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Neue Meile Böblingen. Participation and Appropriation in Public Space

Bauchplan ).(

Complexity in Urban Space Planning

The Neue Meile Böblingen interprets a classical railway station street setting in a completely new way. Having started out with an external view in the cooperative workshop, the task was to cre¬ate a new „system of measurement“, a public space of reference for the city of Böblingen. 

Figura 1. A la izquierda, estado previo a la intervención. A la derecha, tras la realización del proyecto.   
Figure 1. On the left, state before the intervention. On the right, after the completion of the project.

As part of a larger urban development programme in the lower part of Böblingen, a district town mainly known for its automobile and computer industries, the project is situated within a heterogeneous and changing context. The Bahnhofstrasse is the main axis leading commuters from the train station to the old town and is flanked by a variety of shopping and retail activities: it acts as the forecourt for a new shopping mall with almost 25,000 m² of sales floor space and provides the access to existing retail and crafts, some of them in buildings which are already condemned for demolition. What was missing in this part of the town was a breathing space.

Figura 2. Vista desde arriba del estado reformado de Bahnhofstrasse. Fotografía: Clemens Franke
Figure 2. Top view of the reformed state of Bahnhofstrasse. Photography: Clemens Franke

Being confronted with a diversity of users, the Bahnhofstrasse needs to adapt and at the same time provide many different functions.

Part of the landscape architect’s task is to manage the interfaces between different actors. The Böblingen projects illustrates how they can be involved in different steps of the planning process and thus contribute to the creation of a local identity through participation, prototypic design and appropriation.

While it is undisputed that public spaces are in most cases projects intended for the long-term and their permanence over generations facilitates the creation of public realm the creation of identity is a process that can already start at the very outset of the design phase by involving both the client and the users in a participatory process and the manufacturing companies in a prototypical development process.

The designer – whether architect, landscape architect or urbanist – cannot dictate a place-identity. By showing potentials, questioning established ideas, anticipating future situations and moderating between stakeholders, he is an important actor, but the creation of identity is a collaborative and, up to some extent, unpredictable process.

Figura 3. Imagen del proceso participativo. Fotografía: Clemens Franke.
Figure 3. Image of the participatory process. Photography: Clemens Franke.

Creating Identity Through Participation and Prototypical Design

For internationally working offices, a new competition brief often represents a new mission for an unknown client. In some cases, the designer is already an active user of the space he is asked to transform, in other cases he faces a completely unknown context. The designer needs to interpret the mission statement he is confronted with and convince the competition jury, in order to be offered the possibility of implementing his ideas. In public space competitions, the difficulty often resides in the conflict between strong ideas and defined rules, leading to the exclusion of experiments.

Figure 4. View of the site. Bauchplan.

During the redesign of Bahnhofstrasse in Böblingen, many prototypical elements were tested and specifically developed for the project due to a common approach and mutual trust between the stakeholders. The preliminary design itself was already based upon a participatory workshop in which the design team was directly confronted with the end users and their expectations. The following steps were conducted in tight collaboration with the contracting companies and different representatives of the city. The design process did not only include the collaboration with the city administration and city marketing department, but also the consultation of operation and maintenance personal of the future public space – so as to guarantee a seamless handover of the project. This collaborative approach allowed the use of individually designed products: street furniture, lighting, gutter covers, tree grids, etc. were specifically developed for the project.

Figura 5. Imagen nocturna de Bahnhofstrasse tras la intervención. Fotografía: Clemens Franke.
Figure 5. Night image of Bahnhofstrasse after the intervention. Photography: Clemens Franke.

In public space projects, design teams are asked to materialize the client’s and the user’s expectations in a defined context. In this regard, the use of specific non-serial products can mark a strong overall image, contributing both to the identity of the place and the development of the personal user identity.

With respect to the picturesque old town, downtown Böblingen is characterized by post-war residential and commercial architecture without any representative elements. One of the scopes of the Bahnhofstrasse project was to provide a strong visual feature that would make this part of the city representable, recognizable.

This led to the decision to use Iberian granite stone pavement, a long-term investment that was based on deliberate technical aspects (durability) and social considerations (ethically acceptable production) after a series of discussions with the city council. The concept of identification and recognition was also decisive in the design of the luminaries. The choice of suspended, self-glimmering light-rings with a strong day-time and night-time impact has already emerged during the initial participation workshops and was developed with the lighting designers and the manufacturers to meet the precise requirements of the project: besides common optimization processes regarding light quality, energy efficiency and durability, important design objectives also included the choice of the right materiality and transparency for the shell, adjustment with surrounding materials and light fonts as well as the detailed design of the suspension system. The choice of a serial product would have saved time in the detailed design phase and reduced costs on the short-term. However, as space building design elements, the luminaries fulfil functions reaching even further. When considering their economical and ecological equations, one should also take into consideration their long-term impact on the overall quality of public space. 

Figura 6. Usuarios en Bahnhofstrasse. Fotografía: Clemens Franke.
Figure 6. Users in Bahnhofstrasse. Photography: Clemens Franke.

