In the now-globalized battle to attract tourists and retain citizens, cities have had to get increasingly creative, often branding themselves to highlight their unique histories or most striking physical characteristics. However, this branding rarely takes account of the complexities underlying every city: the people that live there, the political background, and of course, the peculiarities of the geographical landscape which the city sits on.
With his cosmopolitan career taking him from the low-lying cities of The Netherlands to the Alpine city of Innsbruck and to cities around the world Bart Lootsma, the architectural historian and theorist responsible for critically-acclaimed books such as SuperDutch, has been well-placed to see the effects of landscape and globalization on the individual character of places. In this extensive interview, originally titled "Beyond Branding" and published in MONU Magazine's "Geographical Urbanism" issue from April 2014, Bernd Upmeyer speaks to Lootsma about his adopted hometown of Innsbruck, and the role that geography, marketing and the collision of the two play on the identity of a city.
Geography and Identity
Bernd Upmeyer: You recently posted an image on Facebook featuring scenes of the mountains around the city of Innsbruck that you photographed from your kitchen window. What does this view and these mountains mean for you and for the city of Innsbruck?
Bart Lootsma: For someone born in The Netherlands it is still amazing to wake up, open the curtains, and see mountains in the morning. When I rented my apartment I wondered why all electricity sockets for the bed were intuitively - and even in terms of Feng Shui, I recently discovered - on the ‘wrong’ side of the bedroom. Until I sat down where the bed would be and discovered that the view from my bed frames the Hechenberg exactly. It is different every day, depending on the weather. For the city of Innsbruck this means something much deeper. The Hechenberg is part of the Nordkette, a chain of mountains that is part of the Karwendel Mountains separating Austria from Germany. The Hungerburg is one of the oldest touristic settlements in the Alps from around 1900, originally for enjoying the cool air in the summer, with an artificial lake and an artificial ruin. It also became something of an artists’ colony. The original funicular built in 1905 linked this area directly to the pavilion, which used to contain the giant panorama depicting the battle of Bergisel in 1809. In this battle, the Tyroleans beat Napoleon. Even if the fourth and final battle was lost, at the end of the nineteenth century this became the most important "invented tradition" (as Eric Hobsbawm called this phenomenon) shaping a strong Tyrolean nationalism that continues today. To emphasize that this tradition is not an invention but everything really happened, the panorama was moved to a new museum on the spot defined by the center of the panorama, the Bergisel hill. Now Tyrolean nationalists in costume can reenact the feeling of having been present at the Battle.
Contemporary battles at Bergisel are fought at the Olympic ski jump, which, with its tower designed by Zaha Hadid, is the other important Innsbruck landmark I can see from my living room. This is a typical example of the tendency of cities branding themselves with spectacular buildings. Zaha also designed the new funicular up the Hungerburg, where it now connects the historical inner city directly to the cable cars on the Nordpark, the area between Hungerburg and Hafelekar on the Nordkette, which today is one of THE international trend-setting centers for snowboarding and freestyle sports like freeride during the summer. This brings the headquarters of companies like those of Jake Burton, the American inventor of snowboarding, who produce snowboard fashion and who are largely responsible for the typical Innsbruck grunge the 30.000 students dress up in, to the city.
So, together with the Bergisel, the Nordkette shapes Innsbruck’s identity. In a recent design by AllesWirdGut all cables that spoiled the view on the Nordkette from the Maria-Theresien-Straße in the city center were carefully removed to enable tourists to realize their favorite photograph of Innsbruck with the Nordkette as a background without having to use Photoshop. Banks, such as the BVA headquarters by Heinz Tesar, and roof bars such as the 360° by Dominique Perrault and the Adlers by Henke Schreieck are carefully built in such a way as to give optimal panoramic views of the Nordkette. Imagine: I don’t even have to get out of bed for that.
BU: Might this view out of your window just as well be replaced by a photo or any other medium that is placed on the wall of your kitchen featuring the same mountain view? To what extent is geography merely an image or artifact in the background of a city that needs to be framed by architecture or media?
