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(22-23) Mäusebunker Metabolism

Master studio 2022-23
Semester 3
Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels
Tutors: Rachel Armstrong, Jan Wurm with Ludwig Heimbach

Description of the studio:

The BioCraftsmanship Studio 22/23 will explore design strategies for the architectural and programmatic transformation of the Mouse Bunker, or Mäusebunker in Berlin. This Fremdkörper, a hulking brutalist building with striking long blue turrets pointing every direction by the Teltow Canal, marks the site of the former Central Animal Laboratories of the Free Universities faculty of medicine. Originally designed by Gerd and Magdalena Hänska in the late 1960s, its controversial function combined with its monstrous architectural form, has initiated a prominent and diverse discourse on its preservation. Working with the ethical and architectural difficulties of the site, students will use a set of ecologically grounded methodologies using a bio-design toolset (materials, technologies, temporalities) to create new relationships between human and non-human actors.

The Studio will kick-off with a site visit and workshop in Berlin, which will be accompanied by Berlin based Architect and Curator Ludwig Heimbach, who launched the campaign to save this building in 2020 and curated the exhibition “Mäusebunker & Hygieneinstitut: Experimental Setup BERLIN” which was on display among others in Venice on occasion of the Architecture Biennale in 2021. Besides the much published and exhibited work of his studio, Ludwig has an extensive international teaching background at schools like ETH Zürich, UdK Berlin, Kyoto City University of the Arts and msa Münster where he taught design and construction classes. He is cooperation partner and advisor of the ongoing “Modellverfahren Mäusebunker” (model process Mousebunker) which was set up by the State Monuments Office of Berlin to find a new use for the building. Ludwig Heimbach will bring his vast knowledge and materials on the building and it´s construction as well as his expertise on the content discourse around the Mäusebunker and its re-programming to the studio.

During the studio field trip 13-16 October, students will explore the character of the site via Empirical and Experiential Surveys and a series of Living Collections. The interrogation of the site in terms will be complemented by a series of guest lectures and workshops at the Stadtwerkstatt, where more detailed background into the building and the issues that it provokes will be explored. Finally, students will have the opportunity to visit the Futurism Museum to encounter works that emphasized the dynamism, speed, energy, and power of the machine and the vitality, change, and restlessness of modern life. Acting as a counterpoint to the Mäusebunker, this study also interrogates the role of exhibition in presenting architectural research and narratives.

In the studio students will process their findings by synthesizing ethics, programming, materiality, technology, and aesthetics students to re-imagine the building as part of an urban metabolism, transforming the original program into an urban regenerative ecosystem. Centred on the materiality of concrete, students will establish a critical relationship between construction and building materials as part of an ecosystem of material exchange that influences our planetary systems. As one of the most popular building materials around the globe, the familiar mixture of water, cement, and sand that comprises concrete is interrogated from the perspective of environmental sustainability, as it is also an active contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and urban heat island effects (owing to its low albedo and high volumetric heat capacity). Significant advancements have been made in the world of concrete manufacturing and usage over the years, which exists in multiple grades, compositions, and performance levels. In 2017, a Dutch researcher, Hendrik Jonkers, inoculated a concrete mix with microbes that made concrete have self-healing properties. When a microcrack appears in the concrete, this lets water in, which activates the resident bacteria to produce limestone that essentially “heals” the crack resulting in less building maintenance. Other organic mixes of concrete such as Green concrete exist, which is a form of eco-friendly concrete that is manufactured using waste or residual materials from different industries, and requires less amount of energy for production and Geopolymer concrete, which is also an economical, more durable, and environmentally friendly species of concrete with a carbon footprint of only about 10% of Portland cement. Alongside these investigations, students will also consider the character of the building, identifying its “inner life” (a means of considering a building as a creature, rather than an inert object) and fundamental metabolism through which it influences its inhabitants and surroundings. From these material and creative studies, students will propose a buildable future for the Mäusebunker that turns around its environmental impacts whereby its influence on the surroundings and natural systems is net-positive.

Facilitated by Ludwig Heimbach, the final project outputs will be exhibited in Berlin at the end of the studio. 

Expected output:Studio Outputs [Individual]

  • Mäusebunker project (either individual or group submission, if group then each person’s specific contributions must be clearly defined)
  • Mäusebunker captain’s log/reflection document (a well-presented discussion document that shows the student’s working behind the final project)
  • Manifesto (a position statement about the intentions of the work—i.e. the designer’s intentions in making the project)
  • Material detail (the production of a building detail made in a bio-concrete, which may be a sample, a set of tiles or (model) formwork)
  • Video (1 minute) summarizing your project using the most impactful outputs that you’ve generated.

Studio Outputs [group]

  • Detailed Site map
  • Detailed original building plan (based on existing documents and measurements taken on site) that is developed as digital and built model (e.g. 1:50 section).
  • Group video, a compiled video made up of all participants 1-minute clips that is edited into a studio film.

References/Further reading:

Armstrong, Rachel. Safe As Houses: The More-than-Human Home. London: Lund Humphries, 2022.
Jonkers, Henk M., and Erik Schlangen. “Development of a Bacteria-based Self-healing Concrete.” in Tailor Made Concrete Structures—New Solutions for our Society.Proceedings of the International Federation for Structural Concrete (FIB) symposium, edited by Joost C. Walraven and Dick Stoelhorst, 425-430. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2008.
King, Gary M.  “Urban Microbiomes and Urban Ecology: How Do Microbes in the Built Environment Affect Human Sustainability in Cities?” Journal of Microbiology, 52, no. 9, (September 2014): 721-8.
Latour, Bruno. “Love your Monsters: Why We Must Care For Our Technologies As We Do Our Children,” The Breakthrough Institute. Last Modified February 14, 2012.https://thebreakthrough.org/journal/issue-2/love-your-monsters.
Myers, William and Paola Antonelli. Bio Design: Nature, Science, Creativity, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 2014.
RMI. “The Impact of Fossil Fuels in Buildings: A Fact Base.” Rocky Mountain Institute. Last Modified April 28, 2019. https://rmi.org/insight/the-impact-of-fossil-fuels-in-buildings/.
Simard, Suzanne W., David A. Perry, Melanie D. Jones, David D. Myrold, Daniel M. Durall and Randy Molina. “Net Transfer of Carbon between Ectomycorrhizal Tree Species in the Field.” Nature 388, no. 6642 (1997): 579–582.
Wallis, David. “When Algae on the Exterior Is a Good Thing.” The New York Times. April 24, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/business/energy-environment/german-building-uses-algae-for-heating-and-cooling.html. 

Image: Mäusebunker,  from the “Out of Homestories” series © Kay Fingerle, August 2020.