Outside the Box

Interdisciplinary Cooperation is the Future. The Technische Universität of Berlin and the Universität der Künste of Berlin have created a New Type of Hybrid Platform for This Purpose

Hybrid Plattform

People are looking everywhere, such as from a small space station down on the Earth, out into the space using giant telescopes or at tiny human cells using microscopes. All too seldom do people look outside of the box, or at least at the other side of the street. Sometimes, simply turning their heads left or right and looking three buildings down the street would be enough. Hardenbergstraße Street is a good place to try this exercise, because there is a great deal to discover on that street, for example worlds of knowledge and entire universities. Two that have recently discovered each other are the Technische Universität [Technical University] of Berlin and Universität der Künste [University of the Arts] of Berlin (UdK). For some time, these two institutions have been jointly collaborating under the Charlottenburg Campus brand name. For some people, this is not enough.

People like Christoph Gengnagel and Barbara Stark, who have brought the so-called Hybrid Plattform to life with the help of additional motivated employees. Somewhat cryptically, the Internet site about the platform reads, “Network and interdisciplinary project laboratory for pioneers and lateral thinkers”. Thereby, the platform should not simply exist as an abstract concept on the Internet. It should be real, tangible location. In the meantime, the platform has opened a proper office for this reason. Real people work at real desks there. They are in the UdK at Einsteinufer 43. Once the appropriate financial support was granted, this ambitious project began its journey.

“We want to be a type of satellite”, says Christoph Gengnagel. He is the Professor for Constructive Design and Support Structure Planning in the discipline of Architecture at UdK, as well as being the Project Coordinator for Hybrid Plattform along with Barbara Strak, who is the Manager of the Research Department at TU. The objective of this satellite will be “…attracting the best people from both sides of the street”, as Professor Gengnagel explains it.

However, the responsible parties want even more. In a few years, Hybrid Plattform should become a real institution, tangible and lively with a fixed anchor in university life. The standard case, one might say. A fixed institution that makes the teaching, research and developments “at the interface between science, research and design” possible. The idea arose from the “Nachhaltige Vitalisierung des kreativen Quartiers auf und um den Campus Charlottenburg“ [Sustainable Vitalization of the Creative Accommodations on and around the Charlottenburg Campus], in short “Navi BC”, which sounds a bit like the beginning of a new era, whereby BC might stand for “Before Cooperation”, meaning before the joint ventures.

In fact, with Hybrid Plattform, a new age of cooperation may be beginning for both universities, because research and development teams today no longer consist of members of a single discipline. Today, physicists are working together with computer scientists, architects and chemists. Electro-technicians contribute their knowledge just as graphic designers and mathematicians do. Experts in computer engineering and microelectronics are now also cooperating easily with professors from the discipline of digital media design. Interdisciplinary cooperation is the catchphrase of the future. This is exactly the point, where Hybrid Plattform is intended to help. It should bring experts from various disciplines together quickly and easily. Project ideas can be easily written up on Hybrid Plattform’s Internet site.

“With Plattform, we can close the vacuum that has existed between the universities for a long time”, says Professor Marc Alexa. He teaches electronic technology at Technische Universität. Together with Professor Jussi Ängeslevä, the 38-year-old is working intensively on the new platform. Once, anyone working outside their discipline was considered a black sheep. “Today, we are something of a golden calf”, Ängeslevä says and laughs. The Finn teaches digital media design at UdK in the courses of visual communications and art and media. Both professors are not afraid of contact. “Really, no one need fear other people”, says Professor Alexa, because ultimately no one would dispute others in their discipline in this form of collaboration. No one need feel threatened by co-workers, since everyone comes from different fields.

If two universities, or even only two professors from different disciplines, meet each other, there may be practical problems, because two different paradigms, two different jargons, often collide. For example, the participants had to reach an understanding about basic terminology. The term, dimension, may have a different meaning for different people.

From a purely administrative view, this means that the hierarchies of TU and UdK are coming together. The new platform should therefore also provide entirely practical advantages in the future. If co-workers from the two universities have been working on one project together for a while, the following lesson tends to result from this, as Christoph Gengnagel remembers. The content of the project was great, but was very nerve-racking in its execution, because one university’s administration organ can quickly dominate everything and become a bureaucratic monster.

One project, which currently being conducted and researched jointly, is the so-called “Rethinking Prototyping” project. In addition to the TU and the UdK, the Fraunhofer Institut für Produktionsanlagen und Konstruktionstechnik [Production Systems and Design Technology] and Telekom Innovation Laboratories, which are also located on the Charlottenburg Campus in City West, are also cooperating. The concept of the prototype, the archetype of a production series, is the focus of the research. It was long considered the core of all design and technical processes. Until now, function has often also determined appearance, or appearance has only allowed a certain function. This may change in the future. One of three research teams identified under the name Beyond Prototyping is addressing the question of prototypes from the Rapid Manufacturing viewpoint of production technology. Translated, this means something like rapid manufacturing. Components can be manufactured quickly and flexibly, without using tools, purely from the design data. Before manufacturing, the product can thus be analyzed and optimized at the virtual stage. Thereby, the procedure is not only an option for inexpensive production but also one with effective use of materials. With Rapid Manufacturing, the focus is always on the direct manufacturing of the end product. Thus, the prototype may potentially become obsolete in the future. The end users can then design their own unique products and become a type of hybrid thereby. Looking outside of the box is rewarding in every regard.

Stefanie Paul
Kluge Köpfe 2012