Infinite degrees of freedom in public space

Scheduled for Thursday, 5 March 2020, for 150 Participants

‘Degree of freedom’ is a notion from physics denoting reciprocally independent and variable parameters of a system. Quantum field theory describes reciprocal field interactions by means of infinite degrees of freedom.

The interdisciplinary and transinstitutional conference “Infinitely Many Degrees of Freedom” will evaluate seven years of artistic work on the Wittenberger Weg. It explores the freedom of thought and action that artistically accompanied processes open up systemically and investigates how they create common public space. The conference is an important contribution to the joint project “100 Years of bauhaus in the West” and to the preparation of the Education Convention 2020.

The question standing at the origin for the conception of this event was: Can an artistically supervised, open-ended process offer solutions for seemingly insoluble situations – and if so, how?

An example for such an ample process is taking place in Düsseldorf, Germany, for six years now (2019). The district on Wittenberger Weg in Düsseldorf Garath was built in the 1950s as a settlement for homeless families. Its urban isolation, among other things, has determined that previous attempts to improve the value of housing and quality of life were relatively ineffective. “If you make a difference there, everyone will help you,” said Peter Zerfaß, the headmaster of the Alfred Herrhausen School located in that neighbourhood, talking about the district in 2013.

Shortly afterwards, three young people explained the situation of their neighbourhood on Wittenberger Weg and Perleberger Weg in Düsseldorf-Garath. They analysed what went well and what didn’t, and they developed the basic idea for the project of a café, a place to meet: “An open, self-conceived space where the qualities of the people and their stories become visible, where you can do an internship yourself and where the parents could perhaps find work – a café”. The artist Ute Reeh encouraged the children and young people to trust their own observations and impulses. Well prepared, they went into exchange with students, architects, planners, artists, politicians, city councils and restaurateurs. This led to the architectural design for a room that neither experts nor children could have found on their own: the Wiesencafé (Meadow Café). Its accomplished form reflects the process of its creation.

In 2017, the floor plan was cast as a visible and usable open-air platform with the support of the Landesinitiative Stadtbaukultur NRW, Holcim AG, the Sevinc Foundation and of the municipal housing association Düsseldorf. In 2018, the floor base was used as a stage for various events, as a meeting place, and as place for art projects.

In 2019, the Bauhaus year, the walls will be erected using an old clay construction technique that had been forgotten for around 100 years. The so-called Lehmwellerbau (Weller adobe building) technique enables a contemporary design language, uses straw and clay from the region and is only unused today because many people, manual labour and a long construction period are required for the building process. However, this is exactly what makes this construction technique particularly suitable for this project: It requires and enables communication and cooperation. This construction process is financed by the foundation Aktion Mensch and by the IKEA Foundation. Four universities and about 15 other educational institutions are involved in the inclusive project part known as Bauhütte (construction shack).

Peter Zerfaß’s initial statement has repeatedly been confirmed during the long project journey. Again and again, however, resistance also highlighted longstanding dependencies and structures. Until the end of 2018, the building project was supported and co-developed by the board of the Städtische Wohnungsgesellschaft (municipal housing company), in the person of Jürgen Heddergott. A documentary project film illustrates the dynamics and development of the project. Düsseldorf’s mayor Thomas Geisel personally visited the most important milestones of the project and city director Burkhard Hintzsche opened the construction site together with a girl involved in the project, 12-year-old Selina, who acted on behalf of all the children and young people involved.

When you build something yourself, that releases energy and sets you in a state of readiness for collaboration. At the same time, however, that contradicts the usualdistribution of social hierarchy, responsibility and power. Parallel to the project at the Wittenberger / Perleberger Weg in Düsseldorf, Ute Reeh, by artistic means supervised an urban development process affecting the two East German cities of Wittenberge and Perleberg. The observation of this twofold process revealed the explosive nature of the respective concepts and self-concepts in their antagonistic dynamic: economic/social, poor/rich, powerless/potential, dependent/independent, social/asocial, unproductive help/subsidy, social disregard/recognition. Joie de vivre, beauty and new spaces emerge through joint invention and action.

In the current stage, it is a matter of bringing the process to an extended level of reflection. The Bauhaus year 2019 will provide important impulses for this with the focus on further thinking about its basic ideas. The planned conference dares to address a major topic of our time: How can we successfully grasp the dissolution tendencies of the private and public spheres as a challenge and create new, jointly supported spaces in this process?


