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New European Bauhaus Prizes 2024

Reconnecting with nature

Cultivating Companionship
Creating Conversation and Communitites within the Cornfield
A research residency based in a cornfield brings together people from different disciplines and various local species. This proposal counters explorative and Anthropocene land use and instead focuses on local materials, traditional ways of building, and community life. It explores the potential of a cornfield based on cooperation and diversity. Through the development of new bio-based materials and cooperation with non-humans, we rebuild the connections with the intricate ecosystems.
EU Member State, Western Balkans or Ukraine
49593 Bersenbrück, Germany
is the origin of the research and development of the project.
But the concept and topic address the wider region of northwest Germany. As corn-monoculture is a global topic, it might expand even further.
Mainly rural
It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment (hard investment)
Early concept
As an individual

The "Cultivating Companionship" project is a proposal for a research residency within a cornfield, uniting a diverse group of individuals from various professions, ages, and viewpoints, including farmers, biologists, artists, and more. It aims to initiate a conversation about our relationship with the natural world amidst the corn plants and local ecosystems.

Bersenbrück’s agriculture serves as a case study for the global shift from self-sufficiency to market orientation since the 1950s, leading to biodiversity loss due to monoculture and chemical use. Notably, corn monoculture, covering 205,000 hectares worldwide, has contributed to a 75% decline in Germany's insect population over the past 30 years.

The project's goal is to counter the Anthropocene mindset by reconnecting with nature and adopting a sustainable approach, employing multispecies thinking and interdisciplinary design to tackle challenges and pave the way for a more harmonious future.

The residency's design draws inspiration from local half-timbered farmhouses, utilizing natural materials and community-driven construction. Material research and multi-cropping within the cornfield focus on promoting biodiversity, enhancing soil health, and fostering creativity in design. For instance, the Mushroom House combines leftover materials from corn-biogas production with oyster mushrooms, encouraging care and support rituals like inviting the local community for mushroom dinners, discussions, and exchanges.

The project introduces diversity and nature-inclusive farming and building methods to the cornfield, raising questions and highlighting opportunities. By gathering within the cornfield, it promotes life-centred design thinking for architects, farmers, and all those engaged with the project in any capacity.
life-centred design
hands-on research
reflecting on history
nature-based solution-finding
The design and concept of Cultivating Companionship prioritize sustainability on multiple levels.

Agricultural: The project shows a way to shift from monoculture to multi-cropping. Traditionally, corn was grown alongside complementary plants, such as legumes and ground cover, promoting biodiversity, soil health, and water conservation. Unlike modern monoculture with its heavy use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, this method, known as three-sister-planting, fosters a more ecologically balanced ecosystem, positively affecting soil health and insect populations.

Architectural: The project employs experimental, temporary structures made from natural and recyclable materials. One of these structures is the Compost Tree. The compost tree contains a compost and an area for birds to rest and dwell. This structure encourages cooperation between humans and the natural world through the act of composting. These structures also serve as meeting points for both human and non-human inhabitants of the cornfield residency.

New materials: The inhabitants research new materials by repurposing leftover agricultural elements and utilizing natural ingredients grown in the field. This research bridges various disciplines, including design, art, biology, and other sciences, enabling diverse thinking and new perspectives on sustainability and our relationship with man-made environment in relation to land and nature.

Sustainable thinking: By inviting a diverse group of people to participate in this initiative, awareness and interest will grow. It showcases how a more diverse field can lead to a more diverse use and provide valuable learning experiences for both the local community and visitors from outside the area.
The residency design enhances the aesthetics of the area by transforming the monotonous 'corn desert' into a vibrant field.
Multi-cropping: The multi-cropped field's visual appeal starkly contrasts with the surrounding monoculture, showcasing the potential of a more diverse field design. This system adds diverse colours, the sounds of insects and birds, and the scents of flowers and herbs. The field becomes a garden where visitors can explore ecosystems and the beauty of nature. Even during winter, while surrounding cornfields appear dry and grey, the cornfield residency remains green. This offers visual appeal further benefits ecosystems and preserves the soil and its inhabitants.

