Three years City of Vienna Visiting Professorship: an innovative proposal

In 2008, the municipal administration of the City of Vienna decided to support, using endowment funds, the establishment of a three-year visiting professorship for urban culture and public space. On account of the increased complexity of both subjects, basic shifts in perspective as regards planning and research, together with special activities by the City of Vienna in the field of cultural production, which are already rooted in its history, a co-ordinating body consisting of representatives of the municipal authorities and the TU Wien, conducted preparatory talks that resulted in an agreement on an untypical model: The intention was to establish a field of endeavour in urban culture and public space (SKuOR) at the TU Wien, with the goal of pooling existing synergies with regard to a new focus on urban culture and public space, an area which is still insufficiently exploited at the Faculty of Architecture and Spatial Planning. In addition to the traditional fields in which the activities of the visiting professorship, which has now been extended to nine years, were to be embedded the aim has been to create a horizontal institution focused on a theme. Following the basic dialogical idea of a horizontal institution, an early decision was made that instead of one single guest professor, a team consisting of two visiting professors would be appointed to undertake work at the TU Wien.

Academic team for teaching and research activities

Thus, today’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space is based on the idea of academic teams, consisting of a senior professor with far-reaching teaching, research and practical experience, and a junior professor with a fresh approach to current developments in research, planning and education. This initial model was practiced in Funding Phase I (2009-2011) but was modified in favor of integrating an assistant professor position since 2012. On account of the complex nature of perspectives, which emanate as a result of mixing teaching and research as regards urban-cultural perspectives concerning public spaces, it was clear that the expert knowledge of a single team would not be sufficient to meet the requirements dictated by the complexity and ambivalence of the two disciplines. It was therefore decided to put into practice another innovation at Vienna University of Technology, namely to establish annually changing teams in Vienna, each with a thematic focus, which would work related to the learning fields, urban research, urban planning as well as urban design.

Temporary expertise and scientifical continuity

In order to simultaneously guarantee continuity as to content and a smooth transition from one team of candidates to the next, the TU Wien advertised the post of a assistant professorship (postdoc) within the framework of establishing a work group and the visiting professorship. The candidates were expected to elaborate a content focus in order to provide a solid scientific basis for the structural concept prepared internally by the work group. In 2008, the working group agreed upon a three-year programme elaborated by Dr. phil. Sabine Knierbein which closely relates to the scientific priorities of the European urban researcher. With the transition from the first (2009 to 2011) to the second funding phase (2012 to 2014), the position of the Centre’s director is replaced by a permanent position within the organizational structure of the Faculty, in order to systematically integrate the individual contents of the different guest professor teams in research and teaching to ensure a high level of scientific continuity.

Expression of Interest process

Since autumn of 2008, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space has used a multilevel selection process for the appointment of the visiting professor teams. Deciding factors for the appointment of the academic team include, firstly, the substantive reputation of the individuals according to the annual priority themes. A second determining criterion is the particular suitability of the candidates for working in experimental academic teams. Thirdly, further criteria play a central role: excellence in research and teaching dealing with public space and urban cultural issues, relevant profiling and experience in the areas of know why or know how, internationalism, focus on Europe and networking in the academic and non-academic spheres, and increasing the proportion of women in senior positions in research and teaching at TU Wien in accordance with the Plan for the Advancement of Women (in German).

Innovative appointment process

In 2009, the working group TU decided to connect the selection rounds directly following internal recommendations to the public expression of interest process: those interested in the Visiting Professorship (Junior) can express their interest in the course of this process directly according to a profile of requirements, while for the selection of the person for the Visiting Professorship (Senior), a mixed method of direct expressions of interest and substantiated recommendations by the participants of the University’s internal working group and the advisory board comes into play. Each year, the members of the working group ultimately brought together complementary academic teams of about forty potential candidates for both positions. After a several-month-long selection process, they nominated nine different teams between 2009 and 2017.

Dynamic structure

In spring of 2015 the sponsor approved the continuation of the Centre for a further three-year cycle in funding phase three  (2015-2017). Following the recommendations of the committees (working group TU Wien, international advisory board), in May 2014 Dr. Sabine Knierbein introduced a new substantive three year program. With the transition from the first to the second funding phase, an internal evaluation, reflection, and optimization of SkuOR’s struture took place, the result of which was a dynamic adjustment of personnel capacities according the following model: According to the new round of annual themes, from now on the Faculty of Architecture and Planning will appoint one Senior Professor per year to TU Wien between 2012-2017. The Junior Visiting Professor position is now fixed within the Faculty of Architecture and Planning as the Endowed Professorship (Junior) and is institutionally anchored as a permanent position (in German), in order to permanently stabilize the structure of the new content at TU Wien. Additionally, a potential position for a new doctoral student was created to perform research on the cultural production of space in the form of a disseration at the Centre (March 2012 – November 2016). Here, a cultural studies methodology (bundling of multiple perspectives, search for productive junctions between different fields of knowledge, etc.) and spatial-theoretical analyses that promise insight with regard to the designed and planned handling of difference in urban society are especially encouraged. In this way the continuity of the basic content of the center will be guaranteed amid the concurrent shift in areas of focus, as the change in perspectives will be made theoretically productive. The initial Endowed Visiting Professorship (“2 +1 model”, Table 1) is transformed into a Endowed (Visiting) Professorship (“1 +1 +1 model”, Table 2), in which dialogical team thinking will be of central importance in teaching and research. These structural changes provide greater continuity of content and stability on the one hand, and on the other hand make it possible to bring in special expert professionals and to productively engage the diverse experiences of eminent authorities at the European level in the development of the horizontal structure. Through this administrative optimization of SkuOR’s academic structure, the opportunity arises to put new themes in place based on the already implemented experiences and insights of the first three-year phase against the backdrop of societal relevance and scientific currency.

Table 1: Structure of the initial Visiting Professorship during the SKuOR program’s first phase of funding (2009-2011)
Table 2: Dynamic structural adjustment of the Endowed (Visiting) Professorship for the SkuOR program’s new, second and third funding phase (2012-2014 and 2015-2017)