BL: No. The constantly and unpredictably changing weather conditions are crucial. And more than that: I realize that my visual appreciation of these mountains shows me up as an immigrant. It leads to bored comments by, for example, the president of the Austrian chamber of architects Georg Pendl, who lives in Tyrol, on my Facebook posts like “Hechenberg again” and I can only be happy there is no emoticon for “yawn”. Or maybe he didn’t find it. Instead, he posts images of the traces of himself skiing alone in pristine snow on mountains you can only climb with great difficulty with touring skis. I have gained the impression that Tyroleans do not so much watch their mountains – they ruin their appearance completely and landscape architects are largely non-existent - but experience them corporally and individually in the first place: walking, hiking, skiing, climbing, biking, and tobogganing. Tyroleans only appreciate mountains in relationship to their own personal bodyweight. In off piste ski touring, natives can distinguish themselves from tourists, keeping the routes up a secret, but proudly posting the GPS tracks downward on the Internet.
BU: Earlier you mentioned Zaha Hadid’s Olympic ski jump as an important landmark of Innsbruck. How do you see the relation between the geographical and the architectural landmarks in and around Innsbruck, but also in and around other cities in general? Are they equally important for the identity of a place? Which of them help more to tell and root the stories of a city and provide its narratives a sense of place?
BL: There is definitely a relationship. Zaha’s buildings in Innsbruck emphasize the geographical landmarks and spectacular events that (may) have happened there or happen there from time to time but are absent and thus invisible most of the time. In the case of the ski jump, it even makes the Bergisel, which normally would not be as spectacular as the events that took and take place there, artificially higher. The funicular turns the climbing of the Hungerburg into a touristic event. Other ways of getting there – by bus, for example - are quicker, cheaper, and have a larger capacity. Both give an existing geography and an existing programme a kind of whirl, like a flag and a banner would do, but they also pimp the spots beyond that. There is an aspect of simulation in them: the artificial slope in the ski jump (used for a large part of the year with a kind of wet Astroturf) and the aspect of turning a funicular up a mountain into a combination of a rollercoaster and a dark ride.
Geography is much more powerful than architecture, so in order to shine and stand out, architecture will have to use geography. Le Corbusier, explaining the strange formal language of Ronchamp, spoke of ‘visual acoustics’ relating to the landscape. Equally, in an urban situation, Gehry’s Guggenheim could never have stood out so well in Bilbao without its setting and when you think of it, no building could.
What these architectural landmarks really do is pinpoint things, like a sign. As such, they are no different from the signs Marc Augé mentions in ‘non-places’: “Every settlement (…..) aspires to be the centre of a significant space and of at least one specific activity. Thus Lyon, a large metropolis, claims among other titles that of ‘capital of gastronomy’; the small town of Thiers can call itself the ‘cutlery capital’; Digouin, a big market town, is the ‘pottery capital’; and Janzé, really no more than a large village, boasts that it is the ‘birthplace of the free-range chicken. These claims to various forms of glory appear today at the settlements’ boundaries, along with signs mentioning their twinning with towns or villages elsewhere in Europe. In a way, these signs give proof of modernity and integration in the new European economic space. (…) Every town or village not of recent origin lays public claim to its history, displaying it to the passing motorist on a series of signboards, which add up to a sort of 'business card.' Making the historical context visible in this way, which in fact is quite a recent practice, coincides with a reorganization of space (the creation of bypasses and main motorway routes avoiding towns) that tends, inversely, to short-circuit the historical context by avoiding the monuments that embody it.”
There is no question that architectural landmarks such as the Bilbao Guggenheim, the Sydney Opera, the Bergisel ski jump, and the Hungerburgbahn offer spatial and aesthetical experiences in themselves. But beyond that, they function similarly as the signs Augé describes. They are strategically placed next to infrastructure or they are infrastructure themselves. Let us not forget that the Guggenheim and the Opera are also important knots in global cultural networks and are both placed next to a river and a bridge. But they also function as pinpoint signs on a global scale that you see on television or in a movie in order to make you (who stays at home) aware where the televised event is happening.
I have nothing against these buildings, just as I have nothing against motorway signs. The problem, however, for a city is that it is all about the spectacle. Real life, with all its complexities and conflicts, is reduced to one aspect: gastronomy, cutlery, pottery, skiing, and the Battle of Bergisel. The new Bergisel museum, built to house the Giant Panorama of the Battle of Bergisel, was so expensive and the Schützen, the nationalistic informal Tyrolean army, take so much money from the culture budget that not much remains for the arts. In the fourth part of the satirical television series the "Piefke Saga," a science fiction outlook on a Tyrol in the near future, we see Japanese surgeons altering all men into copies of Andreas Hofer. To preserve the Tyrolean traditional cityscapes, hotels build 13 floors underground. The landscape appears to be a thin artificial layer on top of hills that are really garbage dumps. “Alles Lug und Trug! Alles Lug und Trug!” (all lies and cheating) the main protagonist screams in desperation when he discovers all that.
