Reflection on Excursion: transcultural workshop on Urban Transformation
It was my first trip to Europe and to Germany where I wasn’t sure what type of city waited for us from Nepal. Thus, my reflection will inevitably be guided by my first impressions and what I experienced on this trip both by activity and observation.
Our workshop module was an engaging one with attention given to how knowledge and understanding of a certain term and meaning were focused on our use of It and if we can rebuild and redefine these words. These first notions remained with me throughout the program and I kept looking out for how a space, interaction, and gathering of knowledge was expressed and designed within and outside of the workshops.
The first part of the workshop day included a guided tour of the old city’s history regarding the stopfelsteiner , the stumbling stones made in the memorial of the Jewish history of the Heidelberg, and where they lived. The history of Heidelberg seemed entangled with this history with sites commemorating the burning of books and old architecture, museums, and public spaces all intertwined with a dark history that was impossible to neglect once you are made aware of it. This guided tour also made it clear that there was a pang of guilt for the past events. Lots of emotions flowed in the wake of understanding the events taking place in the spaces we were guided to. I was trying to be aware of how we were interacting with the space we were walking in with fresh knowledge and a deeper insight into a space that was trying to come to terms with a pained past. With the guided tour, in case of stumbling stones, we had to look down and it’s interesting how it was by design. Making spaces to interact by design for the space and city to interact with its inhabitants, passengers and tourists was a highlight for me. This level of interaction also created a curiosity for me to see who interacted with them and who neglected them.
The other guided tour of the university Platz or uniplatz and the inner courtyard spaces talked about the use of space in the old city and how they communicated with the students, locals, and tourists. The idea of engagement in the public space was quite an interesting topic for me to study coming from a place where I live close to one of the busiest spaces in Basantapur Durbar square in Nepal. The level of happening in Heidelberg’s bismark Platz was very different compared to uniplatz. Uniplatz was more of wider on only certain events of the year as it used and remained distant for the rest of the year. Compared to that space, the inner courtyard which became more focused for the students of the university to use was a lot more engaging and again designed for their interactions and became a semi-public space that was gated from the public and outsiders in certain hours and times of day. These types of gating were now becoming more visible, and I started becoming more curious about observing the impact of accessibility of space on the community of that space, visitors to the space, and outsiders living in the space. Small things within the space designed for vehicles and bikes to be nicely parked in the space meant that the place felt comfortable with having vehicles there. It encouraged a manner for the users to behave in the way the owners or regulators of the space probably want them to. However, the benches seemed a bit different in length than I was used to, they were specifically designed shorter so that it made them uneasy for the homeless to stay. The larger structures were temporary and were placed in the events which was an interesting design for the potential of the space to be used in more varied ways. Seeing an outdated service was an interest for my change of preference in the space and people of that community. The outdated service phones slowly now being discarded was a sign that the type of service being provided was also changing. However, the history of the space remained like the water-fountain tower in Gartenpavillon which was there since the 1600s. Looking at these spaces in the tour made me able to isolate myself as an observer and look at the space without being a part of it to see how the space made an impact on the individuals involved. A great lesson for me was the process of understanding the history and present use of the space in the city to understand the momentum of the city moving forward.
The third tour was on colonial pasts, present, and the lingering future and racism that followed in the colonial history of the space. With our visits in different spaces one motto first introduced to us was, “Do not feel guilty, be responsible.” This reverberated in my thoughts for quite a long time. As we looked into how the collections were made and certain souvenirs were gathered in the past different spaces, it became apparent that a lot of things had been taken for granted in the sake of where the people of color were positioned and how the artifacts from the colonized portions came to the position in the hands of present owners. The other portion of the colonial mixes was in how a space was designed promoting a misguided idea. These misguided ideas being presented in the space without a context posed a threat of encouraging such ideas. However, the complete lack of absence of context on history poses a threat to understanding such spaces and a question arose, ‘What happens when you don’t know what has happened before for it to be not repeated again?”
