Hybrid Space @ Digital Leaders in Architecture

Hybrid Space is the focus of the new edition of Digital Leaders in Architecture, a platform providing innovative food for thought for architects.

Interview & Lecture Hybrid Space @ Digital Leaders in Architecture, Schüco International KG, Berlin, 1 July 2022

Schüco International KG

The “20 Minutes” format by and for digital pioneers in architecture.
A session of 20 minutes. No more and no less. In entertaining web sessions, Digital Leaders in Architecture provides architects with innovative food for thought and answers the key questions in the interaction between digitization and architecture.

Digital Leaders in Architecture provides architects with a platform for future scenarios and their embedment in reality. In 20-minute engaging web sessions, opinion leaders from the architectural field are invited to leverage their expertise in combination with digital future trends, answering the key questions in the interplay between digitization and architecture. The program Digital Leaders in Architecture is presented by Schüco and Gira.


Today, hybrid (combining architectural-urban and digital) space is the dominant space of social interaction. Hybrid space is at the heart of the Hybrid Space Lab’s long-standing commitment and experience. Starting from the merging of physical places and digital networks into hybrid spaces, the concept of hybridity of the lab has evolved to address the hybrid, intertwined realities of nature and technology.

Due to increasing digitalization, architects have to design holistic models in order to be able to prioritize and organize information when entering data. Architects should develop creative future designs that integrate the diverse dimensions, facets and effects of space – those of the physical and the digital world as well as the built and natural environment.

Due to increasing digitization and the ubiquitous digital transformation of processes as well as ever more sophisticated technologies, the work environment of architects is undergoing dramatic changes. In light of these changes, architects should pause and reflect on their role. And possibly also redefine them.

Digital Transformation and Quality of our Habitats

How is the digital transformation influencing the architectural scene and work environment?
What changes and upheavals are still ahead of us? And how will all this affect the features of our cities and the quality of our habitats?

Interaction and negotiation between physical and digital space

Hybrid Space Lab’s work is at the forefront of the questions that interrogate contemporary life – and the quickening pace of technological advancement and digitalization. Deeply occupied with the intersection, interaction, and negotiation between physical and digital spaces, Hybrid Space Lab emphasizes the necessity of collaborative, inclusive, and inter-disciplinary approaches to future-proof architecture and society.

Architecture is witnessing dramatic changes

Crucially, by means of increasing and pervasive digitalisation of processes and increasingly sophisticated technologies, the field – and the very notion – of architecture is witnessing dramatic changes.

Architects redefining their role

In addition to reckoning with the integrative power of software that can automate the negotiation between plans from different fields of expertise for any project, architects face the challenge of redefining their role in the face of such changes in the industry.

Curating AI

If anything, the role of architects must rise to the challenge to feed information systems and algorithms with carefully selected – almost curated – inputs and data. Only in this way machine-learning can be applied to planning with increasing sophistication and efficacy. More specifically, the values of architecture can enrich and shape the criteria for feeding AI, making sure that the former are at the very core of what machines learn there.
Therefore, the role of the architect becomes increasingly visionary, in a way. Architects need holistic, all-encompassing concepts and models that allow them to prioritize and organize information to develop comprehensive and creative visions for the future.

Keeping architecture relevant

Therefore, architects must have an overview that integrates all dimensions, facets and effects of space: physical and digital, artifact and nature. Only in this way can architecture as a discipline and competence maintain and increase its relevance in the age of machine-powered and processed planning.

Prof. Elizabeth Sikiaridi is an architect and – together with Prof. Frans Vogelaar – founder of Hybrid Space Lab. “Hybrid” stands for interdisciplinarity, “Space” for spatial expertise and “Lab” for the innovative way of working, a transdisciplinary design approach, where city, nature and the digital are thought of and developed together.

