The current Universität der Nachbarschaften (UdN) project, Hotel Wilhelmsburg, sets out to explore the practice of dwelling and conducting everyday life. In international workshops, students together with artists and architects elaborated strategies for a temporary hotel that will be cooperatively run with neighbors during the International Building Exhibition’s (IBA) year of presentations. Week after week, new ideas are added to this urban laboratory; it is urban development generated by transformation. That may sound theoretical, but it can be experienced in practice at the UdN in Hamburg’s Wilhelmsburg district.

Hotel Wilhelmsburg is set to open in spring of 2013 and will be the UdN’s final physical transformation. The project investigates and challenges the principles of dwelling and their conventional prioritization of retreat and gathering. Additionally, the community-constructed hotel attempts to understand how tight budget constraints can still produce a high structural quality.

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The project uses the frame of a 1950s building as a shell in which to build its experimental space. Over the past five years, this formerly vacant building has been repurposed and extended with minimal costs for materials. Professor Bernd Kniess, dean of Hafencity University’s urban design department, is primarily concerned with questions of sustainability, renewal and repurposing in urban space. How to transform the existing? How can the new emerge from the old?

Both the building itself and the city around it are employed as resources. Every piece of the building that is removed in the remodeling is then redeployed with a new function elsewhere. Discarded materials from surrounding construction sites are harvested and upcycled at the UdN. This patchwork process requires those engaged in the reconstruction to deal with building’s structure as it was found, to develop new courses of action and productively channel uncertainty and risk.

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In this situation, sustainability does not rest solely on the objects used. Most importantly, it is fostered by relationships—by the neighborhood. Beyond temporarily using and adjusting a building for UdN, the goal of this interdisciplinary project lies in understanding these relationships—using a programmatic framework and allowing the interaction between neighborhood and the university to evolve through the process. This research portion focuses on observing the structural characteristics of the creation of space: social, economic and cultural self-organization. The UdN building is in this context a construction site, stage, laboratory and lounge—a project that is constantly transforming itself and is being observed to understand those changes. It is an enabling architecture in which design results from social processes.

Diverse groups are able to use the UdN premises. Instead of rent, people leave something that benefits the university; something that adds to the building process; or something that enriches the project’s prospects in some other way. Every Wednesday since November 2012, the hotel opens its restaurant with live music to attract those in the neighborhood. This on-site research setting Bernd Kniess calls “embedded research” and an “ongoing making-of”.