Relation to local architecture: The three structures within the residency field draw inspiration from local traditional farmhouses, which hold emotional memories for the people of Bersenbrück. As elements of identification for the landscape and people, many of these houses are protected as historic monuments today. Known as Heuerhäuser or Kotten, they represent a connection to the area's history, community life, and self-sustainability, elements that have faded with modernization. The residency architecture combines traditional timber work with modern materials, creating a bridge between the past and the present, fostering identity, and inspiring new ideas.

Communal events: Rituals and celebrations are woven into the residency's fabric, promoting community bonding. Annual events, workshops, and other activities connect the residency to the local community, creating opportunities for interactions and mutual understanding.
As a result, this place becomes a source of joy and inspiration, not only visually but also in terms of building a strong sense of community among residents, the local community, and the non-human inhabitants of the area.
Diversity in participants: The residency space operates on an open application basis, welcoming people from diverse cultural, educational, and ethical backgrounds, regardless of their field of expertise, to apply. A more diverse residential group will even enhance the outcome by bringing together a wider range of perspectives. Workshops on various topics are also hosted to promote equality and inclusivity, and by that invite different groups of people to participate. The Mushroom House, which is also the centre of communal activities, is designed with a flexible interior to adjust it to the different needs and activities. The design is elevated from the ground, but a ramp allows all people to access the place.

Intergenerational exchange: Inspired by the fact that in the past, multiple generations lived and worked together, the activities aim to bring together different generations. Through workshops, discussions, storytelling sessions, and moments of celebration, the events facilitate mutual learning and understanding among different age groups. In developing this project proposal, engaging with different generations was crucial to gain a comprehensive understanding of the differences between today's society and past rural life. Furthermore, how changes impact the sense of community and our connection to the natural world.

On-site practical work: The project empowers individuals and communities to shape their surroundings, fosters self-reliance, and a closer bond with nature. The activities include gardening and material research, and exploring local, cost-effective solutions. Just as diversity is essential for biological networks, it is also needed in our society. The residency space prioritises an inter-human sense of community through its activities and dialogues, allowing for the inclusion of non-human entities in our societal perspective.
The development of "Cultivating Companionship" was guided by diverse research streams:

1. Information from various sources, including online articles, books, and documentaries.
2. Field research involved a photographic documentary capturing the soil, landscape, and architecture.
3. Interviews with civil society members, including different generations from the local community, architects, farmers, and the mayor of the joined municipality of Bersenbrück.

Incorporating community voices was essential for understanding the current situation and the changes of the past 70 years. Stories from the past highlighted multi-generational cohabitation with domestic animals and the unique knowledge held by farmers about seasons, wildlife, and self-sustaining farming. People's nostalgia and the strong communal bonds were evident, yet they also acknowledged the challenges they faced, particularly in securing food and clothing during harsh winters.

Photographic documentation showcases the impact of agricultural practices and monoculture on the soil, rendering it lifeless and uniform. In contrast, nearby forest soil exhibited a rich array of colours and supported life, even in winter. The medium of photography gives a voice to the non-human and through that made it an integrated part of the project design.

The research residency in the cornfield fosters exchange and dialogue, amplifying the voices of both young and older generations. These conversations showed that the people are generally worried about nature and that there is a general wish to protect the landscape and ecosystems that surround them. By asking my questions and going in conversation I gave a voice to these thoughts that seem to stand in contrast to economic interests. Continuing these conversations, the project serves as a space for inspiration and knowledge, bridging the past with innovative ideas for the future and giving space for design ideas that allow a vivid future for the area.
This project is currently in the planning stages and has not been realized or implemented yet. However, it has established direct contact with certain community members, farmers, and the mayor, Michael Wernke, who has expressed a strong interest in creating communities and a sense of belonging within Bersenbrück. He views this as essential for the town's functionality and sees the value of voluntary engagement. Mayor Wernke is interested in preserving the town's historical identity, visible in its architecture, while also positioning it to compete with global changes in the future. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of integrating the older generation into the community, giving them their places and tasks as valuable members. Moreover, as the developer of the proposal, I have personal connections to the place, as my family hails from there and is well-known in the town. This has been invaluable in building trust and initiating conversations.