Prof. Elizabeth Sikiaridi
has been teaching design in the landscape architecture course at the University of Duisburg-Essen and the Technical University of Ostwestfalen-Lippe since 1997, where she heads the international master’s course “Sustainable Landscape Design and Development”. Elizabeth was born in London and grew up in Athens. She studied architecture and urban planning at the École d’Architecture de Belleville in Paris and at the Technical University of Darmstadt (diploma with distinction). She worked in the architectural office of Günther Behnisch & Partner in Stuttgart on the projects “Extension of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt/Main” (responsible for the competition: 1st prize) and “German Bundestag, Bonn”. She was a research associate at the Technical University of Berlin.


Maike Vornfeld: Welcome to Digital Leaders in Architecture. We’re here today from the Schüko showroom in Berlin. My name is Maike Vornfeld and I’m Showroom Manager at Schüko.

Julian Warning: And my name is Julian Warning and as Architecture Media Manager I am responsible for architecture communication at GIRA. GIRA, we’re the ones with the switches and sockets. Yes, and with us is Professor Elisabeth Sikiaridi.

Elizabeth Sikiaridi: Elizabeth, it’s great that you’re with us today as a speaker, I’m delighted too.

Maike Vornfeld: Thank you very, very much. Elisabeth, why don’t you briefly tell us about your background. You studied architecture and have an international background. And perhaps you would like to introduce yourself very briefly.

Elizabeth Sikiaridi: Okay, my name is Elizabeth Sikiaridi. I was born in London and grew up in Athens. I studied in Germany and in Paris, in Darmstadt. That’s also where I graduated. And after graduating, I went straight to my professor at the time, Günter Behnisch, in Stuttgart, and worked with him on very large projects.

The German Bundestag, which was actually no longer relevant when it was finished, because in principle the government was supposed to move to Berlin. And I also had a large project as a competition project that I managed, which was the expansion of the Deutsche Bundesbank. It was very well known at the time because it wasn’t just a big project, but a very interesting project architecturally. I was involved in it, then as an architect, later in the design team, until it was put on ice or actually stopped, because in the meantime there was another reunification, the European Central Bank, and it was clear whether such a prominent project would be built in Frankfurt. Then I came to Berlin. I taught here, at the TU Berlin, with the architects.

And then I got a professorship at the university, Gesamtschule Essen, then the University of Duisburg-Essen, with the landscape architects, as an architect, where I basically taught design. In the meantime, together with my partner, Professor Frans Vogelaar, we founded our own office, which is now called Hybrid Space Lab. Then we also went to Amsterdam and worked there.
Frans is Dutch and we were there until 2008, after which we came back to Berlin. I continue to teach with the landscape architects, first at Duisburg-Essen in the meantime, at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences.

Maike Vornfeld: Elisabeth, Hybrid Space Lab is not a conventional architecture firm. What exactly do you do there?

Elizabeth Sikiaridi: The founders, Frans and I, have a background in architecture. We come from an architectural background and Hybrid Space Lab, which is the title of Hybrid, we actually mix fields and we look at the different dimensions of space, space is our expertise, and Lab is actually our very innovative, experimental way of working.
We have a Think Tank and a Design Lab. Think Tank is very broadly positioned from international organisations, governments, large companies, professional organisations, cultural institutions and so on. Design Lab, which is where we design, is we are very active in the cultural field.

Maike Vornfeld: That’s briefly about Hybrid Space Lab. Yes, briefly, I’d like to start here, because our presentations are also short. The format is called 20 Minutes. Elisabeth, what will your talk be about?

Elizabeth Sikiaridi
I’m going talk about Hybrid Space, and I’m going to show a bit of our approach to how we tackle this hybrid, where we’ve actually started with the integration of media digital space and physical architectural urban space and have gone on to also think about the dimension of space, natural space, built space, together. I think I chose this topic because I think it is very relevant for architecture at the moment, precisely because we have a very strong digitalization, precisely because we have systems like Building Information Modeling and so on, where we feed in data, in order to keep the relevance of architecture and architects, we as architects still have to keep an eye on the big picture. That means taking a holistic approach to the space and developing concepts for it.
We feed the systems, we actually have to design the concepts for them creatively as architects.

Maike Vornfeld: Yes, great. Our anticipation is aroused.
I would say, Elisabeth, the next 20 minutes are yours and we will start with your presentation. Thank you very much.