While this prototypic approach strongly influences the perception of space by its users, it also provides the occasion for cohesive teamwork between designer, client and manufacturer, potentially leading to a joint sense of authorship after completion of the project – regardless of the degree of contribution or expertise covered. In the present case, the final Böblingen luminaries, named after the city, have become a catalogue product of the manufacturer. Moreover, the city oftentimes uses them for city marketing purposes.

Appropriation

During and following a project’s implementation, users develop a personal relationship to the constructed space, a process which is often referred to as appropriation which means a process of mutual adapting between the architectural space and the inhabitant. A space to adapt to but also to overcome imposed conditions and to transform. 

Public space is accessible and used by all; it is discussed publicly and politically and thus has a strong impact on identity. For the creation of a collective identity, public space needs to be appropriated by its different users. During the design process, the landscape architect anticipates future uses and appropriation scenarios. However, he can only assist to a certain extent with the creation of local identity. 

Figura 7. Vista de la iluminación nocturna. Fotografía: Clemens Franke.
Figure 7. View of night lighting. Photography: Clemens Franke.

The Böblingen showcase illustrates how tight collaboration between the designer and the different stakeholders involved (inhabitants, commuters, associations, municipality, local businesses, construction companies, specialized subcontractors, different space creating professions) can lead to a fast appropriation during the design process and the months following the official handover of the new public space. 

The first step towards pedestrianisation of the street was its closure to car transit prior to the construction works, removing some of the characteristic linear barriers of the street typology, especially the distinction between road and sidewalk and allowing people to walk from façade to façade: this new level of freedom was rapidly discovered, above all by children on bikes and scooters.

Some of the consecutive appropriation signals were steered by the city's marketing department (street festivals, city run, ice skating rink) and show the city's strong support of the project. Other signals came directly from the users: outdoor seating areas emerged in front of restaurants and cafés, the interactive dry fountain became a new meeting point and the curved concrete seating feature behind the fountain was soon discovered and actively used by local skateboarders.

These empiric observations confirm that public space is naturally exposed to its users, especially in loose spaces where use has not been constrained by the designers. 

Figuras 8 y 9. Distintas imágenes de Bahnhofstrasse tras su remodelación. Fotografía: Clemens Franke.


Figures 8 and 9. Different images of Bahnhofstrasse after its remodeling. Photography: Clemens Franke.

This partial unpredictability of the users is only one of the parameters the designer cannot fully control. Multiple unknowns, for instance social and climatic factors, can potentially influence the development of the project after the official handover. The onus lies with the design team to anticipate future threats and opportunities and to grant the project enough degrees of freedom.

Conclusion

The Böblingen project illustrates a collaborative approach aiming at involving all actors in the design process so as to create not only a new space but also a new place identity. Empiric observations conducted during the planning, construction and handover phases show how the prototypical design approach combined with the use of common participatory tools can lead to a parallel process of appropriation and identity building among the users. They also revealed the designer’s role and its limitations. Due to the inherent unknowns in planning processes of outdoor public spaces, the landscape architect can be seen as the specialist of unpredictable processes. He is the actor who anticipates future social, political or climatic changes, but he progressively leaves the projected space to the users. Hence design and use can be considered as two phase-shifted interpretations of the same space.

Figura 10. Uno de los extremos de la calle. Fotografía: Clemens Franke.
Figure 10. One end of the street. Photography: Clemens Franke.
Nota Legal
Créditos
Suscripción
Directora: María A. Leboreiro Amaro, Dra. Arquitecto. Profesora Titular de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Consejo de redacción: Miquel Adriá, director de la revista Arquine
Carmen Andrés Mateo, Arquitecta. Profesora Asociada de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
José Mª Ezquiaga Dominguez. Dr. Arquitecto. Profesor Titular de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
José Fariña Tojo. Dr. Arquitecto. Catedrático de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Fernando Fernández Alonso. Arquitecto. Profesor Asociado de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Josep Mª Llop Torne. Arquitecto. Profesor en la Facultad de Geografía de la Universidad de Lleida
Javier Ruiz Sánchez. Dr. Arquitecto. Profesor Titular de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Secretaría: Llanos Masiá
Edita: planur-e
Avda. Valdemarin, 68
28023 Madrid
Traducción: planur-e
ISSN: 2340-8235
Copyright: (2013): planur-e
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Planur-e: www.planur-e.es es una revista digital editada en España en materias de territorio, urbanismo, sostenibilidad, paisaje y diseño urbano. Nació con el objetivo de exponer buenas prácticas dando voz a los profesionales, planteando que sean los propios autores de los trabajos quienes los presenten. Se colabora así a su difusión, al tiempo que se ofrece, a aquellos que se aproximan al proyecto, la oportunidad de ver otras formas de trabajar y contrastar sus propias reflexiones y propuestas. Planur-e por sus características pretende llenar un hueco, dada la escasez de publicaciones en estas materias. Alcanza en este momento su número diez, con un planteamiento monográfico y da, al tiempo, en su Miscelánea cabida a múltiples temas. Cuenta ya con un número importante artículos alrededor de 150, hasta el momento, y con autores de muy distintos países, lo que enriquece su tarea de divulgación.

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