osthang book_1

A great recap of the Osthang project by Raumlaborberlin. You can buy your copy for 15 € sending an email at

It includes projects by umschichten, Atelier Bow-Wow, Constructlab, orizzontale, martin kaltwasser, Collectif Etc.

plus three conversations:
#1 experimental building & new common spaces
with cedric bouteiller, peter fattinger, suzanne labourie, jan liesegang, alexander römer, yoshiharu tsukamoto
#2 commoning & cooperation
with markus bader, mauricio corbalan, alison hugill, ana mendes de andes, marjetica portrc, stavors stavrides
#3 incremental urbanism
with markus bader, mauricio corbalan, klaus overmeyer

Below our contribution in a conversation with collectif etc (FR)


Jan Liesegang (raumlaborberlin – curator of Osthang Project) : Why did you use a system with a grid / modules at the Osthang ? Do you believe in the freedom of the universal grid?

orizzontale: The three cabins are based on the same structure. They are modular in a way, but we wouldn’t look at it as a general rule. The cabin-module was both a didactic tool to intervene in Osthang and a practical requirement, but not the aim of the project. By simplifying the structure, we could face easily 15 students with different manual skills. This two combined approaches – modular and “adaptive” building – emerge frequently in almost all our interventions. Honestly, we do not believe in the univeral module/grid. We prefer to approach the site first, and to adapt construction to it, not vice-versa. Context is the initial condition, and it’s not neutral. Sometimes modules and grids are functional tools in temporal and spatial terms but they usually refer to other (bigger) architectural and urban planning scales pretty far from our approach: resilent and “site specific”.

collectif etc: We believe in the system of grid or modules, what we call “building matrix”, because it can allow to develop on the one hand, some spatial coherence, and on the second hand to leave some flexibility to the individual creativity. We are often looking for the limit between what the architect has to design, and what can be design by others. In a way, to encourage the appropriation of the space by everyone, and leave some flexibility in it. Therefore, our work is more to pick up a system of rules ( type of material, type of dovetailing…) that designs a finished-object. These rules can evolve with time: in theory, the architecture can be modified depending on various uses, while maintaining coherent aesthetic aspects with an heterogeneous rendering.

JL: Do you trust in a collective open design process?

o: We do trust in a collective open design process, where the energies of every actor – that flow in the different phases – converge into common aims. City users, municipality, architects, urbanists, activists, whoever feels to be part of that specific area should find the right phase and the useful energy to participate. Since a more inclusive way of inhabiting public spaces is needed, administrations should be more collaborative to let changes be visible in acceptable times. There is a role often indispensable and that is the coordinator. It could be a local association, a cultural operator, a neighborhood association, basically someone who is deeply rooted into the area and that has some kind of vision. They should be able to empower each actor to stoke with its knowledge. As architect, we could fit in many of these roles, but our best task should be designing devices that stimulate the collective imagination. We should also encourage new ways of using public spaces. Thus, devices must change and adapt to the different conditions of each phase. Essentially, it’s not a matter of controlling/fixing the space, it’s more an issue of giving basic infrastructures to let living patterns grow and develop freely.

etc: A collective design moment is very interesting to follow, because that is when you understand the power of a group creating together, where the collective intelligence emerges. It crushes the selfhood, allows to listen to each other, forces you to find a an agreement behind a common goal and creates something you would never have imagined alone. These moments are difficult to obtain spontaneously, everybody seeks something different, erverybody is here for fifferent reason. The important is to bring people to a same final result. As a mediator would guide a debate by helping giving it some sense without interfering in point of views, the “building matrix” helps to catalyse collective open design process. We trust in exploring how to think together.

JL : Can you describe how you organized your group and the work at Osthang? What did you learn from it?

o: We had detailed plans for building the unit, that we modified and adjusted on site. Connections (cantilever, stairs and balcony) were measured, designed and built according to the osthang existing conditions. Cuts, nodes and connections were totally invented, as they could have never been designed from Roma. The participants were split in three groups: one was actually building the wooden frame, the other went to rummage through the rubbish during some trips to the Darmstadt recycling center and the last one was dedicated to interior design (window and door included) of the cabins. These group were open and everyone could shift from one to the other everyday. Flexibility is important! Obviously the work of everygroup was strictly related, the wooden frame group had to define its choice progressively with the recycling team and both had to take care definitely of the interior design group. They experimented progressively with a model 1:20 scale and with a 1:1 structure that lied on the ground for almost the whole workshop. At that time, students were independent and they assumed their own responsibilities and tasks. It was awesome to see them undertake and launch them in impossible exercises… and succeed! Last but not least, for the interior design, participants started experiencing nights in the cabins as soos as the roof was done. It made them aware of how the window shoud open, where to hang the light, and so on.

etc: In order to provide a system-wide perspective on the project, and to discover more intensly the city, its inhabitants and the neigbourhood, we decided to divide our large group of 30 people into four groups. Each one had a daily objective, gradually constructing the whole project. Cooking, drawing, building, discovering : everything was part of the work. Every morning, in order to promote a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between all groups, a general meeting was organised : we talked about the work being done and expectations about the next days. More specifically, the collective open design process, combined with sysem of a building grid, allows to create a complex architecture, the global aesthetic remaining secondary: the combination between all modules allows to focus on uses and functions of this “complex kitchen”. The daily turnover also allows to regenerate energies and ideas, each team trying to come up with the best micro-architecture or the finest meal.

JL : What does it mean for you to live and work in a collective?

o:Working as a collective for us means gathering, researching, adding, mixing, melting and finally (and hardly) finding a place (in architectural sense, a form) where all this inputs can be examined and reshaped to create a whole, empowered by many individual contributions. And that’s the best part, the reason why it’s worth it. In this virtuous process you can often stumble, or stepping on each other’s toes, take the longest way to reach the point, but even more often you can find a complementary approach, a bonus in comparing your way of thinking with others. Working together can be easier and can be harder, but in the end it will be always enriching. Examining in depth our activity the form we choose (as a collective) increases its meaning when compared to the field we are engaged in: urban public space and open design process. As we said, public design process is complex. Working in a collective is the perfect starting point to face and embrace this complexity, letting it influence our projects from the very beginning.

 etc: It means to stop thinking in terms of working or living. For example, we can say eating is working if you consider designing the right receipe at the right moment, choping the tomatoes at the correct angle, sitting on nice furniture. At the opposite, we can say building a wooden structure with a roof belongs to living moments if we consider how natural and instinctive it is to protect yourself if it rains. At the end, the collective is a frame that let us setting up our own rules. It is all a matter of organizing our time according to the direction we’ve chosen together.