Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day’s session. Photo: Michael Willis

Knowledge City: Rethinking Heidelberg

Heidelberg, one of Europe’s oldest university towns, is looking at its future. Here’s a firsthand account of what’s ahead and what it might means for university towns here.


With a population of 150,000, Heidelberg is only modestly larger than Berkeley. Although its university dates back to the Middle Ages, its modern fame really began in the 19th century, when the philosopher Hegel taught there. After heavy involvement with Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s, it was revived by untainted scholars along with the city itself, an important base for the US military during the Cold War. With its romantic old city along the Neckar River, Heidelberg is a popular tourist destination, but its university is an equally important center for law, medicine, and science.


In March, I visited the city to attend the launch of the Heidelberg IBA. A German institution since 1901, the Internationale Bauaustellung is a means for its cities to discuss their future development, establish a framework, and then get it built. The 1923 Stuttgart IBA gave rise to the Weissenhofsiedlung program, with participants like Mies, Corb, and Peter Behrens. The 1984 Berlin IBA similarly attracted the likes of Eisenman, Hejduk, Kleihuis, and Rossi. There’s nothing theoretical about the IBA, as I saw myself when I visited the Berlin IBA in 1984. This is real-time transformation.


One of the Academy presentations. Photo: Michael Willis


The Academy: ideas for 2022
Heidelberg’s IBA and it’s theme of Wissen|Schafft|Stadt, or Knowledge based Urbanism, was divided into two parts. Part one was the Academy, a review of proposals for the future of Heidelberg by eight university teams. They did a crash course on the city’s neighborhoods, charretted for four days, then presented to the public on day one of the IBA launch. The teams suggested treating the Neckar River as a university district, to make a stronger connection between the old and new parts of the city. They suggested thinking of Heidelberg’s future development as zones of feeling—Melancholia, for example, a real German impulse, would provide places for the contemplation essential for generating ideas. And they suggested new infill strategies like Acupuncture—inserting elements of university life into other neighborhoods to cause collisions and complexity. Or like Incubation—separating the different parts (university, housing, and commerce) to give them room to grow.


These proposals were not without their paradoxes—and they sparked opposition and debate from the visitors and local citizenry—but controversy was the point.


Part two was the Summit. In between, we heard from Heidelberg Mayor Eckart Würzner, who noted that cities are shifting from work and cars to culture and urbanity—a shift that requires vision, not more of the same. Rediscovering city “quarters”—what the Berlin Germans call a Kiez, a place to identify with and even love—is one step toward Heidelberg’s “Mediterraneanization,” with a lively outdoor life. Tourists and people moving to the city are important measures of success, he said.


The Summit: compare & contrast
Day Two heard from other university cities—American, Asian, and European—that could be precedents for Heidelberg’s framework for future development. The Dutch city of Delft is joining forces with Rotterdam and The Hague to get a bigger critical mass of institutions and community life going—a knowledge region, not just a city. Montpellier in France has a similar issue—how to open up the university so its different parts form a more vibrant whole. Palo Alto, which swells from 65,000 to 125,000 people during the workweek, homed in on its opportunities (“center of the knowledge universe”) and constraints (only the wealthy can be housed, yet the city is an urban mecca amid suburbia].


Cambridge, roughly Berkeley’s size, sees the Red Line as its transit “river,” a place of informal encounter if the city’s zoning can keep pace by allowing mixed-use growth. NYU, a university city anchored by Washington Square, is trying to grow within its district without overwhelming it. Kumamoto, a university town in Japan that is Heidelberg’s sister city, is betting on the involvement of the 26,000 people who study there—not just “birds of passage,” but valuable messengers from the future.


The Summit ended with talks by UNESCO’s Walter Erdelen and Martin Lees, ex-domo of the Club of Rome. Erdelen spoke of the importance of nature—not just the river, but also of life supports, like water and power, that should be sustainable. As a center for medicine and science, Heidelberg should bring issues like health and resilience “down to the ground,” applying its knowledge to the city and its citizens. Lees said that those attending “were a privileged lot,” whereas many in the world are necessarily on the move owing to human and natural catastrophes. Cities have to figure out how to avoid “nonlinear shocks”—cities have to take the lead.


Heidelberg Lord Mayor Eckart Würzner. Photo: Michael Willis


The final word came from Eckart Würzner, reminding the audience of the IBA for Heidelberg that brought everyone together and inviting us back to evaluate what promises to be an ambitious program for its development through 2022. The IBA framework for Heidelberg embraces everything from the growth and health of the physical city to the guarantors of its longer-term prosperity—university research, for example, and the incubators of new economic activity spinning off from it. To see those ideas take shape is a powerful reason to go back, and I intend to do so.