Elizabeth Sikiaridi
Today, the hybrid, combined architectural urban and media digital space is the predominant space for social interaction and communication.

Hybrid, i.e. combined architectural, physical, media and digital spaces are currently developing rapidly, especially now with the acceleration of the pandemic. At Hybrid Space Lab, we have been working on such spaces for a very long time, on the interaction and merging of digital and physical spaces in hybrid space. I founded Hybrid Space Lab together with Professor Frans Vogelaar a long time ago, Professor Frans Vogelaar also founded the first, worldwide first chair for hybrid space at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne in 1998.

Hybrid Space Lab is based in Berlin, we work very broadly internationally. And the aim of our work in the development of hybrid spaces is to filter out the best from the physical world and the digital world and then bring them together intelligently, effectively and efficiently in hybrid spaces. We want to influence developments from the architect’s perspective, from the urbanist’s perspective, in order to transform them in such a way that they correspond to the way we want to live together as a society.

We have therefore been working on projections of spaces of possibility for a very long time and we think that this is becoming very, very, very important for work in the field of architecture today. Due to increasing digitalisation and the omnipresent digital transformation of processes and increasingly sophisticated technologies, the field of work of female architects is undergoing dramatic changes today. In view of these changes, female architects should pause for a moment to reflect on their role and possibly redefine it.

For example, you have these building information modelling systems where you enter data, where it is very important to prioritize information, to organize information in this way and for this you actually need holistic models. Architects have to come up with creative designs for the future that integrate the various dimensions of space, the physical world, the digital world, the built environment and the natural environment. And that is actually what we have been doing as the Hybrid Space Lab for a long time.

Even in our very early work, at the end of the 1980s, we developed free artistic projects for possible hybrid spaces and designed visions for the interplay of urban public space and media public space in order to strengthen the public dimension of these spaces. What was already important to us at that time was not only to design physical spaces, static spaces, but also to think about the communication processes. This means thinking about dynamic spaces or space as a dynamic process and also making dynamic notations for this.

On the left is a publication from the time, I think it’s 97, the Dutch magazine Der Architekt. In other words, seeing space in its dynamic dimension of processes, communication processes. This is a topic that was very important to us.

At the same time, all these interactions and interdependencies between digital spaces and physical spaces On the right-hand side you can see a small part, a summary of the content of a research project that we carried out, starting in 1999, at the end of 2002, for the Dutch government think tank Infodrome. The Infodrome think tank was concerned with the transformation in the information and communication society for society and governance, which was completely interdisciplinary. There were groups dealing with health, mobility, security and so on.

At Hybrid Space Lab, we are focused on the use of space. This is a small topic that is primarily about living, in other words this summary, and these are topics that hardly need to be explained today. The software, The Network House, new housing typologies, new services that are linked to housing, more space for housing, so home office is an issue, you need more space for it, but at the same time, what does it mean when I am at home on my portable PDA, Personal Digital Assistant, today we would say Smart Home, High Speed Living for more Nomads, digital nomads is an issue, but at the same time Spreading Roots, the Revitalization of the Neighborhood, so on the one hand we are becoming more global, at the same time we are also becoming local.

These are all these mixtures of interaction between physical, architectural, urban, digital and media space. And we think it’s very important to think about these spaces together. With such an attitude, i.e. a holistic attitude and also with a participatory approach, which I will talk about in a moment, we are working on many topics of the networked city, on many of its dimensions, sustainability, green, mobility, energy, climate adaptation, water-sensitive urban development, these are all topics that actually come together and it is important for us to also see this participatory dimension.

One characteristic of digitalization is that it leads from centralized to interactive, decentralized, less hierarchical social networks, i.e. that it enables and supports this participatory approach. In urban development, too, digitalization supports participatory, co-creative processes of the participatory city. And from this approach, I will now briefly present a few projects from Hybrid Space Lab.

