On the site of the Floating University, a diverse range of animals, plants and algae have taken root and given birth to a unique landscape: a man-made environment reclaimed by nature where polluted water coexists with the relatively new presence of the university, forming a natureculture (Haraway) or a third landscape (Clément).

The site was designed in the early 1930s as a rainwater retention basin to serve the Tempelhof airfield and adjacent avenues, and it was encased in concrete after the second World War by the U.S Army. Today, it remains as a fully functioning public infrastructure: it holds and diverts rainwater into the city’s canalisation system. It is also surrounded by a “Gartenkolonie”—an allotment or community garden—and is therefore almost invisible to passers-by.

After the Tempelhof airport closed in 2008, the city’s redevelopment plan proposed to build over the airfield and to relocate the neighbouring rainwater infrastructure. This would have transformed the 22.500 m2 city-owned piece of land occupied by the basin into a valuable, profitable asset for Berlin’s real estate portfolio. However, in the Tempelhof referendum of 2014, Berliners voted against the city and prevented any kind of construction on the airfield. The result of this referendum not only protected the unique inner-city green space, but also provided protection for the basin.

The rainwater collection basin had been closed off to the public for over 80 years. Within the research for “the great worlds fair 2012”, which took place across the vast airfield of the former Tempelhof airport, architecture group raumlaborberlin discovered the basin for the first time. Since then, the process of engagement with the site began, and when the site was opened up in 2018 as the Floating University by architecture group raumlabor, it was an explicit decision to re-activate the water infrastructure as a cultural and socio-political space.

It is in solidarity with the history of the site and within the lineage of alternative narratives for urban development that the Floating University situates its mission: to open, soften, maintain, and take care of this unique public urban infrastructure, its human culture and its multispecies overlayers while bringing non-disciplinary, radical, and collaborative programs to the public. In other words, it is a place to learn to engage, to embrace the complexity and navigate the entanglements of the world, to imagine and create different forms of living.

Satellite view on the rainwater retention pool of Tempelhof airport