I think both cities and landscapes are much more complex than that. Together with people they generate many more new narratives than just a few every day. They can be embodied in historical buildings but may just as well be in (parts of) the landscapes that are the setting for myths, sages, and fairy tales. But they are also the setting for dreams and desires.
Geography and Marketing
BU: I agree with you that identities of cities should not be reduced to one-liners. But since cities are competing more than ever before for urban assets trying to attract industry, tourists, the highly educated, the creative, etc., complex identities might be a problem to survive economically. How can a multiplicity and complexity of narratives not become a disadvantage?
BL: In certain stages of a process, a certain reduction and repetition of an image will not hurt. I am not so certain highly educated and creative people will fall for a simple message though.
In the long run, an image that is too simple may become problematic. Tyrol, for example, is branded to the point that its representation – not necessarily by the examples mentioned before, but, for example, by the organization Tirolwerbung – has reached such a level of one-dimensionality that even potential tourists see the caricature. That in itself is not a problem yet, as a large part of branding leans on our collective ability to see the irony in a too simplistic image. That is, as Dan Graham has rightly formulated, an important reason we can enjoy the stupidity of popular culture. It may even become camp. It is clear however, that, if Tyrol would like to attract better quality tourists and also more than tourists, for example a creative class and highly educated people, they have to broaden their image and loosen up the brand. Therefore, Tirolwerbung itself already has next to their central imagery always been experimenting with alternative representations. In 2010, they initiated the project Sight-Seeing, for example, in which they invited different photographers to produce alternative imagery of Tyrol. This shows more everyday situations and sometimes unexpected combinations of Tyrolean clichés embedded in a generic context of motorways and gas stations for example. They do not go as far as the photographer Lois Hechenblaikner does, who has made enormous books and even billboards with photographs of the devastating effect tourism has on the landscape. The stronger and the more one-dimensional the brand is, the harsher will be the critique.
One of the strangest issues in architecture and identity in Tyrol is not a landmark or advertising, but the so-called Tyrolean House. I am certain you have an image of that in your head the moment I mention it: white stone base, wooden first floor with balcony, flat pitched roof. It exists in versions for model railways and there is a Lego-version of it, but also it exists as a hotel with more than a hundred rooms. Intriguingly, the Tyrolean House is not Tyrolean in its origins at all but comes from Bavaria. It is, again, an invented tradition from the period around 1909, during which Tyrol found it important to establish its own proud national identity, just before the Habsburg Empire was about to fall apart. The giant panorama of the Battle of Bergisel was painted in the same period and was even exhibited in London at the Royal Austrian Exhibition in 1906. In the same period, the so-called Heimatschutz tried to keep the image of the historical villages, which were under pressure from modernization, in tact. In 1902, Johan Deininger wrote a book – with all kinds of historic misunderstandings - in which he reduces the Tyrolean House, which is not a Tyrolean house as we know now, to just a few types. This had a strong influence, also because Austria had very few hardcore modernist architects. In the 1930s, under National Socialism, the Tyrolean House gained a new importance, and was even built by the dozens as social housing. Alwin Seifert, Reichslandschaftsanwalt under Hitler and architect of the notorious herbs garden in Dachau, wrote the book ‘Das echte Haus im Gau Tirol Vorarlberg’ (The Real House in the Gau Tyrol-Vorarlberg). The Tyrolean House became associated with race. Intriguingly, after the Second World War, this tradition continued, with several former key figures in architecture and planning, like again Alwin Seifert and Paul Schmidthenner, who sometimes were not allowed to work in Germany any longer, finding refuge in Tyrol. Subsequently, in the 1950s and 1960s, this image was taken up by the tourist industry. So ever since, we can find the Tyrolean house, which originally was a peasant’s house or a farm, in all sizes and in all possible contemporary typologies, from holiday house to multi-room hotel, all over Tyrol. In most villages, there is no obligation to do this, there are no laws and not even mayors prescribing it, but still this goes on. Cynically, some hotels in Tyrolean-style house refugees today. There is a great photo series of Richard Günter Wett showing what painful problems that poses. In one of these refugee homes hangs an embroidered Tyrolean landscape with a Tyrolean house with the slogan “Vergiss deine Heimat nicht” (Don’t forget your Heimat). This example shows best how the exclusive effects of one-dimensional nationalist branding work and how problematic they can become in our contemporary globalized society.
