We wanted the creative Approach

Interview with Dr. Martin Peschken and Detlef Weitz

"Empty space is an incredible resource. To start something new, we need the blank page."
Dr. Martin Peschken scholar of literature and cultural studies TU Braunschweig, department of architecture (left)

"We used actions to explore urban spaces and to discover the potentials of empty space."
Detlef Weitz scenographer and architect, chezweitz & roseapple, Berlin (right)

Halberstadt’s IBA theme focused on the “Cultivation of Empty Space”. What exactly is empty space or emptiness?


Detlef Weitz: That’s an interesting question, because emptiness as such can’t be seen. That’s the crux of the matter. Emptiness is the absence of function, of identification and of history. In the city, we experience this as empty space, as wastelands and as breaches within the urban landscape. Halberstadt has a conspicuous number of such spaces.


Martin Peschken: But there are also empty spaces we need: as free spaces, such as streets or squares or places, where people can gather, hold markets or celebrate festivals. Here, free space has potential. Empty space is an incredible resource. To start something new, we need the blank page.

So empty space can be interpreted in a number of ways?

Detlef Weitz: That’s probably the most important thing. Emptiness is a spatial characteristic, not an objective situation. Whether empty space is seen as a deficit or as a potential depends on the experiences, expectations and hopes of the observer.

Martin Peschken: Empty space becomes a problem when we see it purely as a symbol of loss. Structural transformation brings this stealthy emptying of the cities, which is described in political terms as “shrinkage”. But we wanted the creative approach: empty space asks us questions about what these places once were, about their history and about our wishes for their future.

… questions, which you have put to the inhabitants of Halberstadt along the “Vision Training Pathway” …

Martin Peschken: Exactly, because empty space can be given meaning, can be abstracted from the routine way of seeing things. We can develop sensitivity for it. We have tried to develop this perspective with the “Vision Training Pathway”.

Detlef Weitz: … and animated the people of Halberstadt to experience empty space in all its manifestations including its most beautiful, such as the cathedral square. We opted for a performative approach, one which allows empty space to be experienced.

What exactly do you mean by “performative”?

Detlef Weitz: We used actions to explore urban spaces and to discover the potentials of empty space by simple means: a picnic in a car park at the Abtshof, a film evening on Heine-Platz, a square on a busy junction, where the participants could discover their own way of seeing and understanding a specific place.

Martin Peschken: The visual and experimental aspects of scenography can raise awareness of a space and generate experiences that outline the exact nature of the problem. It’s a step, which precedes the classical urban planning process and helps to formulate the task at hand.

So the work with the “empty space” in Halberstadt initiated projects?

Martin Peschken: Absolutely. The IBA put the empty spaces in the right light. The “Reading Picnic” at the Abtshof springs to mind. The privately funded building project there is now accepted as part of the overall design project for the derelict site. Then there’s the “Visual Bridge” at Martiniplan, an art installation that focused on the cathedral hill, which will be presented in its new guise in the IBA year.

Could you briefly describe what the term “scenography” means?

Detlef Weitz: Scenography means to convert content into space. Scenographers research themes and explore how these can be conveyed or presented. In doing so, we can apply far more tools than the classical urban planners do: drama, spectacle, music, the media … We have far more freedom to act, have unforeseen ways of opening up a subject or theme, and we have the immediate public response.

… which you can also expect from the IBA’s final presentation, “Entdecke die Leere!” (Discover emptiness!).

Detlef Weitz: The exhibition has a strong performative and communicative aspect. Visitors will be explicitly invited to participate. We set the stage for the entire city and all the questions we asked ourselves. At the same time, the former swimming pool becomes the stage for a dialogue on two levels. We’re curious to see what response we get.

Info: Halberstadt

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 53.086
2009: 42.939
2025: 34.717 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 142,97 qkm

IBA-Website of Halberstadt