Urban Manufacturing/Manufacturing the Urban at ETH Zurich

by Ares Kalandides

Prof. Kees Christaanse together with Tim Rieniets and Anne Mikoleit have organized a series of lectures on cities and the creative economy  at the school of architecture at the ETH in Zürich. I am very grateful to the organizers because I was invited to talk about the case of Berlin on September 29th.  Here is a very very short summary of my lecture in Zürich ( it was almost an hour), which I have also modified for the needs of the blog:

The Creative economy and Urban Development in Berlin

Urban planning in Berlin since reunification can be divided in (at least) two quite separate phases. The first one, under the illusion of constant growth, lasted for the first decade after the fall of the Wall and ended somewhere around the turn of the century. Politically, the end of this era was marked by two events: the Social democratic/Green coalition at a federal level (from 1998) and the first Social democratic/Left coalition in Berlin (2001). Most of the large projects in Berlin (Potsdamer Platz, the governmental buildings, the large urban renewal areas) are part of this period, where planning and building served among other things a strongly symbolic aim: to position Berlin (and Germany) internationally.

By the end of the 1990s, after the burst of the dot.com economy bubble, it was becoming evident that the growth-dogma of the 1990s was coming to an end.  Not only was the Berlin population not growing, but economy was stagnating so badly that by the beginning of the next decade unemployment reached almost 20%. It seems that the 1990s produced a large shift of wealth to very few hands, while socio-spatial polarisation became more and more pronounced.  The outsize projects of the decade made way for small scale interventions, often at a neighbourhood level (with both positive and negative effects, but that’s another issue), dealing with concentrated poverty and multiple forms of exclusion.

Something similar happened in the economic development and inward investment promotion: In the decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, most of the attempts to attract inward investment were directed towards the large German and international corporations: The Daimlers, the Siemenses etc.  A lot of money had to be spent in vain, before it dawned onto the responsible city officials that these companies had absolutely no reason to move. But almost unseen, in the shadow of the big unsuccessful economic development policy, something else grew: the creative industries. These were mostly small enterprises, some medium-sized ones and a huge number of micro-businesses in various fields such as music, design or the games industry.

I do not want to get into figures at this point, but it is enough to say that the creative economy in Berlin makes up roughly 16% of the city’s economy and seems to be growing still*. What interests us here is the spatial dimension of this economy and what it means for urban development.  Among the several characteristics of the creative economy, there is one that I think is particularly relevant in the urban context. Less than half of the workforce in the field is regularly employed (48%), while the number of the self-employed is almost equally high (44%). Considering that the German average of self-employment is 12.3%, there is clearly something particular going on here. Alongside with this “atomization” of creative workers, there are spatial patterns that show that they have a clear preference for the dense inner-city areas. How we are to interpret the correlation between the two is probably an issue of much debate, but I believe that there are several possible explanations.

The Berlin inner city has two major advantages for the creative workers: density and heterogeneity. No matter how close the internet and virtual communication has brought us, it seems that it still can’t replace face-to-face interaction, in particular in this type of business – with a lot of informal exchange – where confidence seems to play a central role.  Also, creatives do not live in a bubble isolated from the world. Rather, they are part of a space that gives them the multiple resources they need, and which they shape and reproduce constantly by their activities. The latter emphasizes the importance of free space: space to create, space that you can form, space to interact with others (and not only with other creative workers!), container space, but also the space or relations and flows.

If urban planners want to think about how to plan for the creatives, they should understand space as much more than a physical entity. Spatial planning is about society. It’s about culture and the economy, as much as it is about buildings and streets.  In short it’s about people.

* For more information see the Reports on Cultural and Creative Economy 2004 and 2008.


Here are the following lectures in the series:


Prof. Kees Christiaanse

Urban Designer, Rotterdam/Zürich


Ying Zhou

Architect and Researcher, FCL Singapur/ETH Zürich


Martin Heller

Curator and cultural entrepreneur, Zürich


Prof. Dr. Stephan Bone-Winkel

Real estate developer (Beos GmbH, Berlin)


Prof. Dr. Arnold Reijndorp

Sociologist, University of Amsterdam


Damon Rich

Urban Planner (Newark) and founder of Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP, New York)

1.12. Sum Up

Tim Rieniets / Anne Mikoleit

ETH Zürich

8.12. Colloquium

Prof. Kees Christiaanse

Philipp Klaus (Inura Institute Zürich)

and representatives of the city of Zürich


More information (in German): http://christiaanse.arch.ethz.ch/?page_id=272

This entry was posted in opinions, pick of the day and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s