Natural vs. Artificial Geography
BU: Could geography be the last hope of the planet’s ever expanding, continuously transforming, and increasingly identical and indefinable urban territories to remain distinguishable and to gain a particular identity in the future? Do hills, cliffs, valleys, rivers, oceans, seas, lakes, streams, canals, or any other kind of geographical feature have the power, in an ever more globalized world in which progressively cities and their architecture look the same, to provide meaning and significance to places, their inhabitants, and users or will all such elements only contribute to an identity that is merely like a mantra as Rem Koolhaas predicted once in “The Generic City”?
BL: There are aspects of the Generic City that are absolutely true but I do not find them necessarily threatening. In fact, no city will ever be the same because of natural geography. I realized that when I went to Huis ten Bosch, the carefully replicated simulacrum of a Dutch town near Nagasaki in Japan. It lies there between hills in a Mediterranean climate, with a huge concrete infrastructure above and underground to enable this image because of the earthquakes. Tulips don’t grow there, so large flower fields look differently. Even if the policemen were wearing uniforms and there were more of them, as there usually are in Japan, the people inside of them certainly looked different. American student models wearing quasi-Dutch costumes still looked different, even if the Afro-American girl I talked to rightly said she was “supposed to come from the Antilles - or something.”
Recently, the Chinese realized an almost exact copy of the picturesque city of Hallstatt as Hashitate in Quangdong. Halstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which has largely remained as it is over the ages because of its isolated setting on a lake in the mountains. How meticulous the copy may be – and it is really stunning in the smallest detail, even the content of storefronts is reconstructed - everything is mirrored in comparison to the original to fit the local geographical conditions, i.e. the hills and the lake. Instead of being almost completely isolated and almost only accessible by ship, it is now the artificial centre of the new city of Boluo. The church will most probably become a restaurant and the famous cellar where the decorated skulls of the deceased inhabitants of Halstatt are buried because of a lack of space will have to find another content. Our collaborator Olaf Grawert did a short documentary on Hastatt/Hashitate, which you can find on our website architecturaltheory.tv. It is easy to see there that even the smaller details soon betray the copy as distinct from the original.
BU: In a similar way natural geography could be replicated. In the Netherlands, for example, you can witness currently a growing success of indoor ski slopes. The Dutch municipality of Landgraaf claims to have the largest indoor ski area in the world. How do judge such artificial geographical spaces and how do you think they relate to the natural ones? Is it possible and actually necessary to be able to distinguish both from each other? Do both equally contribute to the identity of a place?
BL: I do not think a geography can be replicated. It is too vast for that. Indoor ski slopes are important to prepare for the one or two weeks of vacation one may have. One does not want to lose precious time. It is the same with diving or hiking or climbing. But it is no comparison with the real thing, not just because of the authenticity, because skiing slopes, of course, have nothing authentic about them at all, but because of the sheer size. Skiing slopes are extremely artificial these days in the landscaping of the pistes themselves, increasingly specific for different kinds of skiing and snowboarding; the production and maintenance of artificial snow, which includes building artificial seas on tops of mountains; avalanche protection; the funiculars; the lifts; the resorts; the infrastructure, etcetera. Do not forget how the boom in golf courses impacts the landscape. In several projects we figured out that the quasi nature of the Alps is almost just as artificial as the Dutch landscape.
What we do see is a tendency in which mainly freestyle sports move down from their original habitat up in the unprepared snow on top of the mountains, via lower slopes and artificial areas like the Bergisel ski jump, to the city in the valley itself and even to metropolises like Munich and Moscow. That has to do with the fact that you have no audience up there alone in the snow, which in itself becomes a way for natives to distinguish themselves in ski touring. But if you want to compete and attract finance in freestyle skiing, you need an audience that cannot only see you, but also the badges of your sponsors. You have to produce comparable conditions for all and rules that are more about the physical activity of skiing as a sport itself, rather than about enjoying the landscape. So, we increasingly see a lot of ski- and snowboard advertising with a rough ‘urban’ background: derelict industrial buildings, graffiti, and so on. The most radical of those is certainly the "Tracing Skylines" video shot in Detroit by Poor Boyz Productions. It suggests to show how youth in Detroit, who cannot afford to go up the mountains and have no artificial slope, can ski in abandoned factories and the like that for a kind of geography themselves.
BU: Could you imagine a “Geographical Urbanism” that ultimately unites the physical geography and the human geography as well as the natural geographical features and the artificial geographical features into one new powerful whole? And could such a “Geographical Urbanism” lead to a new and more authentic attitude of cities towards nature and create new urban forms?
BL: Yes, I could. It would combine computer programs that work with GIS-Data in combination with programs that simulate urban growth and can deal with geography. I am not certain about the geometry at the latter would be in. It could be a topological geometry, but it could also be based on cellular automatons, for example. The most successful simulation programs of urban growth I have seen so far were based on cellular automatons, which would not be immediately compatible with the supple geometries designers prefer to use these days. I don’t know if this approach would be more authentic: if everybody, everywhere, would use it, the Generic City might be even closer than it is today. Authenticity also arises from mistakes and misunderstandings. I think that is charming. Apart from that: no method will ever be so perfect as to capture life and nature perfectly. That is the essence and charm of architecture and urbanism: we can – and should - always keep working on them. This is also why architecture is a cultural discipline depending on debate and not the work of engineers or scientists – mad or not.
BU: To work with such GIS-Data, architects and urban planners probably need to collaborate increasingly with geographers, which would lead to new alliances in urban design processes. What do you think will be the consequences of that in the future? How important do you rate geographers in city planning processes now and in the future in general?
BL: Developers have already been doing this for years. This is how they figure out the ideal locations for businesses. It is shocking how little architects and urban planners do with that. They cannot even defend themselves – and thereby us, the people whom they work for - against this behavior any longer. The market parties always have the better arguments. It is intriguing that you call alliances between architects, planners, and geographers new. They have been the basis of urban planning and design since the 1920s latest. Le Corbusier presents his plan for a City of 3,000,000 inhabitants (the population of Paris at the time) with calculations about the programs he would have to accommodate first. Hilberseimer criticizes those and calculates his Großstadtarchitektur for Berlin. Let’s not forget Cornelis van Eesteren and H.Th. van Lohuizen, an architect and an engineer specialized in surveys, as probably the most successful regional planners, urban planners, and urban designers of the twentieth century. They made the plan that guided Amsterdam between 1929 and 2000 (probably a record) and built up an organization integrating human geography and design that became the model for all Dutch cities, the provinces and the national government. But from the 1970s onwards this was all dismantled and destroyed by a generation that thought this was mere inhuman technocratic thinking, thereby driving all of this in the hands of market parties. This paved the way for the deregulation and privatizations of the 1990s.
It is strange that planners were working with computer simulations from the very beginning, in a time when architects did not see anything in it, and spoke of humanism or art. Now that architects are working with computer animation software, urban designers no longer do so, other than in design. There should be a way to reconnect on the level of computing and develop both architectures and urbanisms that make more sense than the currently fashionable digital macramé.
I can just hope that we – and with we I mean the people here, not the architects who merely represent them - can win back the political terrain we lost in urban planning and design and regain a position in which general interests have more importance than private ones. I am very skeptical about that, though, because the amount of capital that moved from governmental institutions to a few private parties is so enormous that they are in fact in power now. The abuse of this power built upon real estate goes far. I do not just mean the financing of dubious politicians such as Pim Fortuyn and Berlusconi. Just today I read about a Dutch real estate entrepreneur who invests millions in a vendetta against a former high civil servant in the Dutch ministry of justice. The civil servant is already pensioned! In the West these changes have been modest: imagine what changes in power the privatizations in the East produced.
So, yes, I think reconnecting to geographers is crucial. Not just for better and smarter planning and design but, to put it more dramatically, to save our democracies and develop them further. The potential collaboration between geographers and architects was crucial for me to accept a Guest Professorship at the University of Luxembourg to build up a new Master for Architecture, European Urbanization, and Globalization. This Master is a collaboration between the geographers of the University of Luxembourg, the engineers and new professors, and guest professors in architecture. It is set among the geographers, though. The curriculum is all set and accepted, Carole Schmidt took over my role as a professor, and the Master will start in 2015, as soon as the new university building is finished.