No Comments

> Submit

Select filter(s):


In amber morning light I boarded a vaporetto and floated down Venice’s Grand Canal. Bit of a switch from Dallas.


> Read More


The Art of Assemblage


“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”


-Richard P. Feynman


We enter a fabric womb, a cave-like space of soft stalactites that brush against us, shifting and pooling us into groups. We’ve stumbled into the world that is Give, an installation by artists Bird Feliciano and Juliana Raimondi.

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer


Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer are co-curators for StoreFrontLab‘s Season 2: City Making Series.

> Read More


Invisible Urbanism

Ian Quate at the opening of the summit. (Photo: John Parman)

How do you make yourself at home in a cauldron filled with demons? I’m quoting the founder of Soto Zen, but the question was also posed at a recent San Francisco summit. > Read More


Contributor Profile: Leah Nichols


Leah Nichols is a San Francisco-based urban designer and art activist. She currently works at SITELAB urban studio, implementing public realm possibilities within a range of scales, from 28-acre mixed use developments to chain-link fence installations.

Urban Symposium No. 1

The first Urban Symposium event, as a part of StoreFrontLab Season 2, kicked off with a full room of people, each with a party hat on and margarita in hand. > Read More


TraceSF launches City Makers salon

This month TraceSF introduces City Makers, a new salon series at StoreFrontLabHosted by Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects and Emily Gosack of Jensen Architects, City Makers grew out of a desire to hear more from the women at the forefront of City Making. John Parman, a founding editor of TraceSF, spoke with Amanda and Emily about the series, which opens on October 28 with  Laura Crescimano, a principal of SITELAB urban studio.

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Michael Willis

Michael Willis is a well-known Bay Area architect.


Carlo Scarpa In Person

“Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969,” photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.


When one turns the page of an architecture magazine and the work of Carlo Scarpa appears unexpectedly, a quiet inner thrill is felt. Since his passing in 1978, we seem increasingly moved by Scarpa’s caress of material, his strange but faultless sense of placement and proportion, the contemplative nature of his details. These appreciations are heightened by the knowledge that his output was relatively limited. > Read More


Contributor Profile: Max Levy


A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1970), Dallas architect Max Levy, FAIA, established his studio in 1984. He is best known for designs that connect people with nature in both rural and urban settings. > Read More


Planned Growth or Unplanned Strife?


Will San Francisco follow through on its carefully laid plans to accommodate a growing population, or will it continue to fight the same battles time and time again?

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Mark Hogan


Mark Hogan AIA, LEED BD+C is a licensed architect in the states of New York and California. His primary interests lie in housing, sustainable urban design and in enhancing digital design workflows. > Read More


Urban Activation Device & TXP

Spanish art & architecture collective Todo Por La Praxis is seeking collaborators and participants for their experimental research on activating the urban void. > Read More


When Cities Fall: Urban Histories and Political Memory

Destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

Our experience of the present is shaped by our understanding of the past. By ignoring the urban narratives of  monuments, structures, city parks, memorials…what messages are we missing for the present?  > Read More


Save SLO County!

Heading into Paso Robles from the west, 2013


Will San Luis Obispo (SLO) County remain predominantly agricultural, or will it sink into the same morass of rural sprawl that took out Orange County? It could go either way, but there’s still hope if we act now. > Read More


The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure is launching a public art program, The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra, the first West Coast performance project by the artist Liz Magic Laser and her collaborators, the actors Audrey Crabtree and Michael Wiener. > Read More

The Floods in Budapest

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The stone banks alongside the river contain the city. Despite them, here is the river, rising.  Silently, swiftly the waters swarm downstream; the swell of water does not much alter the river’s appearance.  You know there is more of it now only because benches, parks, and the bike road are being submerged.  It has not yet risen to the main city wall, about 20 feet higher; three more days of flooding expected.  

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Elizabeth Snowden

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Elizabeth Snowden is a Berkeley-based writer and editor. A graduate of Bard College, she has edited catalogues raisonnés on Picasso and Gris for Wittenborn Art Books in San Francisco.


Mr. Waka’s Dog House

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.


“Get out at the Sakuragaoka post office. Turn around and you’ll see a Lawson’s. Walk to it and then turn left. Walk up that street and you’ll see the Dog House on the right.” Typical Tokyo directions from the art impresario and entrepreneur Joni Waka. > Read More