When this project becomes a reality and evolves into a hub for exchange and communal research in the Bersenbrück countryside, it will be closely established in cooperation with existing local organizations. Collaboration with the local government, supportive farmers, and various organizations, including schools, community centres for the elderly, women's groups, and the parish, will be essential.
Moreover, the owner of the biogas plant, who is also a corn farmer in the region, is a strong supporter of the project. However, this support introduces complexity due to market dynamics and competition in the agricultural sector. Maintaining a close partnership with this stakeholder is crucial for further development.

This project proposal serves as a case study for potential future projects in the wider region, as well as throughout Germany and Europe. Therefore, in further development, super regional organizations and politicians will be invited and included.
The design and research process involved a diverse group of people and professionals, each contributing unique insights and perspectives:
Natural Material Studio:
Biobased material course: knowledge on biobased, local materials and experimentation.
Bauunternehmen Krone:
Shared insights into newly built half-timbered houses and motivations behind restoring the historic landscape's image.
Museumsdorf Cloppenburg:
Offered historical and architectural information about rural life before the 1950s and knowledge about local materials, flora, and fauna.
Local Community:
• Erica Gronau:
Owner of a modernized monumental farm, contributing insights into the challenges and advantages of this architecture.
• Renate Hülsmann:
Shared stories about growing up with livestock under the same roof. Arranged connections to other locals
• Hubert and Anni Thye-Moormann:
(80+) Provided insights into changing family, community, and farm life.
• Carmen Lohmann and Thomas Hülsmann:
Represented the younger generation's perspective, having moved away for studies and returned to rural living.
• Gregor Erpenbeck:
Farmer and works for the local biogas plant: shared experiences as a farmer and the influences of technology on the job.
• Family Gösting:
Potato farmers who export internationally, Living on an old farm, renovating and changing use.
Michael Wernke (Mayor):
Emphasized the importance of community, identification, and the challenges faced by rural areas.
Jutta Stalfort (Local History Expert):
Provided access to historical maps and insights into local history.
Ana Ojeda:
Shared knowledge about the cultural significance and history of corn in Mexican communities.
Biology, Ecosystem, and Climate Change Experts:
Required for addressing environmental and ecological aspects in the project's further development.
This diverse group of individuals and professionals contributed to the project's rich foundation and its potential for meaningful development.
The innovative aspect of this project lies in its diverse range of activities and participants, as well as the integration of non-human entities as an integral part of the cornfield community. In our current times, filled with crises and uncertainties, we are inundated with troubling news from around the world, including conflicts and climate change. This project aims to bring people back to the present, to address the issues right outside their doors, alongside other motivated community members. The objective is not to find the perfect solution but rather to ask questions, discuss, experiment, and exchange ideas. Collaborative work fosters interpersonal connections among individuals, as well as with the materials and environments they interact with. This shared interest and sense of belonging are as important as the creative practices themselves.
"Cultivating Companionships" offers local solutions to global issues. The project not only embraces the history and traditional knowledge of the area but also seeks to connect the local community of Bersenbrück with residency members who may come from all over the world. "Cultivating Companionship" encourages encounters between humans and non-humans, between residents, the soil, citizens, and the local ecosystems.

Materiality and material research serve as the foundation for the built environment, shaping the spaces we inhabit. Similarly, soil is the starting point for all growth and farming practices. These two endeavours complement each other and invite individuals of all generations, genders, and professions to explore, observe, learn, and experiment with new ideas, fostering close relationships with the ecosystems. This connection is especially crucial for the town of Bersenbrück, whose primary source of income remains rooted in farming.

"Cultivating Companionship" means to stay with the trouble and find opportunities, communities, and conversations within the cornfield.
This project is grounded in research about the local history of community life, architecture, and self-sustaining farming in the Bersenbrück countryside. The final proposal draws inspiration from certain elements of the area's history while also acknowledging the current reality. This includes the shift towards market-oriented and efficient farming, where productivity is vital to thrive in global competition.

Viewed through the lens of designers and researchers, the project analyses the local and global situation by zooming in and zooming out. The corn plant serves as a metaphor for the Anthropocene mindset, which results in a disconnection from the soil and a reduction in biodiversity. Corn has become the most globally widespread domestic plant in the past 50 years. Placing the project within a cornfield offers direct contact with the current situation as a starting point. This sets the stage for developing a more inclusive, diverse, and sustainable community that involves the corn plant, humans, and non-human entities.

The central focus is on combining knowledge from different fields, such as biology, art, and farming, which is an essential approach to address the question of how we can reconnect with nature and the ecosystems we are part of. These ecosystems are essential for our survival in this area and on our planet.
Everyone is invited to engage with the urgent questions of biodiversity loss and climate change, whether they are a child, a grandmother, or someone who has never touched the soil before. The project believes in the advantages of a diverse community and the importance of inter-human relationships, as well as personal connections with the soil and the non-human world.

For this reason, the project proposal aims to bring humans and non-humans together at one table, through various forms of engagement, including conversations, workshops, material creation, gardening, and celebration.
This project is designed to address the global issue of biodiversity loss and the disconnection from nature at the local level. The approach centres around understanding the communal history and development of the area, making it a project proposal that can be easily adapted to other places and contexts. Success in this transformation hinges on establishing a direct and profound dialogue with the local community, comprehending the history, and analysing the current situation.

In Bersenbrück, the Heuerhäuser (historical farmhouses) serve as a starting point for conversations about the past, encompassing topics like farming, living, and material culture. The monoculture corn plantation symbolizes the contemporary challenge of biodiversity loss. Conversations and interviews with the local community and farmers foster sensitivity, understanding, and the generation of ideas by delving into narratives about both the present and the past. Respecting and bolstering local identity not only empowers the community but also contextualizes the design of the residency and its program.

The "Cultivating Companionship" project can be replicated in other agricultural settings. This necessitates engagement with history, community, biodiversity, and the current (economic) situation. If this approach is adopted, it has the potential to become a reality in any place that seeks to (re)connect with nature as a community and embrace a life-centred community and design philosophy.
"Cultivating Companionship" confronts global challenges on a local scale, addressing biodiversity loss, the disconnection from nature, and pollution in the building sector. It seeks to reconnect agricultural practices with natural ecosystems, foster emotional bonds with the environment, develop sustainable local materials and building techniques, and create a sense of belonging and community.

One significant driver of ecosystem disruption and biodiversity decline is agricultural land use. This project proposes small-scale, local solutions to reconnect agricultural practices with natural ecosystems, promoting shared land use and a biodiverse mindset. Restoring this connection is crucial for maintaining healthy soils as the foundation of life.
Further modern technology distanced humans physically from the natural world. To reestablish this connection, the project envisions a research residency in the field, serving as a space for workshops, conversations, and engagement with the environment. The goal is to spark curiosity, fascination, and emotional bonds with surrounding ecosystems.

While the global market has brought many advantages and materials, the building sector is a leading global polluter. The project introduces questions about materials and design to rural areas, encouraging the development of local, natural materials and innovative building techniques. This not only reduces the environmental footprint of construction but also empowers communities to become self-reliant, using locally sourced materials and techniques that close material loops. The approach draws inspiration from historical local buildings.

Apart from the disconnect from the natural world, modern societies often experience a diminished sense of belonging and community. The "Cultivating Companionship" project aims to unite a diverse community, bringing people together through shared ideas, practical work, and a commitment to a life-centred philosophy.
The project is currently in the proposal stage, developed during my Master's Thesis year, with the potential to become a reality in cooperation with the Bersenbrück community. Key steps for realization include:
1. Prepare a presentation in German and translate the research paper for local accessibility.
2. Organize a presentation for the community, fostering discussion and idea gathering.
3. Engage with companies, farmers, educational institutions, NGOs, and NPOs for support.
4. Establish direct communication with the farmer who owns the intended residency field.
5. Plan initial activities and workshops, including site analysis, seed planting, and construction.
6. Host an opening celebration for community engagement.
7. After the corn harvest, hold an open day to showcase results and continue community dialogue.
8. Document the project at all stages, share updates via newsletters, and feature in publications.
9. At the end of the first year:
• A solid community of humans and non-humans on-site and beyond.
• Main article/publication about the project.
• Well-established presence in the local community and beyond.
  • Cultivating Companionship_presentation.pdf
    (26,54 MB - pdf)
  • Cultivating Companionship_video.pdf
    (566,83 KB - pdf)
  • Cultivating-Companionship_three-structures.pdf
    (10,9 MB - pdf)