Media and Memories of the Future: Sound and Environment in Berlin

This seminar will discuss the cultural politics of memory as they develop through the spatial and sonic atmosphere of Berlin. As a city rich in history, and focused on the future, Berlin is a laboratory for how exploration of the recent past is re-scripting the near future. The city becomes a palimpsest—sonically, visually, and spatially—that is available for investigation and interpretation as a means to understand historical patterns and their relationship to novel practices and methods in the present.

The course will be centered around an analysis of both the cultural resonance of memory and also the role of history in future imaginaries. Media –in particular sonic and spatial – cultures will form a prism through which to understand cities, urban practices, and the transformation of the environment. Two of the main threads of this analysis involve the economics of real estate—as evidenced in the transformation from squatting culture to collective inhabitation—and the push towards energy efficiency in buildings and urban space, as evidenced in both regulatory and creative efforts towards refining practices of ecological design and construction. Both these threads are bound up with an increasing attentiveness to the role of sound in urban life: the emergence of techno in Berlin during the 1970s and 1980s was not only a soundtrack to but also an agent of transformation in the evolution of alternative spatial practices during that period, while more recent practices of ecological design sit alongside Berlin’s atypical sensitivity to urban sound design.

Instructors: Daniel Barber, Architecture, School of Design and Naomi Waltham-Smith, Music, School of Arts and Sciences