To support decentralized systems and processes of co-creation and participation, we developed a very, very old-fashioned model for the Hong Kong Social Housing Authority in 2007, as you can see from the mobile phone at the bottom left. The hybrid combines urban and computer game City Kit. As space is very, very scarce in Hong Kong, the hybrid game City Kit supports the design of temporary urban playgrounds and the target group is primarily young people.

With modular building elements that can be moved and placed in specific locations, residents can have micro stages, exhibition techs, pavilions, picnic sets and other structures built to re-activate the public space of their city, to activate their neighborhood and at the same time, to go out of the computer game space, so for young people, in the physical environment, in the neighborhood. One result of the hybrid game City Kit was the Do-It-Yourself Pavilion, on which the model, which was built exactly like that, was a very flexible, adaptable, architectural structure based on triangulation, and it’s actually a very inexpensive and very simple construction, made with plywood panels, which are plywood panels that are tied together with cable ties. The Do-It-Yourself pavilion allowed the users to be involved in the design, construction and remodeling of the pavilion.

And the pavilion can be easily assembled, disassembled, transported, transformed and reassembled to adapt to the location and requirements. And it travelled as part of the Bi-City Biennial for Architecture and Urbanism Hong Kong Shenzhen 2009-2010 at various locations in Shenzhen and Hong Kong as an exhibition venue and as a neighbourhood laboratory. Gründopia.

Starting from the fusion of physical places and digital networks into hybrid spaces, we further developed the concept of the hybrid to engage with the hybrid, interconnected, interwoven realities of nature and technology. This hybrid approach makes it possible to explore the many interconnected dimensions of space and is therefore, in our opinion, an important strategy, an appropriate strategy to deal with the complexity of today’s world. And I’m going to show a couple of projects.

The first project I”l show is in Berlin. All Berliners know the situation. The Humboldt Forum.

Behind the replica of a baroque palace façade is the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, a cultural centre of international standing with the Berlin ethnographic collections and a space for global dialogue between cultures. The Forum is named after the Humboldt brothers, Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the university, and Alexander von Humboldt, the explorer and sustainability pioneer. A reconstructed historical façade, one could say a dummy, was wrapped around the new Humboldt Forum building, a replica of the outer façade of the destroyed Imperial Palace, which once stood on the exact spot where the Humboldt Forum stands today.

The palace was bombed during the Second World War, demolished during the GDR era to build the Palace of the Republic and then, after German reunification, the Palace of the Republic was also demolished. This is why the Humboldt Forum with this façade is causing a very heated, controversial debate, because it is about historical symbols, the international role of the city and supranational cultural networks. As the necessary funds for the Humboldt Forum’s stone façade were still lacking in 2015, there was room for alternative proposals and then we developed the concept of the Humboldt Jungle.

As an alternative to the baroque stone façade of the palace, we proposed wrapping the building in a lush green vertical jungle, a Humboldt Jungle, in the style of the jungle explorer and sustainability pioneer Alexander von Humboldt, thus designing a more extroverted, contemporary and environmentally friendly reform for the Humboldt Forum. Our radical proposal was celebrated very enthusiastically by the cultural world and the press, so Die Zeit asked, is this salvation? And the tabloid press asked Berliners if they wanted our version of the palace, so Berliner Kurier, Berliner asked, do you want a Sleeping Beauty Castle? A year later, once the funding for the Humboldt Forum’s stone façade had been secured, we developed another proposal in the same spirit, with the same approach, the Humboldt Volcano, again based on Alexander von Humboldt and his volcanic explorations and botanical discoveries. The Humboldt Volcano is a greenhouse pavilion extension of the Humboldt Forum with a vertical tropical garden and a waterfall and a course that leads from the underground to the roof and enables access to the Forum and its appropriation and opens the Forum to the city.

The volcano, the Humboldt Volcano, was also very well received by the press and is still under discussion in the Berlin political and cultural world and as a project with a very long expiry date, the Humboldt Volcano could even be realized. Such a hybrid approach allows us to look at the urban landscape in a different way. It allows us to investigate how the urban landscape can be developed as a habitat for plants, for animals, for people in the sense of multispecies urbanism, animal aided design and, in short, a project that proposes a hybrid, natural and artificial landscape as a green corridor for people and animals on a stylized urban motorway.

