Technische Universität Berlin

Press release | 14 September 2021 | sn

How Science Is Freeing Itself from Linguistic Incomprehensibility

A visual reader uses humorous illustrations to present results from the "Re-Figuration of Spaces" collaborative research center

Polycontextualization and multiple spatialities, spatial theories and spatial logics, mediatization and translocalization, photo-elicitation and intergenerational circulation – anyone who gets involved in the "Re-Figuration of Spaces" collaborative research center (CRC) is first hit by a barrage of complex concepts. Sociologist of architecture and speaker of the collaborative research center Professor Martina Löw (TU Berlin) provides a self-deprecating observation on this "sociological jargon," "I think sometimes we can be a bit much for others."

Knowing this and motivated by a desire to communicate the results of their research from the past four years beyond such complex terms, the researchers turned to an unusual approach within science communication. They contracted artists Tiziana Beck and Johanna Benz to illustrate the texts presenting their research projects and results. The collaboration resulted in an amusing and original visual reader about analog and virtual "spaces in flux."

Graphic translation of scientific findings

The sixteen contributions in the book discuss, among other things, urban life during the coronavirus pandemic, the spatial knowledge of young people, migration and tourism, transregional tomatoes, the effectiveness of NGOs, the historical change of control centers, the South Korean smart city New Songdo, digital urban planning, the perception of spaces through apps, and appropriations of space in places of asylum. This latter project attempts to understand "refugees as powerful actors who decisively shape asylum architectures through physical-material and symbolic processes of appropriation."

What do Tiziana Beck and Johanna Benz do with a sentence like this? Their small Illustration shows an unframed photo nailed to a wall with the comment "appropriation of spaces" and a curtain labeled "reconstruction of memory." Three somewhat cautious looking figures ("powerful actors") peek out from behind the curtain. They are the ones who live in this "asylum architecture" (container/tent) and, by putting up the curtain and picture, made the attempt to breathe something like comfort into the inhospitality of such a container and to bring the memory of the abandoned home into the new container-home ("physical-material ... processes of appropriation"). The graphic translation of the scientific statement is in short: Asylum seekers try to make their accommodations homey.

"Real life. Please"

Among other things, the text "Digital Urban Planning" deals with the manipulative superiority of renderings in urban planning.  According to the authors of the article, renderings look like photos and therefore suggest that designs are already reality, play a central role in the legitimization of urban development projects, create a positive mood among stakeholders towards a planned project, and allow "brave new worlds" to emerge in which local realities, conflicts, and contradictions remain invisible. This statement inspired the graphic designers to create a commentary drawing showing a person (critical mayor?) kneeling in front of a computer pleading with the computer: "Your images are deceitful. Simulate the deterioration for me. Show me real life. Please."

One million tweets from Berliners analyzed

The collaborative research center researches analog and virtual spaces, how they are interconnected, and their changes through transnationalization and digitalization as well as the impacts of digitalization on how people act and co-exist. In this first phase of the collaborative research center from 2018 to 2021, numerous empirical studies were conducted - for example, nearly 3,000 Berliners were interviewed online during the first lockdown of the pandemic, one million tweets from Berliners and 100,000 tweets from people in Jerusalem were analyzed, control centers in Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and Glasgow were studied, middle-class people in Nairobi and Berlin were interviewed, and asylum locations in Germany and Jordan were compared.  In their foreword, editors Professor Johanna Hoerning (HafenCity University Hamburg) and Professor Philipp Misselwitz (TU Berlin) write that the findings will be used to develop a theory of space "that can describe and interpret the new complexities of the spaces that surround us." The center's projects show what exactly this means through the book's individual chapters: It means not only looking at the multi-layered connections between places around the world that are created through migration and economics, but also tracing the everyday perspectives of people and the entanglement of the digital and the analog. 

Sfb = Super-Frische-Brause?

The drawings live on the provocative, refreshingly cheeky nonchalance of the artists, with which they approach the scientific community in general and the focus of research in the collaborative research center (Sonderforschungsbereich or Sfb in German) in particular. For instance, they illustrated Hoerning and Misselwitz's foreword by questioning what Sfb stands for, an abbreviation which is common practice for scientists, but is hardly known beyond the scientific community. Tiziana Beck and Johanna Benz pose three possibilities: Super-Frische-Brause (super fresh soda), Sonder-Figurations-Bedarf (special figuration need), and Sonder-Forschungs-Brei (special research porridge). Using such illustrations, the CRC scientists not only present their research in a simplified and accessible manner, but also offer insights into the scientific cosmos that ironically overcome its self-reference.

Visual reader

Räume in Veränderung. Ein visuelles Lesebuch. Ein- und Ausblicke des interdisziplinären Forschungsverbundes zur Refiguration von Räumen, ed. by Johanna Hoerning and Philipp Misselwitz in collaboration with, Jovis Verlag GmbH Berlin 2021, 243 pages, ISBN 978-3-86859-721-9 (paperback), ISBN 978-86859-993-0 (PDF),



Johanna Hoerning

HafenCity University Hamburg

Lucie Bernroider

Collaborative Research Center 1265 "Re-Figuration of Spaces"