Cappeller / Essayistic Film Fragments with Cooperative Architecture

Essayistic Film Fragments with Cooperative Architecture

Author: Riccarda Cappeller, Leibniz University Hannover

Supervisor: Jörg Schröder, Leibniz University Hannover

Research stage: intermediate doctoral stage

Category: Artefact


Can Batlló (Barcelona), Exrotaprint (Berlin), Granby Four Streets (Liverpool) [ 1 ] are chosen as three exemplary case studies in various urban, political and social contexts, that incorporate a more holistical understanding of design. One oriented at social and ethical, more human-related values, such as co-creation, cooperation and the aim to create a collective work of art or labour as living space, setting existing architectures and urban spaces as condition for alternative happenings and “design as material tool”1 to realize them.

The case studies are used as departure points to analyse, abstract and define design modes that are able to cope with the complex contemporary challenges, such as climate change, segregation or migration, in a productive way, focusing on how they are created and transformed, looking at the role the architects and designers involved take and what constitutes their action. The spatial situations of the case studies within this are understood as positive examples for the creation of future habitats.

Three case studies Exrotaprint (Berlin), Granby Four Streets (Liverpool), Can Batlló (Barcelona)

Figure 1: Three case studies Exrotaprint (Berlin), Granby Four Streets (Liverpool), Can Batlló (Barcelona)

Research setting and direction

The empirically based research brings together an ethnographic field research and critical questioning with a collective architectural and urban analysis, and an explorative design part using visual techniques to investigate the creation and communication of spatial experiences through the performativity of the case studies. This research framework is used for knowledge creation on both, space as political endower, continuous process and creative invention, and the agency of architects and urban designers as cultural, assembling and cooperative practice. A main research question is how the selected case studies can be experienced and communicated as atmospheres, showing their hidden qualities and capacities that lay in the way the spaces create possibilities for a different kind of action. This refers to Lefebvre’s dialectic understanding of space as shaped through social relations and shaping society.

The DDR in my research relates to the idea of the designer-researcher as bricoleur2 and the development and testing or recreation of new or combined forms of investigation, offering multiple perspectives and addressing a field in-between science and art. In my research this is about making the spaces selected as case studies speak. They become characters instead of immobile objects, and graspable as positive examples for future habitats. Space in this sense is understood as instrument for the production of narrative media, used for creative invention and critical reflection. "Critical thinking” as Zardini states, “is no longer driven by language, semiotics, text, and signs, but by a rediscovery of phenomenology, experience, the body, perception and the senses"3, which in this case is realized in various formats, reacting to the found material and its capacity to transmit atmospheres and a phenomenological understanding, showing the performativity of space.

Approach and Method

One possible approach to foster this “making spaces speak”, is the use of essayist filmmaking as a different kind of spatial thinking and communicating – a tool for inspiration and individual imagination, opening up both the design- and research process. Here it is used as tool to transmit an experience, the atmosphere, capacity and hidden values of space.

It is about an interpretation, critical questioning and re-invention or assembling and use of the data collected in the field research, analysis and creative exploration, working on visual and textual attempts to transfer the intangible and tangible aspects of space. [ 2 ]


Figure 2: site-writing

"The filmmaking process is understood as assemblage of technologies and techniques for amplification of cultural and corporal Logics of affect"4 As an assemblage, film consists of many fragments – historical views, explanations, creative interpretations or free associations – that through their visual language and ways of combination allow new kinds of connections. Especially in the essay film the working with fragments and gaps is a major characteristic. It uses the in-between of two images, that as the unwritten words in a text, lead the reader to a more active engagement.

As Moholy-Nagy argues, vision is itself a way of thinking, bringing together vision, perception and thought.5
[ 3 ] This idea is used in order to create spatial experience, using film-fragments to grasp and transport complexity inherent in larger urban spaces, it is an approach to access a new architectural and urban language.

wild thinking in research process

Figure 3: wild thinking in research process


The artefact, consisting in first film fragments on cooperative architecture still under construction and some film stills presented as snapshots of the work in progress, was thought as an invitation to discuss and to provoke additional associations. It was presented in form of a lecture- and film-preview, that also explained the research framework, aim and methodology. [ 4 ]

It, meaning the artefact, consists of first trials to deal with the performativity of Can Batlló, showing the discovery, image-collection and -ordering throughout and after the field-research. It consists of the co-production and complex relations, topics and past histories as fragmentary experiences timescapes and the contradictions of the place, being used and abandoned at the same time and offering possibilities for different uses, exchange and learning.

filmmaking process

Figure 4: filmmaking process

Design Driven Research

Design Driven Research in my understanding is bound to the creative use of interdisciplinary tools and methodologies for an alternative knowledge production, encouraging new ways of thought and action in relation to a necessary ethical dimension. It is about creating and communicating experiences through an aesthetic – visual or haptic– language, that is based on a continuous reformulation and re-invention, fostering an open-ended and throughout the research process changing approach that shows alternatives to an existing reality. This connects to an inductive reasoning and a design-immanent “art of action”6, that is important in both, design theory and practice.

In my research, looking at the creation process of future habitats, explicitly the performativity of spatial situations in transformation and the agencies applied, DDR helps to dig into the design tools and approaches used by the architects and designers involved – conceptualizing and defining them as design modes. This is crucial for a progress and different understanding of the discipline, creating relations in-between various sets of knowledges, practical projects, social questions and a creative design. Assembling, Co-creating and contextually researching as forms of (inter-)acting are then rather connected to an integrative and composite, a cultural agency, instead of a singularly spatial one.

All images are elaborations of the author.

  1. Von Borries, Friedrich (2016): Weltentwerfen. Eine politische Designtheorie. Berlin, Edition suhrkamp, p. 82
  2. Cappeller, Riccarda (2021): »Urban Bricoleurs«, in: Jörg Schröder, Maurizio Carta, Federica Scaffidi, Annalisa Contato (Eds.) Cosmopolitan habitat. a research agenda for urban resilience, Berlin, Jovis, , pp. 154–159.
  3. Zardini, M. (2005): »Toward a Sensorial Urbanism«, in: Mirko Zardini (Ed.), Sense of the City: An Alternate Approach to Urbanism, Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Lars Müller Pub, pp. 17-27.
  4. Carter, Sean / McCormack, Derek P. (2006): »Film, geopolitics and the affective logics of intervention«, in: Political Geography, 25(2), 228–245. doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2005.11.004
  5. Moholy-Nagy, Lazlo (1969): »Vision in motion«, Chicago: Paul Theobald and Company.
  6. Von Borries, Friedrich (2016): Weltentwerfen. Eine politische Designtheorie. Berlin, Edition suhrkamp, p. 125