Design Research Nominierung 2021 für „Spree&Berlin“ von Jakob Kukula
„Spree&Berlin“. © Jakob Kukula

Jakob Kukula developed a buoy at the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin that uses various tools and media to make the actual state of a river visible. We asked him four questions about the “Spree&Berlin” project.

Interview: Stephan Ott and Jessica Krejci, IfDRA.

Design Research Nomination 2021: The Shortlist (3/3): “Spree&Berlin” by Jakob Kukula

Jakob Kukula developed a buoy as part of his final thesis that uses various tools and media to make the current state of a river visible, in this case the river Spree in Berlin. In addition, the buoy is intended to contribute to increasing the water quality in the summer months through an additional supply of oxygen. In the design, Jakob Kukula goes beyond a purely user-centred approach and gives the river a voice with a holistic and planet-centred design. In this way, the designer shows how sustainable design can be thought of in the future.

Modell der Boje „Spree&Berlin“
Model of the buoy “Spree&Berlin”. © Jakob Kukula

How did you come up with the idea for the project?

The starting point for me was a demonstration by Extinction Rebellion at the Große Stern (The Great Star) in Berlin. I had been thinking about whether I should spend the night there with them for a car blockade or how I could perhaps also get involved through what I do anyway: Design is a powerful tool here. With my “Spree&Berlin” project, I then moved from a purely human-centred design to a planet- or life-centred design. The Spree, an ecosystem, became the centre for my design. I come from Berlin and it shocked me to see how much people have become accustomed to the situation with the Spree. You can regulate a lot here through communication, but at the same time you can solve a concrete problem, like oxygen in the water or providing living space for other species. Because the Spree is actually like a big motorway and therefore not really usable or habitable for beavers or fish, for example. Either we renaturalise it generously, which would of course be ideal, or we put in the first green stepping stones. As designers, we have the opportunity to tell stories, to open up narratives, to draw pictures and, for example, to get into systems thinking together with others in workshops. I think it’s nice not to think so much in terms of products, but rather to approach the topic with a speculative or discursive object.

What about its technical function, does the buoy work as you planned?

That’s a question I’ve also asked myself, of course, but as a designer I can only get so far. That’s why I have now opened up the project further and initiated a course with a hydraulic engineer at the Technical University of Berlin, in which we are conducting a feasibility study and calculating everything technically: How much electricity do we need? How will the electricity get there? Is it solar power? How many buoys do we need to supply a certain section with oxygen? Will the buoy work with oxygen from the air or do we need extra enriched oxygen? Of course, all this has to make sense, and it takes engineers to work it out.

Boje „Spree&Berlin“.
“Spree&Berlin” model. © Jakob Kukula

Your project has grown significantly in size over the past weeks and months, how did you deal with that?

Through the university competition “Science in Dialogue”, the project was funded by the BMBF and the focus here was on communicating the work. In different formats such as exhibitions, interviews, workshops and a summer school, the topics were not only discussed, but the prototypes were also advanced. I was also able to commission other designers to work with me. It’s interesting to see that I even have the graphics reworked by a communication designer and then you ask yourself, which design areas do I actually take on myself and what do I hand over? All of a sudden, design becomes an incredible planning process. I’m currently developing a somewhat larger functional model, a first measuring probe… I won’t let myself miss out on making that myself.


„Ich finde es interessant, wie sich der Designbegriff erweitert. Die Disziplin nimmt nicht an Relevanz ab – ganz im Gegenteil – ich glaube, dass wir im Studium wirklich gute Werkzeuge an die Hand bekommen und gelernt haben auf eine besondere Art zu denken.“

— Jakob Kukula


How will you develop the project in the future?

I don’t know exactly where the project will end up. I haven’t set myself any extreme goals, but I am very open and interested in the constant further development and especially in the project’s vision of creating a healthy urban nature and a liveable Berlin for animals, plants and people. I find it quite interesting how the concept of design is expanding. In today’s world, this discipline is not becoming less relevant. Quite the opposite, in fact, I believe that we are given really good tools in our studies and have learned to think in a special way. In the meantime, many others have joined the ranks, cue “Design Thinking”. The design process, which was also used as a guide at university, can be applied to all kinds of things. I find speculative, discursive design, which positions itself between art and design and opens up new spaces, particularly interesting in this context. Together with my former fellow student Leonie Fischer, I have therefore now also founded the Symbiotic Lab. It’s supposed to give our projects a framework where we collect all our projects to offer different services, from research to products, but also workshops and communication spaces.

Expert statement: Henning Frančik

“The work ‘Spree&Berlin’ deals with the emotionally valuable and at the same time endangered urban waters in a particularly intelligent and creative way. At the same time, in a kind of technical-social symbiosis, it succeeds in both strengthening the relationship of city dwellers to their river via an informative app and activating ‘river exercises’, as well as ensuring the oxygen supply that is actually needed by means of appropriate sensors and an integrated pumping system. I find the creative engagement with the topic of water quality extremely important. On the one hand, because bodies of water are particularly intensive and personally perceptible environmental systems: You go swimming at the lake or dangle your legs in the cool river water and notice that the materialities of nature such as sand, water and algae touch you in a double sense. This is familiar terrain for designers. On the other hand, many bodies of water – especially in urban areas – are in a critical ecological state due to their high nutrient concentrations and the resulting lack of oxygen. This is where innovative design concepts like this one are really needed.”

Henning Frančik studied environmental sciences in Freiburg, Marburg and at ETH Zurich. Since May 2020, he has been co-director of the SustainLab at Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule in Halle.

„Spree&Berlin“ App
The „Spree&Berlin“ App. © Jakob Kukula

The German Design Graduates

This year, the German Design Graduates will take place for the third time. The non-commercial initiative for the promotion of young designers honours graduates of German design degree programmes. In this context, the Institute for Design Research and Appliance (IfDRA), which is part of the German Design Council, will once again award its prize for design research. With this award, the Institute would like to honour submissions that are at the interface of theory and practice and whose combination and integration into the design process produces results that are relevant to the future.

Moer about Spree&Berlin

Visit the homepage of designer Jakob Kukula

More on ndion

Also on ndion you can find the other two works on the shortlist for this year’s IfDRA Design Research Prize.

Discover more articles about Design and on IfDRA topics.


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