This was prompted by the 2019 decision of the district councilors of Berlin-Tempelhof-Schöneberg to convert the 103 motorway back into a four-lane urban road. In the context of this motorway conversion, we then proposed an adaptation of the Sachsendamm junction in the picture to reconnect the urban islands separated from each other by the mobility routes and to green these connections in order to make it possible for people and animals to walk and move around. The green space at Dominikussportplatz grows over the stylized roadway with the help of a hybrid, natural and artificial landscape and is connected to the axis of a nearby cemetery via a pedestrian bridge.

This hybrid landscape leads below as a green subway and above the Sachsendamm to the north across further green space to Cheruska Park, where you can also see the gasometer in the picture. This creates a complex, three-dimensional spatial structure as a lush habitat for plants in which people and animals can move around. The project utilizes the opportunities presented by the mobility transition to create green corridors in order to tackle the urgent current challenges of climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

And that is what Hybrid Space Lab stands for. In the short presentation, with the help of projects, I briefly outlined the development of our work. Starting from the fusion of physical places and digital networks into hybrid spaces, our concept of the hybrid has evolved to address the hybrid, intertwined realities of nature and technology.

And I think that such a hybrid approach will become increasingly important for architecture. Due to the increasing ubiquity of digitalisation, architecture is undergoing dramatic changes today. In the face of this change, architects are faced with the challenge of redefining their role.

Therefore, architects will need to design holistic models that allow them to prioritise and organise information. Architects need holistic concepts to design integrative, holistic, creative visions for the future of our spaces. The hybrid approach is very helpful here, an approach that considers the multiple dimensions of space in an integrated way.

The dimension of the physical and the digital world, the built and the natural environment. Hybrid is the future.


Maike Vornfeld: Elizabeth, thank you very much for these crazy projects that you have presented to us. You really gave us a glimpse outside the box. Super exciting. Thank you very much for the insights you gave us.

Elizabeth Sikiaridi
Thank you very much!

Julian Warning: Exactly, and I found the two projects Humboldt Jungle and Humboldt Volcano particularly exciting. You mentioned a term in this context, namely Animal Aided Design.
Perhaps you would like to briefly explain what that means.

Elizabeth Sikiaridi: Animal Aided Design is a term that refers to the design of spaces, not only for humans, but also for other creatures, i.e. animals, which actually addresses this biodiversity. These can just as well be open spaces, i.e. looking at open spaces not only for use by humans, but also by animals.
But they can also be façades. Façades today, green façades, are in principle climate-relevant shells, but also biodiversity-relevant spaces. This is what Animal Aided Design refers to. We are also animals.

Julian Warning: At the end of your presentation, you said that you would like architects to pause for a minute. That relates again to the future role of architects. What recommendation would you make, what should be considered in architecture in the future?

Elizabeth Sikiaridi: Yes, in principle not just in architecture, the whole world is currently undergoing rapid transformation through digitalization. And this is also happening in the field of work of architects. And architects are extremely busy.
That means they hardly have time to stop and think. Yes, where will I be in 10, 15 years? What will my field of work look like? What is the role of the human being? What is the role of the automated system? Because everything that can be automated will be automated. That will have an impact on many things.
Nevertheless, people have a very important role, because people can think in new ways and have new concepts. So, the systems are stored with information. This means that the input is already there, comes from the past.
And we as humans can rethink spaces, the future, develop new concepts, creative spaces. And I think it would be important, despite the incredible overload on architects, who have a lot to do, to think about this at the moment. Where do I want to be in 10, 20 years? Where will my field of work be? And what, in principle, is my unique selling point, my role for the people in it? And I believe that people will both retain this creative agency.

Maike Vornfeld: Yes, that’s a nice ending. Elisabeth, we were delighted to have you here with us today in the Schuko showroom in Berlin. We were delighted that you shared such exciting aspects with us.
And thank you for the time you gave us today. Thank you also very much for the invitation. Thank you very much, Elisabeth.

Elizabeth Sikiaridi: Thank you. Bye bye!

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