Mannheim's Connection

Mannheim (DE) – Winner


Team Representative: Ilaria Novielli (IT) – architect urbanist; Associate: Alessandro Delli Ponti (FR) – architect urbanist
Contributors: Camille Alwan (FR)  – architect urbanist; Marc Blume (DE)  – landscape architect;  Clelia Bartolomei (IT), Verdiana Spicciarelli (IT) – students in architecture

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A. Delli Ponti, I. Novielli, C. Alwan and M. Blume



1. How did you form the team for the competition?

Alessandro delli Ponti founded the KH collective in 2010, conceiving this structure as an elastic container of research and design experiences, which allows ad hoc teams to gather on common objectives. The team for Mannheim’s Connection is the result of past positive collaborations on several projects and international competitions.  We have diversified and complementary professional profiles: Alessandro delli Ponti and Camille Alwan are both urban designers, Ilaria Novielli is an architect and Marc Blume (Atelier Eem) is a landscape designer. Even though we have all had international educational paths, today Paris is our common professional basis. 


2. How do you define the main issue of your project, insisting on how you answered on this session main topic: adaptability and urban rhythms?

We were asked to give a new look to the B38, a car-ruled city entrance to Mannheim, but we knew that a pertinent answer had to integrate further questions: Can universitarian and entrepreneurial networks gravitating around the local industrial and cultural district find a common urban scene on which to build together a new sustainable soft-productive metropolis? Can Mannheim become an accessible and desirable location for middle class workers on a regional scale? Can potential environmental continuities, new mobility, and multi-actorial interests, be composed in a risk proof, adaptable strategy?
Our systemic strategy for Mannheim’s B38 tries to tackle all these questions by proposing an elastic and flexible strategy rather than a monolithic urban project. This approach answers to issues coming both from the local as from the regional scale. Building an articulated civic space in which different urban rhythms find their elective places, as well as areas of contact and cooperation, was a main goal. B38 is thus conceived as a linear urban catalyzer on which all the scales of the metropolitan change meet. Multi-modality and long-term landscape visions are necessary to organize a strong palimpsest in which, through time, multiple differentiated decisions can be taken. 
We imagine a progressive evolution of the articulation between mobility, programs and landscapes, from the “event-full” kick-starting of the site to the complex condition of a mixed quarter, associating residential units for regional workers with knowledge-based areas directly linked to local enterprises and university departments.


3. How did this issue and the questions raised by the site mutation meet?

Here, the main transition –from a military space to a civic public scene– is directly connected to larger scale strategic economic issues. How can new forms of productivity linked to knowledge economy help redefine a pre-existing spatial logic and its urban potentials?
The infrastructural profile of military settlements offered a rather adaptable and optimized "fundamental" urban rhythm. Landscape was our permanent design focus, since we wanted to define an overall logic which could allow further changes in its elementary constituting parts.


4. Have you already treated this issue previously and could you present some reference projects that inspired yours?

In the past years our team worked on the concept of adaptability in awarded strategies and university research studies. Just to mention a few, we can quote KHstudio’s Piazza d’Armi International Competition in L'Aquila (IT), Honorable Mention; and Marc Blume’s Tempelhof Airport International Competition in Berlin (DE), second prize, with BASE.
But apart from professional biographies, we think it is important to underline that adaptability is a new existential and political condition. The professional world is currently overcoming, with more collective forms of cooperation, the romantic (and banal) idea of egotistic individuality in architectural entrepreneurship. In the same way, urban projects become more actor-relational. 
Mannheim’s condition was so peculiar that finding direct references is not an easy task, but we must mention the following reflections, which nurtured our approach:

1/ Architecture - Infrastructure
The theatre of Marcellus, in Rome’s historical Jewish quarter, is a good reference to illustrate our ideal of infrastructural adaptability in a changing urban scene. To us, adaptability is inherent to space. Space has always been adaptable; while projects are sometimes less adaptable than the spaces they want to define. Today, new knowledge landscapes are emerging in Mannheim, which can totally redefine the current infrastructural landscape. ( ref. “Knowledge landscape and interpretativity. Herman Hertzberger”, Le Visiteur n°18, 2012 )

2/ Urban - Landscape
In Greater Paris, in Bruxelles, as in Tokyo or Barcelona, a projectual reflexion is currently being conduced aiming the transformation of highways into innovative metropolitan boulevards. Linear “fundamentals”, inherited from post war development, are progressively reconfigured to become mixed use and environmental vectors. This urban transition illustrates a new way to associate nature, green mobility and innovative programs.

3/ Metropolitan - Function
Taking the metropolitan and regional scale into consideration obliges us to think the project as a process rather than a pre-defined product. At the metropolitan scale the design process needs to help integrate on-going processes with future ambitions and associate apparently distant objectives with local necessities. The project is then called to overcome its traditional limits and become a "relational strategy", something similar to a form of collective script writing. Politics, society and economic institutions are called to gather and suggest shared narrative paths. Alessandro delli Ponti worked with TVK, GULLER-GULLER, ACADIE for the Atelier International du Grand Paris to develop “Système Ouvert”, a research on Greater Paris Metropolization; it deepens the topic, which is also a key issue to rethink Mannheim and its B38.


5. Today –within the era of an economic crisis and sustainability– the urban-architectural project should reconsider its production method in time; how did you integrate this issue in your project?

Crisis and environmental responsibility stimulates the architectural and urban professions to overcome the ordinary disciplinary limits even when operating on very local scales. This operating context obliges us to “positively” deal with uncertainty, proposing systemic and complementary approaches on wider scales that can help manage financial and spatial risk on a local level. Long term strategies such as the one narrated in Mannheim’s Connection must integrate a very concrete and practical notion (or intuition) of those key systemic actions, which help translate the long-term objective in a step-to-step progression.
The urban project, conceived as a meeting point between plural societal and political ambitions, in the post-ideologic age, becomes the narrative foundation of a story to be collectively defined, refined and sustained. This “Narrative Condition” becomes the new common ground between the professional vision of the designer and the political dimension of civil society.
Mannheim’s Connection is thus presented as the strategic palimpsest of a strong story for the future of Mannheim. Time is interpreted as the key variable that progressively allows to merge different kinds of life-styles and spatial demands through a gradual arrival of public mobility, associated to a step-to-step evolution of programs, architectural forms and public spaces facilities.


6. Is it the first time you have been awarded a prize at Europan? How could this help you in your professional career?

Yes, we are “first timers” in EUROPAN.
Our team is made of european knowledge migrants.  Even the stories of our families are rich in world wide mixed ethnical origins and continental migrations (FR-IT-DE-US-IQ-NO…) In this condition it is very interesting to define a professional path with a strong international and European connotation. We can be based in Paris, Rome or Heidelberg and work all over Europe - for Europe; always feeling at home. We believe that Europan can nurture local urban demands with fresh, internationally experienced and widely networked multidisciplinary teams of professionals; this is the way we can find a new precious occasion to give our positive contribution to the main challenges of our beloved European cities.