  • Welcome and introduction
  • Introductive ‘impulse’ lecture (15 min)
  • Further inputs and group work at prepared theme tables. Work structure: Preparation of the tables by children/young people/students, as well as one input each by the invited expert, followed by joint work. The discussion at each theme table is documented (recorded with video/sound).
  • Presentation of the results
  • What do we do with it? – Formulating common visions in plenary.


The conference topics will be carefully prepared in theory and practice in 2019. The differentiation into a large number of subtopics enables productive collaboration in groups of a maximum of ten people. According to the project principle, the topics from the project will be prepared by children, young people and students and worked on together with experts from the respective fields.

  1. Creating public space
    (How is space planned, who acts?)
  2. Inventing space together
    (How do actors come together who would otherwise not come together? What results from this?)
  3. Analog / touchable / emotional / exceeded
    (How do emotional, social, … virtual, … spaces belong together?)
  4. Social boundaries and gaps in the system
    (Barriers, exclusion, demarcation, invitation, opening? What do we want?)
  5. Open space
    (How does fine art work?)
  6. Weller adobe building technique
    (How does that work?)
  7. Size and shape
    (What makes me feel free and comfortable in a room? How should such a room be?)
  8. Acoustic room
    (How do we integrate silence, noise, sound, noise?)
  9. Colour space
    (In which colour(s) do we want to be?)
  10. Continuing to grow
    (Urban space and neighbourhood development Benrath-Süd. What can we contribute to the structure and shape of the 22-hectares area of the new city opposite?)
  11. Love garden 2050
    (How can plants, animals, water, air, light be included? How do we resonate?)
  12. Meadow café economy
    (How do people live in this specific cultural and economic area?)
  13. The big picture
    (Time capsules for the walls and future of the Wiesencafé. What should happen politically?)
  14. Public space in the digital age
    (How does the pull for digital transformation change the willingness to be physically present in public space and to perceive it as a possible own space?)
  15. Building culture (We have created culture. How do you know that?)
  16. Communication (How do we get the whole of Düsseldorf to know the Wiesencafé? What do we get out of it?)

Conference venue

Since the shell of the café on Wittenberger Weg in Düsseldorf-Garath does not yet offer a roof at this time, and in order to design the space for a new level of reflection, raumlabor Berlin has been invited to erect a temporary tent sculpture next to the Wiesencafé, which will serve as a conference room.

Project partners

  • Architektenkammer NRW (Chamber of Architects of North Rhine Westphalia)
  • Institut der Moderne im Rheinland (Institute of Modernism in the Rhineland)
  • Zentrum für Peripherie NRW (Centre for Periphery, subsidiary Düsseldorf)
  • Landschaftsverband Rheinland (Regional Council of the Rhineland)

Topics / Lecturers

  • Input pulse, idea and concept, Ute Reeh, Center for Periphery
  • Social space, Prof. Reinhold Knopp, Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences
  • Empowerment, Prof. Jesko Fezer, Hamburg University of Fine Arts
  • Sound, Christopher Dell, Berlin
  • Nature area, Carl-Friedrich Schröer, cultural journalist
  • Colour, Prof. Dr. Axel Buether, University of Wuppertal
  • Wellerlehmbau, Prof. Eike Roswag,
    TU Berlin
  • Time, Peter Füssenich Dombaumeister Cologne
  • Architecture, Prof. Christoph Schmidt, Franz Klein-Wiele University Düsseldorf PBSA
  • Urban development from the inside Andrea Hofmann, Raumlabor Berlin, Christoph Schäfer, Hamburg
  • Building, Culture, Communication, Christoph Kremerskothen, Building Culture NRW
  • Education and Diversity Peter Zerfaß and Birgit Plannken, Headteachers, Düsseldorf
  • Digital Spaces Dr. Jasmin Grande, Institute of Modernism in the Rhineland
  • Conceptual Space/Contemporary Art n.a. Center for Periphery
  • Political Space Klaudia Zepuntke, Mayor of the City of Düsseldorf
  • Moderation Prof. Günther Opp, Ute Reeh, Prasanna Oommen, Laura Kundt

Conference publication

At the end of 2020, a conference publication will be published by Fraunhofer Verlag, Stuttgart

© Zentrum für Peripherie 2019