24- 26/04/19 AAE Conference (Association of Architectural Educators) London | Learning through practice


Innovation from the field: Housing and house biographies in research and teaching - a qualitative and interdisciplinary approach to architecture in use.

Our contribution draws on an ongoing 5-year research and teaching project in collaboration with a tiny town in Northern Frisia, Friedrichstadt, nominated as Future City by the German Ministry for Education and Research. From the beginning of the partnership, the research and teaching programme Urban Design at HafenCity University Hamburg has combined its role as commissioned researchers with three (summer, autumn and spring) schools that brought international and interdisciplinary students into the town, increased the amount of data significantly and has allowed the team to develop an innovative format and expandable archive for Hamburg Open Online University, an e-teaching platform. In our presentation, we will focus on two aspects of our engagement in research and teaching that are pertinent for the conference’s theme ‘learning through practice’: (1) is the combination of teaching formats and practical engagement as research partners and (2) is using house and housing biographies as a cumulative research and teaching approach involving ethnographic, architectural and sociological methods in the architectural and urban design curriculum. Both aspects have in common that they focus on local expertise and knowledge of the inhabitants of the houses and the town.

1) Three schools were hosted in autumn 2016, spring and summer 2017 and each engaged with an open question: Friedrichstadt: what do you do? Friedrichstadt: how do you dwell? Friedrichstadt: how do you accommodate? The presence of students in the tiny town of 2,500 inhabitants proved productive for two reasons: firstly, students stayed with residents and so were able to make contact on a much deeper basis than external researchers normally can hope to achieve. Secondly, the students produced far more and diverse material and data than an external researcher could be expected to. This way, the relationship between the town and the university emerged as one that involved eating and working together, exchanging perspectives and experiences regarding the way of life in Friedrichstadt. The combined teaching and research projects thus offered students to receive credits for their work while simultaneously producing the kind and amount of data needed to produce a meaningful analysis for the town in its repeated successful bids to the Future City programme.

2) The three schools each focused on one scale: the urban and the town, the block and the quarter, the house and the room. Using film and observation, doing interviews and undertaking archival research, the students worked their way deeper into the fabric of this tiny town with its many tourists and its shrinking population. The interlinked scales provided the means to understand the block perimeter structure of the town, its touristic economy and its residents’ ways of everyday life. This approach, in turn, became the basis on which the Urban Design team developed an e-teaching format and a seminar in the architecture faculty focusing on house and housing biographies as a means to engaging architecture students qualitatively with and understanding existing architecture in use, while simultaneously acquiring the diverse dwelling knowledges of ‘the many’. There is a need to understand actual conditions of living and different lifestyles for developing future proposals. Here, house and housing biographies build a basis for a participation format.


Prof. Dipl. Ing. Bernd Kniess


Professor, Urban Design

Dr. Anna Richter


Post-doctoral Researcher

M.A. Marieke Behne


Academic Staff, Ph.D. Candidate