“Spree & Berlin” by Jakob Kukula – ndion

Design Research Nomination 2021 for
“Spree & Berlin”. © Jakob Kukula

At the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin, Jakob Kukula developed a buoy that uses various tools and media to visualize the current state of a river. We asked him four questions about the project “Spree & Berlin ” posed.

Interview: Stephan Ott and Jessica Krejci, IfDRA.

Design Research nomination 2021: Shortlist (3/3): “Spree & Berlin” by Jakob Kukula

As part of his specialty, Jakob Kukula developed a buoy that uses various tools and media to visualize the current state of a river – in this case the Spree. In addition, the buoy should help improve water quality during the summer months by adding additional oxygen. By design, Jakob Kukula goes beyond a purely user-centered approach and gives the flow a voice with a holistic and planet-centered design. The designer shows how sustainable design can be thought of in the future.

Model of the Spree & Berlin buoy
Model of the Spree & Berlin buoy. © Jakob Kukula

How did you come up with the idea for the project?

For me, the starting point was a demonstration of Extinction Rebellion by the big star in Berlin. I had thought about staying with them for a car block there, or how I could still contribute through what I do: Design is a powerful tool here. With my Spree & Berlin project, I then went from a purely human-centered design to a planetary or life-centered design. Spree, an ecosystem, became the center of my design. I’m from Berlin and I was shocked to see how much people had gotten used to the situation with Spree. You can regulate a lot here via communication, but at the same time solve a specific problem, such as giving oxygen in the water or liver space to other species. Because the Spree is actually like a major highway and therefore not really usable and habitable for, for example, beavers or fish. Either you now renaturate generously, which of course would be optimal, or you put the first green stepping stones. As designers, we have the opportunity to tell stories, open up to stories, draw pictures and, for example, come to a systemic thinking together with others in workshops. I think it’s nice not to think so much in products, but instead approach the subject with a speculative or discursive object.

What about the technical function, does the buoy work as you had planned?

This is a question that I have of course also asked myself, but as a designer I have only been asked so far. Therefore, I have now opened up the project further and started a course with a hydraulic engineer at TU Berlin, where we do a preliminary study and calculate everything technical: How much power do we need? How does the electricity get there? Is it solar energy? How many buoys do we need to oxygenate a given section? Does the buoy work with oxygen from the air or do we need extra enriched oxygen? Of course, all of this has to make sense, and it takes engineers to figure it out.

Model of the Spree & Berlin buoy. © Jakob Kukula

Your project has increased significantly in scope over the last few weeks and months, how have you handled it?

The project was funded by BMBF through the university competition “Wissenschaft im Dialog”, and here the focus was on disseminating the work. In various formats such as exhibitions, interviews, workshops and a summer school, the topics were discussed on the one hand, but the prototypes were also advanced. I was also able to order other designers to work with me. It’s interesting to see that I even get the graphics reworked by a communications designer and then one wonders what areas of the design I should actually take on, and what do I give away? Suddenly, design becomes an incredible planning process. I am currently developing a somewhat larger functional model, a first measuring probe … I will not let anyone make it myself.

“I think it’s interesting how the concept of design expands. The discipline does not become less relevant – on the contrary – I believe that we have been given really good tools during the study and have learned to think in a special way. “

– Jacob Kukula

How will you further develop the project in the future?

I do not even know exactly where the project will lead in the end. I have not set myself any extreme goals, but I am very open and interested in the constant further development and above all in the vision of the project to create healthy urban nature and a Berlin that is worth living in for animals, plants and people. I think it’s quite interesting how the concept of design expands. In our time, this discipline is not diminishing in relevance – on the contrary – I believe we got really good tools in our studies and learned to think in a special way. Many others are now joining the keyword “Design Thinking”. The design process – which was also used again and again at the university – can be used on everything. In this context, I find the speculative, discursive design that places itself between art and design and opens up new spaces particularly interesting. That’s why I co-founded the Symbiotic-Lab with my former fellow student Leonie Fischer. It must give our projects a framework where we gather all our projects to be able to offer different services – from research to products, but also workshops and communication spaces.

Expert statement: Henning Francik

“The work ‘Spree & Berlin deals with the emotionally valuable and at the same time endangered urban water in a particularly intelligent and creative way. At the same time, a kind of technical-social symbiosis succeeds in both the urban population’s relationship to their river via an informative and activating app flow exercises to strengthen, as well as to ensure the oxygen supply actually required by appropriate sensors and an integrated pump system. I find it extremely important to deal creatively with the topic of water quality. On the one hand because water masses are particularly intense and personally noticeable environmental systems: you go to the lake to swim or let your legs dangle in the cool river water, and you realize that nature’s materials like sand, water and algae touch you in two ways. This is well known area for designers. On the other hand, many water bodies – especially in urban areas – are in a critical ecological state due to their high nutrient concentrations and the consequent lack of oxygen. Innovative design concepts like this are really in demand. “

Henning Frančik studied environmental science in Freiburg, Marburg and at the ETH Zurich. Since May 2020, he has been co-director of SustainLab at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle.

“Spree & Berlin” app. © Jakob Kukula

The German design graduates

This year they find German design graduates held for the third time. The non-commercial initiative to promote young designers honors graduates from German design courses. Within this framework, the German Design Council distributes Department of Design Research and Appliance (IfDRA) again its award for design research. In this way, the department would like to honor submissions that move in the interface between theory and practice, and whose combination and integration into the design process results in future-oriented results.

More about Spree & Berlin

To the website of designer Jakob Kukula

More about ndion

You can also find the other two works on the shortlist for this year’s IfDRA Design Research Prize at ndion.

Further Posts related to design and Articles on IfDRA topics.

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