»For us, the Grüner Salon is a space for reflection that feeds on the historical salon culture and participants’ personal interpretations. We seek to blur the boundaries between the university campus and park«, explains Prof. Rudolf, the Chair for Building Morphology. »It is about heightening our awareness of the park, and exploring and presenting coherences. This focus allows u to sensitise students to the relevance of the design process«, he continues. »We ask ourselves: what is the significance of the salon culture in today’s social discourse? During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, what is the relationship between individual open spaces and communal sanctuaries versus individual sanctuaries and communal open spaces? We wish to reflect on this apparent contradiction in the concept and image of the salon«. The project cooperates closely with the Klassik Stiftung Weimar cultural institution, which is responsible for the park.
At the beginning of the semester, the students’ starting situations differed widely. While most of them were in Weimar in early May, the contact restrictions meant that they could hardly leave their homes. Four design participants initially joined from further afield, several of them even from abroad. Those unable to travel during the semester have been assigned a dialogue partner in Weimar. Some students have lucked out though: Louisa Deetjen and Friederike Müller live together, for example. And so they can not only exchange and network via the digital platform, but also at their kitchen table, on their balcony and beyond: »Although we have a ›home advantage‹ as we’re flatmates and can have breakfast together during the picnics, the past few weeks have been rather exhausting – both for us and many of our fellow students. We feel somewhat lost because in addition to the design project, there’s as much to do for the lectures and coursework as there is during a normal semester – just without the direct exchange with others. Hopefully there will soon be alternatives to working from home for students«, they say.
An impromptu concept and picnic scenarios
Every Tuesday, the students receive new work assignments, which they must complete within a few days. Literally overnight, they address the respective topic in a condensed format, delving down to the very core of their interpretations. In German, the term »Stegreifentwurf« (»impromptu design«) is used in architecture to describe this type of swift, spontaneous, intensive design work. The »picnics« enable a form of exchange and serve as a linking element between the impromptu design projects. Students present the results of their work to their fellow students during the picnics, and discuss and debate these. The students document all steps in the impromptu design work in a biographical log book. Similar to an artist’s sketchbook, this is used to record the experiences and insights forming part of the work and design process from their personal perspective. Ideas and sketches are recorded and notes made on everything from the technical details to cost calculations.
Impromptu design projects #1 and #2: exercises in individual perception
The students first completed exercises in sensory perception during which they explored the Park an der Ilm, observed spaces and sounded out their potential. After taking a photographic approach during the first impromptu design project, the second involved observing nature. All participants developed their own catalogue of criteria for this, for instance landscape structures, material diversity such as trees or stones, and acoustic experiences such as water, animal sounds, street noise, etc. To hone their senses, the students then went on several mindful strolls around the park and compiled their sensory impressions. Using an acoustic jammer via headphones during their stroll caused perceptions to change and experiences to fade out or be amplified. »The result is very personal, illustrative sensory maps. The students then used very different techniques – from hand-drawn sketches and photographic maps to Excel graphs and collages – to draw attention to subjective impressions and discover an individual language«, said Roy Müller, the research associate responsible for supervising this impromptu project, in praise of the project outcomes.
Impromptu design projects #3 and #4: spatial studies and usage scenarios
Following individual completion of the first two impromptu design projects, the work could continue in pairs at the beginning of June – naturally while adhering to the current social distancing regulations. During the third impromptu design project, the focus was on gaining a feel for the space and its impact. The students were tasked with enhancing the space with architectural interventions and site analyses, using models on a scale of 1:25 to explore the site. Visual axes, relationships with the surroundings and reactions of passers-by were recorded and borne in mind. The teams set up experimental spatial experiences at 13 different locations they chose in the Park an der Ilm – at the stone bridge, Tempelherrenhaus, Stern bridge or beside the River Ilm, for example. They then installed their preferred variant as abstract spatial volumes on a 1:1 scale at their chosen location and re-examined their changing spatial impact – now in real life. Their findings formed the basis for the actual design during the fourth impromptu design project. The teams used elements and materials to add structure to »their« location and developed ideas for use of the space. Dr. Sabine Zierold, the research assistant who supervised this impromptu design project, noted: »The student designs and implementation of their sensory perception spaces were very impressive; these are now open for communication and information or offer a sanctuary for observing nature and scenery. A wide variety of presentation techniques were used, which reflect the different approaches to the locations«. The various names accorded to the work created during the third and fourth impromptu design projects also provide an indication of the diverse approaches: Schutzinsel (sanctuary island), Ilminsel (Ilm island), Grünes Café (green café), Erinnerungsecke (memory corner), Talblick (valley view), Seebrücke (lake bridge), Duxtor, Frequenzen (frequencies), Exploration, Blickfang (eye-catcher), Weggabelung (fork in the road) ...
Impromptu design projects #5 and #6: ecological dimension and possible structural implementation
So far, the projects have involved philosophising, observing and analysing. Now it is time for the concrete planning and implementation. Two impromptu design projects still lie ahead. The fifth impromptu design project will examine how digital planning processes work with sustainable use of the available resources given the current coronavirus pandemic. During the sixth and final impromptu design project, the scenario for structural implementation will be determined and realised. Will a salon puzzle be created whose individual parts are prepared at home, then pieced together? Or a salon studio in which students’ rooms in their flat-share are transformed into a construction site and studio backdrop in which the construction plans are implemented 1:1 using all of the materials and equipment available and from which students broadcast to the shared virtual space? Or even a step-by-step construction process involving a series of work steps, each of which leads to the next. One in which, after the handover of materials, components and tools, the next team reacts to the team before it and thus contributes to the ever-evolving »Grüner Salon«?
On 30 July 2020, the picnic basket will be opened for the summaery during the »final picnic«. The by all means appealing design recipes will then be shared with interested parties by rendering the outcomes of this unusual semester project visible. Perhaps also during a stroll together through the park.