BU: New collaborations are probably also necessary in urban planning because of a growing number of environmental problems. Cities seem to be more and more threatened by natural catastrophes. Because of that, geography increasingly creates fear. What impact do you think this increased danger and fear will have on cities in the future?
BL: I do not know if cities in particular are more threatened by natural catastrophes than other areas. If cities are threatened by natural catastrophes, more people are involved but that is another thing. Let’s not forget that the world’s population is growing exponentially and that people increasingly settle in cities. Of course, the risk that an extreme situation, be it an earthquake, a storm or a flooding has a devastating effect on a larger population, increases. We are in a situation now that this larger population itself has an effect on natural catastrophes through global warming, which seems to cause more extreme weather conditions. We are living in what Ulrich Beck has coined the ‘Risk Society’. Initially, Ulrich Beck believed that people would become so aware of the problems we are collectively facing that we would organize ourselves rationally to overcome them. In an anecdote of how that might happen, he would point at a sign on a Munich motorway, which read: “You are not IN a traffic jam, you are the traffic jam”. He believed for some time that this awareness might bring people to reorganize their transportation themselves, from the bottom up. In the 1990s I shared – maybe I can even say: we shared - the same conviction. I particularly saw the work of MVRDV and the publicity campaigns that went with it (Metacity/Datatown, Pig City) as methods of triggering or producing such awareness on the level of urban planning. We had a strong belief that we could solve issues through democratic procedures, organizing a consensus, which would organize collective monies to solve collective problems. Basically, we believed that we could solve these issues in the same way architects, urban planners, and politicians between 1920 and 1970 had solved them. That is something I do not believe any longer. We live in a completely different world: it is radically individualized and globalized. The autonomous power, democratic or not, of nation states and also of cities, is being seriously challenged if not undermined. At the same time, the risks we are presented with have become so enormous and ungraspable, that they have become almost irrational and therefore very difficult to deal with, as Slavoj Zižek has pointed out in a criticism of Ulrich Beck’s theory of the ‘Risk Society’. And somehow, in Hollywood movies, everything turns out alright in the end.
This does not mean I am completely pessimistic. I think there are many initiatives that try to work on the problems we are facing on every level. But they come up more from industry and counter-culture than from anywhere else. It is not a collective project any longer, the way building a city was during the First Modernity. It is increasingly defined by the few who have money: real estate brokers, sheiks, investors who take the pick of the bunch without being interested in a larger whole. It would be interesting to see if we could turn that around again in a similar heroic move the Modern Movement made, but radically differently.
Bart Lootsma is a historian, theoretician, critic and curator in the fields of architecture, design and the visual arts. He is a Professor for Architectural Theory and Head of the Institute for Architectural Theory, History and Heritage Preservation at the University of Innsbruck. He was Guest Professor for Architecture, European Urbanity and Globalization at the University of Luxembourg; at the Academy of Visual Arts in Vienna; at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Nürnberg; at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna; at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and Head of Scientific Research at the ETH Zürich, Studio Basel. He was Head of the Department of 3D-Design at the Academy of Arts in Arnheim and held numerous seminars and lectured at different academies for architecture and art in the Netherlands.
Bart Lootsma published numerous articles in magazines and books. Together with Dick Rijken he published the book ‘Media and Architecture’ (VPRO/Berlage Institute, 1998). His book ‘SuperDutch’, on contemporary architecture in the Netherlands, was published by Thames & Hudson, Princeton Architectural Press, DVA and SUN in the year 2000; ‘ArchiLab 2004 The Naked City’ by HYX in Orléans in 2004 and ’Reality Bytes’ by Ambra in 2014.
Bernd Upmeyer is the editor-in-chief and founder of MONU Magazine. He is also the founder of the Rotterdam-based Bureau of Architecture, Research, and Design (BOARD). He studied architecture and urban design at the University of Kassel (Germany) and the Technical University of Delft (Netherlands). Since June 2012 Upmeyer and his office BOARD are part of the group, led by STAR - strategies + architecture, that has been choosen as one of the new six teams of architects and urban planners appointed by the Atelier International Grand Paris (AIGP) to be part of the Scientific Committee for the mission: Grand Paris: pour une métropole durable. He holds a PhD (Dr.-Ing.) in Urban Studies from the University of Kassel (Germany). He is the author of the book “Binational Urbanism – On the Road to Paradise”, in which he creates a theory of binational urbanism, a term coined by him.