What if a city’s forgotten spaces became its most valued places?

How Raumlabor’s We Like America tour injects fresh air into our vision of American cities

Spacebuster, New York (photo Kevin McElvaney)

The Spacebuster is an inflatable structure that emerges out of the back of a truck like a sideways hot air balloon. Able to hold up to 80 people, the ‘bubbletecture’ was created in 2009 by the quirky Berlin-based architecture collective, Raumlabor, to transform transitory public spaces into impromptu community hubs.

In Fall of 2017, Raumlabor collaborated with Übermut Project and Storefront for Art & Architecture to conceive the We Like America tour: a road trip across the American Rust Belt intent on exploring new visions of urban diversity for cities affected by deindustrialization. Parking like a wonky spacecraft on open lots in Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland and New York, the Spacebuster served as a gathering place for citizens to discuss how to tackle local challenges in their communities.

We Like America tour (photo Kevin McElvaney)

Over the course of the tour, Raumlabor conducted participatory workshops with local residents – facilitating chair building in Brooklyn as part of a communal prototyping experiment, helping residents of St. Louis build their own community basketball court, and even creating a butterfly garden on the foundations of a demolished house.

We Like America, Saint Louis (photo Kevin McElvaney)

We Like America, Saint Louis (photo Kevin McElvaney)

Why it Moves us, Forward

Seeking out the neglected places within cities and co-opting them with local residents, Raumlabor highlights the very human dimensions that shape the contours and rules of public space. Their impromptu programming helps to bring inhabitants into new relationship with one another and opens their imagination to the possibilities of enlivening their own community together. In so doing, the architects call attention to the power of intentionally steering not just the use of space, but the creative spirit of the community from the ground up.

We Like America, Saint Louis (photo Kevin McElvaney)

Where can we go from here?

Organizations like the Democracy Collaborative have long spearheaded collaborative strategies that strengthen low-income communities through local hiring, purchasing and investing vehicles. As they engage more local organizations and city officials in a growing movement of community wealth building, initiatives like Raumlabor’s We Like America tour sows seeds of community ownership by empowering citizens to embrace their own creative wealth. With a little fresh air in forgotten spaces, Raumlabor connects community AND creative wealth building to breathe new life into the American city.

How else can we use participatory architecture to help people engage their own creative power to shape their community? Share your ideas with us. Submit your visions to the Future Field Prize.

Creative Explorers: Raumlabor

Raumlabor (Space Laboratory) is a Berlin-based group of architects founded under the motto “no trust, no city” by Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius and Axel Timm. Raumlabor works at the intersection of architecture, city planning, art and urban intervention, seeking abandoned places as useful experimentation sites for new urban visions that renegotiate what public space is and does for today’s city. Inspired by the imaginative architectural legacies of Cedric Price and Archigram, Raumlabor’s playful and often fantastical approach focuses on small scale interventions that are deeply rooted in local conditions. “We love the great ideas of the 60s and 70s and the optimism that is inherent in changing the world for the better at the stroke of a pen, but we strongly believe that complexity is real and good and our society today needs a more substantial approach,” they explain. Whether it’s temporarily transforming a subway station into an opera house or a creating a vertical village as a catalyst for a more open society in South Korea, Raumlabor is constantly striving to open up new perspectives for alternative uses and collective ideals.

A Firmer Foundation…

Interview with Raumlabor’s Alex Timm & Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius | Übermut
Raumlabor’s Christof Mayer on Public Interventions | Architecture AU
Taking the Bureaucratic Speak Out of Community Wealth-Building | Next City
Conversations on Community Wealth Building | Democracy Collaborative

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