Friday, January 17, 2020, 9:30 am – 5 pm
Venue: Alte Feuerwache Köln – Soziokulturelles Zentrum in Selbstverwaltung, Melchiorstr. 3, 50670 Köln
Entrance is free. We kindly ask for registration.

On January 17, KISD – Köln International School of Design of TH Köln will host the interdisciplinary symposium »Die unsichtbare Stadt« (»The Invisible City«). From different perspectives, designers and researchers will discuss the topic of how the economic globalization transforms and re-shapes city and society, and will elaborate on the possibilities and limits that result from the informal adoption of urban spaces. Through the juxtaposition of the »visible« and »invisible«, the conference wants in particular focus on the overlooked and undervalued aspects of both city production and perception.

In the wake of globalization, cities across the world are being adjusted according to market needs. Their transformation into global finance and consumption hubs significantly affects the cityscape as primarily profit-oriented buildings dominate the urban landscape, attract attention, and call for sovereignty in matters of perception and interpretation. They impede social groups from having access to those spaces and, in consequence, block and force social infrastructures out. They generate marketable city images which subsequently echo in and around a cross-global media circle and flow of successful images – an »Industry of the Visible«. Public spaces are also affected since they are transformed into »visible«, exclusive, and homogeneous spaces of a monitored consumer society. The city’s restructuring then culminates in a kind of overload: an overload of speculation, marketing, communication, of traffic and information which adversely affects urban life. The city turns out to be a system more and more reaching its limits.

The city as a performative space

However, the »visible« city still offers spaces that are hidden, are overlooked or knowingly avoid being seen. They are primarily frequented and temporarily designed by socially engaged initiatives and informal groups. These activities are based on an idea and notion of a city which stretches beyond the visible, symbolic, and object-based pictorial architectural characteristics. Here, the center of interest is rather the idea of the city as a performative space where different actors interact and unfold on many occasions and situations. It is especially in those playfully designed, self-initiated, and self-organized ways of using urban landscapes in which a counterculture and resistance towards the global transformation of cities can evolve and find a voice. These voices express a desire for a social entitlement to those urban qualities characterized by social encounters, by exchange, and by collectively designed and collectively used urban spaces.

Whereas such informal activities are currently at best only small initiators for a processual qualitative upgrading of urban landscapes, they could, in the course of ecologic and technological structural changes, soon become the pivotal moment and turning point for future city production and perception. In cities that in the 1960s for example followed the guiding principle of a »car-friendly« city – and now through restructuring and reducing traditional patterns of motorized private transport –, new urban spaces could emerge open for us a citizen and for urban society in general. The question of »How Do We Want to Live in Cities in the Future?« could then be more pressing than ever.

A major challenge for politics and institutions

It turns out that urban activities of civil-society-oriented, cultural groups still represent a major challenge for politics and institutions. Currently, the status quo lacks systematic ties and interconnections between the formal and the informal sphere. The following questions are thus on the symposium’s agenda:

Is it possible to develop a distinct urban planning that strategically allows for those potentials of the informal and for the supposed invisible to evolve? How can urban concepts, experiments, and actions by local initiatives be made tangible and accessible for the city’s formal urban development? Can a playfully designed and randomly distributed adoption of urban spaces be transferred into a collectively designed planning process? May, over the course of such processes, potentials for alternate usages of the public space and a (re-)opening of social modi vivendi be unleashed? And what chances do arise for the idea/notion and development of a city if design and architecture are not to be understood as results of controlled, formalized, and pure market-oriented planning patterns, but as communicative and spatial processes that enable disagreements and conflicts to be fruitful and resolvable? What if design stimulates a discussion where and at what urban spaces civil society would like to come together? How do these spaces then look like? What is and means »private« und »public«? What is and means »visible« and »invisible«?

At the symposium of »Die unsichtbare Stadt« (»The Invisible City«), researchers from cultural and social sciences, as well as from design and architecture will across disciplines discuss the question of how design can be and become a testing ground for the development of a many-faceted, open-minded, and un-biased notion of a current and future city, and of how design and architecture can be made understood and tangible as a discipline critically dealing with and reflecting on ongoing structural changes in spatial and urban development, as well as in society, economy, technology, and politics.

Exhibitions | PASSAGEN 2020

The KISDconference »Die unsichtbare Stadt« will be accompanied by the exhibitions »Gleisland« at Alter Güterbahnhof in Cologne-Ehrenfeld and »Straßenland« at Ebertplatz in Neustadt-Nord. The exhibitions will paradigmatically deal with the following questions: which access and right has every citizen to cities and, respectively, to its individual city, how are inner-cities infrastructural wastelands to cope with by municipal authorities, and, last but not least, to whom does this urban space originally, currently, and in the future belong to?
On the occasion of PASSAGEN 2020, the research center »Real-Time City« of TH Köln will open its two temporary labs and will, showcased by these exhibitions, reflect on the city as a collective infrastructural space.
The exhibitions and the conference will be held in the context of the joint research project of the City of Cologne (Department Urban Development, Planning, and Construction) and TH Köln (Design Theory and -Research, Prof. Dr. Carolin Höfler).


Prof. Dr. Carolin Höfler & Mario Frank with Julian Hoffmann and students of KISD – Köln International School of Design of TH Köln

Picture: Lars Köppl & Jennifer Zachlod


Friday, January 17, 2020, 9:30 am – 5 pm

All presentations will be held in German language
ab 8.30 UhrAnkommen
09.30 Uhr Carolin Höfler, TH Köln: 
09.45 UhrHarald Trapp, TU Wien / University American College Skopje  
10.30 UhrStephan Willinger, BBSR, Bonn
Über den Informellen Urbanismus hinaus:
Lernen von der unsichtbaren Stadt
11.15 UhrKaffeepause
11.30 UhrLukasz Lendzinski & Peter Weigand, studio umschichten, Stuttgart
Was kommt nach fertig?
12.15 UhrMittagspause mit Gelegenheit zum Besuch der Ausstellung »Straßenland« in der Ebertplatz Passage
13.30 UhrAndrea Hofmann, raumlaborberlin
Stadt als Handlungsraum
14.15 Uhr Fernando Abellanas, Valencia
Ciudad como espacio de juego [wird live ins Deutsche übersetzt]
15.00 UhrKaffeepause
15.15 Uhr Flavia Mameli, Berlin / Universität Kassel
Wem gehört das Gleisdreieck? Über einen Berliner Park und das Konzept der Aneignung in der urbanen Raumproduktion
16.00 Uhr Klaus Neuburg, FROH! e.V., Köln / Hochschule Hamm-Lippstadt
Die Stadt als Archiv des Wandels
17.00 UhrEnde


  • Address Melchiorstraße 3
  • City Cologne
  • State / Province NRW
  • Post Code 50825
  • Country Deutschland

Date 17. January 2020

Time 9:30 am - 5:00 pm