What do university cities of the future need?

IBA_SUMMIT N°2 – An appeal for more shared visions in town and university planning

What challenges do today’s “knowledge gems” face? How can urban planning and architectural qualities be brought into harmony with academic excellence?
These questions are at the heart of the second IBA_SUMMIT, which took place on March 19, 2016 in the studio of the Villa Bosch in Heidelberg. This summit meeting was attended by around 40 participants from various different countries and areas of expertise – mayors, university rectors, town planners and business representatives from international university cities.

Mayor Prof. Eckart Würzner was delighted by the intense and open exchange with his colleagues from Cambridge, Lund, Leuven and Kumamoto. A look behind the scenes of the town and campus planning was provided by speakers including Dennis Frenchman, head of the town planning department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (USA). The MIT has been at the top of the lists of global university rankings for some years now. The innovative climate at the MIT is thanks particularly to the campus’s very open nature towards the city. “The days when a university campus was an isolated site within the urban fabric are long gone. The once rigid boundaries between campus and city are increasingly disintegrating, since both parties are gradually coming to understand just how much they can benefit from one another,” Frenchman explains.

This impression was echoed by Professor Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University: “The town and the university are inextricably linked – together, they both make Heidelberg into a lively and inspiring place. We support the International Building Exhibition in its development of a shared vision of city, university and citizens for Heidelberg.“

Dr. Eckart Würzner also emphasizes: “The fact that we have all initiated an IBA together here represents a great opportunity for Heidelberg. Before it ends in the year 2022, we want to work on setting up a joint master plan: The city, the university, and the many different educational institutions in Heidelberg – with the involvement of the citizens in situ.“

The challenges Heidelberg is confronting here are only too familiar to Willem van Winden, Professor at Amsterdam University of Applied Science: “It is by no means easy for cities and their universities to shape a shared vision of urban development, since it involves the coming together of two equally complex systems that work very differently,” Winden explains. Yet how can these two parties manage to work successfully together? “It works best through personal relationships – representatives of city and university must know one another well and create occasions and forums for exchange again and again: Round tables, working groups, informal meetings. The key to a shared vision for urban development is continual exchange at all levels – from the management level through to the work level.”
At the second IBA_SUMMIT, the Federation was represented by Gabriele Kautz, head of the building culture division at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. She emphasized the German government’s interest in the developments that have been initiated: “The meeting involved discussions at a high academic level. The big challenge now is to actively incorporate what has been said – into the next steps of the IBA and into its specific projects here in situ. The findings from this are as important for Heidelberg as they are for the nationwide discourse on building culture.“

For Michael Braum, Executive Director of the IBA Heidelberg, courage and trust were the important keywords of the day, both essential for agreeing on a shared position: “All the knowledge pearls invited are facing similar challenges: Many are very successful, and success is the basis for sustainable growth. Part of this is affordable, high-quality housing, along with contemporary mobility concepts and much more. The challenges can only be tackled jointly. To this end, we need mutual trust that city and university both see themselves as part of a shared project, the sustainable development of the knowledge pearl.“