Architects held an Online Research Workshop On Urbanism

Despite the current limitations in face-to-face meetings, academics from the Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design at the German University of Technology (GUtech) are carrying on with their scholarly projects in unusual ways. “Every crisis has a potential to create innovative solutions,” says Prof. Nikolaus Knebel, who had to overcome the short-term cancellation of an international two-day workshop on “Cities In Their Own Right. Southern Urbanisms Along The Indian Ocean Coast” that was planned for months. Last year, the renowned Urban Studies Foundation granted a fund to hold an International Seminar Series to Prof Nikolaus Knebel, Dr. Nathalie Jean-Baptiste from Ardhi University in Tanzania and Prof. Dr. Nina Gribat from Cottbus University in Germany. The focus of this research project is on understanding cities along the coast of East Africa, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, which, over the next decades, will experience drastic changes to their urban and social structures. The question is: Are there models for this transformation that suit the specific conditions of these cities of the Global South? For example, Dar Es Salaam is a city which is predicted to grow to the size of Mumbai in the foreseeable future. “We want to foster a scholarly exchange to see what one side can learn from the other. But the participants are also very much rooted in practice, because they work on everyday issues of their cities and citizens through setting up so-called City-Labs, which are platforms for discussions, research, practical problem-solving as much as visionary thinking.”, says Knebel. “We have built up a network of scholars from cities in the South like Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar, Muscat, Karachi, Mumbai, Kochi and Colombo as well as also contributors from Oxford, Dortmund and Stuttgart and were looking forward to our workshop. We wanted to meet in our group of researchers to discuss our papers, but had to switch to an online meeting last minute,” says Knebel. “It was interesting to see what the change of format brought, meeting within a limited timeframe of two hours instead of two days. Of course, we missed the informal chat and networking that always makes conferences a fertile ground for new ideas and new partnerships. But on the other hand, we worked so concentrated on the discussion of research papers. I had the impression that we were much more disciplined and focused than it is in live sessions sometimes.” The positive experience of this online conference led to the group wanting to continue meeting with this format for the time being. “However, our topic is urban studies, it is all about people and the public life in a city, which is quite the opposite of being quarantined at home or confined in an office. I can imagine that after this period of experiencing empty cities devoid of people we might appreciate the qualities of social life in urban spaces much more,” says Prof. Nikolaus Knebel.

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