin into a valuable, profitable asset for Berlin’s real estate portfolio. However, in the Tempelhof referendum of 2014, Berliners voted against the city and prevented any kind of construction on the airfield. The result of this referendum not only protected the unique inner-city green space, but also provided protection for the basin.
The basin plot was closed off to the public for over 60 years, and when Berlin-based architects raumlabor opened up the site as the Floating University in 2018, it was in solidarity with the history of the space and with the lineage of alternative narratives for urban development. The Floating University was established as a temporary urban laboratory for collective learning, and situating a pedagogical experiment in this location was a deliberate form of political engagement.
Since 2018 the Floating University continues to grow into a site where heterogeneous interests translate into projects, interventions, events and installations. Becoming the Floating University is a constant process of searching, discovering, figuring out and paying knowledge forward.
Thank you Till Kind for this wonderful 360° video.
The Construction in 2018
University campus spread across the whole basin – on a variety of platforms. A multi-story construction, the “Urban Forest”, originally designed by the Japanese architecture studio atelier bow WOW for the exhibition “ Wohnungsfrage” at ‘Haus der Kulturen der Welt’, is one of the campus – satellites, made of wood and scaffolding structures. Runways over the water connect to other satellites – classrooms, workshops, toilets, the kitchen, the auditorium, the bar and the laboratory tower – spread like a space station in orbit.
In the center of the space station rises the laboratory tower with a water filtration system laid out on multiple levels. Throughout the whole semester of Floating
University this will be the research and experimentation hub for possible water filtration strategies for rain and greywater.
A gigantic water wheel next to the tower keeps the water circulating, flowing through plant filters, biofilm filters, mushroom filters, sand filters, Mantra-singing filters, gemstone and swirl-filters, along with spiritual guidance and critical dialog. It flows right to the various points for extraction and usage – toilet flush, baptizing, sanctification, cleaning, as defendant fluid and irrigation for our tomato greenhouse.
Around a mobile floating stage the auditorium is set up and forms the center for discussions and works as the interface for research results. The adjacent bar also functions as the documentation headquarters and knowledge transfer intersection. The bar is setup and run by students of the Department for Visual Communication of the Kunsthochschule Weissensee.
The kitchen conceived as a place for exchange and informal knowledge production was developed and facilitated by architecture students of the UdK Berlin and supported by Making Futures Bauhaus+.