Cycling into the city centre the other day I thought I’d take a new route, down Kurstrasse. It’s still something of a backstreet, despite being a block away from the site of the still-being-demolished DDR Palast Der Republik, but it seems major things are afoot.
One side of the street is entirely filled with the imposing neoclassical bulk of the Foreign Office. It was built as the Reichsbank, one of the first major buildings to be constructed by the Third Reich, to designs by Heinrich Wolff. In between 1945 and now, it’s been the DDR’s Finance Ministry, then the HQ of the ruling SED communist party (and at the same time the seat of the Politburo). The building was extended in the 1990s (Berlin’s main info website understandably downplays the presence of the older, National Socialist, part of the building).
Anyway, everything on the other side of the street is brand new, or still under construction. The new work appears at first glance to be a terrace of tall narrow townhouses, in a range of styles and materials, with generally modernist or half-hearted postmodern frontages.
I’m guessing that the city planners decided that the unforgiving facade of the Foreign Office couldn’t be met by an equivalent monolithic modernist facade across the street – i.e. the type of design which dominates so much of Berlin’s new government district. It might lead to uncomfortable comparisons. I’m also guessing that they then had two choices:
a) A single huge design for the street, but employing a less ‘severe’ architectural approach, which broke it down into more humanely scaled elements. Takes a very good architect to pull it off.
b) Breaking the facade up into what appears to be a whole series of separate buildings, each one different, where the quality of architecture in itself is not so prominent – i.e. the option that’s being built.
Post-blog note: an amendment. As I recently learned at a conference in Porto, these buildings are indeed all separate plots, and in separate ownership, and largely residential townhouses. The financial model used was quite deliberate, as an attempt to bring new ownership and new residents into this otherwise pretty dead part of town. In terms of getting things built, this seems to have worked well. The aspect I’m less sure of is whether the differing height and style of each building seems a little posed. Despite their longing to appear individual, they’re clearly of the same age, and very similar in all but the most superficial styling.
A more successful attempt at the same idea (at least in terms of architecture) is perhaps in the eastern docks area of Amsterdam. But that’s the Dutch for you.
Anyway, enough chat, here’s the photos of the street. For safety reasons, I got off the bike before taking them.
The Foreign Office/Finance Ministry, built 1933-40. It’s no shrinking violet, is it?
The new extension, by Thomas Müller and Ivan Reimann (the entrance is on Werderscher Markt, round the corner).
And then the other side of the road:
Note the strange stonework, enlarged below: