Urban Metabolism

Experts: Rejane Cantoni (Media Artist), Leonardo Crescenti (Media Artist), Luis Feduchi (Architecture), Christian Kassung (Cultural History and Theory), Nils Krüger (Product Design), Antonio Lazcarno (Biology), Enrique Longinotti (Graphic Design), Rodrigo Martin (Architecture), Wolfgang Schäffner (Cultural History and Theory)

Participants: Jonathan Kopinski (Architecture), Marcus Bastos (Media Artist), Nina Mikolaschek (Cultural History and Theory), Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez (Interdisciplinary Artist / Media Professional)


Diverse analogies of the human body and its metabolism emerged throughout history to describe processes of urban life. Both, urban and human metabolism, consist of networks of filters and circuits.

Research Problem & Questions

The circular movement of goods, information, waste etc. in urban spaces poses challenges to research on mobility in the metropolis. Water in water circuits, waste in the recycling process and information in information flows are subject to exchange and transformation processes. The cyclical movement of objects and people in the city seems at first a very abstract phenomenon, but just think of the garbage disposal in front of your door and the related cycle of resources.

This research team focussed mainly on the following questions: How can we learn from historical concepts and analogies with the human metabolism to better understand urban cyclical movement? How can the city be designed as a dynamic model of circulations?

Research Process & Results

Taking historical concepts such as humoral pathology as contemporary approaches into account, this interdisciplinary team focussed on cyclical forms of movement in the city.

At the same time the group made it its aim to incorporate the subjects of all other working teams in their discussions in order to generate integrative problem and imaging solutions. The basis of this overarching task was to give feedback to all other groups as well as constant documentation during the course of KOSMOS 2012. Respectively, this team created an on-going feedback-loop.. It was out of different subgroups within the Urban Metabolism team that a video installation was presented on the final exhibition. Two videos were presented on a fan-shaped screen. According to their standpoint, this enabled visitors to either watch one, the other or both videos at the same time. The videos show places in the centre of Berlin where flows of people and vehicles alternate and mix.

Secondly, the team compiled a book covering textual, photographic, and other forms of visual/textual approaches to investigate a kind of “Berlin Metabolism”. Six chapters follow different aspects of urban metabolism; they range from the interplay between human beings as machines as circular mechanism via recycling of resources to the history of the road infrastructure.

One chapter deals with the circularity of time in urban space in contrast to the usual linearity that is implicitly based on a teleological idea of progress. Another chapter proposes the analytic notion of digital anthrophagy (anthropos = »human being« + phagein = »to eat«), a form of digital urban cannibalism; this chapter mainly concentrates on a metabolism of information. The last chapter explores the historic development of Berlin’s road infrastructure and dwells on metabolic changes in Berlins Urban form.

Thus, the book poses diverse questions. Some of these approaches offer analytic notions as answers; others are already answers through their experimental character. And all of them broaden our horizons.