Studio Seebach - Sensing Space

For the upcoming HS2021 design studio, we took inspiration from people and practices that promote the use of all our senses when we experience and shape our environment. We want to invite you to join our multi-sensory exploration of the neighbourhood of Seebach and the ONA building, home to our Design in Dialogue Lab.

The Design in Dialogue Lab in the ONA building, on the border between the neighbourhoods of Oerlikon and Seebach in Zürich

After a long period of forced social distancing and self-isolation, we will be seeing each other soon for the start of the semester. Finally freed from endless Zoom sessions, we can reconnect to the people and places around us. Our HS2021 design studio centres around this reconnection and rediscovery of the physical world and the power of proximity and embodied knowledge. Starting from ONA, the building where we are developing the Design in Dialogue Lab, we will use our brains, bodies and all of our senses and creativity to explore the building's potential as a safe and social space where we can be and work together.

Border and barrieres
Like many other buildings in cities across the world, ONA was not built to foster human life and interaction. As a welding factory, it was meant for machines. Situated on the border between Oerlikon and Seebach, it was part of an industrial zone where a.o. weapons were produced. In recent decades the area was transformed into a primarily residential neighbourhood, and the ONA building was converted into a mixed-use office building with ETH being one of the main tenants.

While approaching or entering the ONA building, you are confronted with a series of both physical and intangible obstacles and borders. Despite efforts to make it more accessible, the building's introverted nature continues to echo in its appearance. The grey concrete walls communicate the story of a space constructed to keep noise inside and people outside. Surrounded by railway tracks and other infrastructure, the main entrance is hidden behind a busy loading bay where trucks pull up during the day to load or unload goods. Once inside, the vast open ground floor is subdivided by walls in an attempt to create a sense of intimacy.

Opening up ONA
By joining Studio Seebach - Sensing Space, you will become part of a collective effort to identify, reimagine, and potentially remove or redesign some of these barriers. As users and hosts of the space, we will revisit ONA and explore it as  - what we like to call - an 'Open Public Structure' that is welcoming to a wide variety of users, from students to local residents. Simultaneously we will also question whether ONA should become a seamless environment or keep certain ‘meaningful thresholds’ that help preserve existing values.

Instead of taking an intellectual approach based on a rational analysis of the spatial conditions, we instead will introduce a more intuitive approach that makes use of our senses and explores our body's ability to experience the (open) borders and (closed) boundaries that define ONA. We will be joined by practitioners from such diverse disciplines as dance, performing arts, anthropology, philosophy and club culture who will help us to Swarm, Sense and Settle.

Caught in the fabric of the world
French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty once wrote that: "Rather than a mind and a body, a (wo)man is (...) a being who can only get to the truth of things because its body is, as it were, embedded in those things." According to him, we are all "caught in the fabric of the world". His words resonate with the assignment formulated by the late American composer and philosopher Pauline Oliveros (“listen to everything until it all belongs together and you are part of it”). The studio takes inspiration from these and other thinkers and practitioners and turns their ideas into actions that allow you to test and train your senses and get immersed in the world around you.

Studio Seebach - Sensing Space
will allow you to get caught up in and become part of the world around you. The programme consists of a series of exercises, lectures and performative actions: from a collective swarm and free walking workshop to the mapping of your body in space. You will learn to use all your senses to reflect on and connect to the space and people around you from a wide range of positions and perspectives. During an embodied field trip you will get to experience spaces and places beyond Zurich. The studio will culminate in a day of presentations and performances in and around the ONA building, consisting of temporary and permanent interventions that help to open up ONA. The creative process will be captured in a self-made scrapbook, or zine, which we will develop with London-based design studio OK-RM.

Open to all
In case you doubt if this studio is suitable for you, we would like to emphasise that no experience with performing or any special physical abilities are required to participate in the programme. On the contrary, we would like to encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in the interplay between your body and the physical world to join us and help us to let everyone experience that there is more to architecture than what meets the eye.

In case you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

MUUR (Wall), choreography Floor van Leeuwen in collaboration with Veem House for Performance and TENT, 2019. Photo: Bart Grieten


– Design Studio
– Start of the studio: 21.09. 9:00h (location to be confirmed via email)& 22.09
– Dialogue Sessions: 19-20.10 & 23-24.11
– Final Presentation: 21.12. and 22.12.
– Studio team: Ellena Ehrl, Freek Persyn, Michiel van Iersel, Panayotis Antoniadis, Phillipe Vandenbroeck
– Contact: Ellena Ehrl and Michiel van Iersel