The workshop after this was more about the new spaces being built around the old city rather than inside it. We went to three different co-housing spaces being built with communal and, ecological living being a key area of observational study of these visits. The first one was a space made for highlighting ecological living and how can a space be made to adapt to climate change with community spaces while conserving green lands and living with nature being some of the ideas floating in the visit. The first stop was an example of residents using the space for a few years. It showed the city’s vision on the step forward, and the standards they kept for ensuring it. There was a big space on one side with space for green to grow with lizards being conserved. This space was built on discarded rail track areas, and reusing such spaces were very inspirational and commendable. Understanding the design of the space and the experience being built on the space was a curiosity for me. I wanted to know more about how people live in these areas to which I did get few answers. I am now more interested in understanding such narratives of such spaces and how visions of a plan are implemented and how people react to them while living in them. I really like what Arnav from the SPA group said: “Which designer comes back to their designs?” As an artist, I wanted to know more about the sensorial experiences the residents here had, and the inclusion levels that might affect the mindset and perception of the neighborhood. As these houses were provisioned with conservation of energy and with a mindset to adapt to climate change, they had provisions like regulated heat in the rooms and systems for air circulations. The commendable effort made me wish we could try something of that planning in our ever-growing colonies and housing projects in Kathmandu, an area of observation that has been making me very interested. I was very curious about the models of living and sustenance in these parts as the living standards seemed high. Certain income and job groups seemed more able to stay here than a lower income group. I think it’s worth noticing where certain implications felt odd for me perhaps as a foreigner who comes from colorful houses and very varying architecture to a planned housing with only geometric shapes of varying rectangles and squares. I am used to seeing squared and rectangle houses however not in such a neat order that they somehow felt indistinguishable from one another. I wondered why, was it more efficient perhaps? Perhaps this comes from me being an artist that the grey and very manufactured look drove me away from the appeal of the space. However, the water harvesting of rainfall in every house was commendable and the parks and community spaces in between the block for children to play and for adults to roam were inspirational. Understanding developments by following the investments was a key method here and I wish I could observe such investments in my area. One of the spaces being reused as an art space felt like a space very much needed in a community. Art reflects the mindset of the community. It also creates opportunities for communities to appreciate the bonds that are present there and highlight the ongoing discussions, issues, and ideas within the community.
The other spaces we visited were of student co-housing spaces and communal co-housing spaces run by adults and family groups. Both of these spaces intrigued me as someone very much interested in the idea of living in a shared space and narratives built from there to understand human conditioning. The first space visit was more on the process of being built with few spaces being in use while the rest on the process of being built. This one being run by a student body used a system of council to decide on the precedent matters and applications of incoming residents. This felt like a more secluded space compared to others as a means for its accessibility remained on various factors of being a student in the university, being accepted by the student body, and some other factors. The students there seemed engaged with the build of the space making it a very commendable effort. This, however, posed a question of how the space would run in the long term, who gets accepted and how long can they stay in the space.
The curiosity of acceptance came for me from the accessibility of funds to the students as well, I am wondering what happens to a student willing to stay here as a non-European who needs a work permit and therefore cannot contribute to the working in the communal effort as much? Will a non-European be accepted where the body deciding the applications are dominantly European and German? Are there any systematic exclusions occurring in the space? How are the students plan to make it more accessible if there are such exclusions? What are the invisible borders being placed?
There was a similar idea in the adult space with families in the co-housing idea. Again, the spaces we visited were being re-used, and especially here the space was made much more vibrant and community-engaged spaces. There were hints of problem-solving within the living residents in forms of clear articulations of the problem and again a council system. The living rooms and playing spaces for kids were public spaces with the level of engagement kept much more freely compared to the student’s space. Again, the accessibility came down to knowledge of such spaces, type of resident permit, work permit, affordability, and acceptance by that community. Perhaps there is more to it than what I saw but there was certainly a more relaxed approach and there certainly felt more color. Giving in to the sensorial experiences, this space felt much more comfortable, the area was more organic designed, being built in parts and reused that gave it a certain relaaxed approach. The walls had more color and they were painted in and outside by the individuals either from the community or ones they know. I am now more interested if such cohousing ideas can be implemented in our region, and older systems like Guthi (where certain lands and houses were shared) and communal spaces can be redesigned to make them more accepting and accessible.